Spin the Globe with Justin Butner

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Sea Level or Elevation?

I answered a question today to which I already knew the answer. Beach or Mountains? Mountains or beach?

Mountains. Without a doubt, mountains.

I started the day on the coast south of Sydney in Wollongong. The southern New South Wales coast is supposed to be gorgeous. And it is. I will not detract from the natural beauty of cliffs, hills, sandy beaches, greenery, and reflecting waters under a blue sky. The coastline here is beautiful. Then again, the coast pretty much anywhere in Australia is beautiful.

I made my way out of town, along the Grand Pacific Drive, a scenic road that mostly follows the coast for a few hours south of Sydney. From Wollongong it was on to Shellharbour where I stopped at an information center and got a pretty solid itinerary and set of maps for the next few days. Coast, coast, pretty beach, scenic overlook, surfers, whale watching. And just to mix it up, a detour inland to the mountains and a few waterfalls.

After feeling a bit antsy about what to do for four days and a soothing time watching pelicans preen, I headed to the first suggested stop, Killalea State Park. Access to a couple beaches with surfers. Some grassy hills that sloped into the sea. Pretty, but they didn’t really do anything. And I drove around, lost.

Then on to Kiama to see the blowhole, a spout of water that shoots into the sky based on wave refraction. The area was calm given that it is a weekday in winter. But even with the place largely to myself I still didn’t feel like I’d escaped. It was still a piece of land jutting out from a town with a café and shops only a couple hundred meters away. Pretty, but still. I hit the grocery store and situated myself for the next section.

My lack of comfort on the coast is confusing. For starters it isn’t quite a lack of comfort. I can go to beach week with my fraternity and love it. I can drive the Pacific Coast Highway in Oregon and California with friends and zip around curves with a sense of exhilaration, stopping occasionally to run into the frigid waters. But when I’m by myself (and maybe with only one other person) I don’t feel quite at home. If it is warm, the beaches are crowded with beach people. It is a clique to which I don’t belong. And so surrounded by others I am still alone. And people-watching seems more difficult. In a crowd there is anonymity with gaze. But on the beach there isn’t as much since people are more spread out. And watching people who are scantily clad, even if it is in a public place, still feels creepy.

And in the cold weather, when there are fewer people, it feels eerily deserted. The air blows cold under the hot sun and my body doesn’t know what to do. I constantly change layers. I stare off to the horizon and find peace briefly, but it always comes back to a feeling that something is off and I can’t quite fix it.

As soon as my road left town and crested a hill the beaches disappeared and suddenly idyllic farmland stretched out in all directions. The road wound around stone walls and fences, over hills and into the blind distance. As soon as my car lost sight of the coast I could feel my heart lighten. Remarkably so.

And before long I came to a set of signs. One indicating I was about to enter an incline area. The other indicated that the road was particularly winding for the next six kilometers. My heart leapt. I was entering the forest. Rainforest specifically. Tall trees, ferns, eucalypts. The sun disappeared behind leaves. The air cooled off though the wind died down as well as I climbed the mountain.

The rest of the day was great. I was driving under the speed limit to take in the surroundings. The curves of the road were sharp but I had no interest in zipping through them. I was taking it all in. Bitumen or gravel or dirt. Straightish or hairpin. Shaded or partly shaded. I pulled over frequently to snap shots. I diverted off the main road to check out a few waterfalls. I took the time to play around with pictures at each one.

I found my way under a quickly fading dusk to a paddock of grass near the banks of a still river. Basic toilet facilities and no showers, shelter, or warmth. It was also free. Only a few other vehicles were around. I had my 30m x 30m spot to myself.

The odd thing about this all is that I don’t feel alone in the mountains and countryside. I am still solo. There are fewer people around. I can go an hour or two without seeing someone else. Longer if you don’t count passing an oncoming car. I can walk through the forests, I can drive in peace, and I can listen to nature without hearing another inane conversation. And yet, I don’t feel alone. I feel at peace.

One comment on “Sea Level or Elevation?

  1. Cathy Grace
    June 22, 2012

    Elevation wins hands down for me

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This entry was posted on June 19, 2012 by in Australia, NSW (Sydney), Self Analysis.

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