My feet, ankles and knees are mutinying. The Kokoda Challenge was probably the most pain I have ever put them through. Yet without the past few months of training and the support of a fabulous bunch of people it would have been so much worse. How did I end up here? Well it was like this ...
Lisa, Di, Emma and I were standing amongst the crowds of competitors and support crew on Saturday morning at 6.30am waiting for the start. The guy on stage was belting out lots of suitable songs like, "True Blue" and "Born to be Wild". Us slow starters at the back of the crowd could barely hear a thing with the underpowered sound system which was a shame when the old digger got up to speak. The crowd seemed to sense when the muted speech came to an end and gave a great cheer which petered out sheepishly as we realised it was supposed to be a minutes silence in memory of our diggers who served so bravely on the Kokoda. Then a bunch of gunshots and we were off. The next ten minutes was the best fun I had all weekend. Chris, Keith, Liz, Rodney and Pauline - our support crew, joined the onlookers where they all waved and cheered us off. Lots of revelling in glory was had by all. We then queued our way along a pavement and then a single track to Hardys Road. This was very easy going if a little frustrating. Around this time Di very skilfully managed to fall flat on her face as we walked down a steep hill. She seemed OK at the time but her wrist swelled up and was a bit painful. This was the first of many small yet niggling injuries we were all to feel.
Blisters as well as compression bruising
I had made the wrong decision to wear my running shoes and had already started to get blisters as well as compression bruising on my big toe. I did not want my toenail becoming a casualty quite yet. The first support team checkpoint (Mt. Nimmel Lodge) broke the crowd up a little although it was still very social for quite a while. Our support team was waiting for us with refreshments. My 6 year old son, Agrippa , hopped around me asking me questions and offering to rub my legs, whilst I changed out of my trainers into my walking boots. We stopped for twenty minutes which was really too long.
The next section took in some of the best/worst hills. We had already negotiated them once during training and I was very glad we had done so. They had seemed very hard going back then. We were all relieved to find them to be not as bad as remembered. They were still killers though, even in this early stage of the walk the track started to be dotted with tearful walkers with twisted and swollen knees or ankles. It was a relief to get off the mountain where the going was easy for a while. I think this was around Moffat Creek. The next (no support) checkpoint was moved due to a lack of radio coverage. They apparently needed radio coverage for the monitoring gear they used in conjunction with KMLTracks. Di was great she seemed to remember every inch of the track along the way so that Lisa, Emma and I always had a rough idea of how far we had left to the next checkpoint.
Tearful walkers with twisted and swollen knees
We climbed what was possibly the worst of the hills after Austinville Road (Polly's Kitchen had a beauty also). We later realised, size does not matter - it all comes down to how knackered you are. As the afternoon wore on we travelled along the peak trail and then onto the bit of road before Polly's. Lisa was starting to get some serious pain in her knee joint but she kept going. We arrived at Polly's Kitchen late in the afternoon. Our support crew was great with leg rubs, water refills and encouragement. My little boy, Agrippa age 6, was on hand to offer cuddles and leg rubs, I drank too much soup and stuffed my pockets with jelly beans. I was unfortunately caught on camera changing into my stripy thermal pants. Somebody will no doubt attempt to blackmail me with the pictures one day. Before darkness fell we had a picture taken by the friendly SCU photographer. We took off for the night shift to climb 450 metres. I was rolling up my thermals and taking off my extra layers as the sweat poured off me. By the time we reached the peak I was drenched. We then had a long downhill section which we took very slowly. The night was interminable as we plodded down the mountain in our cocoon's of light. Lisa was quietly managing her painful knee and Di who has a recent history of foot and knee problems was taking care of herself.
We all hugged Lisa
Numinbah Environmental Centre was the next checkpoint (no support crew though) and it seemed to take forever as we laboured on in the dark. When we finally reached it Lisa was in a lot of pain from her knee and could no longer straighten her leg. She made the hard and yet inevitable decision to drop out. Setting off again was very sad, we all hugged Lisa and left her behind to be picked up by the support crew.
The remaining three of us found the section between the Environment Centre and Numinbah Hall to be a wet muddy track with about eight creek crossings. The full moon did not shed much light through the thick trees so our headlights became invaluable. My headlights had all failed the night before so I bought a cheap one from the supermarket which was great. Trudging through the squelching mud in the dark was time consuming and exhausting. It must have been around 2 or 3am by time we reached the Hall. It was so great to see our support team when we finally staggered into the Numinbah Hall.
After maybe a thirty/forty minute break we trudged of again into the dark. I was beginning to lose interest in where we were and just followed the path through the darkness. I was tired but my body was still holding together. The return loop to the Environment Centre did not seem to take so long, I cannot seem to remember a lot about it. We stopped for a break on the way through and Doug Henderson borrowed my phone. He chatted to us for a while which was great, anything to take our mind off the next stage. Finally we took off again, it was getting harder and harder to keep going.
