Window into a Kokoda Kid's World: Part 1
“I enjoyed the night walk. Forty-thee kilometres of bushland in twelve and a half hours? Pfft! Too easy!”
Jane has come a long way indeed. She admits that after her first walk, she seriously considered dropping out of the Kokoda Challenge Youth Program.
It was a two kilometre scramble up a goat-steep track near Polly’s Kitchen and proved to be the most difficult walk she’d ever done. However, that was only the first of 20 Sunday hikes. Over the first six months of the Kokoda Challenge Youth Program, Kokoda Kids trek every Sunday through the Gold Coast hinterland, backing this up with midweek fitness sessions. The distances and difficulty of the mountain hikes escalate rapidly.
“Polly’s is the hardest hill on the whole course, and I’ve done it six times now. My fitness has made it easier, but I still don’t like it,” she says. Whereas it took the Tweed Kokoda Kids an hour and a half to make it to the top the first time, it now takes them 50 minutes. “Even although everyone gets tired, we just kept up our conversations. You definitely need to keep talking, keep checking on each other.”
This is all in preparation for the 96 kilometre Kokoda Challenge in July. After this, training will include weighted walks with increasing weights and distances of up to 20 kilograms over 15 kilometres. This prepares the Kokoda Kids for the actual Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea in September. Yet this 17 year old doesn’t let the difficulty define her. For now, she’s nervous but pumped about the Kokoda Challenge.
Jane has been on an emotional, physical and social pilgrimage with her fellow Kokoda Kids. She admits it’s been full of ups and downs, literally and metaphorically. Moments of intense satisfaction and moments of disappointment, frustration and profound learning.
With the leaders pushing the Kokoda Kids from one challenging goal to the next, greater one, Jane now realises that she has more potential than she ever thought possible.
“They always say that we have more in us than we think we do and it’s not until we do it that we realise we really do have more in us. If they can see that we need a break they might let us stop but sometimes they won’t. There was this one time when a girl asked to stop and they were like ‘No, no stopping.’ She wasn’t happy but when she got to the top she felt so amazing. In the end she was really grateful.”
In recent weeks the Kokoda Kids had set up stretches of the course for the Kokoda Challenge competitors. They’ve lugged dozens of signs, belting the pointy ends into the tight, dusty earth with mallets; carried thousands of tiny pink and yellow streamers to tie to individual twigs and branches marking the track.
“If we work as a team at the Kokoda Challenge, we should be right,” she says. “The fastest ones used to get straight to the top, then turn around, wait for us, and get straight back into walking. We wouldn’t get a break – you’d be out of breath, running to keep up. But now they seem to know. Nobody gets left behind. If someone gets too far behind, the rest just stop and wait for them. I can really see how we’re developing as a team.”
She also talks about the dawning realisation that it’s actually OK to ask for help. This is a big step for Jane who has had to shoulder a lot of responsibility in her young life.
Jane relates how they try to stay positive and have lots of fun on their walks. They’ve found that the natural rhythm of the track is great for laying down rap lines:
Walkin’ up the hills
My knees are shot
What’s that? [double beat]
Think I’ve got a hot spot!
Jane talks about how the leaders set time limits for certain sections of the track based on the previous year’s times. Like when they were given thirty minutes and made it up in eleven. On one hill they were given half an hour to make it or they’d have to do push-ups. “We pushed hard. We came in at five minutes past the time limit but our leader said that it didn’t matter because we worked really well together as a team and that’s what she wanted to see.”
Below are some of the other insights Jane has had over the past three months:
- White line syndrome occurs when you’re fairly close to the finish line and people just want to push on. They seem to forget that others can’t go that fast and must remember to remain a team no matter what.
- There’s an invisible line you can cross when you spend so many hours together just walking. Conversations can cross from curiosity to interrogation. When this happens it can impose on people’s privacy, so you have to be respectful.
- Family makes all the difference when you’ve spent hours on the track and all you need is some comfort and support from a family member in the support crew. But other people can also form your surrogate family and be just as nurturing to each other.
- You need great sleep and nourishment for the big walk.
- It’s fun to use glow sticks to colour-code partners during the night section of the walk. You can tell exactly where your partner is and if they fall because you see the sudden downwards movement of light. (Support crews can restock these at checkpoints.)
- Trust others!
So the BIG challenge is coming up soon and they’re understandably nervous! Safe travels Kokoda Kids!!
*Jane is a past Kokoda Kid and this name is a pseudonym.