January (heat-wave)

Well, summer has certainly struck with a vengeance. In fact after the last group walk, Cathri arrived back home to find the back of Langwarrin burning away merrily. But this week the weather has outdone itself, literally, as it's been the hottest heat-wave on record in Victoria. The last three days alone were 43, 44 and then, today, a soul-destroying 45. Walking outside is like wading into a hot-water bottle, and the heat is so thick that it feels like gravity itself has been affected. Been melted.
I feeling rather aggrieved by it all because one of the reasons I live in Melbourne is the much-vaunted changeability of the weather. I mean, if I wanted this sort of repetitiveness, I'd move up to Queensland. The upshot however, apart from energy-sapped kids (two of whom started school again on the first day of the heat-wave!), has been that I'm unable to train at all. Several people have pointed out that it will also be a tad warm-ish at Kokoda, and therefore it might actually be a brilliant time to train, but what they're not taking into account is that it's a different type of heat over there. Less fierce, more humid. Besides, I saw a politician on television yesterday sympathising with the general population about the ridiculous temperatures and urging them not to over-exert themselves. So, just for now, I see couch-potato-ism as my civic duty.

January (Happy Birthday to me!)

This year, just for something different, I spend my birthday hiking over the top of the huge-ass hill behind my house on our second group excursion. Lorraine proves her uber-fitness by branching off and heading up Stony Rise, an almost vertical goat track that leads to the water tower at the top. The one and only time I attempted Stony Rise was about ten years ago, when I was considerably fitter. I remember thinking that (a) there's a reason humans aren't goats (okay, my thought processes get slightly murky with exertion), (b) the track would never, ever, ever end, and (c) I was going to die. Upon finally reaching the top I fell to the ground with sheer, jelly-legged exhaustion and this little old lady came rushing over to ask me if I was okay. When I explained, within ragged gulps of breath, she nodded sympathetically and said 'oh yes, dear, I know exactly what you mean. I do Stony Rise twice a week and I often find it rather challenging.'

My dedication to the cause is even more admirable (I believe) given that today is not only my birthday but also my only day off this week. Because on Monday I started back on the dreaded 9-5 treadmill. It was all rather sudden, even though I'd been in the market for a job for a little while. But one minute I was wandering around the house trying to find excuses not to write (my best was last week's decision that all the spare electrical cords - from old computers, phones, MP3 players etc - had to be housed within individual snaplock bags), and the next I was accepting a job with a start-date the following Monday. To be honest, I wouldn't have even been looking for work if not for the fact those damn kids of mine expect to be fed daily (or, to be more accurate, hourly). And the writing game ain't all that good at that (especially not when you spend your time snaplocking electrical cords instead).

Unfortunately Monday was also the day the Australian Open tennis tournament started, which is my favourite viewing time of the entire year. However, looking on the bright side (which I am determined to do this year, even if it blinds me), starting work now also means I miss out on the last week and a half of LEOSHS (see previous post), so it's not all bad!

January (LEOSHS etc)

This week has been marred by latter-end-of-school-holidays syndrome (also known as LEOSHS, which is easier to enunciate after a few drinks). This is a medical/psychological condition that relates to how painful one's offspring become in the last weeks of the summer school holidays. I am also quite convinced that children gradually become more annoying as they age because they know (sneaky little buggers) that the older they are, the more difficult it is to put them up for adoption.
Despite the full swing of LEOSHS, I managed to find some 'me' time this week, which I spent visiting the specialist about my knee. It seems I have cartilage issues (as if I needed more issues), and I require a procedure called an arthroscopy. The good news is that it's a simple day procedure with just a two-month recovery time. The bad news is that my socialist leanings have precluded private health insurance and it seems I will now pay the price. I either fork out a significant sum of money (signficant to me anyway!) or I wait two months for yet another specialist appointment and then a further six months for the surgery. Which means, with the two-month recovery time, I'm cutting it all very, very fine. Bloody hell.

January (first group training)

Less than a week later we embark on our first group training exercise. This allows me just enough time to regain a relatively normal walking gait as after my 723 steps, I was severely disabled for two days and nominally disabled for a further three. We meet at my house, all dressed in various forms of hiking gear. Lorraine looks quite professional in her 'skins', while several others (including me) just look frumpy and Cathri (who has been given the all-clear from her doctor), with her blonde hair in pig-tails, just looks like a Swiss goat-herder (not that I've ever actually seen a Swiss goat-herder, or spent much time imagining what one would look like, but I've seen two different versions of Heidi so that makes me something of an expert).

