Keenwalk: Why I went

Keenwalk: Why I went

 

“The upper bound of one mans imagination of the impossible is a simple walk for another”

 

It’s been almost a year since I’ve returned from the KeenWalk to Kosciuszko. When asked the inevitable “why”, I try to stick to short uncomplicated replies: “It’s for a lost bet” or “I felt like it” or my personal favourite, “I did it for the T-Shirt”. [0] How I discovered the walk is not so interesting by comparison. I found out purely “by accident.” My morning reading habits include Hacker News and I came across an article, “Australian Economist who lost bet will walk from Parliament to Mount Kosciousko.” [1] I’m interested in any Australian references on Hacker News, so I read the article, absorbed the challenge and contacted Steve that day and signed up. It was that simple.

“… This week in The Economist we will publish our quarterly index of house prices around the world. Australia’s homes are the most overvalued in the index. The ratio of prices to rents in the country is fully 56% above its long-run average (see chart). … “ [2]

Fast forward 9 days, 240 kilometers and many towns later and you get to this picture. It was taken late on the last day of Steve descending Kosciuszko, job done. For Steve it was more than just about completing the distance, personal or professional pride. It was about a bigger question. Are “rising house prices a bubble?”. [2] A lot of press was watching this “walk of shame” as one Journalist put it, with the expectation of a symbolic failure. As if a failure to reach the summit would somehow invalidate the idea of the current housing bubble. That’s why this image is a favourite of the trip. The distance covered, mountain summit reached and negative press silenced. The master stroke of imagination Steve conjoured, was to take up an off-the-cuff challenge [1] then flawlessly achieve it. So thanks Steve for letting me go on the KeenWalk. I learned a lot from trip but the one that comes most to mind, and I smile as I think about it, “the upper bound of one mans imagination of the impossible is a simple walk for another”.

Reference

[0] 2011MAR121259, flickr, “I did it for the t-shirt”
[Accessed Saturday, 12th March 2011]
http://www.flickr.com/photos/bootload/5518902310/

[1] samh, Hackernews, “Australian Economist who lost bet will walk from Parliament to Mount Kosciousko”
[Accessed Saturday, 12th March 2011]
http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1126054 and http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1126078

[2] S.C., Economist, “Iron, coal, bricks and mortar”
[Accessed Saturday, 12th March 2011]
http://www.economist.com/blogs/freeexchange/2011/03/australias_house_prices

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KeenWalk Day 2

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This story starts with a Professor, an Analyst and a lost bet at Parliament House, Canberra. Ending nine days and approximately 240 kilometers away at the top of Mt.Koscuiszko. On April 14, 2010, I joined a walk with Academic and Economist, Steve Keen from Canberra to Mount Mt.Koscuiszko. On April 23 I made my way to the summit.

Looking for insightful economic commentary about the Keen Walk? Try this article: Honk if you’re a bear written by “embedded” Journalist, Rob Burgess from Business Spectator. I’ll be linking to Rob’s journal for each leg of the journey, filling in the “bourgeois bits” he missed. You can read the previous entry about Day 1.

Day 2

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There’s a long highway in your mind  / The spirit road that you must find / To get you home to peace again / Where you belong my love lost friend

Zero seven start this morning. Got down to breakfast and had some muesli and peaches, 2 glasses of juice and a banana. One lot of eggs, 2 bits of toast and 2 bits of bacon. Food is important for a good start. The distances we are covering means if you don’t eat enough you will finish the day tired and  sore. Watching my hydration again, no coffee.

Breakfast is followed by a quick walk down the street with Dave. Dave was my roomy last night. He’s been a bit jumpy about his running today. I don’t blame him. We started with stretching before breakfast. Dave got out a well worn stretch guide – preparation. Stretching done we pack and bring our kit down. Our organised time to leave is slipping. We want to leave early to beat the heat. Outside it’s about ten degrees now, clear skys with the early morning haze burning off in the early sun.

Finally get into the van and drive to yesterdays finish point near where we ate the chicken rice and curry, on the           Monaro Highway. Out we get. The runners are getting ready. The walkers are getting ready but nobody wants to drive the support vehicles and I get nominated. Great just what I want. The first day of full marching and I get sidelined driving along at very low speed behind what appears to be slower walkers. Appear is the key word because I was to find out later, the trucks speedo is not the calibrated instrument I thought it was. Rob was actually moving a quite a good 5 kilometer per hour pace.

