The Kokoda Track – it gets stuck in your heart

Have you walked it yet – the Kokoda Track?

I was standing in the aisles of the aircraft on the tarmac after an early morning flight from Brisbane when the Captain came over the loudspeaker, “Ladies and gentleman, there will be a short delay as we seem to have misplaced the key to the airbridge”. I had arrived. Welcome to Papua New Guinea – Hurry up and wait!

It started, like many great ideas, over a wine with my simple comment “I’d love to trek Kokoda one day”.  My word for that year was ‘action’ so I did just that, I took action, booked in and started training. I trained and researched and read up about the Kokoda Campaign, and before I knew it, I was off and here I was in Port Moresby, albeit stuck on the plane until they found the key!

What is the Kokoda Track?
The Kokoda Track (or Trail) is a mostly single-file track that runs 96 kilometres overland – 60 kilometres in a straight line – through the Owen Stanley Range in Papua New Guinea. The track was the location of the 1942 World War II battle between Japanese and Allied (primarily Australian) forces in what was then the Australian territory of Papua. Here, it rains, a lot. It’s humid and hot even when it’s raining, and it’s beautiful country and it’s tough country.

Why the Kokoda Track?
Well honestly at that time, I didn’t have a good knowledge or appreciation for the Kokoda Campaign. I can’t recall learning about it at school. So it wasn’t primarily for the historical aspect that I was going. I was going because I wanted a challenge, I wanted to stretch myself and what better way than to embark on one of the most arduous long distance walks in the world. The Kokoda Track is known for being physically exhausting, but it is also without a doubt, one of the most mentally and emotionally challenging things you will ever put yourself through.

 

It’s no walk in the park

Well they found that key to the airbridge, and after a night in Port Moresby, I was off for nine days, and eight nights, to trek along 96 kilometres of treacherous terrain over the Owen Stanley Ranges, in the footsteps of heroes.

That trek was at that time in my life, the most challenging thing I had ever done in a physical, mental and emotional sense. It tested my mettle on many occasions, and also provided me with endless opportunities and memories along the way.

In fact, it was such a life changing experience for me, I just knew I had to go back. I fell in love with the people and places and learnt so much about the sacred history.

 

Swimming, bathing, laundry

So go back I did. I’ve hiked the Kokoda Track five times now (four of those as a Track Guide). It is such an honour and privilege to be one of the guides on the Track, to hold that history and be able to impart that to others, to support, guide and assist others achieve what is for most trekkers, the single most challenging thing they have ever done in their lives.

You would think my strongest memories would be of the hardship, the hills, the mud, the exhaustion, the pain and the blisters, but they’re not. There was definitely all of that – but my most vivid memories are those that taught me something, about me or about life. The ones that gave me pleasure or made me smile. The ones that gave me goosebumps.

Like when the village children would come to sing for us, not for reward but to please us. I remember vividly the feeling when taking my boots off after those 11 hour hiking days. Icy cold swims in crystal clear rivers. Children laughing and playing. The rain, I recall the rain, dripping on my face. Our porters and local crew, quiet men, very capable and proud of their job, and with unforgettable voices when they sang to us. I will never forget meeting on a number of occasions, Ovuru Indiki who has now passed away, and was one of the few remaining Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels – such a privilege and honour. Crossing rivers raging with icy cold torrents on flimsy tree branches, but with sturdy and trustworthy hands holding mine.

 

So much joy

Thirty metre high pandanus palms and everything so green. So green, almost unnatural, that it’s like someone photoshopped the trees. Remembering at old weapons pits from the war, long trenches for the Australians, and deep holes for the Japanese. Avocados so creamy you’ll think you’re in avocado heaven – and some the size of your head! Fresh fruit everywhere, and the best passionfruit I’ve ever tasted. Reconstituted meals, tea, popcorn, choko vine, noodles, crackers and tinned meat – and never going hungry.

The simple but compelling Isurava Memorial – Mateship, Courage, Endurance and Sacrifice. These are the things I remember.

Of course my first trek holds very special memories for me. I will always remember the tears as I crossed under the archway at the end of that trek.

Tears for what happened there so many years ago, for all the horror and the lives lost. Tears for my mates with me that day for overcoming their struggles to make this journey, tears of relief because I made it, tears of happiness because I fulfilled my own dream.

