A world citizen may provide value to society by using knowledge acquired across cultural contexts.
The Grampians are Leanne’s favorite national park, which is why it meant that much more that she was taking me out to see it for the weekend. They are also one of the “must see” parts of Victoria, usually paired with the Great Ocean Road (still to see) and Phillip Island (check) on trips out of Melbourne. Australia is old land with no active volcanoes or plate tectonics to form new earth or reinvigorate the landscape. This means that their mountains are more Appalachian than Rocky or Himalayas. Such is the case with the Grampians.
We set up camp in Halls Gap, a valley lorded over by exposed but worn granite peaks and sheer cliffs stained with minerals. The original trail was damaged from fires several years back and floods last year so only the more direct route was on offer. Functionally this meant that the Halls Gap to Pinnacle trail was a steep ascent, from start to finish only 3.4km to get to the top. It also meant stairs. Rock stairs. Earthen stairs. Metal grating stairs. If ever there was a real-world application of the stair master, this was it. With an impending storm coming, the air was hot and humid, a rarity for here that reminded me of home.
We blasted through it, step after step, stopping only briefly to change layers of clothes. Just over an hour later, at the top, the reason for this being Leanne’s favorite park was laid out ahead of me. Saturday, relatively clear weather, and only a couple other people at the top. Stunning views over the valley and to the curvature of the earth. A field of slanted layers of dark rock, worn by eons of rain and exposure, half barren, half covered by tenacious trees. And a lookout facing a perilous drop and sturdy winds. This was everything I want the mountains near DC to be. If this is what the Appalachian trail looked like, I would consider hiking it more enticing.
After a test of machismo walking out on a thin ridge of rocks and a stroll down the slot-canyon Silent Street it was back down the mountain to beat the rain that started to toy with us. Back at the tents we saw kangaroos. They are the first ones I’ve seen here, and they were as exciting to see as the first Cathedral I saw in Europe. I feel that by the end of the trip here, I will be as tired of seeing them as I was of Cathedrals in Europe. We drove to the Balconies, a photogenic but somewhat uninspiring set of rocky overhangs, closed for revegetation by a small and easily stepped-over sign. And we headed back to camp.
After showers (glorious, hot, free, post-hike shower!) and some time sitting and relaxing, it was dinner time. Dinner prompted another first for me here in Australia – a barbecue. The campsite (much like many roadside stops I’m told) had pay grills upon which we threw some snags (sausages). Paired with a salad, rolls, and a bottle of red we sat and rested our legs, talking about the old times. Co-workers, what they are up to now, gossip that I had missed, how we had met, the times we had hung out, parties at Bibneria, and the ways in which we had both grown.
Leanne had met me at a very interesting time in my life. I was off the rails. Post-disintegration with my roommate/fiancée, I was careening through life recklessly and surprisingly wreck-less, just watching and waiting for the impending crash. I was making up for lost stupidity. It is interesting to be hanging out with her now, a couple years later, as the more mature person I am. That isn’t to say I have an better sense of my direction or purpose, or that I know what I want to do. But I’m going about figuring it out in a more reasonable manner. I guess that is something.
We wrapped up dinner, put things away, and settled in for a relaxing yet short evening of not hiking. She gave me a massage that helped to wipe away the past month of physically manifested stress, carrying a backpack and sleeping in hostels. And I drifted off to sleep with the sound of the rain starting a cadence on the tent.