"Ralph!" "Raallpphh!" "RRRAAALLLPPPHHH!!!"
One o'clock in the morning, and Paul is calling for his mate Ralph. Gee I wish Ralph would turn up.
Then, through my sleeping stupor, I realise it is something a bit more serious. So I get up to make sure Paul is OK. Peter has beaten me there, and is giving Paul a tablet to help settle the stomach. One of the camp dogs has turned up, and as quick as a flash has eaten everything that Paul provided. So we nickname the dog Ralph. It seems appropriate at the time. And the best part is that there is nothing left for us to clean up!
So, I went back to bed, and listened on and off to Paul calling for his mate for the rest of the night. Poor bugger. Today is going to be a big day - I hope he is ok.
Breakfast was as usual, although Paul had very little. He looked a little better than he did last night, and at least he had stopped vomiting. The plan for the day was to follow the original wartime track up Ioribaiwa Ridge. This is a really difficult climb, as it is very rarely walked. We needed a knifeman to cut a path, and the spademan to cut steps - though he didn't do too much of that. Being a difficult climb, plus a much longer track than the "Kokoda Highway" (the tourist track), Paul and some porters were sent on the tourist track to make things a bit easier for him.
Just as well too. The original track is hardly a track at all. Climbing a near vertical climb, with no steps cut in, with loose soil slipping from under the boot with every step made for a precarious climb. Another climb with nothing to hang on to, and a slip meant a hundred metre fall. I probably should have been worried, but was just to focused on getting to the top to think or worry about anything else. It was no wonder we were sweating by the time we got to the top.
This was the last ridge that the Japanese made it to. It is said that they could see the lights of Port Moresby from here - but looking from the top, that would have been impossible. Perhaps the glow of the searchlights at the airport, but that would be about it. As a result of it being the closest the Japs got to Port Moresby, with them having dug in here, there was a heap of Japanese trenches/spider holes to look at. It was a great adventure, and well worth getting off the beaten track to see stuff much as it was when the Japs quietly "Advanced to the rear", and started quietly pulling back to the North East Coast.
Once we got to the top, we cut across the ridgeline, and really had to cut our way through the undergrowth to get back to the main track. We had organised to meet Paul at the top, but he was nowhere to be seen. Instead, there was another memorial to a fallen trekker - a super fit police officer who had died of dehydration on day 1 of his trek. We sent one of the boys back down the track to see if Paul had been held up - but no - he must have been doing well and just kept on walking!
Sure enough, as we walked down the other side of Ioribaiwa Ridge to new Ioribaiwa Village, there was Paul sitting down enjoying the view. He was going well, despite feeling a bit weak from the bug, and was keen to keep moving. So were we - there was no shade in the village, and the sun was beating down on us. After the difficult morning climb, we were all a little hot and tired, and keen to get to the morning tea spot at the bottom. The day before yesterday I had drunk 8 litres of water, and it looked like today would be the same.
We arrived at the creek at the bottom where we had organised for morning tea - but there were no boys to be seen. Twice in one day things had gone buggaup! But, get over it, and get on with it. So we sat down and had a muesli bar and a well deserved rest. Soon after, Dominic (the 2IC cook) turned up. Apparently the locals had said the water here was no good to drink, so they had pushed on another 30 minutes to a place where a fresh creek joined this creek from the side. It was a quick pace, and we were all glad for another rest and cup of tea/coffee/milo when we got there.
From morning tea, it was a trip along the creek to lunch. Not on a track beside the creek, but rock hopping along the creek bed, crossing the creek about 9 times. It was hard work, and again Warren was setting a cracking pace, with Sam hot on his heels. I was sweating bucket loads with the sun on my back, and working hard to keep up - keeping balance, not able to use the trekking poles as much, hopping from rock to rock with a 16kg backpack on, and finding it tough - even on the flat.
So I've got to say, I was very happy to see the lunch spot on the side of the creek. Peter immediately ripped his clothes off and jumped into the creek. I didn't have the energy. I just wanted to sit down, have a rest, something to eat and relax for a while. Catherine was worse. She had been shitty all morning, and looked like she was struggling.
Paul had done really well for someone who was crook. His mate Ralph had followed us (Ralph's owner was travelling with us on his way to Port Moresby), and was sniffing around Paul at lunchtime. Unfortunately for Ralph, Paul again only had a bite to eat in an attempt to quiet his stomach. Catherine too only had a little. Unlike me, who made a pig of myself. In fact, I felt a bit ill I had eaten that much. So when we were told we were moving out in 10 minutes, I wasn't very happy.
Paul headed off with his porter straight away, while we spent the next 10 minutes preparing for what promised to be an even longer and steeper climb than the one this morning. I was still hot, I was over-full, and not feeling like a big climb. Which led to my second dummy spit of the trip.
"Don't let Sam walk behind Warren" I snapped. "He walks so close that Warren has to speed up so he doesn't get trampled." It wasn't deserved. Although Sam did have a habit of treading on the heels of the people in front (Catherine had had a dummy spit about it this morning), he didn't need me to tell him to ease off.
Peter suggested that Sam head off in front of Warren the Spademan, with myself, Alex and Catherine following. That was all Sam needed, and he was off to catch up with Paul. Peter followed him, while our little group started trudging up the hill.
The heat was oppressive, the humidity was energy sapping, and the steepness of the hill was soul destroying. After about ten minutes Warren stopped and turned around to see how we were getting on. Alex and Catherine were about 20 metres behind Warren and I.
"Is she ok?" Warren asked me.
"I don't know" I said. "She didn't have much to eat at lunch."
