FROM SEA TO SUMMIT

Twin Tests of Endurance of Papua New Guinea

Chris Guesdon is in training again but this time out of the water.

On 13 July 2009 Chris, an ex marathon swimmer, will turn trekker in an attempt to conquer the twin tests of endurance of Papua New Guinea, of sea and summit.

On 21st November 1971, a young Chris was one of three expats who participated in the once-only Fisherman Island swim in the seas off Port Moresby. There were many obstacles to overcome during the 12 kilometre swim, from the hot and humid temperatures both in and out of the water, uncharted reefs and coral, and the predatory inhabitants of those tropical waters. With sharks and crocs on their minds, it was sea snakes that unexpectedly joined the swimmers during the event.

A swimming race in a remote region was a great experience for the competitors and a spectacle as yet unseen. The event created amazing interest at the time in the Port Moresby community, with both expats and locals lining the seaside.

Before the swim that year Chris became a first time father to Danielle, born in Port Moresby in July. Then Chris and wife Sue carried their "lik-lik meri" (little girl) around in a finely woven buka basket made by the Buka people of Bougainville.

In 2009 a not-so-young Chris will return to PNG with a grown-up Danielle. This time a different kind of endurance effort is on his mind. Chris and Danielle are returning to PNG to trek the 155 kilometre war time Kokoda Track. The track will see both the anniversary of Chris' epic swim and Danielle's birthday.

By walking Kokoda Chris is achieving a long-held dream which began all those years ago when he and Sue would walk from the elevated village of Sogeri to the start of the track and together wonder about whether to take it on. Not in a position to do so then due to commitments with his young daughter, Chris will now be able to begin the walk with that daughter at his side.

When Chris asked Danielle 12 months ago if she would trek the Kokoda Trail with him there was no hesitation. Danielle has many adventurous travels under her belt, hiking through jungles and up volcanos, riding camels in the desert and crossing continents by train, through much of Asia, the Middle East and the subcontinent.

As a child she joined Chris on swimming adventures. As a 6 yo she swam short sections of her father's swim in La Tuque and Lake Chibougamau in Canada, where the water is only warm enough to swim four weeks of the year. In Hong Kong she joined Chris in the water and swam the last few hundred metres of her father's pioneering swim around Silver Island and back. This last effort made the Hong Kong newspapers and a variation of the swim is now an annual event for thousands of participants in the waters off Repulse Bay.

However this is the first time Danielle will join Chris in a land based effort. They will be seeing the land of her birth at its most demanding.

The Kokoda Trail follows in the footsteps of Australian soldiers. They will test body and spirit climbing the majestic and challenging Owen Stanley ranges, dealing with tropical rain, mud, heat, hazardous river crossings and unrelenting mountain passes. More importantly, they will follow the original 155km wartime track through battlefields, fire support bases, casualty evacuation stations and air supply areas, and learn of this important event in Australia's military history.

The villagers along the track are living in a subsistence economy and are among the most isolated people in the world. Australians owe them and their forebears so much for their spirit and alliance to the Australian soldiers. People who make the Kokoda Trek generally raise funds for their home based charitable causes but we believe that as we are in their country and we Australians owe so much to the locals that any funds raised or donations should be directed toward the villagers along the trail or at least the people of Papua New Guinea.

Chris and Danielle are seeking sponsorship funds from individuals, corporations and associations. Donations have been received from AFL Tasmania and Wrest Point.

Chris has been training this last year by walking the hills around Hobart, hikes up Mount Wellington and through the cold and rugged Tasmanian wilderness areas of Mt Field and Cockle Creek. Hampered by a lack of hills around Melbourne, Danielle has been walking the Kokoda Memorial Steps in the Dandenongs and surrounds.

If Chris successfully completes the trek, he will have managed to achieve twin tests of endurance in Papua New Guinea - from sea to summit.


PostScript: Success

Danielle and Chris Guesdon successfully completed the ten day 155 km wartime track from Owers Corner to Kokoda in Papua New Guinea, returning to Port Moresby at the end of July. Their group returned relatively unscathed apart from some scratches and sore muscles, although Chris had been hampered by the onset of a severe cold. They passed other groups on the track who were not so lucky, some trekkers having suffered injuries and illness.

Chris modelled his 18-month training and effort on the track on his marathon swimming experience (and somewhat also on the fable of the tortoise and the hare). Although he commented that despite this nothing really prepared him for the gruelling reality of the track, there was never a moment he contemplated not finishing.

Danielle and Chris gained a new appreciation of what the diggers must have gone through during the Kokoda campaign, from climbing the seemingly neverending Brigade Hill to the steep descent into Templetons Crossing. This appreciation was heartfelt during a moving dawn service at the memorial at Isurava on the second last day.

At the conclusion of the trek Chris and Danielle stayed an extra couple of days in Port Moresby, the place of Danielle's birth. Chris was interested to see that the dusty town of 38 years ago had become a burgeoning city. Expressions of the new PNG were portrayed in an exhibition of modern art at Parliament House.

It is difficult to put into words the experience of walking the Kokoda Track. It is certainly one that Danielle and Chris will never forget.

Chris Guesdon is a former Australian International Marathon Swimmer and is a Marketing Consultant and Sports Administrator from Tasmania. He is a current CSA International Representative

Danielle Guesdon is his daughter and a Melbourne barrister.


Photos

Kokoda Trail Pictures Kokoda Trail Pictures Kokoda Trail Pictures Kokoda Trail Pictures Kokoda Trail Pictures Kokoda Trail Pictures Kokoda Trail Pictures Kokoda Trail Pictures Kokoda Trail Pictures Kokoda Trail Pictures Kokoda Trail Pictures