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.
The hardest walk of my life took place last month on Queensland’s tallest mountain: Mount Bartle Frere. It was signposted as a 2 day walk but Rani and I thought that if we left early enough, we could get it done in a day. We were wrong…
It was a beautiful day, perfect conditions for a walk of this magnitude and the surroundings were picturesque. We walked through stunning rainforest, over waterfalls and had incredible views the whole time. It was challenging as there were many steep, muddy and rocky parts to the climb, as well as a few vertical climbs up tree roots and branches.
It was about 1pm when we thought we were near the top and we had been walking for 5 hours already. We knew that we had to be walking back by 1.30pm to avoid walking at night but we felt like we were so close to the top that we pushed on.
At 3pm, we still hadn’t reached the top and that’s when we decided to bite the bullet and turn around. The alternative was to risk walking dangerous terrain in the dark and that wasn’t a risk we were willing to take on this day.
We managed to get down all the dangerous parts before nightfall, but we still ended up walking for over 2 hours in the dark with our head-torches. The last 2km were extremely challenging for both of us as our legs turned to jelly and my feet and legs were in a lot of pain.
The last kilometre was agony and Rani helped me through by distracting me from the pain, talking to me and asking random questions. We walked 19.8km over 13 hours and even though we didn’t reach the top, it still felt like a massive accomplishment.
There were many lessons learned on this day, the biggest one: if it says it’s a 2 day hike – give it 2 days!
We are all a part of nature and that means we operate in cycles. Like the seasons of the year, similarly we have seasons in our lives.
We’re born in spring time, growing, learning and being nourished. Then, at about 20-25 we go into our summer, we have grown to adulthood and this is our prime ‘til about 50. Then we go into autumn, followed by winter – still just as beautiful, but very different times in our lives.
In this modern world, we have created a world that to some degree separates us from nature. Technology, while being an incredible development in human evolution, has contributed to this separation from the natural and changed the way we live.
In the last 200 years, we have developed in some ways more than the previous millennia. Technology also provides ways for us to return to nature, but unless we surround ourselves in nature as a conscious choice, it can be a challenging practice.
Why is nature important?
Well, put aside the fact that wifi has only existed for the past 15 years or so, now it surrounds us almost every waking minute, and there hasn’t even been much research into the effects it has on our system. When we return to nature, we tap into an infinite resource for healing.
When we return to nature, we tap into an infinite resource for healing
Simply connecting to the earth – skin contact with the ground – has incredible benefits to our overall health and wellbeing. It reduces inflammation, calms our nervous system into a para-sympathetic state and calms the mind.
Research has shown that taking a walk in the forest is more effective than anti-depressants. I’d much rather take a walk in the forest any day of the week than take medication with a long list of potential side effects.
Whether it’s going to the beach, taking a camping trip or simply going to a quiet park, being in nature makes us feel more relaxed, our body can heal more effectively and it’s just an epic way to spend your time.
Everyone can benefit from spending more time in nature, especially when healing from an illness or injury. Even if you’re not in recovery, being in nature can help to reset your mind. You turn off your phone and immerse yourself in the moment, then your mind has a chance to clear out all the mental chatter than is constantly going on.
When you’re expanding, growing and challenging yourself, it’s really important to take time out because it can help you consolidate all that you’ve learned, as well as shift your perspective, much the same as going to new places, exploring new hobbies or simply going a different way to work. It forms new neural pathways in your brain and ultimately helps to expand your mind.
You may be asking yourself… Really? Just being in nature can do all that?
I can only speak from personal experience, when I completely disconnect from the world of technology and surround myself with trees, mountains and sit round the fire, I feel more inspired than ever. It recharges me and allows me to re-enter the world with renewed vigour and spirit.
Here’s a list of ways you can get back into nature:
Go for a walk in the park or anywhere in the forest
Connect your feet or hands on the ground, walk barefoot
Go to the beach
Bring flowers and plants into your house
If you live somewhere where there are animals, just sit and listen to the birds
There are so many ways to bring a little bit of nature into your life to boost your healing and expand your mind and life. There’s really no excuse: schedule it, do it and see how you feel afterwards.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed doing training walks with many different people on this journey to Kokoda but this hike by myself was spectacular. It was in the heart of the valley in the Blue Mountains, called the Grand Canyon track. It is the most beautiful walk I have done in my life.
It was so peaceful getting out of the city, walking by myself, day dreaming about life and enjoying the scenery. Spending time in nature is so healing in many different ways, as is spending time by yourself.
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