"Hmm" said Warren. "You walk ahead. I go back and see."
So, with 50 more minutes of walking to get to the top, it was just me and the hill. I started walking, thinking to myself that I wouldn't mind catching up to Paul, Sam and Paul's porter Barry, so I had someone to pace myself with. So I tried to up my pace. Ten minutes later I was shattered. The sound of my heartbeat was pounding in my ears, my pulse was racing at 190bpm, I was breathing hard, and sweating fiercely. I had to stop for a breather. I gave myself a minute, then headed off again. Every step took immense concentration. Every breath seemed to be strangled half way down. I was having trouble sipping water. I was exhausted.
"Keep moving feet" I said to myself, repeating it over and over.
"Keep moving feet"
"Keep moving feet".
It was like mantra in the deep recesses of my mind that kept me going. Then, up ahead, I saw Paul, Sam and Barry, stopped for a breather. My spirits soared. I was getting there! Then they moved off, and I was still 20 metres behind. I stopped for a breather, then went on with renewed energy. But my feet were so slow. My breathing so laboured. I could not believe how hard this was.
"What's wrong with me!" I screamed silently at myself. "I have to pick up the pace!"
Then, up ahead, Paul, Sam and Barry again - this time closer. I stopped where they had been, recharging for another assault. Then, behind me, Warren, Alex and Catherine.
"How have they caught up!" I screamed at myself, and headed up the hill again, this time with renewed vigour.
Then, up ahead, I heard cheering, clapping, whooping. Then words of encouragement for Paul and Sam. I must have been close! I upped my effort again, and within two minutes I could see the boys at the top of Imita Ridge - sitting in the shade. Then they started cheering for me - whooping, hollering and yelling encouragement. It was the best moment of the whole trip! I redoubled my efforts, and strode the last 20 metres to the crest of the ridge, the whole time with them yelling. It was another one of those moving, amazing moments.
"Where's the next hill?!" I yelled back at them. "C'mon - bring it on!!" I continued in a kind of delirious outburst of relief, pride and exhaustion.
I dropped down in the shade, and drank some water, amazed at Paul's achievement to get to the top in his condition. I struggled - how the hell did he do it? Then, within five minutes, Warren, Alex and Catherine appeared.
The cheering and hollering started again, this time with me joining in. They made it to the top, and collapsed on the ground, looking as shattered as I felt. They didn't say a thing - just looked away from the group, motionless...
As each of the porters arrived at the top, the ovation was repeated. Every person who made it to the top was made to feel special. Another example of great leadership, and camaraderie that had been developed during the trip.
Then, out of nowhere, from the other direction, appeared 4 guys running up the hill! They got to the top, slapping each other on the back, and lit a cigarette! It turned out they were army combat engineers (in PNG on exercises, from the CER (Combat Engineer Regiment), part of the 2nd RAR), and had just run in from Owers corner in three hours. Half a dozen others joined them over the next ten minutes, none of them with enough water.
We started walking down the other side, now in the shade, with a sense of achievement. We were just two hours away from our last nights camp at Goldie River - and we were all looking forward to jumping in the river for a wash and cool down. As we went, the army guys went past us, on their way back to Owers Corner. The last one (accompanied by a mate) was staggering and stumbling. He was coherent, but not in good shape. We had seen an army doctor, and this guys mate was very interested to find out where the doctor was. I hope they made it out ok. Interestingly, the group had two security guys from the PNG Army accompanying them with fully loaded M16's...
We made Goldie River by 3:00PM. Alex and Catherine dropped their packs, and just hugged each other for about two minutes - not a word was spoken.
Peter then suggested that with Owers Corner only 45 minutes walk away, we could walk out tonight if we wanted. All agreed it would be best to camp, and present the porters with a token of our appreciation, rather than rushing things to get out tonight. Besides, we were all looking forward to the river, and our last night on the track.
Then Sonny (Boskuk) rushed up to us all agitated. Apparently, Ralph had eaten all the breakfast cereal, as well as most of the rice the boys were going to have for dinner tonight! Bloody Ralph! Get over it. Get on with it. There's always a way. So, the boys were to share our dinner, plus have the spaghetti and baked beans that we were to have for breakfast. We would have a normal dinner, and our own muesli bars for breakfast. We would eat when we got to Sogeri Lodge if need be. So, no problem. All sorted.
So, for the last time. Unpack. Down to the river with my soap and tiny towel. Jump in clothes and all. Slowly undress, and wash each garment as I take it off. Throw it on the bank. Take off the next thing, wash it, throw it on the bank. All the others did the same.
I tried to walk up the bank to the campsite, and my knee was in screaming agony. It was again swollen, and again I couldn't bend it or straighten it. I struggled up the bank fighting back the tears, and collapsed at the table with a cup of coffee.
Everyone had mellowed - and Alex and Catherine were both talking again. We had a small dinner, then gathered around the campfire to present the porters with a small gratuity from the group. The individuals who had personal porters then presented them with a further gratuity. Alex stood up, and despite not having a personal porter, gave a gift to Warren for his assistance on the trek to both he and Catherine. It was a generous gesture, and one that told us all the impact Warren had had on our couple from Perth. There were sad faces with the knowledge that the adventure was almost over, and in all likelihood, we wouldn't see any of these people ever again...
We headed to bed at around 8PM. I knew that I had left my sweat rag down by the river, but I physically couldn't walk down and back up again to get it - my knee just won't let me. Hopefully a couple of Nurofen Plus will fix it overnight, and the sweatrag might still be there in the morning. A big day - no, a huge day was over, and so too was the trip - almost.