When I look at the friendships I’ve had over my life, some of my closest friends are the ones who I’ve been through the hardest times with. If you’ve ever been through a difficult experience with a group of friends, you know how much of a bonding experience it can be. You remember it for the rest of your life. Usually, these experiences aren’t planned, but about six months ago, a group of my oldest and best friends and I decided to take on what may be the most difficult challenge we’ve faced as a group yet. Over the last 20 or 25 years, we’ve reunited in many places near and far, but this year we’re tackling the Kokoda Track.
For those of you who don’t know, the Kokoda Track is a historical trail in Papua New Guinea. This track is well-known in Australia, as a very famous episode in Australian history took place there during World War II. It was at a time when Australia was at risk of being invaded, and this was the last point of defense before the Japanese potentially took over Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea, and then from there could launch attacks and raids into Australia. Australian troops were sent into Papua New Guinea to protect and defend the country from this threat.. These heroes fought in the most difficult conditions, and the Kokoda Track became their battleground. For many Australians, walking the Kokoda Track is the chance to walk in the footsteps of those men and better appreciate the hardships they endured under and the sacrifices they made for their country. It’s a personal challenge but also a walk of remembrance and appreciation. I imagine it will be quite emotional because of that, walking in those footsteps and imagining what it must have been like for them to endure the unimaginable conditions of the Kokoda Track during World War II.
It’s such a difficult track that I wasn’t sure I could do it. I’m still not, if I’m being honest, but the challenge appealed to me, and I’ve learned that having a really difficult goal motivates you to train hard. My friends are also extremely motivating, though not in the way you might expect. The Australian ethos between good friends isn’t so much encouragement, but rather a playful goading. It’s perfectly acceptable, and more than that, it’s expected.
While we’re not able to physically train together since we live all over the world, we do share our progress over WhatsApp and AllTrails, an app that allows you to download maps and find trails near you. In the very beginning, one of my best friends, with whom I have a very competitive streak, posted an AllTrails update that he had walked 13.5 miles. Of course, I had to one-up him, so I went out and walked 15 miles. I could hardly walk for a few days afterward, but since then it’s been this escalation of what everyone’s doing to get ready. The next week, I saw that he planned to tackle 26 miles, and I was 20 miles into it before I realized that it was actually 26 kilometers, since he is based in Australia, and I’d done 32 of those! It’s friendly rivalry, and it’s how we’re motivating each other to stick with it and put in the hard work.
Since I’m over 50 (shhh, don’t tell anyone!), I had to complete a stress test in order to have medical clearance to take on the Kokoda Track, so they’re sure that you won’t have to leave the trail in a helicopter (still a possibility, I think). It’s a big mental challenge, knowing that in 15 minutes a treadmill is going to work you to the point of exhaustion, and your only focus is to stay on it as long as you can without collapsing. You’re like a hamster on a treadmill, almost literally. When you start, you know it’s going to be hard, and part of you is excited about testing yourself to see how far you can go. The other part, however, is full of dread for the pain that’s coming. The point is, you always have to push yourself past what you think you can do to continue to improve, and most of that is mental not physical. I know this trek is bound to be difficult, but I know I’m more prepared now than I was when I started. No pain, no gain, as they say.
Another part of being prepared is making sure you have all the right gear. I’m big into researching things, so I watched tons of videos and read all of these books and blogs about the Kokoda experience. Considering that the longest walk I typically did was from my house to the beach, it’s fair to say doing a 10-day backpacking trip was all new to me. I spent many hours going through the packing list, which has a weight limit, and choosing the right items to pack. I knew that hiking boots are extremely important, so I bought those nearly 4 months ago so I could wear them and break them in. I similarly went through hours of analysis for each piece of equipment to figure out which was the best to take. I researched how to purify water. It’s a science in and of itself, how to stay hydrated on a trek like this. It’s also important to learn how to prevent and treat blisters. You don’t want to overlook things like that or the trek becomes nearly impossible. In many cases it’s the little things that matter most.
So why am I doing this and why all the hard work? I want to prove to myself that I can do this, and I want to do it in style. I don’t want to be crawling, panting, crying or struggling. I want to be looking up at the sky and nature around me. I want to really enjoy this experience with some of my closest friends. I want this to be one of the things that I look back on, like other big milestones in my life, and remember the experience and everything that went into achieving it. And when I’ve finished the Kokoda Track, I hope to pass on valuable lessons in perseverance, attitude, and working through hard times, which apply to everything from personal growth to entrepreneurship.
Let’s just hope I don’t get lost!