There was a long build up to this adventure, 15 months to be somewhat precise. Many hours of training, lots of trips back and forth to our sponsor Trek and Travel to organise the correct gear, as well as meetings with our Gold Sponsor Clubs NSW to ensure we were as prepared as we could possibly be. Our bags were packed, repacked and re-repacked, to drop any extra weight that wasn’t imperative to accomplishing the task.
Our team of 11 jumped on a short flight to Port Moresby via Brisbane and before I knew it we were staring at the expecting jungle. We met our individual porters and handed over the bag they would be carrying for us. My porter’s name was Oscar, a kind, quiet man who I enjoyed getting to know over the following days. I heard stories about the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels, from war time and from previous Kokoda trekkers but words don’t do justice to how well they supported us. I’ll do my best in a future post.
With the Track looming in the background, some photos were taken as we said goodbye to the last vehicle we would see for over a week. Before I could process any last minute doubts, the front man Nelson and our first few team members disappeared into the jungle. Backpack on. The path started with what I thought was a relatively steep and somewhat slippery downhill. Just a teaser for what was to come.
We were notified that we would be eased into it, giving us time to acclimatise. In other words, day 1 was a warm up for what was to come. The climate was hot and muggy, carrying our water for the day added 4kg to our backpacks at times. Slippery red, clay like dirt taught me quickly that despite the beautiful scenery all around, my eyes were going to be firmly fixed only my feet for the next 9 days. If I wanted to look at the beauty around me, I had to stop, plant my feet firmly and only then could I take in the breathtakingly majestic jungle in all directions.
The hardest part of trekking for me, even in training, was the first hour. It didn’t matter if it was uphill, downhill or the odd ‘almost’ flat path, warming up, for a day of sometimes 9+ hours of walking, always required a strong will. After a few hours of walking on the first day, we walked across a beautiful river, the first of many river crossings we would make on our journey. Taking off my shoes on such a hot day and plunging my bare feet into the river felt exquisite but there were a few lessons to come. On the other side, our first lunch break awaited us.
Our team porters had walked ahead of us and set up a little fire, boiled some water for tea and coffee, and handed out sandwiches, or salads for the 3 of us with dietary restrictions. As the trek went on, for me at least, the restrictions went out the window as my need for calories overtook my pickiness, such is life in the jungle! After gobbling down my salad, I sat on the grass chatting with fellow team members and resisting the urge to break into my trek snacks this early.
An important lesson that I picked up on the first day was not to make the mistake of having to warm up my body multiple times by resting too much in the breaks. On this occasion, I unintentionally relaxed too much which meant that after lunch, it felt like I was starting all over again. As grateful as I was for this lesson so early on, I wanted to squeeze as much rest in as possible during those breaks. Nevertheless many of them were spent being mildly active in between short (and amazing) sitting sessions. Another important lesson for you, after river crossings, always dry your feet properly. On a trek such as this, you cannot look after your feet too much, it can make or break a trip.
The first sight of bright orange warranted a sigh of release to escape my lips, as it meant that I made it to the end of the days walking. Although my mind lingered on the thought that if day 1 was the warm up, only a half day of walking, what would be in store for me in the days to come. I didn’t have to wait too long to find out.