For Travis Townend, this Kokoda journey started right back in 2011. At that time Travis, and his father Glenn climbed the tallest mountain in Papua New Guinea, Mt Wilhelm.
“It was a good bonding experience for both of us,” said Travis. “We mentioned then, let’s do Kokoda one time. I didn’t know if it would ever eventuate.”
That first trek was formative though. “Dad grew up in Papua New Guinea, so doing the trek with him, helped me to see where he grew up and how he felt about PNG. It was a great bonding experience. We get to chat and talk, push each other. Me and dad, in the middle of nowhere, you can have deep conversations, to block out the pain or the boredom of putting one foot in front of another.”
The father-son duo have tackled a number of challenges since that early walk—and not all of them walking.
“We’ve ridden road bikes from Morisset, NSW up to Stuart’s Point and done the 25,000 Spins ride along the Great Ocean Road. We also did Mount Kinabalu in Bornea. We push ourselves physically together when we can. A bit of good competition.”
Still, Travis wasn’t sure Kokoda would happen, until about two years ago, his Dad came to Adelaide and the idea was reborn. “Let’s do it now.”
Travis’ mum, Pam, is involved with the 10,000 Toes campaign and thought it would be great to do the walk for that cause. It has grown from there. Now more than 20 people have joined Travis and his dad—all raising money and awareness for the cause of fighting diabetes in the Pacific.
It is clear that adventuring is in this family’s DNA. But it is also contagious. Travis was married in December and will be tackling the trek with his wife, Chelsea. “We’re both feeling pretty good. Chelsea likes hiking national parks, doing Mount Lofty (a popular walking spot in Adelaide).”
Outdoor activity is an important part of their relationship. “We’re a pretty active couple. I go mountain bike riding two or three times a week and to the gym 4 or five times. Chelsea runs, walks the dog. As Kokoda gets closer we’ll get to spend more quality time, start training and doing something other than what we normally do.”
They are well aware of the task ahead. “We know it will be challenging: a small tent, we’ll both be smelly and grumpy and tired. But it will only make us better for it. We’ll be closer through the experience.”
Like everyone on the trip, Travis knows that just being active isn’t enough, they’ll have to train and get their bodies ready for the kinds of trials Kokoda will present. Travis and Chelsea are targeting the upcoming school holidays as a good time to train. Chelsea teaches at Prescott College Southern and Travis also works there as a chaplain. “Things are crazy at the moment, with end of term coming up. But we live quite close to Onkaparinga National Park. We are planning some walks, with packs to get used to the weight—to transfer our fitness over to this discipline.”
For Travis, while the upcoming walk is exciting it also has a personal element.
“As a family we’ve always been pretty health conscious,” Travis says. “Both my grandfathers have type 2 diabetes. We’re more likely to get it if we’re not careful.”
“It is so important to raise awareness for us and those in the Pacific. That this disease affects not just the people themselves but it can impact their children and grandchildren. Also with Dad growing up in the South Pacific we’ve always wanted to support the people there with their health, spirituality, we’ve done service projects and sent sports equipment.”
Travis and Chelsea have a unique idea for fundraising too. Apart from sharing their fundraising links, they’re selling stuff they don’t need. “We’ve got lots of stuff from the wedding we don’t need anymore,” said Travis. “Chelsea is selling her dress, we’ve got boards and stuff. All the money we get, we’ll put to the trip. We’re trying to be more minimalistic so whatever we can sell, we will.”
Travis recognises the huge need, not only for money to help 10,000 Toes but also for the awareness that this trip will raise. “It’s not just about giving money,” he says, “but also giving information to the people about how important it is. Supporting [this project] in any way, gives information to not just individuals lives but their whole communities in the South Pacific.”
And the people the newlyweds have told about the trip?
“A lot of people are like wow, full on. But as Australians we all have some sort of connection to Kokoda, so people are interested and think it’s cool but crazy. But most people are just saying, ‘you’re crazy’.”