Monday, 23 July 2018

The Joy of Spring in Europe

Spring in tropical Queensland is all but a non-event. Arriving in Haarlem, Holland on the 25 May, I soon realised I was in for a treat of amazing spring colour.

The vibrant greens of magnificent shady oaks, beech, and many others, had me in awe.

The 'wildflowers,' many of which I had tried to cultivate in my 'cottage garden' many years ago, had me spellbound as they flourished in fields, verges, drains, rock walls and endless unusual crevices.

Pastoral vistas, spotted with the red of poppies, were wondrous to behold.

The luxuriant growth of vines, fruit trees and vegetables seen in private gardens was stunning.

Then to step into a marketplace to wander the aisles and try to resist the temptation to not buy too much, was another joy.

Vibrant colours and unfamilar plants were found.

Wonderment at how every small space is cleverly created into garden space.

Time was happily lost in public gardens.

The garden of the Presidential Palace, Bratislava.

Church of St Anne, Senkvice, Slovakia. Alas the gates were locked, but I loved the peek view through the archway.

And then there were the roses!!! Words cannot portray their rich beauty seen in every city, town and village.

Gardens of Melk Abbey.

Gardens of Liebfrauenkirchen, Catholic Church, Koblenz.

Gardens of the Residential Palace of the Bishop, Wurzburg.

The rose garden of the 17th Century Palace, Bamburg.

A wall, Wertheim.



After our wonderful visit to the Residential Palce of Bamburg, our group of six friends wandered through Bamburg's markets. Greg [below] disappeared momentarily from the group. He returned with 3 single roses and presented them to 3 very delighted 'young' women. Definitely a 'wow' moment of this cruise, especially given the 'romatic' feel of this wonderful old historic town.

How clever?
I now knew what to do with my boots that needed to be retired after hiking well over a 1000 kms in Canada, The Dolomites, Andalusia, across England and many trails in Oz.

My favourite snap of the holiday.
 It was taken to capture the untamed beauty of this lawn. Jayne happened to have one of the ship's umbrellas, as it was drizzling when we set off exploring. An accidental but perfect capture of the joy of spring in Europe!

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Monday, 16 July 2018

Volunteering for the Kokoda Challenge

Sunday 14 July

What is the Kokoda Challenge?


"The Kokoda Challenge is Australia’s premier cross country team event, a punishing 96 km of hills and bushwalking that takes place in the Gold Coast hinterland in July of each year.

Participants trek a 96 km cross country course, walking along fire trails, crossing 12 creeks and climbing 5,000m of vertical elevation, within 39 hours. The goal is to finish as a complete team of four in honour of the spirit forged on the Kokoda Track in 1942: mateship, endurance, courage and sacrifice.

96 km is the original Kokoda Track length and the time limit represents the 39th Battalion, one the infantry units of the Australian Army who fought during the Kokoda Track campaign.

There are 14 Major Checkpoints along the 96 km course. Starting in the Gold Coast Hinterland suburb of Mudgeeraba, the track follows selected fire trails and paths through Austinville, Springbrook, Numinbah Valley, Beechmont and Clagiraba to the finish line at the Nerang Velodrome.

The Kokoda Challenge Association is a registered charity, providing funds for Youth Program (KCYP),[1] teaching young people the fundamental philosophy of the Spirit of Kokoda, and how their achievements in life are directly related to the effort they contribute. The program for The Kokoda Kids is a 14-month commitment - the first 20 weeks consisting of training and team building activities to develop physical fitness and prepare them for the challenge of a lifetime – walking The Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea.

Established by Doug Henderson and his wife Anna, the initial goal was to raise awareness of the World War II Kokoda Campaign in New Guinea in 1942; and use the 'Spirit of Kokoda' to help young Australian’s reach their full potential."

The blue line is our section to sweep - Checkpoint 8 to 11.

Woken by the alarm at 3.30 am, I was in the car by 4.30 am to make my rendezvous with the 4.45 am car pool. Yes, it was one of our coldest winter's nights and we were well rugged up to combat the 4C temperature. Why am I doing this I asked myself more than once?

On returning from 3 weeks travelling and eating my way along the the Rhine Danube river systems, I was feeling completely unfit, when hiking partner and friend Mary, asked me to join her volunteer sweeper group for the event.

"It is an early start but just a couple of hours and lots of fun," were her words accompanying her invitation. Over a number of years I had read of the gruelling 39 hours of endless hiking, often in wet muddy cold conditions and never wanted a part of it, however I found myself saying yes to the very persuasive Mary. A fitness regime was instigated immediately, but would it be enough?

Frost and chill greeted us at 6 am at checkpoint 8 near Beechmont. A warming coffee and the glow of a wonderful sunrise to come, kept our spirits high.

Middle pic is the Logan Kokoda Kids support group, ready to provide breakfast.

At 6.40 am we spotted the last walkers, the Logan Kokoda Kids, on the horizon. This group of about 20 were participating as members of the Youth Challenge scheme. They were finding it tough after approx 60 k's of constant walking with steep ascents and descents and half of the journey in the chilly dark. They were cheered in loudly by volunteers and family. Tears were shed, food eaten and half an hour later, they were up and determined to go the distance.

The sun finally made an appearance.

Time for us to get busy.

Frost on the grass as we passed.

What is a sweeper?

