Walking to Restore Sight

The name Fred Hollows stands tall in Australia, even though the man himself has been gone since 1993 (and, he is another claimed Australian – Fred was in fact born in New Zealand). It has been estimated that over 1 million people worldwide can see thanks to the work started by Fred, and carried on by the Fred Hollows Foundation.  So registering to walk 30km for the Fred Hollows Foundation Coastrek fundraiser was a no brainer really – and it turns out that is the same sentiment for lots of other people as the 2nd Melbourne Coastrek “sold out” in a couple of hours.

But, it is one thing to talk the talk, but on Friday 18th November we had to walk the walk. 

I know I do a bit of walking on our holidays, and I also know that many other fundraising events cover a lot more distance than 30km (you can in fact opt to do double the distance in Coastrek, but mad I am not). I am in complete awe of the gladiators who walk 100km in the Oxfam Trailwalk. But, 30km is no stroll in the park, and I threatened to hit the next person who said: oh, 30kms – you’ll be fine. My daughter came up with a brilliant idea – what I should say is that I am doing a short walk for the Fred Hollows Foundation, and then when people questioned how far and I said 30km, the response would be more impressed, along the lines of: 30kms, that’s not a short walk. Clever girl my daughter.

From 12 weeks before the actual walk an email from Wild Women on Top (!) would arrive in my Inbox every Monday morning, outlining the recommended training programme for that week. A weeks worth of training sounded more than I normally achieve in several months – interval training, trek training, a longer distance walk ……….. I did my best – doing long walks every 10 days or so; trudging up and down the 115 steps at Sandringham beach; continuing to do my twice weekly swim.

But panic about my ability to do it and not be a cripple the next day set in a few weeks ago and together with 2 of my team members we did a practice run along the route. It was a glorious sunny day – somewhat of a rarity in Melbourne at the time – which showed the coastal track off in all its glory. 

The route for the 30kms starts at Koonya beach at Blairgowrie and zig zags its way down to the end of Point Nepean before turning back to finish at the Quarantine Station in the Point Nepean National Park. I’m sure the rich of Portsea were thrilled to have 2000 walkers wandering past their properties on the cliff face, but my, they do enjoy beautiful views across the Bay.

We managed to walk 28km on our trial walk, struggling a little bit towards the end, but highly relieved to know we could in fact do the distance. And even more importantly, we discovered a good coffee spot in Sorrento for our necessary caffeine hit.

So, last week the actual day arrived. All the preparation had to be put into practice. We four intrepid walkers of Team Elwood Walkers congregated in Blairgowrie the night before, and a lovely balmy night it was. We sat on the deck and chewed the fat, reminding ourselves not to over imbibe as that would not make for pleasant walking the next day.

As luck would have it, we were staying two houses away from the starting point, so rather than having to drive to Point Nepean at the crack of dawn to catch a bus to the start, we four simply had to roll out of bed, don our gear and walk out the door. The downside was that we were awakened early by the chatter and cheers of excited walkers and the loudspeaker welcoming them to the event!

Our start time was 7.15, so just before the appointed hour we joined the throngs of women (about 95% of the walkers are women – each team of 4 must have at least 2 women in it, but the majority are all women) chattering excitedly at the starting point. One woman even had a young baby strapped to her chest – go figure.

We were welcomed, safety warnings were given and then we were off. The weather was perfect for a long walk – overcast, mild and still – and remained so for the whole day. How lucky were we, as the day before had been a scorcher, and the following day was bright and sunny. Walking under a blazing sun for hours on end would not have been fun. Means the scenery is not as spectacular but certainly makes for more comfortable walking.

The first few kilometres had walkers stumbling over each other as we all traipsed along the narrow track but gradually the masses strung themselves out along the path as we found our natural rhythms. 

The route is a mixture of track and footpath walking, with only a small section of beach tramping, although once past London Bridge it was largely a dirty sand track. There are undulations, and some stairs, rather than any breath sapping hills.

We arrived at the Sorrento cafe at the 5km mark in good spirits, but more than ready for our morning cup of coffee:

Suitably caffeinated we were ready to tackle the next section through Sorrento into Portsea and the midway check in point at the Percy Cerutti Oval on Back Beach Road. At 13.5km we were feeling pretty sprightly and pleased with ourselves, so it’s just a loo stop and off we go.

Chatting, both amongst ourselves and with other walkers we pass or who pass us, helps fill in the time. It’s highly entertaining to eavesdrop on the conversations being had on the path, and to contribute your two pence worth. We heard about relationship troubles, child troubles, family fights over Christmas, holidays, work issues. You name it, it is discussed in detail over 30kms of walking!

As we turn right at London Bridge we head into the old Department of Defence land where signs warning you of unexploded bombs are a strong incentive to stay on the designated track.

We are now walking through scrubland, on a dry, dusty dirt/sand track – meandering through and into the Point Nepean National Park. We emerge at around the 20km point at an old rifle range, where we, and many others, briefly stop to have a bite to eat – fueling up for the final 10kms. The breeze has picked up a bit, and there is no shelter from it, so no one lingers here for long.

We walk past the Monash Light Tower and then take a right hand turn into so called Happy Valley. Perhaps not so happy for us, and probably even less so for the 60km walkers, but definitely not Unhappy Valley. Up a small hill and we emerge above the scrub line and can see the Bay once more. Push on, and there is a lovely Volunteer with the news that we only have 7km more to go – out to the very tip of Point Nepean and back to the Quarantine Station, our final destination. 

Before we know it we are at the pointy part of Point Nepean and can see over to Point Lonsdale and Queenscliff. And, we are still smiling.

There is now a real spring in our step as we can scent the finish line. 5km to go, then 4, then 3. That’s just a normal dog walk distance. Margo and I are even snapping at the heels of our speedsters, Jennie and Roz. 

 Before we know it we see those words Finish Line ahead.

Hurrah, hurrah. We did it. 30 km, 7 hours (including coffee stop, loo stops, lunch stop). It’s been easier than we expected, certainly easier than the trial walk of 28km we did a few weeks earlier. We’ve been helped by the weather – thank you, thank you to the Walking Gods, whoever they may be. And of course, by the training we put in. We are glad we did it, and are very proud of ourselves.  More importantly, we are thrilled to have raised over $5000 for this wonderful cause – and send a big THANK YOU to all our wonderful sponsors.

Now it’s back home for a cup of tea, a shower and a glass of bubbles, in that order – both to celebrate our achievement, and Roslyn’s birthday. Here’s to us. And here’s to the other 1,996 intrepid trekkers. Well done all of us. 

P.S. And, we awoke next day sound in body and spirit, with no aches and pains. More cause for celebration. Here’s to Team Elwood Walkers. Well done ladies.

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