Tuesday 25 July 2017

Kokoda Ultra Marathon 2017 - Part 2

Continuation from Kokoda Ultra Marathon Part 1.

Day Two, Wednesday, was our longest day on the Track, which covered 42kms. Based on peoples efforts the previous day, it was important that we got an early start in order to make the most of daylight. So, in the early hours of the morning, we were awake, packed and ready to go before first light. With our head torches on we all headed off into the jungle together. As we'd had more time to get to know each other we stayed closer for longer and chatted a little more. 
Day Two Course Map. 
The track from Naoro Village descends down to Naoro Swamps and Brown River. The swamps comprise tall dense grass and in sections sodden ground. Through this part of the track I was with Kellie, Tegyn and Ash. We stuck together and stayed on the most trodden path. Cutting through the swamp and Kokoda Track is Brown River, which was another formidable waterway. With a bit of assistance we all crossed without incident. 
Day Two start line. Kokoda Ultra Marathon.
Emerging from Naoro Swamp we were confronted with "The Wall". It is a very steep section of trail that goes straight up the mountain side. The first impression was that the only thing holding this "wall" together was tree roots. It was not an exceptionally big climb, but it was steep and slow going.
Tree roots holding "The Wall" together.
On the other side of The Wall, down in the next valley, is Menari Village. Though we were not staying in this village, the locals still came out to say hello and view the spectacle. I was told that they normally see hikers lugging large packs, so us with our active gear apparel and small packs must have been a novelty. The locals took advantage of the passing trade and offered us soft drinks for sale. They didn't have to ask twice and currency was produced with haste. While we were there we took some time to watch the local kids play footy. Ash clearly had too much energy and decided to join one of the teams on the field.

After our break we headed out onto the track again. The rugged terrain eventually played its part in spreading us out. Similarly to Day 1, I was once again by myself on the Kokoda Track. Being alone on the track for a second day, I was becoming better at spotting historical land marks. At the end of the first day we discussed each others experiences and compared what each one of us saw. Now on Day Two I was able to identify abandoned tracks, depressions in the ground, benched areas on the hill sides, all of which became clearer now I had some practice. Nature can be so wonderful the way it reclaims disturbed ground, but it can leave some clues behind. 

The ascents and descents on Day Two were massive. There were numerous ascents where I looked at my watch thinking that an hour had gone by, only to realise that in reality it was just 15 minutes. I was surprised at how slow going some of these sections were and can see why so many people take many more days than us to traverse the Kokoda Track. 

Above Menari Village at the top of a 700m ascent is Brigade Hill. Apart from my deep breathing, it was a peaceful tranquil place, but during the Kokoda Campaign this is where a fierce battle took place which resulted in many causalities from both sides. On the other side of Brigade Hill is Efogi 1 Village. Again, as was the case in Menari Village, the locals came out to greet me at Efogi Village. The children didn't offer any soft drinks but made up for it with their enthusiasm.
Day Two Profile.
The high point of Day 2 was Mount Bellamy at 2190m, which is also the highest point along the Kokoda Track. It was noticeably cooler at this altitude. A little further along the trail was Templetons No. 1 Campsite ,which marked the end of Day 2 and our campsite for the night. Even though I'd covered 42kms with 2700m of ascent and 1780m of descent, I still made it with plenty of daylight left. Similarly to the end of Day One it was a matter of finding a place to have a quick wash before unpacking my gear in the tent and indulging in some milo while waiting for the rest of our group to turn up. 

We all found Day Two to be tough with some of the entrants arriving at camp a little after dark. Amongst the tail group was Anthony. Every day he stayed at the back to act as sweep. As he did every day, Anthony would put his own needs aside to check first on the rest of us and ask how our day had been and discuss the day ahead. Afterwards he'd go about his own business before returning to organise us again. He was instrumental in ensuring that the whole event operated smoothly, which he did superbly.

We were all pretty exhausted after our Day Two efforts on the track, compounded by our early morning start. The warm evening meal, however, did the job of restoring energy reserves in the cooling evening temperature before we retired to our tents and some much sought after sleep.