The trek ends with a visit to the Bomana War Cemetery which contains Commonwealth burials of the Second World War. I still remember how I felt the first time I saw it, it brought more tears, and goosebumps, with over 3800 graves of soldiers, 700 of them unidentified, and many too young to have been fighting, let alone dying.

 

Bomana War Cemetary

Each year as I journey back to Papua New Guinea and to Kokoda to guide and share the experience with a new group, I am reminded of what is so special about this hike, and what brings me back each year.

1. People and connections
Material wealth doesn’t make people, character does. We could learn a lot from our porters in Kokoda. What’s important to them is not whether or not they have a smart TV, a new car or even a pair of shoes. What is important is their family and their friends. I meet up each year with friends in Villages along the Track. We see each other only once a year, they never know when I’m coming, but when they see me, it’s like they were expecting me. They have gifts for me, they ask about my family, I ask about theirs. I walk on, and I see them again the next year. It’s uncomplicated, it’s familiar, and it’s a blessing. To top it off, the children you come across in the villages along the Track are some of the happiest I have ever seen and their laughter is contagious.

 

My porter and his family

Sometimes you travel for the scenery, the structures, the adventure, and most times it’s none of that you remember, it’s the people. They get stuck in your heart.

2. Natural Beauty
From streams to raging rivers, almost all icy cold, to hot, humid, dense jungle, to open plains, the Kokoda Track will provide you with a sensory overload of natural beauty – I never tire of it. Swimming in crystal clear rivers, laying on the grass looking over at the sun setting behind the ranges, the colours vibrant and calming at the same time. The Kokoda Track shows us some of the most untouched and amazing natural beauty you will ever see.

 

Upstream – Goldie River

Lift your eyes, today, tomorrow. Lift your eyes to see the beauty around you.

3. Physical Challenge
In repeating the trek each year I also remind myself of just how challenging the Kokoda Track is to walk. I can say that even after five times, it doesn’t get any easier physically. I’m reminded each time how important my training and preparation was. I am also reminded that I can keep on going, long after I think I can’t. We all have a reserve in us and we can all do hard things.

 

What goes up….

I can do hard things – we can all do hard things

4. Technology Free
It might sound counter-intuitive but the unplugging, the releasing of our technology for nine days is surely the best way to recharge. You won’t hear mobile phones ringing and pinging, and you won’t hear people talking on their phones. The people you are with will be really there, with you, not in some faraway place inside their mind connected to their phones and tablets. This trek reminds me to get back to the basics, to be present where I am. To recharge from the energy in the natural environment, not an electrical socket.

 

Real people, face to face

Sometimes it takes a decision to unplug, in order for us to recharge.

5. Reminders to be grateful
I try to always practice gratitude but my first world problems sometimes get the better of me. Spending nine days on the Kokoda Track each year reminds me to be grateful. Grateful for the sure footed angels of today who guide my way, grateful for the meals I can enjoy in the middle of the jungle, grateful for a safe trek each time I cross under the finishing archway at Owers Corner.

This excerpt from my journal from my first Kokoda Trek says it all.
´My little toes were black and bleeding when I took my boots off this afternoon. I laughed a lot again today. I’m now in bed and it’s 7.30pm. The dinner tonight was amazing – spaghetti with reconstituted mince and Tim Tams for dessert! It’s raining hard, the tent is leaking and dripping on me, and my legs are so sore I can’t even touch them. What a wonderful day.” Private Journal August 2011.

Of course, gratitude abounds when I hit Port Moresby at the end of the trek too – that shower, club sandwich and cold beer are always cause for much thanks.

 

Colour and laughter

It’s not just about remembering to be grateful in the moment for all we have, we should also be grateful for all we don’t have. This is the key to abundance.

6. One day at a time
It’s a strict rule that I, and most of the other trek leaders I know, like to adhere to. One day at a time. When you’re on a trek like Kokoda where each day is the same, and at the same time, very different from the last, you and others, can get carried away worried about what’s coming up on day five, or day eight, rather than being in the moment of the day we’re in. So to counter that, I was taught (and readily adopted) to have a once a day (normally in the evening) news bulletin.

It is here that I take the opportunity to outline to my team of trekkers what the next day and night would hold for us, where we could get water, where we might have lunch, what terrain we would be covering and if we were crossing any rivers. We have a chat about the day coming, I answer questions and concerns and we stay right there, in that moment. Just one day at a time. No worrying about that very steep looking incline on day seven, no worrying about whether the swamp was going to be wet or dry. One day at a time. It’s a concept I think we could all benefit from adopting.

