There was an air of excitement when we stumbled out of our tents this particular morning. Seven days of intense walking had taken their toll and we weren’t the same spritely bunch that began this journey.
I don’t think it’s possible to be the same person at the end. It didn’t just test us mentally, emotionally and physically; the spirit of the land, the history and the bloodshed of thousands impacted each one of us in our own way. That being said, every single one of us was ready to cross through the arches that marked the end of this grand adventure.
The morning started even earlier than usual, it was still pitch black as we threw on some clothes and made our way down to Isurava Memorial for an incredibly touching dawn service. We walked down to where 4 granite pillars stood silently marked “Courage”, “Mateship”, “Sacrifice” and “Endurance” – symbolic of what our soldiers went through as well as ourselves.
Our trek leader told us the story of the battle that took place here along with the valiant actions of Private Bruce Kingsbury who won the first Victoria Cross on Australian territory. Rani and I were asked to read a piece of writing each, which had the whole group in tears. This was followed by the Australian and Papua New Guinean National Anthems. It is another one of those moments that words could never do justice to, the feeling envelops my being as I write this.
Following the ceremony, we each took the time to pay our respects and take it all in. This was a very emotional experience for everyone, it was as if the gravity of what happened on the track hit us for the first time, like a tonne of bricks. It was the perfect beginning of our last day walking on the track as we carried the ceremony with us, not as a burden, rather as an honouring.
Packdown and breakfast resumed promptly, we wanted to make it to the Kokoda Plateau as early as possible. There was good news, at our team briefing the night before, our trek leader told us that there were only a few hours of walking up and down hills but then it flattens out. He warned us that after walking up and down so much, people tend to trip over themselves when on the flat ground. I just closed my eyes and tried to remember what flat ground even was.
I didn’t expect the immensely challenging day that followed.
Our brains are truly remarkable at adapting and dealing with intense adversity. What happened to me on that last day was that as soon as the track started flattening out, a signal in my brain must have flipped that said we’re all clear, let him have it. The only rational conclusion I can come to is that the intense concentration needed on every step of the steep sections blocked out the pain because the flat section was the most painful part of the entire track.
I found it interesting because it was by far the easiest section to actually walk, almost totally flat for 5+km. 100 times easier than The Wall, yet I had no pain there. When the track flattened, I didn’t have to focus at all and out of no-where, the pain turned on with force. Every step was agony. I’m so grateful for the team around me
When we could see the arches in the distance, we stopped and waited for the whole group to walk the final 500 metres together. Crossing that finish line is one of the highlights of my life and as I write this I have tears streaming down my face, just like I did at that moment.
We embraced, cried, took some photos and then went to get some beer. What a day.