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 in that moment as they kept me distracted as best they could.
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.
Day 4 started like any other day, our Trek leader Rowan woke us up with his strong Aussie, ex-army voice telling us that it’s close enough to 5.15am, time to pack up the tent, check on the people next to you and then head to breakfast. Most mornings I woke up earlier so that I had time to do my movement practice, not this morning. As I sat up, I’d hit my head against the top of the tent, roll up my sleeping bag and mattress as quickly as possible, pack my porters bag and finally, pack my bag with everything I’d need for the days walk. By then it was almost light and I’d move slowly towards breakfast.
We were warned the previous night, this mornings walk is the steepest part of the trek and following that was another few hours of slightly less steep, but still steep walking. The first section is called ‘The Wall’ and for good reason. Any steeper and it would have been completely vertical. Many times it felt more like rock climbing than walking, Rani’s favourite, my nightmare. I started 15 minutes behind everyone else to complete my movement practice. I knew I’d need the extra stability and lightness that it unfailingly gave me. From where I did my practice I could see “The Wall” across the river, the team slowly made their way up and over. I knew that today was going to test all of us.
Time to get going, the start, particularly the first hour was always tough for me but today would be even more so because it went straight into a wall, literally. As I walked through the river, my porter (Oscar) casually waited for me. As he saw me a very slight, cheeky grin came over his face, he knows what I’m up against. Over the last few days we’ve bonded and built a foundation of trust. I know he’s there when I need him every step of the way. More important than that, I can feel that he believes in me and when times get tough, that helps me believe in myself, more than he’ll ever know.
Describing the first couple of hours of walking that day isn’t easy, it took such intense focus for every step that there were very few thoughts going through my mind. When there was a thought it was usually “oh shit, how am I going to make that” or “phew, I’m glad that part’s over”. There were many times that I had to hand my walking poles to Oscar so that I could scramble up on my hands and feet. Other times I couldn’t physically lift my right leg high enough to step up. Those times, on the edge of “The Wall” in a very small space I had to shimmy around with my left foot to create space for my right foot. Once my right foot was planted, along with my two walking poles, only then could I step up with my left leg. It was like a dance, an incredibly steep and slippery, vertical dance.
No picture or video could ever do justice to walking up The Wall and as I’m writing this blog I’m even finding words hard to come by. What remains strong when I think about that section is the fear that I felt. I remember questioning whether today will be the day that I break. This is followed by intense pride and courage for not only making it, but smashing it. At the top of The Wall I caught up to the group just as they were leaving the rest area. The rest area entailed a couple of logs to either sit on or sit next to and lean on. I had a good long rest and ate one of my snacks, an Eclipse Organics Paleo bar, such a treat. I knew there was a long day of walking ahead so I took my time and it was nice walking by myself, at my own pace.
When I started walking again, I put my earphones in and started listening to a motivational audio composer on Spotify called Fearless Motivation. It got me pumped and I found “the zone”. The next section of walking, I entered into the deepest flow state I’ve ever been in. If you don’t know about flow states, it’s a state of consciousness that happens as a result of your skill level directly meeting the level of challenge in front of you, combined with a centred presence and conscious breathing. Basically, your thoughts drop away and every movement becomes almost effortless. Your senses become sharper and there’s stillness within, despite whatever is happening externally.
All that existed in my awareness was my breath, everything else – the music, right foot here, left foot there were blended into the background, moving synchronistically with ease and grace. Almost as if I was being walked, rather than doing the walking. After an hour or so I caught up to the group on a rest break, but I didn’t want to stop. Our Trek leader gave us the nod so Dad and I, with our porters, went ahead. When you enter a flow state, you don’t want anything to get in your way. The next few hours of walking breezed past with only one quick rest break for another snack.
When we got to the top of Brigade Hill, the view made it all worthwhile. Doing it in style and with dad, was the cherry on top. It was the tastiest lunch of the entire trek. It was encouraging and gave me momentum that carried me the next couple of days. It also showed me just how much my training paid off.
On the top of Brigade Hill there’s a small memorial for the men that we lost in war. One team member, Tony Stewart recited an incredible poem called ‘The Gift of Years’ by Eric Bogle, which had all of us in tears. It was a very humbling moment after being on such a high and an incredible reminder of the very reasons I was there. While this was an incredibly beautiful adventure and achievement, it’s important never to forget and to give thanks to those that lost their lives for our freedom.
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.
Purpose is a huge buzz word at the moment with articles running rampant, such as ‘How to Find Your Purpose’, or, ‘Get Clear on Your Purpose’.
The definition of purpose is: “the reason for which something is done, or created, or for which something exists”.
Do you know your purpose for being created?
Do you know why you exist?
These are really big questions, and while it’s nice if you can find an answer that overarches everything you do, it can feel like a lot of pressure to find “the one”. Personally, I find it more useful to focus on purposeful action.
How can there only be one purpose in our lives?
The idea of having only one purpose has always confused me, and when asked, “What is your purpose?” in different seminars, courses or by coaches and mentors, it seemed like I always had different answers. At times I judged myself, because, with all the personal development work I’ve done, I should know what my purpose is.
Many people do a lot of work to find a purpose, which acts as a filter for what they want in their life, asking themselves: does this fit in my purpose? Yes – do it, No – find something else.
It can be a very effective way of bringing more meaning and direction into your life, if that’s something you struggle with, but don’t get caught up if you’re unsure what yours is. Regardless of whether you know what your purpose is, or not, it’s more important to be taking action in life, instead of sitting on the fence contemplating.
If you’ve never even thought about what your purpose is, it’s definitely worth a journaling session or 2 or 10 – just don’t let it be another excuse for procrastination.
The changeable purpose
The truth is, while we may or may not have an overarching purpose for our whole life, our purpose can also change from day to day and moment to moment.
An example of this is when you wake up in the morning on a weekday, most people will have the purpose to get the kids up and ready for school, or just get up, eat and go to work. Whereas, on the weekend, it could be to stay in bed and read your book until midday.
Another example would be when you’re having a conversation with a co-worker, you have a specific purpose of why you’re talking – it could be about a project you’re working on, or it could be the office gossip.
You get the point. Our motivations for everything we do change from moment to moment, depending on what it is we’re trying to achieve. Having awareness about what we’re trying to accomplish is one way to be more effective and bring more meaning into our lives.
What is purposeful action?
Purposeful action is being conscious of what our purpose is, for every action we take.
Every action has a purpose, whether we’re conscious about it, or not. Having awareness of our purpose in the moment, gives us the ability to choose our actions more carefully.
Being intentional with our time, energy and the actions we take is fundamental in creating a meaningful life.
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