It is autumn in Australia now, yet by some fluke of nature, the weather on Easter Monday was simply beautiful. So much so that after we had eaten lunch, my wife Shoko suggested we take a drive to Sky High in the Mount Dandenong’s. Sky High, a tourist attraction, is advertised as having something for the whole family including an exquisite English garden, an adventurous maze, trail walks in the Dandenong Ranges National Park, and simply amazing views.
With there being few daylight hours left, I raced upstairs, accessed Google Maps, typed in Sky High’s address and selected ‘Get Directions.’ Google Maps popped out detailed instructions on how to proceed from our house to Sky High. I printed the instructions and after grabbing snacks and drinks, we piled into the car and were on our way.
Here is the final section of Google Maps’ instructions:
14. Turn left at Old Coach Rd 0.2 km
15. Turn right to stay on Old Coach Rd 0.3 km
16. Sharp left to stay on Old Coach Rd 0.5 km
17. Turn left to stay on Old Coach Rd 1.0 km
18. Sharp right to stay on Old Coach Rd 0.3 km
19. Sharp right at Ridge Rd 1.7 km
20. Sharp right at Observatory Rd 0.6 km
Estimated driving time was one hour and eleven minutes.
That seemed pretty straight forward, but to my surprise, upon reaching Old Coach Road we found a relatively steep, winding, unsealed road littered with loose sand and stones. Steep slopes adorned one side of the road and a sharp decline was on the other, both covered with trees. May I point out here that I do not like driving on unsealed roads - especially steep winding ones?
Neither does Hannah, my eleven year old, who said, “I don’t feel well, Papa.” Winding mountain roads make her nauseous.
“Don’t worry, we’ll be off this road soon,” I reassured her.
I did not mention that I felt ill at ease myself. Although driving slowly, thoughts that the car might slide towards that sharp drop were foremost in my mind. I asked the Lord to help me drive and keep us safe, and then focused on the task of driving, taking it moment by moment, mindful that it would be over soon.
Thinking this unsealed road to be the only route to Sky High, and aware that only one other car was following us, I concluded that Sky High must not be a popular attraction, and would probably be virtually deserted. Yet as we turned onto Ridge Road, the last leg of the journey to Observatory Road and Sky High, we were surprised to find a sealed road clogged with other cars. I began to suspect that there might be another route to Sky High.
Arriving at Sky High’s entrance a moment later, a crushing wave of vertigo obliterated my balance and I collapsed over the top of the steering wheel.
I have otosclerosis, a genetically inherited disease that causes calcification of the bones of the middle ear. Although this causes hearing loss and terrible tinnitus, I am one of the lucky 25% who has the complication of otosclerotic inner ear syndrome. This means that from time to time, especially when I eat, I experience moments of severe rotatory vertigo.
I clung to the steering wheel like a drowning man to a life preserver, waiting for the dizziness to abate, as it always does. To my consternation, although the sensation faded enough for me to be able to sit up again, it did not go away like in the past. Instead, I was still giddy and my head felt like it was deep under water. I paid the entry fee to gain entrance to Sky High and then drove carefully to a car park.
When we clambered out of the car I was surprised to see hundreds of other people present. That settled it - there must be another, easier way to this mountain top other than the route we used!
My kids needed the toilet, so we headed off towards the toilet block. I was finding it difficult to stand yet alone walk, since my balance was so out of whack. I saw an elderly man lying on his side on the grass, being soothed by his wife. That was exactly what I wanted to do.
My daughter suddenly began to cry. I was touched, and thought, ‘Oh, what a lovely girl, she’s sad because of the hard time I’m having.’ “What’s the matter, Hannah?” I asked, preparing to reassure her that I was basically all right.
“I don’t like mountain roads, they make me nauseous!” was her reply.
My ego came crashing back to earth – seems like I was not the centre of the world after all. “Don’t worry, Hannah, with this many people here, there’s got to be a better way off this mountain, and I’m going to find it!” If driving up that unsealed road was that nerve racking, I had no intention of driving down it if there was another way!
I felt pretty awful as we went off to explore the mountain top; the dizziness and oppressive weight upon my mind remained constant. But why? Was the altitude causing this otosclerotic inner ear syndrome? Or was the disease swinging into the next phase. Fearful thoughts tried to trip me up, saying, “What if it doesn’t stop, what if it’s permanent like the tinnitus?”
I did not pay heed to the “what if” fears. Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” And that’s what I was going to do. And although these terrible physical sensations made me want to lie down until they (hopefully) went away, my experiences with depression had taught me that there was another way. And that was to acknowledge that I was going to feel this way for some time, and did not need to let it incapacitate me. Instead, I would enjoy being on top of this mountain with my family while leaving the disturbing sensations churning away like background music.
We had a great time exploring Sky High Maze. When we went the right way we found large metal stamping boxes upon which to stamp the cards we had been given. We had to collect four stamps. My daughter, Miss Show-off, said, “Look, we don’t have to find our way through the maze, just listen to the sounds of the other stamp boxes and follow the sounds!” Suddenly navigating the maze was easy.
After that we took turns knocking down cup pyramids, wandered through the English Garden, and into the Secret Garden. This was surrounded by tall hedges and contained a gazebo. Hannah sat us on the grass and led the family to pray for my ears. I was so proud of her. After having our snack, Hannah and Timmy raced around the garden like headless chickens.
Next came a six-hundred-meter bushwalk that meandered through a forest loop.
Finally it was time to go home. An examination of the Melways map book confirmed that there was another route to and from Sky High – using a four lane, sealed road! Guess which route we used to get off the mountain? We learned then that you cannot trust Google maps - they give you the shortest route from A to B, but not the best route.
And to my amazement, as we began to drive back down the mountain (using that lovely sealed road!) the dizziness vanished as quickly as it had come. My balance returned, my head cleared, and I drove home very much relieved. Thanks to Jesus for helping me overcome my handicap, we had a wonderful time on top of the mountain, and praised God for His blessings.
1 John 5:3-5 This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
All verses from NIV.