As discussed that previous night, the start to Day Three would be different again. To make things interesting, it was decided that we'd have two separate starts in the morning, with the slower people heading off in wave 1, followed an hour later by wave 2. The mornings entertainment therefore comprised of watching wave 1 departing camp. After I'd sorted myself out and finished packing, it was time for wave 2 to depart. Paper, scissors, rock decided the order of starts. Kellie went first, followed by me, then Ash, then Tegyn. It was a fun way to spend our last day on the Kokoda Track. 
Day Three Course Map.
Day Three, Thursday, was a "downhill" day and it didn't disappoint on tiring legs. I was starting the feel the affects of a weighted pack from the previous days as I'm not used to carrying such a heavy load (all part of the adventure). I had quite a bit of chafing down my back which was annoying me but it wasn't too bad and I learnt to manage it throughout the run. 
Day Three Profile.
The first couple of kilometres on Day Three had lots of relics from the Kokoda Track Campaign. It didn't take much effort to identify the relics along the side of the trail, though all were showing signs of decay.
Day Three, Wave 1 start. Kokoda Ultra Marathon.
We all seemed to have separated quite quickly today. Ash took the lead, determined to catch as many of the wave 1 group  as possible, Tegyn caught up then pulled away from me quite quickly. I caught and passed Kellie, so we were mostly by ourselves again today. 
Eora Creek suspension bridge. Kokoda Ultra Marathon.
In one of the valleys was an elaborate bridge across Eora Creek, which would be best described as dubious yet beautifully made by the locals. Not long after Eora Creek I caught Grant and Shane (wave 1) just before the village of Alola, where I was able to purchase a can of coke. A little further along the track is Isurava Memorial and its village. Just before Isurava I caught Ash on a down hill section he was running very carefully balancing his can of coke as he didn't want to spill a drop of the precious liquid.

Tegyn, Steve and I passed each other on the short out and back to Isurava Memorial. This is a mandatory stop and now I see why, as it is a beautiful memorial with stunning views that mark the scene of a four day battle that has been described as the battle that saved Australia. When leaving the memorial I took directions from a local villager who pointed me up what turned out to be a short-cut track, so I returned to the trail a little ahead of Tegyn to his annoyance and fair enough as he was in front of me and running really well. In fairness I stopped and waited until he was out of sight before I continued along the track in pursuit. 
Isurava Memorial. Kokoda Ultra Marathon.
From Isurava Memorial and its neighbouring village, it is predominantly down hill through the villages of Deniki, Hoi, Kovello to Kokoda where I passed Mark and Rebecca who informed me that Tegyn was about 15mins ahead and that I should run faster and catch him. I caught Chris instead just before coming into Kokoda which was our final campsite and end of the Kokoda Track. In total, Day Three was 30.5kms with 1000m of ascent and 2560m of descent. At the finish line there was the feeling of accomplishment amongst our small group. We had all been on a journey together, and though we didn't stay together on the track, we all had very similar experiences. It was great to watch everyone come through and be so happy.
All us girls made the Female Podium. Kokoda Ultra Marathon.
At Kokoda Village Wayne had travelled up and had our drop bags waiting for us. We had packed these prior to leaving Port Moresby, so it was good to have some luxuries at the end. For me it was clean clothes and a sleeping mat. 

First Class ticket please, one way. Kokoda Ultra Marathon.
Early the next morning we packed our gear and boarded a truck for the trip to the Kokoda airstrip. Much to the annoyance of the Papuan support team, on several occasions they had to clear a path through trees that had been felled by nuisance locals. Eventually we made it to the airstrip and with relief our plane was waiting for us. 
Kokoda Village
Back in the hotel at Port Moresby I took a long hot shower. It was good to wash the grime away. It did some to the point where I could no longer smell myself, which suggested that I smelled the worst. 
Presentation. Kokoda Ultra Marathon.
Our last night in Port Moresby was spent reflecting upon the event and presenting each of us a finishers medal. I feel very privileged to have shard this experience with such a great group of people. The format for this event is such that someone with moderate trail fitness is capable of covering the Kokoda Track in the three days given. The support from Kokoda Spirit was exceptional, from signing up, until our return departure from Port Moresby. Kokoda Spirit are clearly an experienced company who provide a high level of support and logistics along the Kokoda Track. I was hesitant about doing a staged event such as this, but my fears have been alleviated and I'm now looking to do another stage race in the not too distant future. 
Bomana War Cemetery. Australian War Memorial.
Gear (amongst other mandatory gear I carried)
La Sportiva Akasha shoes. They were perfect for this sort of terrain.
La Sportiva Snap Short
La Sportiva Thongs
Ultimate Direction Fastpack 15. It was a Mary Poppins bag, containing more than the name suggests.
Ultimate Direction Body Bottle
Ultimate Direction Ultra Light Hat
Kokoda Ultra Marathon 2017.



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