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Stopped at a station at 10:00 in the middle of nowhere. Took a quick look around. You can see some rolling stock and what passed for the local station.

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It doesn’t look like a train has passed through the station for quite a while.

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The next shot is significant. For the last day I’ve been trying to locate Moose. Today he turns up.

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To tell you the truth I didn’t really care about the COM stuff-up between us. I was just glad he’d made it. Moose was a late entrant. In fact I wasn’t sure he’d make it at all. It took quite a bit of juggling for him to arrange time off work. I was pretty happy for him to turn up for quite a few reasons.

The first was both Moose and myself spent the previous year working through the crap of Black Saturday Bushfire. For me it was cleaning up my old man’s place in Kinglake West. Dad was lucky. Lucky he survived, lucky he got out with cars intact, lucky his house that I’d helped build, didn’t burn down. He is the luckiest man I know in that town. Moose wasn’t so lucky.

Moose grew up in a small town called Strathewen at the foothills of Kinglake. This area was one of the hardest hit by Black Saturday. Few people survived. Moose not only lost his mum, his brother but a large chunk of the locals living in the area. The property was wrecked. The fences can be rebuilt, the buildings restored. The people cannot be replaced. While we grew up in different towns, Moose in Strathewen, myself in Diamond Creek I’ve known Moose since High School. We both spent winter last year cleaning up his property in Strathewen and working on my Dads. For blokes like Moose and myself, challenges like the KeenWalk is not only fun but also helps put into perspective  the horrors of last year. The second reason was obvious, Moose has valuable Alpine expertise and the rest of my kit is in the back of Moose’s ute.

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♬  You stop to eat / You start to drink / But you don’t stop and you don’t think

Ripped off my boots, pulled off the socks and put them in the sun to dry. Pretty hungry despite the fact the only exercise I’d done was driving the van. The shot above shows the kind of country we are in – rich pasture with trees dotting the landscape. Sheep country. Time to leave, it’s 1400.

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Still quite a few people popping in to join the walk for the day. The orange vested chaps are CSIRO scientists. Interesting to hear their take on various types of economic systems. None of the ideas sound practical – but you never know.

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Passing from Australian Capital Territory, Canberra into New South Wales.

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Love this shot. An old corrugated iron shearing shed. Used the same materials to build a shed at Dads.

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The train line continues. No traffic though. What a waste.

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There’s a long highway in your mind / The spirit road that you must find / Peace again

As the day continues, the runners and walkers join forces and walk together. We split into various groups and chat along the way. Dave has had a good day and is keeping good pace with everyone else despite the fact he ran in the morning. It’s a hard slog, especially down hill.

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Going long distances puts strain on different parts of your legs depending on the terrain. If it’s flat, your calves hurt. If there is hills, the calves and quads. Down hill means your knees cop it. So at various points along the way we find anything that will support our weight and stretch. It starts to get cold now. The sun is beginning to move lower in the sky.

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♬ When you’re alone / You cheat yourself  / You paint yourself in a dark, dark place

To the right it gets dark. To the left the golden hour – that time of day where the sun shines on the landscape, bathing it in full yellow sun – starts to make taking photos a joy.

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There is a faint haze in the distance. You can see it in some of the photo’s. Must be some burn-off somewhere in the distance. I can’t see the source. Getting tired now. The destination must be somewhere close.

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The group is now strung out. The support van has stopped to let anyone get some water or if they are really tired a ride. We press on. And then we walk into our destination, the service station. It’s 1700.

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Get your hat / Get your shoes / Get out here while you still can still choose / Spirit road

Finished?

No. First it’s a ride back to where we had lunch to pick up Moose’s car. Then a further drive to tomorrows end point, Michelago. A round trip of forty to fifty kilometers. We are all stuffed, but press on.  Pick up the car, drive to the new hotel, check in. Changed room mates. Explained to Dave why. Blast we have a room on the top floor – stairs. We have to navigate stairs. Our legs are tight, smashed and sore and we carry all our kit upstairs.

Had a quick chat to the chef, a Dutchman. Food looks like it’s going to be good tonight. Grabbed a coke, a Parma, a crab salad and cappucchino. The chef was slammed as everone ordered something different off the menu. I was just pleased to get something hot to eat. Decided to move earlier tomorrow. Organise our own drivers and get out early. Packed up my kit for another day.

You can read the previous entry about Day 1.

