In the year 2000 I was in the Army Reserves and an opportunity came up to go to PNG and walk the Kokoda trail. Me being me, I’d trained for months before we left, I’d hike up Sublime point from Austinmer to bulli tops with a 15kg pack, often running up and back twice. I know, it sounds crazy, but I was determined I was going to make the entire trail.
When we were flying over the trail and into the Kokoda air field I realised how little that training actually prepared me for what lay ahead. From the air, the terrain just seemed impossible, the mountains and valleys so high and so steep that an Australian mountain goat would have struggled; Let alone the likes of us.
On the trail, not all of us got through, a few dropped from malaria and a couple simply gave up, and with what we had to face, I really can’t blame them. It wasn’t just the incredibly steep mountains that were challenging, it was often the rain, the leaches & mosquitos, the river crossings and the sleeping on the ground that made the entire experience.
There was one part of the track I remember clearly, just after the highest point, there was a long decent, then up and down like a yo yo for what felt like forever. The challenge was that each time we were at a peak, we could see our destination, but we couldn’t see the terrain in between. We couldn’t grasp the difficultly or the steepness of the mountains or even the winding paths that seemed to just keep going, it was like all ten days on that track were cumulated into that one day! Like someone up above was throwing down the gauntlet and making us really work for it, testing how far we’d go to achieve the goal of making it to Owens Corner & the end of the track.Our leader had set the mark for that night as Efogi 2, and there was no negotiating on that point. Regardless of the bribes, he was firm!
That leg of the trail nearly killed the lot of us, On the last rise, the slope opened up, and we heard the most beautiful sound. After walking in jungle and mist all day, crossing rivers and climbing on all fours up steep slopes of mud, we finally rose above the mist and came out at the Efogi 2 village. The school children had heard we were coming and were all hanging out the classroom windows and singing their beautiful welcoming song.
It was one of those times in life when you realise that all that had come before it, all the challenges and all the sweat and tears, nothing could compare to that moment. but we couldn’t rely on the person behind us to keep us going, nor the leader up the front for motivation. We couldn’t even rely on the training we’d done or our physical bodies. The only way we could get there was the sheer motivation alone to make it that village. Inside each of us was a personal war, raging between our minds and our bodies, our bodies just wanting to give up, to rest, to eat and to get that damm pack off our backs, and our minds needing to reach the village, to experience the satisfaction and glory of meeting the days challenge.
The point of the story is that where ever we are, what ever challenges we face, we can’t rely on others, we can’t rely on training, or preparation, the only thing that is a constant in those times is our inner character, our perseverance, motivation and ultimately our ability to just keep on going!