 

One step, one day at a time

Just today. Just now. What’s our next 24 hours look like? What’s right now look like? What’s right now feel like?

If you’re considering trekking the Kokoda Track – check out Back Track Adventures. You can find me on the Track Guides page there. I can’t recommend this adventure highly enough. It changes lives, I’ve seen it happen so many times.

In case you’re wondering, even after five treks, I still cry a lot. Some happy tears, some sad. It’s just that kind of place.

“Let your life be your message” Mahatma Gandhi

It’s just another day…and I’ve found another way

I have a few of those days.

Remembering days.

Sad days mostly because I’m remembering the day they went away.  The last time I saw them. The last time I kissed them, held their hands, heard them laugh, made them laugh.

Anniversaries – but not the ones you celebrate – the anniversaries of when they went away.

It’s just another day.

I had one recently, one of these anniversaries.  It was the 27th year since my Mum went away.  I have others of course, like the one when my Dad went away.

But this one was for me to remember my Mum.  It’s not like I don’t think about her every single day, but this day, I really tried hard to remember her.

 

Smitten Dad, Proud Mum, sleepy me!

And it was hard.  It was hard because after 27 years, I think I might be forgetting her.  I could remember the day she died.  I could remember parts of the funeral. I was wearing her wedding band, my Dad was holding my hand and spinning the ring around and around on my finger. Sometimes I can still feel that.  I could remember the pain, my heart broken open with no hope of mending.  I could remember certain things about her, certain times, but they seem to be fading.

I hate that they seem to be fading.  It upsets me more that I’m having trouble picturing her face, than it is that it’s the anniversary of her death.  I feel myself start to panic – I try so hard to picture her face – her expressions, her smile.

The day goes on.

It’s just another day.

I know that every year on these days, when life just goes on, a part of me wants to scream at everyone going about their normal day, “Don’t you realise what today is, don’t you realise how much I still miss her?  Just because I don’t talk about it, just because it’s been so long, that doesn’t mean I’m not hurting.  She deserves to be remembered!”.

But I don’t – because it’s just another day.

I feel the fragile stitches that hold my heart together start to unravel, and the tears flow.  They do every year, but this year, they’re flowing because I worry that the memory of her is disappearing.  Not many other people remember it’s today.  Most of my friends never met her.  Even I’m having trouble picturing her face, having trouble really remembering her, and I’m her daughter.

 

Looking so happy…as she mostly did

It’s just another day.

It’s been such a long time since I’ve seen her smile, touched her, hugged her, and heard her laugh.  It’s too young to die, 42, and I was too young to have her taken away.  I’ve lived more than half my life without her.  There is so much I want to share with her – every day for the past 27 years.

It’s a really hard day, but the time in that day passes and as it does, I stop trying so hard to picture her face, and to remember her.  I get caught up in the activities of my day.

It’s just another day.

And then I realise, that it’s not the image of her in my mind, not the fading memories of my childhood or the old fading photographs that keep her alive.  She is actually in me, she lives on as a part of me.  Every time I see, do or feel, she is seeing, doing and feeling, because she is me.  I am her.  We can’t be separated – even by death.

I feel her, I sense her. I am her.

Because I’m here, able to make choices, and I am healthy and well, I owe it to her to live my life in the best way I can.  After all, she’s along for the ride.  She is me.

Instead of chasing what’s gone, I’m embracing what’s here.  Me.  I’m here and if I’m here, so is she.

It’s just another day.

And I’ve found another way.

What are you choosing today – embracing what’s here or chasing what’s gone?

“Let your life be your message” Mahatma Gandhi

What’s the word on the Street for 2018? What’s your word?

I love setting goals, working out how to achieve them and going for it.  I enjoy the planning.  I also love knowing and living my core values – the tenets that overarch everything I do and who I am.   You’d think that would be enough … but I also love setting my intention for the year – and I do this through the use of one word. 

For the past 5 years I have been choosing a word each New Year – a guide that overarches my day to day life.  A word that captures my intentions for my life for that year.  A word I can fall back on, a word that catches me, a word that helps me make good decisions around my intention.  It becomes more than a word – it becomes my guide, my anchor and my inspiration. 

My words over past years have been: Enough; Less; Brave; and Recover. The great thing about our word is that while you and I might choose the same word, it may, and should, mean different things to both of us.  Once you have your word it’s important to understand what it means to you and what your intentions are around that word. 

