Cathy's Story

KOKODA, Day 1 April 2005
We were four hours in, the sun was relentless and the humidity was sucking the life out of me. I was soaked in sweat, we were half way up Test Mountain, so called because it was the first real hurdle the Trail threw at you, trekkers were known to have turned around at this point and not carry on. I looked up, the others were already out of sight. I had fallen behind. I was left with two porters who were trying to take my pack from me. I had insisted on carrying my own, all but two of the other trekkers had paid the extra $400 to have the porter’s carry their load and they were both men. It wasn’t the money, I wanted to do this on my own I wanted to make it as difficult as possible…maybe punishment for my perceived failing at life. This was my penance and now I was failing miserably again.

I had seen the look that passed between the porter’s that morning. They had passed my pack amongst themselves guestimating the weight. I could have told them, it was 18.5kg, it had been weighed when we boarded the light plane from Port Morseby to Kokoda the previous day. I knew that look. I had seen it before. I had been seeing it for the past two years every time I told someone I was going to walk the Kokoda Trail. It was a “you’re kidding yourself” look.

Everything was spinning. I was feeling disoriented. I was stumbling. I was becoming more frustrated. I would take two steps and stop. The porters would take two steps and stop. Finally I sank to my knees, humiliated, crushed. How could I go home and tell people I didn’t make it to lunchtime on the first day, how utterly ridiculous. This wasn’t how I had played this thing out, over and over in my mind for the past two years. Shit I hadn’t even got to sleep in my new tent, it was packed nicely in my pack, probably still with the price tag on it. I sat there sucking from the water pipe coming over my shoulder, sat there pondering my situation, I looked up and saw one of the porters staring at me, staring with pity in his eyes.
This boy who could be no more than eighteen years old. Standing there in his dirty t shirt with holes in it, with his faded jeans rolled up to the knees and his bare feet. A boy who was happy with his lot in life. A boy thrilled that he had been given a job to walk 96km through one of the toughest jungles in the world carrying other peoples belongings and he felt sorry for me. Here I was with my brand new trekking clothes, my shiny $200 boots that hadn’t even got to feel the mud of the jungle and my cosy sleeping bag that was rated at -1 degree so I wouldn’t be cold at night. This kid slept on a mat next to a dwindling fire and he felt sorry for me. I stood up with my 18.5kg of luxury on my back, straightened my hat, mopped my brow and I damn well walked to the top of that mountain and didn’t stop until I finished 8 days later.

Kokoda was grueling, but it was the catalyst that propelled me forward in life and made me realize I’m not “Just a Mum”

APR 2005