Kokoda Challenge Day 2

Numinbah Valley Checkpoint

The team were still walking strong when they left Polly’s Cafe just after the sun set so I was confident they would stay on track to arrive at Numinbah Hall sometime between 11pm and midnight. I did the dishes, packed everything into the camper, had a yarn with the traffic control guy who was taking a break and drove over the winding mountain roads to Numbinbah. On my way I spoke with C’s husband to tell him that they were still traveling well.

When I arrived at Numinbah I found total chaos. The checkpoint was at least 500m from where they were forcing 4WDs to park and the support crew area was a total mud bath. There were walkers and crews walking all over the road in various states of delirium and exhaustion; I was surprised no one had been hit.

Just before Numinbah Hall there was a small parking area near some industrial bins. There were two other support crews set up there so I decided to join them. The bins were right next to the track and only about 100m from the checkpoint so it would save the team from walking further than necessary. It was drizzling on and off so I hung the tarp to keep everything dry. I set up candles for ambience, prepared a meal of spaghetti and sauce, boiled eggs for my friend to take with her, made sandwiches and wraps for the walkers to carry, and set out everything I thought the team would need.

Midnight came and went with no word on the walkers’ progress. I knew they had left the minor checkpoint 8.9km away at 9:02pm so was concerned for their safety and welfare. I knew from my position beside the track that the trail markings were abysmal so I was worried they might have got lost. I knew markings were disgraceful because 80% of teams walking past me walked out to the road instead of across to the trail where there was a small sign that was too far from the entry to the bin area for their headlights to pick up.

At around 1am I got a message that the girls were at the checkpoint. Half an hour later they still hadn’t traveled the 100m to my location (I didn’t want to leave because I had the food heating on the stove). One of the team had blisters and was seeking medical attention. Eventually two of the walkers came for a meal. They started discussing their plans for continuing. The walker with the blisters had decided to withdraw, two of the remaining walkers were traveling too slowly to make the cut-offs ahead and the final walker desperately wanted a chance to finish. She was frustrated at the slow pace after being a late addition to the team and having been assured the three existing members were confident of their pace (they were now over 3 hours behind a schedule that only left them 30 minutes to spare for the cut-offs).

The walkers asked me what I thought they should do. My response: everyone enters events like this for their own reasons so the only person who can decide what to do is each individual team member. It’s about knowing what you can live with when you recall the event next week. Ultimately, the walker desperate to continue left with a team of walkers who were going slightly faster than our team who had already taken a rest break at Numinbah. Two walkers joined a team who were unlikely to make the cut-offs but would at least be able to make it to the 61km CP, only 12km away. The final walker retired and waited until her partner came to collect her. I packed the ute and drove the 35km of mountain roads to the next CP; arriving there at 4:30am after being awake for 24:30.

Beechmont Range – The final checkpoint for our team

It was freezing cold at the top of the Beechmont Range as I waited in the mud bath for the walkers to arrive. Only 4wds were able to park at the checkpoint with 2wd vehicles stretched for hundreds of metres down the side of the narrow mountain road. I had to engage 4wd to even get into the parking area. I set up camp, pulled out a self-inflating mattress and my sleeping bag, and lay down for a short kip. I was so tired I just slept right through the rain that fell on my bare head. I slept for about 30 minutes because my first walker was due to arrive at around 6am. She arrived and was walking strong with the team she had joined.

At 6:35am the other two walkers arrived. They literally just made the 6:35am checkpoint cut off but had already phoned me to tell me they were withdrawing. Their reasons for not continuing are their own. They said they had given the event all they could and asked me to organise their retreat.

We enjoyed the beautiful view from the checkpoint while we waited for C’s husband to pick her up. The girls did a great job getting this far on a punishing muddy course. I feel helpless that there’s nothing I could do to get them some speed to get to the finish line. All I could do for my part was give them all I had in encouragement, food, comfort and hydration. Tonight I feel trashed from lack of sleep and the effort of being a one-man support crew. So I must have done something right.

The Chalkies might not have made it to the finish line, but I hope they gained something from having the courage to toe the start line. I am proud of them, not only for taking on the challenge, but also for staying true to themselves throughout. They cared for each other, laughed a lot and didn’t fall into the trap of complaining about the self-imposed hardship. I hope they are proud of themselves when they wake up tomorrow morning.


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