Some of the great things about your word are that:

♦ There are so many to choose from – and you can choose which ever one you like

♦ It’s custom made for you

♦ You can give your word your own meaning

♦ It gives you freedom and focus

♦ It’s gentle

Sometimes my words each year build on each other – sometimes they don’t. 

Let me share with you my word for 2018.

Outside.

♦ Outside my comfort zone

♦ Outside of the expected

♦ Outside of the obvious

♦ Outside of my mind and in my body

♦ Outside of judgement

♦ Outside over inside

♦ Outside of the normal

♦ Outside the box

♦ Go Outside and play

 

OUTSIDE – and in the ocean – two of my favourite places

The dictionary or Google can also assist you in this part.  This is what the dictionary says about Outside: 

♦ An outer edge

♦ At the outside (at the most, at the greatest amount or limit)

♦ Outside – not in prison (we sometimes hold the keys to our own shackles)

♦ Originating, coming from, or situated beyond given limits.

While I wouldn’t want to live without my Resolutions and my Goals, they are rigid and task oriented (as they should be).  In comparison, my word, rather than being rule and action based, provides me with an opportunity.    An opportunity to remember my intention and act on it.  An opportunity to live my life with intent.  An opportunity to make decisions from my best self. 

For example, I was reading in one of my favourite magazines (Travel Play Live) about trail running.  I was on the deck being thankful for the brief respite from the rain and storms we were having.  As I was reading this article I had a moment where my word, Outside, came to me.  I kept reading, but my word kept coming back to me.  Outside.

I am outside.  I’m on the deck. 

Outside … almost a whisper, gentle but prodding. 

Ahhh, Outside, get outside, outside the house, outside your comfort zone, outside your own expectations, outside your mind. 

Go for the trail run rather than read about the trail run. 

 

Not the beach … but trail running all the same – OUTSIDE

So I did, I laced up my shoes and off I went.  I spent an hour running and walking the beach and headlands and being grateful of the reminder of my intention and for the year, Outside. 

If you’re searching for words to start you off here are a few: 

Brave; Enough; Love; Space; Commit; Focus; Accept; Self-Care; Peace; Listen; Fun; Surrender.

I’ve generally let my word come to me, rather than going searching for it.  I journal, meditate and wait for one to float to the top from the few that have been calling to me.

You can do that, or you can access a number of tools on the internet to help you.  You can access a Word of the Year Discovery Tool by blogger Christine Kane here or you might already have a word in mind, a word that is choosing you for 2018. 

However you go about choosing your word, remember that it’s your word, your intention and it can be anything you want it to be.  Let your word serve you as a wonderful reminder of your intention, and allow it to give you freedom, purpose and focus for 2018.  Understand what your word means to you and let it gently guide you in 2018. 

Do you have a word for your life, or your year?

What word/intention did you choose for 2018? 

I’d love to know – share below in the comments. 

“Let your life be your message” Mahatma Gandhi

 

What did you read in 2017? Here’s 8 of my best reads.

 “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”   Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

I like to read – a lot.  I love books.  I think I love books even more than I love reading. I have many books.  Some would say too many.  I love the smell of books – I open them up and take a deep inhale from the centre of the pages – it smells safe, and sure and inviting.  That smell gives me comfort, and brings back childhood memories of reading in bed, on a blanket on the grass, at the school library.  

Lately I’ve been more of a book collector than a book reader – I find I spend far too much time on social media and the internet to really get a lot of reading done – something I’m working on this year. 

I’ve even bought some books lately on my Kindle. 

But you can’t flick the pages of a Kindle book, write in the margins, underline words and sentences and you definitely can’t get that safe, sure and exciting smell of books from the Kindle. 

I know there’s a place for e-readers and I am embracing that for the most part – but I will never give up my books.  Did I mention the smell? 

The books I read in 2017 were all worth the read – some more so than others and so I will go back to them over time.  One or two I had to put down before I finished in the recognition that it wasn’t my time for that book.    You know the ones?  The ones you should like, people tell you so, but you really struggle to get through each chapter (or page) and then you don’t remember what you’ve read. 

Women Who Run with the Wolves (Clarissa Pinkola Estes) was one of these for me.  It’s a book of myths and stories of the Wild Woman Archetype.  I am still plugging away at.  I know I should like this book – but it’s not resonating with me at the moment.  This was one I had to put down and I’ll come back to it later. 

