walking with Rhian Wood-Hill

Rhian Wood-Hill

LifeLine fundraiser and How I Met My Father,
on the road and at The Cabana
By Jess Soutar Barron

It’s good to talk. Same goes for walking; that’s good too. And both have been touted as mental tension de-fuses: Talk to someone; Go for a walk.

A band of Hookers – one Irish, one Scottish, one Welsh, one dog and me – set out for a walk’n’talk this Easter with storyteller Rhian Wood-Hill who’s walking for charity – 804.67km – raising awareness (and money) for LifeLine, NZ’s counselling free-phone number.

We joined him for a leisurely jaunt 15 days into his trek. He’s clocking up 25km a day, every day for 45 days. We went just six.

Rhian says when he skimps on his 25 he has to pay for that another day, and anymore than the 25 makes his brain hurt. “It’s the mental bit that makes me stop at 25,” he tells this small rambling audience. It’s his brain too that demands stimulation while his body’s just happy wandering, “It asks me to listen to something.” Rhian’s brain and body are doing their ‘bit’ together, a tidy double-act. One sets up the jokes, the other delivers punch lines.

Rhian the Body is a stead-fast plodder who considers climbs, demands rest, gets up every morning and does it all again. Rhian the Brain forces him to stop suddenly and shout “Hawke’s Bay is bloody beautiful!” Rhian the Body grumbles, once you stop it’s hard to get going again.

You’d think such an adventure would appeal to a gym bunny but Rhian is more a couch potato; self-confessed TV-holic. His pop-culture addiction is fed on the way aurally, nine audiobooks so far, 45 podcast episodes. He’s loving The Chronicles of St Mary’s series, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s Mycroft Holmes.

It’s his brain too that sometimes sets him up for a fall. It demanded he listen to a podcast on Ivan Milat. That night he camped alone in an isolated campsite in Norsewood, screaming possums on the other side of the flaps.

He started the walk on a dare, and – not helped by setting out on April Fools Day – many of his Friends’n’Family haven’t yet donated to the cause because they doubt his ability to finish. Big journeys aren’t made up of bold strides, but lots of steady steps, one after the other: no demanding ‘Just Do It’ more a cajoling ‘Just Keep Going’.

The dare was set at Fringe in the ‘Stings last October by Wellington Fringe Director Hannah Clarke and Australian Fabulist Jon Bennett. Rhian the Body takes on the dare as a personal odyssey. Rhian the Brain asks: “Where the bloody hell are they now??”

Rhian walks slowly, gets lost, feels it in his feet and knees, forgets key topographies that could potentially stop him in his tracks: Otaki River; that narrow hill up the Mohaka Bridge. He bought nothing for the trip. He’s carrying a borrowed backpack and a tent with a broken pole: “There’s no need to put more stuff in the world”. He did no training and little planning. He just knows he needs to be in Auckland for May 16th.

For those who didn’t put two and two together, the 804.67km is 500 miles and May 16th is the day The Proclaimers play Auckland so there’s the motivation for this hero’s journey.

The show he’s performing in venues across the country is How I Met My Father, and touches on suicide. There’s the synergy with LifeLine. He made a little money on the show the last time he toured it, now he’s giving back.

He prefers ‘storyteller’ to ‘stand-up’ but he does do jokes. Stand-up is too binary: either you find it funny or you don’t. Storytelling has more options for reception. Plus, Rhian says storytelling lubricates post-show story sharing (and some story topping too) that’s as important. It’s the talking after the listening. And 75km from where we left him on Good Friday (he’s double-backed to Hastings a few times between) we see him again on Easter Monday spinning a yarn at the Cabana.

It’s a good show because it raises issues that stimulate conversations. And because it’s good to talk there’s enough just in that to make it worth it. Rhian does approach his material a bit like his journey, he rambles and stumbles, gets lost, misses obvious turnoffs, looks ill-prepared, unplanned. But there’s shared elation when he reaches pinnacles and takes running jumps down the easy bits. Rhian the Brain, Rhian the Body, hanging out, talking, before more walking in the morning.

“LifeLine has a big shortfall since government pulled funding. It’s an amazing tool for New Zealand, there might be better tools but because it’s the one we all know, and can therefore reach for easily, it’s the most useful. They only just survive.” RW-H

The Hook encourages our community to get behind Rhian by supporting LifeLine through Give-A-Little.

Bridget Freeman-Rock, Rhian Wood-Hill, Rosheen FitzGerald and Ian Thomas
Rhian lines up the next podcast

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