Completing the track is mind over matter
By Emma Cornford
My knees scream as I descend the Kokoda Track to Ofi Creek. With my right arm I lean on my walking stick; at my left stands my unflappable local guide, Nelson.
Just as I begin to slip ? again ? Nelson grabs my arm to steady me.
'This is quite possibly the worst physical pain I've ever experienced', I think as my kneecap pops out for the second time today. I envisage myself toppling down the hill, the root of a tree skewering my eyeball. I can't feel my feet right now ? the numbness set in this morning as I squashed them into my shoes. I half expected my blisters to holler obscenities at me.
After a painful 50 minutes of downhill trekking ? during which time I am incredibly close to sitting down, refusing to move one step further and demanding to be airlifted out ? we reach a flat.
But it's flat only because it's a creek ? complete with deafening rapids ? with a 'bridge'. Well, I say bridge ... but you have to apply that term loosely to include this three-log number, lashed together with lengths of vine. I'm sure it's stable ? because Nelson says it is and I trust him with my life ? but it creaks as I tentatively cross.
Since I slipped into a creek on the second day of walking the Kokoda Track, Nelson has been particularly vigilant in not letting me cross anything without him. I'm glad ? one foot slides across a wet part of the wood, nearly throwing me off-balance into the water.
This particular downhill stretch is during the second last day of hiking the Kokoda Track. It's one of my worst days.
Most parts are a challenge and the whole thing hurt. But as tour organiser Rob Brown, a Grafton ambulance officer, points out, the track has a habit of throwing everything at you. But just when you think you can go no further, it levels out or offers a break.
Everyone works through the difficult patches in different ways. When I find it hard to go on, I recite Invictus to the choko vines which clog the jungle. Some people have a break while others grit their teeth and keep on plodding.
Our trek leader, Aidan Grimes, always takes a set of war medals, awarded to a digger who served in PNG, along the track. They are given to different members of the group along the way ? and for some people it was holding those medals which helps them through.
But walking the Kokoda Track is more than a physical challenge. It takes mental endurance and can be an emotional experience ? as you will see in tomorrow's Daily Exam- iner.