Emma and I had done this stage on a bright sunny morning a few months previously, it had been quite pleasant. Starting the same walk after we had already been going for 20 odd hours, in the small hours of the night was not pleasant. The bush path seemed to weave on forever in perpetual darkness, I saw walkers stumbling into trees and staggering off the track through sheer exhaustion. Any attempts at banter died away, none of us had the energy to talk, we just plodded on. I began to dream whilst I walked. I would then wake with a jolt as I realised the giant rabbit was a tree or the greyhound track I had just discovered was actually the white lines in the middle of a road. The road was actually a good sign as it meant we were getting close to the final climb up to Syd Duncan Park, the highest point of the whole course. We found ourselves lurching like a zombie army through lots of muddy pathways, backyards and lanes. Finally we came to the foot of the grassy hill up to the summit where the checkpoint waited along with our beloved support team.
Hellfire Path was truly horrible
I collapsed on the camp mattress after drinking my soup and lay down and slept for maybe fifteen or twenty minutes. Rodney shook my shoulder and it was time to head off again. We had not walked any of these paths before as they looked pretty easy on the maps and profiles. Hellfire Path was truly horrible although the sun decided to rise which was good. The hill went down for ages, every time we thought it had finished off it would go again. Di slowly walked down backwards and at times both Emma and I had to do the same. In retrospect I should have done more backward walking, just to rest my knees. The rest of the fire-trails, paths, lanes and hills merged together in an endless monotony of exhaustion and the morning wore on, step by step.
I could no longer hold my weight on my right leg
We walked on through, Belliss Road checkpoint and picked up an orphaned walker, Ryan, before our last supported checkpoint on the Beaudesert/Nerang Road. Two of Ryan's team had dropped out through injury and his other team member had gone ahead. Now we were nearly home, we were exhausted and interminably slow but it was going to end. We tried to pick up the pace after passing the last checkpoint and my knee chose this as a cue to refuse to work any more. This took me completely by surprise as I had been ticking along pretty well so far. I only had 10km to go and I could no longer hold my weight on my right leg, maybe it was not going to end after all.
Exhaustion and frustration
The pain was intensified by the exhaustion and frustration. I looked for Ryan to tell him not to wait for me but he had already buggered off. Perhaps I was a tad grouchy but I thought he was an utter scum bag for sneaking off without saying goodbye. Mind you everything was getting incredibly annoying by this stage. All the niggling aches and pains seemed to be a chorus of annoyances. It was as if my body had become a large van full of whining children on a very long and boring journey, "Are we there yet?", "Can we have lollies?", "How much further?". It was quite a relief to be rid of Ryan. I was also annoyed about was the rubbish everyone was dropping on the track. How hard is it to shove a food wrapper in you pocket instead of chucking it in the bush? I had been going for 30 hours and I seemed to manage it easily.
Emma and Di stuck with me of course, like the heroes they are. In retrospect I was probably very annoying what with my limping along, theatrical moaning and grimacing. Emma's knees seem to give her intermittent trouble but she did not make much of fuss. Di kept on going she was unstoppable and in fact was delighted to discover I was wearing a sturdy belt to keep my shorts up. Just the thing to carry me across the finish line with. Luckily it did not (quite) come to that. After walking for a while with Steve McFarlane, the last remaining member of one of the other SCU teams. We started our final descent to the Velodrome, the finish. Up ahead I spotted Keith one of our hardworking support crew, what a relief it was to see him.
We were finished.
As we drew closer our support team all appeared and before we knew it we were in the middle of a crowd having our pictures taken. Agrippa pulled on my hand causing pain to shoot up and down my buggered leg. We still had not finished, we had to walk under some huge cannons to shake hands with a couple of patient old diggers who congratulated us and presented us with our Kokoda Challenge dog tags. Now we were finished.
I am so grateful to my Di, Lisa and Emma for being such a great team. They have been inspirational throughout the training and the final race. It was a long weekend for our support crew. I do not think anybody slept much and there must have been a lot of tedious hanging around in the cold. I owe many, many thanks and much gratitude to Chris our faithful and inspiring trainer. Rodney, thanks mate, for deciding not to chase us with a gun on Syd Duncan. Liz and Keith thanks for all your words of encouragement, including your 'discussion topics' Liz. Pauline I will never forget your beautiful slices and cookies. When in Nambucca I shall always endeavour to visit your coffee shop for more. Thanks guys.
It is finally over and I am not going to do that again.
|| Mixed Team
||Southern Cross University Wanderers
|| 33:00:20 hours
2008 - Gold Coast Kokoda Trail | Villeville - Peak Trail | Whittles Road | Syndicate Track