Our task was to meet at checkpoint 8 and take over from the 4 sweepers of the 3 previous checkpoints. They were able to tell us that all participants had now reached checkpoint 8. Once these walkers, the Logan Kokoda kids, had had breakfast, they would then continue their trek. We waited 20 to 30 mins before following them, collecting all signboards, hanging ribbon markers and any rubbish. We would follow this group to checkpoint 11, always making sure that we stayed a distance from them, to prevent building any more pressure than they needed. Today, this too meant I was able to take a few very welcome breaks. 

Cleaning up. We were impressed at how little had been dropped on the ground.

Having arrived at 6am, we were very glad to get moving at 7.30am. The 1st kilometre or so was relatively flat, with glorious views north, south, east and west.
 I soon had the feeling that this day was not going to be a chore but something quite the reverse.

A long descent commences, at times a tad steep but mostly quite acceptable.

Can anyone name this vine with a passionfruit like fruit?

After about 1/2 hour, the trail entered army reserve land, with interesting signage along the way.

The down continued.

Checkpoint 9 appeared about 9am. The Logan Kokoda Kids were still resting on our arrival. A hot chocolate, curtesy of the army, and the warmth of the hot coals of a smouldering fire, were very welcome.

Half an hour passed very pleasantly but there was still work to be done. It was not long before we were at the base of this valley with the temperature noticably dropping. A number of streams had to be forded, thankfully quite easily on this weekend. Everyone was incredibly grateful for this glorious, if cold sunny day, as several previous Kokoda have been wet and mud challenging.

We were constantly in awe of the the beauty of the rainforest on this leg of the trail. The soaring gums to the skyline, were just magnificent.

An hour after leaving checkpoint 9, the crunch came! If you were hiking this at night, and many were, or in the wet, and many have, it would be heartbreak hill. It went on and on and on, seemingly vertical but I guess that is an exaggeration, but it was steep and endless. 

Spot Mary! 

Looking back. 
              I needed a rest!

I fully understand why the Logan Kokoda Kids had taken a rest here. We could see them just moving on, so forced ourselves to do the same. Little did I know that we were nowhere near the top of this ascent.

Where we had come from.

Mark changing batteries on our communications phone.

Onwards and upwards!

Finally the worst is over. 

A short stroll through a narrow track, brought us out of the army reserve land into seemingly suburbia for the next 2 1/2 hours.

We quickly learnt why people love to live on the mountain and work at the coast. The views, particularly on this day, were magnificent.

Just out of the bush!

We were still climbing but on a much more exceptable gradient.

I was first to spot this haven for the weary walker and jokingly suggested we should patronise the establishment. 
The Logan Kokoda Kids must have rested here, as we spotted them just ahead. We definitely had to let them get further on. It was fortunate that we did, as I discovered that my water bladder had sprung a leak and my backpack was half full of water.

And a sculpture in their garden.

The Syd Duncan Play Park was only a short distance on. Fantastic for kids to roll down its slope, but it left us breathless as we reached checkpoint 10.

Looking back. Then east.

A short rest and more street walking, but the views continued to unfold.

Another perfect rest spot.

At 1.30 pm we arrived at the long, steep, gravelly descent of Hell Fire Pass. A very slow passage ensued, as the muscles of the legs of the Logan Kokoda Kids were constantly seizing up. It was 2 1/2 hours and 4pm, before we arrived at checkpoint 11.

A very deceptive descent at this point.

Our Logan Kokoda kids stepping off onto the rough trail.

Mary and Sarah following.

Our final view of the coastline.

Sometimes it was easier to do a little jog down the slopes rather than go slowly and try to stay on one's feet. [LHS below]
Top RHS - finally a normal walk.
Bottom RHS - "Yes, the flat ground is just around the corner."

Well the flat ground was around the corner, but there wasn't much of it. A short stroll and this trail threw up yet another challenge. Thankfully short but narrow and very steep with loose soil. These pics are of my group trying to negotiate the incline. I was very concerned for how the Logan Kokoda Kids were now feeling after climbing it.

Shortly after this climb we could hear cheering. The Logan Kokoda kids were still in the bush, but volunteers had come out to meet them and cheer them on to checkpoint 11.

The traffic was halted as we all crossed the road amidst more loud cheering and clapping.

Once each individual had checked in, they made their way across the parkland to have dinner with their support group before setting off for their final 18 kms.
Looking at the photo below, the trail took them straight back to an ascent.

Watching the groups shuffling steps over the last few k's that we walked with them, I would not have been surprised to learn that some of them would decide to call it a day at this checkpoint. A mighty 78k effort. I am in awe and total admiration, having just learnt that.......

"THE FINAL TEAM HAVE CROSSED THE 2018 GOLD COAST KOKODA CHALLENGE FINISH LINE! 🏆👏🏽 2500 incredible people have crossed that finish line over the weekend, and the final team conquering 96km at 39 hours and 10 minutes is our wonderful Logan Kokoda Kids team! Well done guys!  Courage, endurance, mateship and sacrifice flowing strong! 👏🏽💯👊🏽🌟"

"Well if what I just witnessed following the last team for the 2018 Kokoda Challenge - I’m in for a lot longer. Doing the final sweep from CP11 to the finish line Ellen, Natalie, Maddi and myself followed the Kokoda Kids from Logan - what a great bunch of kids. They showed the 4 pillars of what Kokoda is about and they supported each other to the finish line. They all had their moments of discomfort, some struggling to walk down hills and other up and not to mention the walkers curse, Chaffing - but they did it as a team. Very honoured to be part of the Kokoda Community and look forward to their PNG adventure." Jason Sands.

An amazing effort Logan Kokoda kids! You well and truly rock!

Sweeping for 21 1/2 kilometres, on such a glorious day, is just a walk in the park in comparison to what these kids have acheieved.

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