I didn’t expect to be back in Adelaide on September 6th but thankfully I can walk reasonably freely and only have a dull ache at the base of my spine and down the right side of my leg. I cannot crouch or squat (which would have made things interesting on the trek) and of course am somewhat “flat”. To have to leave such a great group under these circumstances and not have the opportunity to get to know them individually better will be my biggest regret. On the other hand to return “healthy” and know that a walking holiday is still possible (albeit not Kokoda) must be seen as a positive. Next Tuesday I have an urgent appointment with a neurosurgeon and I would expect an MRI will identify the cause.
In brief, I spoke with Bernie about my physical problem just before 5am yesterday morning. There were no issues in the walk from Owers’ Corner to Goodwater. I actually felt very good and was very optimistic about the trek. Unfortunately shortly after dinner after returning to my tent I suffered severe pain radiating into my right hamstring. Every time I tried to get up or rollover I would have another bolt of pain. This lasted for 3-4 hours and if I had been sensible enough to carry a whistle I might have used it at this time. For a while I was hopeful it would all settle and there was quite a bit of self-diagnosis going on. It was a bad night with the only distraction being Brenton’s (I think) snoring far afield and a few other male noises.
I appreciated Bernie’s direct response and having walked Kokoda previously also knew these options. I could continue on to Ioribaiwa to give it a bit more time to settle or return to Owers’ Corner with the help of my porter. Ioribaiwa was the last feasible medical evacuation point beyond which a medical evacuation was impossible. Bernie also asked me to consider it from a medical point of view. “What would I be advising if someone else in the group had this particular problem at this time”. In 2007 I was faced with a similar issue on day 2 of a Kokoda trek (north to south). One of the group had fallen and twisted a knee. I advised a medical retrieval from Isurava (helicopter). He required a knee reconstruction after returning. He, like me, was very upset when the only sensible option became clear.
Hindsight is always easy and could this have been prevented?? I think Maggie knew I was concerned and I’m sure Bernie knew something was amiss. It must have been in my body language over the last few days before leaving. Certainly Ken, my porter, felt there was a problem with the way I was walking on the day before. He thought I was favouring my left leg and not bending on the steep declines. I have had a “low back” problem for many years – probably more than 20. I have always assumed it to be a postural issue and it is in the genes. Despite this I have never been investigated for a “bad back” and could truthfully say there were no pre-existing issues. I was always very confident that I had put in the hours on the hills. My aerobic fitness was excellent and I had lost 8kg. My concerns only surfaced 3 weeks ago after increasing the weight of my day pack. Within a few hours of a walk on a couple of occasions I suffered “cramps” in the muscles now affected. It is likely these were early warnings of a nerve impingement. The extra weight of the day pack has tipped the balance. I was making things worse towards the end of my training and it was never going to work. Bernie was not aware of this issue and my medical had been submitted before the problem surfaced. There is a saying “a physician who treats himself has only a fool as a patient”. I am the fool!!
My thoughts are with the group. I can visualise where they are at this time but cannot see myself there. The decision to return was the right one at the time and I thank Bernie for his wisdom and his support. He has been an inspiration for many people over many years and I’m sure he will be into the future. Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this very worthwhile cause.
At least part of me will walk the track. Please note Ken’s excellent footwear. He may feel barefoot is better!! Ken and his cousin, Kevin made sure I negotiated the return walk safely. I had great support and hopefully we can catch up in the future (not Kokoda but perhaps the northern beaches).
Bernie (Dad) called at 7.26pm on Thursday night. They’re all good in camp at Aguaro.
The trekkers had a big day – 11 hours of walking. Dad describes it as the muddiest day he has ever experienced on the Track. It was muddy going up Ioribaiwa Ridge, muddy coming down Ioribaiwa, very muddy going up Maguli Ridge, with light rain, then heavy rain on top of and coming down Maguli. Despite the mud (because of it?), they had a really good day.
Earlier in the day the K12s had a break at Jap’s Ladder. They were sitting in the rain, trying to eat their food without ingesting too much of the mud with which they were covered…but the porters were singing and the trekkers felt that they wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
Already soaked with water and mud, they opted to wade through the river without removing their boots….hopefully their boots and gaiters will dry out a bit around the fire before they put them on again in the morning…although there’s plenty more mud to come.
By the end of the day they were very weary, with sore legs, but they’re well and didn’t sustain any injuries, which is quite a good effort given the very steep, slippery slopes they climbed up and down during the course of the day. When Dad called, all but 4 or 5 of the trekkers were already in bed. Dad noted the trekkers were happy to have now tasted their first fruit of the trip, getting their hands on some bananas as well as curry nuts.
Unfortunately, Bob has decided to withdraw due to some back/leg pain and is now back in Adelaide. His porter helped him to walk out and, while disappointed, Bob is okay and has medical appointments lined up. A message from Bob will be posted separately on this blog.
Today, they would have climbed ‘The Wall’ and Brigade Hill – some serious walking, but comparatively easy after yesterday’s efforts.
They’re enjoying the messages from home, so keep them coming
You can support Bob’s fundraising efforts at http://www.everydayhero.com.au/bob_kass