About two months ago, a colleague challenged me to hike the Kokoda Track with him in June 2016. With a rush of testosterone momentarily impairing the proper functioning of my normally reliable and risk-averse brain, I accepted with a macho “Hell, yeah!” For the purpose of charting my subsequent anxiety levels, I now refer to that moment as ‘Day Zero’ in the tradition of all good zombie-apocalypse and/or end-of-days-biblical-plague stories. Except this is no fiction, it is the brutal truth.
It wasn’t so bad at the start — something to brag about, even. Manly men doing manly things. Admittedly, I lose credibility every time I mix up the destination — Kokoda versus Kakadu — to the point that my wife seems convinced I’ll get off a plane somewhere in the tropical north, wave goodbye to the pilot as he banks east over the jungle, then start wondering where the f*ck everybody else is moments before I get taken by a saltwater crocodile. Even more embarrassing was the time I confused it with Kokomo from that Beach Boys song.
Anyway, with the event still safely in the future, I was initially able to occupy myself with the most enjoyable part of hiking — the planning part — making Kokoda gear list, researching Kokoda hiking boots, entering the spork vs foon debate (non-Kokoda specific). And buying stuff. Waiting for the DHL Express van became an obsession. God I love new hiking gear! Even though the way my Osprey Atmos AG 65 backpack parasitically anchors itself to my iliac crests feels a little how I imagine getting harnessed by the alien symbiote in Falling Skies would feel — as in, it feels bloody awesome!
But then the excitement began to wane, followed by a moment of sudden clarity. Lots of those Komodo Trail videos show lazy trekkers opting to have their packs carried by porters! WTF? No way am I asking some tribesman to carry my pack like some geriatric loser! Go hard or stay home is my mantra! But I get the hint that maybe all the warnings about it being “the toughest hike you’ll ever experience” may have some substance to them, so I decided a training hike might be in order, especially as my colleague had never hiked before. Yes, that was a warning-bell sound you just heard, as in, never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for me!
So last week we strapped ourselves into 15 kilo packs and walked 12 kilometres into a deep river valley, the last 1500m of our adventure involving a fun 600m vertical descent to our campsite. For the uninitiated, any steeper and it would qualify as a cliff. After setting ourselves up, we enjoyed a nice tipple of bourbon, some war stories, a quick swim, then off to (separate) hammocks to rest the weary bones. Of course, the next morning we had to punch back out of this wilderness grotto, doing the whole routine in reverse. Did I mention it was 38 degrees Celsius both days? Anyway, getting to the bottom was hardest on the knees, but it was all fun — and no, not Brokeback Mountain style getting-to-the-bottom type fun, good clean manly fun is what I’m referring to.
Now, because in my head I’m the hardest motherf*cker to ever lace on a pair of Scarpa’s, I was up at 4am the following day to face the first of three 14-hour shifts, pedalled 45km in near-torrential rain, and even joined my wife on our usual postprandial walks “without a whimper” — I’d like to say that with a straight face, but in truth I whined like a whipped bitch the entire time, moving so slow that I started to develop moss on my northern flank. Two days later, my colleague came hobbling into my office like a man beaten, both of us crippled by the special gift that is D.O.M.S., and it was then that the realisation really hit me. Our training hike of 24km over two days featured a single 600m ascent/descent. The Kakadu trek spans 96km over ten days up and down dozens of hills as high as 2000m. What have we done.
As if the physical aspect of it wasn’t enough, I then read an account of an English couple abducted by ‘cannibals’ who only narrowly escaped ending up in the pot; I then read about a pair of supermodels who ‘did’ the entire track in matching spandex pants without once ruining their make-up with yucky sweat; and then I read about a plane-load of trekkers crashing into the side of a bloody mountain with no survivors! And you know what? That bloody Finnish blend of stoicism and stupidity rears its head. Bring it on, I hear myself say. If a couple of supermodels can do it …