I've just returned from a quilt retreat in Townsville, but before I get into the shenanigans we got up to (oh yeah!) I wanted to document my walk up Castle Hill, more for myself than anything else because I never want to forget that feeling of exhilaration.
I'd climbed the Goat Track up Castle Hill a couple of times when I was a teenager but I was fitter and younger and skinnier back then. But after getting such great news from the surgeon the other week, I knew I had to climb Castle Hill, to prove to myself and everyone once and for all that I was a survivor. Also - because it's there and why not? (You'd be amazed how many people asked me "BUT WHY?" and failed to understand why when I told them.)
I started my climb on the Cudtheringa (or Cutheringa) Track. It starts on the side of the hill off the Castle Hill Road, and climbs and meanders in front of the face of the hill until you get to the other side where the real hard work begins. When I arrived at the track, I was horrified to see not only a man in a chicken suit, but a billy goat AND a television crew.
the track starts off quite steep. I managed to walk around the television crew, the goat and the chicken, and climbed rocks and rocky stairs until I needed a break. That's when I realised the goat was following me and the camera was filming it, and my derriere. For reference, the goat handled the climb better than I did. For further reference I watched the channel 7 local news that night and was relieved to see any shots of my derriere, flattering or otherwise, ended up on the editing room floor. Phew.
These photos make the Cudtheringa track seem gentle and harmless, but it wasn't. There were a lot of rocky steep tracks and boulders, but also beautiful views to North Ward and the Strand below. I was surprised to be walking through some remnant coastal rainforest at one point - from below and above, Castle Hill seems to be just rock and grass.
Castle Hill taunted me from above. It just seemed too high to conquer. Frustratingly, there were a lot of people on the track RUNNING. Some passed me at the beginning and passed me again coming back the other way when I was only half way up. But everyone was really friendly, which is typical of Townsville, and very supportive when we chatted. They were possibly secretly concerned about whether the fat girl was going to make it up the hill without suffering a heartie.
I walked up the Cudtheringa Track until I got to the Goat Track. This track actually starts at the old quarry in North Ward and is a lot shorter than the Cudtheringa/Goat Track combination, but also a lot steeper. My friend Cathy did this walk on Monday (she blogged about it here). I needed this track to get to the top of the hill. When I as a kid, there weren't stairs - it was a dirt track, with a lot of sheer rock climbing. Nowadays it's a massive rock and dirt staircase. Obviously built by a sadistic 6'5" person because most of those stairs are a foot high.
I walked most of the way up the goat track with these two girls. They were so lovely and very encouraging. They advised me to walk back down via the road, as the track got scary and steep going down. I think it was good advice.
It was a warm day - about 27 degrees, mostly cloudy with a bit of hot sun occassionally. My face got redder than my shirt, and only a little bit of that was from the sunburn.
Finally I got to the road. My two friends were long gone, having found their hundredth wind. 150 metres of walking up the road, and I was at my destination - the lookout.
That's Magnetic Island in the distance, Pallarenda to the left, and Rowes Bay at low tide. Kissing Point and the rock pool are that nob of land in the middle of the photo, and the houses North Ward are below me. Those tennis courts I used to play on as a teenager. Townsville is so beautiful. No wonder I get homesick.
Best of all I felt AMAZING at the top. Exhilarated, like I'd just run a marathon, or climbed a really big hill (ha!). I did it, all by myself, and I had an absolute ball doing it. I took my time, enjoyed the views along the way, thoroughly enjoyed the walk, loved chatting to people I met and now it was time to just drink that all in. And stitch a HexyMF flower to celebrate life and it's battles, for both me and for Cam.
It was good to take in that amazing view and quietly stitch and let my heart rate and red face subside. I still had to walk back down that hill.
I climbed to another lookout and took a photo, and then turned around and walked back down the hill.
And tried not to get killed. There were heaps of walkers and runners travelling up and down the hill, but also lots of cars. While climbing up the hill killed my calf muscles, walking down the hill killed my hips. About half way down I spied a dirt track and on speaking with a family group behind me, the teenage boy in the group and I took off down it. He told me it cut off about a kilometre of bitumen road and he preferred it to walking down the road. Dirt tracks, even steep ones, are so much more pleasant to walk on. At the end of the track we appeared just above North Ward and not far from where I started my walk. I said thanks to my companion, and kept walking.
Down Kennedy Street.
Through the cool and green Queens Gardens where I spent so much time as a kid.
And onto Gregory Street. By this time I was starving - it was 2 pm, I'd been walking for almost 4 hours (with an hour break at the top) and I pounced on the menu of the first cafe I came across that had nice, light meals. I ordered an open chicken sandwich, but what I got was a whole lot more than a light meal.
From there I walked to the Strand a couple of blocks away and was set to walk the 20 minutes back to my hotel when I was hit with exhaustion so grabbed a cab.
When I got back to my room I put my togs on immediately and went for a swim. When your hotel pool looks like this, you would too. I swam a few laps (!!) and sat in a cold spa to soothe my aches. Then I went to back to my room and got really, really sick. That damn chicken sandwich with multiple layers of oil and fat (pesto, avocado, cheese, olive oil, aoli, chips) and my lack of gallbladder finally did me in. I missed the pre-retreat dinner that night but I didn't mind. I was still high on endorphins, even if I was nursing a bottle of flat lemonade for dinner and rubbing Difflam into my sore hips and calves.
Days later I was still high on my achievements but I couldn't walk or climb stairs without yelping. I know people climb Castle Hill every day for fitness, and I know I'm no one special in climbing it. But I feel pretty bloody special. It was my personal marathon, my flip of the middle finger to the memory of the horror of last year.
And that's enough for me.