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MCG – SCG Walk 2.0 (Week 6)

Days 36 to 42: Wagga Wagga to Junee to Cootamundra to Harden

Sunday 3 December: Today was pencilled in as a rest day. However, as we had already had a rest day yesterday, Shekhar and I got ready and drove to the town centre to start the walk outside the Wagga council office towards Junee. When we reached the Shepherd Sidings intersection where there are some grain silos, we returned to Wagga city centre to meet a reporter and a cameraman from the Advertiser, the leading daily in Wagga Wagga. The interview took place outside the Athlete’s Foot. A couple of middle-aged women were sitting nearby. One of the women told us of her own experience with breast cancer. She said, “When I woke up after the surgery, a Breast – Care Nurse from the McGrath Foundation was sitting right there holding my hand. Without help from McGrath Foundation, it would not have been possible for me to get through it.” After the interview, we handed out leaflets to more shops and businesses along the Baylis Street.


Wagga as it is commonly known is a mid-size city with walkable distance to all kinds of public services, banks and other financial services, Shopping Malls with Coles- and Woolworth Supermarkets, plenty of parking, and public toilets. Wagga prides itself for its lush green trees, beautiful parks, and several footy and cricket ovals. Wagga is also home to the Sporting Hall of Fame, National Art Glass Collection and the Charles Sturt University – Wagga Campus.


When we returned to the Lincoln Cottage Motel, Peter, the owner of the motel told us about the delicious food they have had at the Namaste Indian restaurant that was located at the back of the motel. Shekhar and I walked over to the restaurant. I ordered Saag n Vegies, and Shekhar went for Chicken. For starter, we ordered Chaat Papri that was good, and we both enjoyed it. While Shekhar found the chicken to be well cooked, my dish was poorly cooked and watery with a horrible taste. With a total of two soft drinks and the food, the cost of $85 was way too excessive for such a shocking quality. Perhaps the mindset of getting rich quickly played a major role in the owner’s head. Anyway, we wish them good luck.


Monday 4 December: Shekhar and I got ready early morning and drove to the intersection to which we had walked on Sunday. We started the walk towards Junee, and went up to Harefield, where there are some more grain silos. We stopped to have breakfast. While we were having breakfast, we were contacted by Channel 7 and asked if we could return to Wagga before 11:00 AM for an interview. We said yes without any hesitation, because the walk is not for the sake of walking from Melbourne to Sydney but to maximize awareness. And it was a perfect opportunity for us to deliver the message to a wider audience. We drove to the meeting point in the Victory Memorial Gardens opposite the Council Offices. Shekhar and I were both interviewed, and the young reporter told us that it would be covered in the 6:00 PM news bulletin the same night.


After the interview, we had coffee at the shopping centre. We also handed out leaflets to raise awareness about the walk to support the McGrath Foundation. We walked from one end of the Baylis Street that is the main shopping street in Wagga, to the other end of the street and visited every shop in the process to raise awareness about the McGrath Foundation and its contribution to support families affected by breast cancer. After lunch, we switched to shops on the other side of the street and walked back to the starting point.


We met Vinit Patel, a Gujarati young man who made a delicious lunch for Shekhar and me. Despite our best efforts, he would not give us the bill or take any money from us. We later found out that Vinit used to live just around the corner from our place in Melbourne. Thanks very much for your support Vinit. You are a champion!


We drove to the Big4 Caravan Park to stay the night. Clive and Narelle Harwood were still there. We had some lemonade and snacks in their motorhome, and watched the 6.00pm news on Channel 7 together and saw the interview from this morning. After the news and snacks, we all went for a short walk to the river and back, said goodnight to Clive and Narelle, we returned to our van, had some dinner and went to sleep.


Tuesday 5 December: When Shekhar and I got ready to drive out of the caravan park, we found our friend Clive Harwood standing nearby and waiting to wave goodbye to us at 5:30 AM. What a gentleman! It was a very moving experience to see a wealthy man who was also a few years senior to me waiting for us that early in the morning. Hats off to you Clive! Thank you so much for the honour.


We drove to the silos where we had concluded yesterday’s walk. After touching my forehead to Mother Earth, I started the walk towards Junee. The terrain was full of steep climbs and descends. There was no let up. It was a very busy stretch of highway with a huge number of vehicles particularly large trucks and road trains. Most of the drivers when they spotted me, moved their vehicles away from me towards the middle of the road. Many of them waved or tooted or gave thumbs up in show of support for the fundraising walk.


We arrived at Junee before lunch time. I had already emailed Junee Council about our arrival. It was an honour to meet with Bob Callow the Mayor, GM and Sherri Longmore the Executive Assistant. They appreciated our efforts to raise awareness in rural areas. We took photos to remember the occasion. We received generous donations from them.  Sherri arranged for our stay at the local caravan park. Thanks very much for everything you guys did to support us. You guys are unbelievable! In the afternoon, Sherri met with us opposite the medical centre and introduced us to a couple of women from a volunteer group known as Pink Ladies who actively support cancer patients in the local area. It was an honour to meet selfless volunteers who are dedicated and determined to make a difference.


