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To train for Kokoda we added a new site, ‘The Glasgow Road Fire track’ in Kilsyth, outer Melbourne, a steep muddy incline that tests your calves, hammy’s, glutes and stamina. We met muscle men up there that run up and down with bicycles on their backs. It is the Bear Gris track for bushwalkers!
Early July 2011: A week to go…not sure if we have trained enough but are feeling great. We have been in and out of every bushwalking store in Melbourne. An entire room of our house is devoted to Kokoda stuff. Can’t wait to get there and get going. (My advice in retrospect – cut back, take the bare minimum)
Day 1. July 22: Our first (half) day on the track. We have met the other trekkers, (great guys, lots of laughs) and our guide, Phil. (Policeman, very sensible, I feel safe.) We walk from Kokoda to Deniki. Not too hard a climb but I can feel some muscle soreness. Glad it’s only a short day. Mentally preparing myself for a tough week.
Day 2. Up early, yummy breakfast cooked by the porters, on the track by 6.30. Around about 7.00 my mojo kicked in. I don’t like that saying but another way to put it is…I hit my stride, I warmed up and I was off. And that is how I felt for the next 7 days.
Day 3 – 7. We went up, we went down. The walking was slower than I had expected, so that made the ascents easier. We had rest breaks after every extreme climb, which managed the breathing. Most of the day is spent under the canopy, so sun wasn’t a problem. There was a little rain, but not enough to be a bother. We walked for miles along ridges about a metre wide with lush jungle dropping away steeply to either side. Some of the way you are almost edging along a shelf of a track only a footfall in width. I was grateful for my sticks (walking poles) but others don’t use them at all. At the end of each day it was great to see your progress on the map and even more exciting to view a gap in the far distance and realize you had walked all that way since the morning.
Our personal porters (I cant speak too highly of our personal porters) were there to help us for the ups and the downs (and especially for me) on the steep descents .All the porters are invaluable, as they know every step of the track. The No Roads porters are from Kagi and surrounding villages. The track is their own back yard. Their expertise is required not just in the walking and river crossing but from the daily briefing sessions to the delicious food they prepare for us each morning and evening.
We ate banana fritters or porridge for breakfast, for dinner -pizza, snags and mash, vege curry, pasta, It was all delicious and lots of it. Plus big bowls of freshly cooked popcorn for afternoon tea...we were spoilt!
Day 8. We have climbed The Seven Peaks, we have descended The Wall and we have crossed a dozen rivers. We have met lots of locals walking the track themselves (barefoot, no expensive hiking boots here) on their regular commute between the pristine and pretty villages. We have chatted to other trekkers and we have enjoyed the jungle and bird calls divine. We have made friends with our porters, these descendants of the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels who have the same characteristics and fortitude of their grandfathers.
August 2011. We have made it! It was not only do-able - it was fun! I didn’t think about work or the outside world for a single minute of the week. Every moment was focused on the next step, where to put my foot next. That may sound boring but let me assure you, it wasn’t.
Every day was different and had its own highlights. The big interdistrict soccer game at Menari, the village market at Efogi (bananas 30 for $10!), the ladies singing the welcome song at Kagi, meeting the last of the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels. The war memorial battlegrounds of Isurava, Brigade Hill and Kokoda village itself are sobering but not solemn. Like the villages themselves, the local people maintain them beautifully plus the displays and signage provide clear and precise information about the terrible events that took place there.
We were privileged to be the guests of the people who live along the Kokoda Track and they are generous hosts. Walking its length was one of the most exhilarating and meditative weeks of my life and I would do it again.