In my view life is too short to persevere too long on a book that isn’t doing it for you – time to drop that one and pick up another.  You can always come back to it later. 

That said, here are a few of the missives I got my head around in 2017 and briefly what I thought. 

If you’re looking for some new ones to add to your 2018 reading list I hope this helps.

No. 1 – Pema Chödrön’s Living Beautifully (with uncertainty and change) – I love Pema’s writing and listening to her audio books. She provides me with peace and a sese that I can get through anything.  If you haven’t heard of Pema she is an American Tibetan Buddhist. She is an ordained nun and disciple of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. She has written several books and is the director of the Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia, Canada.  I highly recommend both her audio and written works. 

No. 2  – Medical Medium Anthony William was an eye opener. For over 25 years, Anthony has devoted his life to helping people overcome and prevent illness—and discover the lives they were meant to live.  His approach takes into account well-being on every level.  This book explores all-natural solutions for dozens of illnesses including Lyme disease, fibromyalgia, adrenal fatigue, chronic fatigue syndrome, hormonal imbalances, Hashimoto’s disease, multiple sclerosis, depression, neurological conditions, chronic inflammation, autoimmune disease, blood sugar imbalances, colitis and other digestive disorders, and more.  It provides a wealth of advice including eating plans.  Be warned though, if you’re afraid of a little woo-woo, Anthony takes his guidance from Spirit and his work is all based on this advice.  I must add that my attempt at the 28 day cleanse he provided in the book was far from successful!  It turned in to a 2 day cleanse followed by a 6 day binge on sugar and carbohydrates!  This says nothing about the book and everything about my eating habits!  Maybe this year!

No. 3 – Thanks to Brendon Burchard, I read (and took many notes on) his best seller The Motivation Manifesto, all about taking back our power. This book is a powerful call to reclaim our lives and find our own personal freedom. I found it had some good concepts and I’ve tried to incorporate these into my life.  Worth a second read.  It resonated for me in 2017. 

No. 4 – The Dream of a Common Language was a wonderful read, or ponderance. It’s a work of poetry written by award-winning author and activist Adrienne Rich, and is divided into three sections: first “Power”; second “Twenty One Love Poems”; third “Not Somewhere Else, But Here”.  I saw Reese Witherspoon with this book as she played her character Cheryl Strayed in the movie Wild and had to add it to my list.  I wasn’t disappointed.

No. 5 – 2017 was the year for me to start to read Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, in which a convicted Australian bank robber and heroin addict who escaped from Pentridge Prison flees to India. The novel is commended by many for its vivid portrayal of tumultuous life in Bombay. I have it on my Kindle saving my wrists from holding up this massive novel.  It’s keeping me entertained and I’m about 70% of the way through, but it doesn’t smell as good as the other books J.

No. 6 – The Five Love Languages – Dr. Gary Chapman – one of my favourite reads in 2017 (so much so I have brought another of his books to read in 2018). Billed as the ‘secret to love that lasts’ its ideas are simple and conveyed with clarity and humour, making this book as practical as it is personable. One to get your loved ones to read alongside you and when you both do the Love Languages quiz to find out your primary love languages, there’ll be no stopping you!  Worth coming back to this one!  Guaranteed to give you a few light bulb moments.

No. 7 – The Barefoot Investor – Scott Pape – The only money guide you’ll ever need – so the book tells me. I found this book really easy to read (particularly given it’s a book about finances) and I got through it in two sittings.  In essence the book is about making smart changes to the way you deal with your money today, so you can rest easy in the future.  Nothing drastic and a lot of common sense but I found it well written and motivating.  I’m going to put in to practice some of his tips in 2018.   

No. 8 – Fat for Fuel – Dr Joseph MercolaFat is the new black it would seem. I enjoyed reading this book however found much of the first part a little heavy (but still useful) as it was related to the science behind nutrition and digestion and the way our bodies react to different foods.  This book is written for people dealing with chronic health conditions right through to people simply trying to lose weight.  If you take the time to read this, you’ll learn about the role of mitochondria, and how you can improve the health of yours, as well as practical advice on how to change your diet to a high fat, moderate protein and low carb regime to assist in your overall health.  It sounded convincing, and along with the other media at the moment about fat being our friend, I’m willing to take it on board. 

So that’s a wrap for 8 of the books I’ve read in 2017. 

What did you read in 2017 that you would love to share?  Comment with the book name and why you think it’s worth the read – I might add it to my 2018 list.