We walked to the historic Junee Railway Station. Tamara the woman at the station was keen to help with enquiries thinking that we might be the passengers. When she found out who we were and what our mission was, Tamara made a generous donation. We visited the local pub, where a young man invited us to a cuppa with snacks. Thanks very much Tamara, and thank you so much to this youngster.


We visited the historic chocolate factory that is still in operation and it is very popular with tourists. Later we drove back to Wagga to distribute more leaflets to businesses we had previously not visited. We returned to Junee, had dinner, and went to sleep.


Wednesday 6 December: Today’s destination was Bethungra. It was going to be a long and a hot day. A 30 kms walk on a long stretch of steep hills facing the oncoming high speed road trains and hardly any shoulder to walk on. It had been considerably hot for a couple of weeks; however, the Sun was pushing further to raise today’s temperature to around 40 degrees. It was burning hot from the morning. Every few minutes, I had to get into the van to cool down, rehydrate and rest. It was tough and taxing physically and highly challenging mentally to continue to walk throughout the day. The walk that should have taken 6-7 hours, ended up taking more than 12 hours. By the time, we reached Bethungra, I was completely drained of strength and energy. I was so exhausted that I had to have some rest before driving back to Junee at the end of the day. This day had been the most challenging during this walk. We returned to Junee, had dinner and in no time, we were asleep.


Thursday 7 December: We drove to Bethungra and started another day’s walk to Cootamundra. Again, it was very hot and challenging. It wasn’t as hot as it had been yesterday; however, at 35, it was still very hot. The tough terrain and steep hills made the 25 kms walk more strenuous. Similar to yesterday, today’s walk was physically very demanding and mentally testing. We were so relieved when we finally arrived at Coota. We checked into the caravan park and paid for two nights. We cooked fresh dinner and went to bed.


Friday 8 December: Shekhar and I had an early morning start to the 20 kms walk to Wallendbeen. It was another hot day but the terrain was not so demanding as it had been in the previous few days. After a stop for breakfast and a quick nap, we arrived at Wallendbeen around lunch time. At the intersection, there was a farmer’s van selling fresh cherries. We got a box of two kilos and enjoyed every one of them. Then we returned to Cootamundra and headed straight to the Information centre. There we met Dianne who was kind enough to offer some tea and show us through the museum that was used as sleep over barracks by train drivers. Dianne called Phil Chadwick, Treasurer, Can Assist. It was great to meet Dianne and Phil who apprised us of Coota in historical context. Thank you so much to both of them for supporting us in our endeavour to raise awareness and funds for the McGrath Foundation.


We visited the Bradman Museum on Adams Street, where ‘the greatest batsman the world has ever known’ was born in 1908. This place provides a glimpse of early childhood of Sir Donald Bradman. Subsequently, we went to see the captains’ walk that has head sculpture s of ALL captains of Australian Cricket Team. We went to Woolworths supermarket and got what we needed for the next few days. Shekhar put our clothes through the wash machine, we had dinner in the van, and went to bed.


Saturday 9 December: After getting ready, we drove to Wallendbeen, paid respect to Mother Earth and started the walk towards Boorowa. It was another hot day for the 20 kms walk to Harden. When we entered Harden town, we were received Nyssa Stadtmiller and Matt her husband who was also a Councillor at the local civic body. Nyssa had phoned me the previous day because they run the newspapers in Junee, Coota, Harden and Yass. Matt shared with us the history of Bill the Bastard - Australia’s Greatest War horse. Realising that I was wearing an MF hat made of material that wasn’t allowing cross ventilation through the hat, Matt gave me a brand-new Straw-Hat that he had just purchased for himself. He argued that I needed it more urgently than he did. Thus, I was the best person to have it. Thank you so much Nyssa and Matt for your support and generosity. You guys are incredible!


My toes were playing up again. I walked to the Harden Hospital and rang the doorbell. The Emergency Nurse came to the door to let me in, told me to have a seat in the waiting area as they were busy with something. Later, another nurse called me in. She examined my toes, looked at the blisters and toenails. After listening to me, she expressed her helplessness and said that there was nothing she could do to help me. The only thing that would help me would be a few days of complete rest and looking at my schedule that was not be possible before reaching the SCG. The nurse then consulted someone in a different room, came back and applied some bandages to make my feet comfortable.


It was burning hot in the afternoon, when we left the hospital. We checked into the Harden caravan park located on the highway. Our van is sufficient and self sustaining. All we needed was a site to park the van and access to common facilities. The caretaker told us that the machine was broken down and the transaction had to be cash only. At $40 a night, we had to pay $80 cash for two nights. He also told us that the facilities remain unlocked and there was no code required to use any facilities, he told us. We set up the van on the allocated site, had dinner, and went to sleep. I needed to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. When I went to the Men’s, it was locked. I was not happy because the pressure to urinate had been building up and that is exactly why I got up to go. I couldn’t enter the toilet complex, and I was not in a position to hold it until the sunrise, so, though it was around 1:00 AM, I called up the caretaker on his mobile. He was apologetic that the door had been locked probably because it had been windy during the night. He gave me a key to the door, which he could have done at the time of check-in, but he didn’t. Not sure, why?

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