Friday, 10th May 2010. This is the second part of my recollections of the Keenwalk. You can see the photos at my Keenwalk collection on my flickr account. The posts will also be mirrored at keenwalker.com.au. Be sure to read the posts by other participants.

Continued ==> Day 3

Keenwalk training

2010APR251949

On April 14, 2010, I joined a walk with Academic and Economist, Steve Keen from Canberra to Mount Mt.Koscuiszko. On April 23 I made my way to the summit. This story starts with a Professor, an Analyst and a lost bet at Parliament House, Canberra.

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Ending nine days and approximately 240 kilometers away at the top of Mt.Koscuiszko.

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This is the first of several posts. I took a lot of pictures along the way and will try to show what kind of country we marched across. This first post will concentrate on training and how I made sure I could make the distance without injury, comfortably.

Training

Gone walkabout

Where I explain why doing 240Km in nine days is "do-able"by gradually ramping up my daily schedule.

1000 miles

Last year I was exploring some ideas on failure and why people fail. So I decided to test the idea and pick a seemingly impossible goal, then try achieve it or break. The idea I came up with: “travel on foot in one year 1000 Kilometers”. Sound easy right? I picked the hardest, fixed 10 kilometer route I could find. Then proceeded to walk. Sometimes I’d run and later I added a 10 kilogram pack never exceeding a one percent effort increase. Every couple of days I would clock up 10 kilometers. Sun, rain, day or night until I broke.

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At first it was pretty hard. I don’t care what anybody says, 10 kilometers every second to third day is difficult. But you do toughen up. By about 400 kilometers, I found things started to get pretty easy. Then with 42 days to go to the end of the year, I completed 1000 kilometers. What next? Why not try 1000 miles? 1000 miles is even crazier, right?

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For me, 2009 went out with rain, thunderclaps and sore feet.

So for the next 42 days in the growing heat of summer, I raced to complete the last 540 kilometers to take the total up to 1600 kilometers. It was tough, but once again do-able. Instead of the easy 10 kilometers per day, I now had to push up to 20 kilometers per day. Ten in the morning, ten in the afternoon. While most watched television in the evening, I’d be grabbing my water bottles, hat and clocking up the kilometers. On the last day of 2009 I headed out, finishing my last ten kilometers in a surprise flash rain storm. For me, 2009 went out with rain, thunderclaps and sore feet.

Things learnt

So what did I learn from this crazy idea?

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Well a lot actually. The first and most important: If you break your big tasks into smaller achievable chunks and concentrate on finishing the small tasks, you can complete seemingly big tasks. But there was a twist. I found that the point of failure can happen at any time and the most likely point at the start or finish. You can push yourself a lot harder physically than you think. The mind is much stronger than body and with sufficient will-power, you can overcome quite a bit of pain and overcome exhaustion.

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But there are limits. One thing I found out a few times is susceptibility to the elements. The weather always dictates how you should prepare. The weather can be as much as 50 percent of hardship. Also there is the problem of hydration.

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Hydration is important because if you don’t drink enough, not only do you loose up to 20 percent power, but you can also cause stomach problems. You can get into a shite situation simply by not drinking enough.

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There is a simple solution: As a rule of thumb I consume about 1 litre of water per 10 kilometers when it’s hot. When the heat is bad I supplement my water with some isotonic additives to address the potassium loss through sweat and eat. Muscle fatige and tiredness is bought about by a combination of Calcium exhaustion, glucose depletion and lactic acid buildup. Understanding hydration and muscle fatigue allowed me to better prepare for longer distances in all kinds of weather.

More

So after I’ve completed a thousand miles in one year, what’s next?  By this stage I’ve got a bit sick of doing just the same 10 kilometer track. So I was consciously looking for longer distances. That’s when I found the Keen Walk.

How I found the Keen Walk

"... He _is_ taking 8 days to do it, so he's only got to walk ~30km (just under 20 miles) a day. ..."Hmm 20 miles a day for 8 days in hilly terrain in April is not to be underestimated.

In two words, “by accident”.

I was pouring over my morning news items on HackerNews and came across this article, Australian Economist who lost bet will walk from Parliament to Mount Kosciousko. I’m interested in any Australian references, so I read the article, absorbed the challenge and contacted Steve that day and signed up. What now? I’ve got plenty of experience below 1000 meters and virtually none above. Going to the highest place in Australia isn’t a thing to be taken lightly. Some specialist help is required.