We set off up some very steep hills behind my house (actually, to be totally truthful, Maria and I drove while everyone else walked - Maria on account of having given birth only a few months before and me on account of my dodgy knee which has finally come in somewhat useful). We park the car at the entrance to the national park and wait patiently for the others to join us, then off we go with a spring in our step (especially Maria and I) and a song in our heart (mine is 'I would walk 500 miles' by The Proclaimers but it soon gets boring as I only know the chorus).

We head up the long, winding track with towering eucalypts on either side and then along the ridge where, once past the water tower, the forest becomes considerably more lush, with gorgeous tree-ferns and hollow, echoing birdsong. I shall now skip the part where I nearly got everyone lost and begin again once we reached the uppermost section of the 1000 steps about an hour later. Whereupon Lorraine and Leanne (easily the two fittest in the group) show off by immediately launching themselves down the steps followed, considerably more slowly and reluctantly, by the rest of us. I hop melodramatically down about 150 odd steps, pausing every so often to ensure that my discomfort is noted by all, and then declare my knee can't take anymore. Lyn companionably accompanies me back to the top and we settle down for a good chat. It seems like forever before the others return, and then they insist on resting for a while before we head back.

But the journey home is a breeze. Apart from the fact we all now know the way (so directions aren't left up to me), even conversation is easier when you're going downhill. We pat ourselves on the back (figuratively speaking) for having officially started our training regime and then spend the time chatting about practical considerations for our trek. Like the best type of hiking boots, and those clever backpacks with water bladders that have little sucking nozzles, and whether to wax prior to Kokoda or shave during it. Cathri mutters that if she brings a razor along, it won't be for her legs. We all chuckle appreciatively but I pause to wonder whether she is talking in a suicidal or homicidal vein. Perhaps this might turn out to be Alien vs Predator after all, but this time with a Heidi twist.

January (let the resolutions begin...)

It never fails to astound me how Christmas itself, when it finally arrives, passes with little more than a blink. After all the build-up, with shopping and festivities and perusing (often with astonishment) the Christmas lists of offspring, and untangling lights and wrapping and pricing and decorating. Then, as quickly as you can wave a credit card through the air, all that remains is a fridge full of leftover turkey, an overflowing recycling bin, and a letterbox crammed with catalogues advertising everything, at considerably lower prices, that you just bought the week before. Oh, and children who are - at least for the time being - pretty damn content.
So one of my new year resolutions is always to slow down and just wallow in the whole Christmas thing a little more the next time around. Yet even as I make this resolution I know, deep down, that it'll just be more of the same and, in a way, that's what makes it Christmas. Other resolutions I make every single year without fail include losing weight, getting fit and doing something for myself. So the big difference this year is that, for the first time, there's a pretty good chance I'll follow through. Because with the whole Kokoda expedition on the horizon, I won't have any choice!
With this in mind I (with kids in tow) made an attempt on the 1000 steps today. These are a set of steep, winding steps dug into the side of a hill (mountain) in the Ferntree Gully National Park. Not long ago (correction - Lorraine [rather pedantically] informs me it was actually about a decade ago at least) plaques were included along the 1000 steps to signify the different sections of the Kokoda trek itself. So that the first plaque tells all about Owers Corner and the last gives the details of Kokoda village and the final battle. This excellent training ground is fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on my mood) situated only about a ten minute drive from my house.
From the very popular picnic ground, it's a good fifteen minute uphill walk just to reach the start of the (very popular) steps and enough to exhaust me already. Nevertheless, after gulping in air, I launch myself at the steps themselves. I stop at every plaque and pretend to read the inscription but really I'm only trying to survive. I notice, however, that I am not the only one using this ploy. Each plaque is surrounded by heavy breathing walkers - and I'm pretty sure (I hope) that it's not the battle information making them that way.
I reach 723 steps before I surrender. In the meantime each one of my children has passed me on the way back down, having already reached the summit. Unfortunately each one also stops to hold a cheerful conversation despite the fact that it is quite obvious I can barely breath, let alone cheerfully converse. However, if I found the ascent difficult, that's nothing compared to the descent. By the time I reach the starting point once more, my thighs have commenced a very disconcerting quiver and my retarded knee has started to object. Strongly.
In addition I can feel every single one of the chocolates, Viennese pastries and assorted other goodies I have consumed over the Christmas period. Not to mention all that leftover turkey plus the roast potatoes and pumpkin and gravy I kept making to keep it company. They seem to be coagulating as I walk/hobble/stagger. I resolve, again (and this time I damn well mean it), to start watching what I eat.