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Seeking Advice

I sought advice in two places. One at some specialist stores, the other mates I know who have Alpine hours. Seeking such advice is important. Firstly there are so many small things to absorb in a short period of time. That’s where Moose came into the picture. I’ve known Moose for a long time and I knew he had some Alpine hours so it was a logical choice to bounce my planning details off his experience. The second bit of advice is to know which pieces of kit to bring and what to ignore. Every piece of kit you source costs and it should also be as multi-purpose as possible. Then there is the problem of planning.

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Beyond Planning

If you have no idea of what planning is about, here’s a quick summary. You plan not to have a guide that you follow by the book. You plan to explore your requirements to concentrate on contingency. All planning goes to hell when you execute. Careful planning allows you to adapt quickly and create a new plan as conditions change. Planning is a process to take stock, allow you to adapt when things go “pear shaped”. I’ll write some more about this concept at another time but for the moment consider planning necessary, but not used as you might think.

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Assembling Kit

You start with footwear. In my case boots. I’ve got some ancient heavy black Paratrooper boots I have used for years. But I decided to get some new ones. The ones I chose are standard Issue Desert pattern number 4’s. For extreme weather I had a loaner pair of Goretex all weather boots. I tested the Goretex boots over ten kilometers with very thin socks. They are without doubt, “the bee’s knee’s” of boots. But they are way to hot. The Goretex are for very cold, wet conditions only. The Desert issue are much better suited for general walking.

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Next I started to “break-in” the Desert issue boots. I also started playing with lace up configuration. The left boot with left to right lace up, the right boot with right lace centrally up the middle with the left lace criss-crossing the central lace. The difference in lace up style is because the later allows you to cut the boot off faster in case of a foot or leg break. Turns out the criss-cross method works better. So I chose the left hand style.

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Nothing new

Next I decided to make sure the Desert issue boots had at least 200 kilometers clocked up to ensure no problems on the march. The first time I wore them with thick socks, I got blisters and sore front toes as they bashed against the front of the boot going down hills. Taping and thin socks alleviated this problem.

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Taking and wearing “nothing new” is an idea that allows you to test everything before you go. New boots can mean blisters. New packs, sores or back sprain. Nothing new!

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What did I take

Above and below you can see the core of my kit. A dive bag to carry most of it in. Some webbing to carry extra water and kit on the road. A light day pack with internal water bladder for extra 3 litres of water. Thermal tops, wool thermal underwear, gloves. I also picked up some wick inner gloves.

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Other pieces of kit include:

  • map case

    • compass

    • 1:50,000 map coverage of Mt.Koscuiszko & surrounding area

    • 1:25,000 topographic map coverage of Mt.Koscuiszko area

  • spare water bottle

    • 2 x thermos
  • Greatcoat

  • Outer shell jacket

    • individually packed rat packs (bag filled with various high calorie food)

    • notepad & pens

    • camera

  • Day pack

In the end I didn’t need or use all of the listed items. The idea here is to match your requirements to need at the same time don’t overstock. There are also some other considerations especially with air travel.

Air travel with dangerous goods

I didn’t bring along my solid magnesium block for emergency fire lighting. Nor did I ship the webbing via air. I don’t think it would go down to well when I went through security trying to explain the residues left over in the webbing magazine pouches.

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Stepping up

Committed, I booked as many places on the route along the away as I could. Now came the hard part, trying out 34 kilometers in one day. My usual starting low of 10 kilometers was not going to cut it. My usual high of 20 kilometers a day was not going to be enough. Now was the time to increase my daily total to 34 kilometers with minimal rest between each session.

The morning session would be 15 kilometers and the afternoon 17. Enough for the walk? I didn’t know. So I started doing this first once every three or four days. Then I tried three days in a row. 100 kilometers in three days with pack, with water in my broken-in boots.

Trouble! … I couldn’t walk.

The amount of walking I had tried simply caused my calves to cease up. So I had to adjust by stretching more. Calf, followed by hamstring then quads. I repeated this after every hill or when I became sore. This simple adjustment allowed me to easily ramp up to the distances required. It was still hard work.

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Last minute prep

For the last push I spent about four or five days marching in heat up the hills of Mt.Dandenong and alongside the 1000 steps track. I really smashed myself in these sessions of long uphill sections in preparation for the hard days ahead.

Wednesday, 28th April 2010. This is the fist part of my recollections of the Keenwalk. You can see the photos at my Keenwalk collection on my flickr account. The posts will also be mirrored at keenwalker.com.au. Be sure to read the posts by other participants.

Continued ==> Day 1