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Two million steps on the Bibbulmun Track

Alan Alexander, Queensland, Australia

At 11.00am on Saturday June 5th 2010, I arrived at the Northern Terminus of the Bibbulmun Track at Kalamunda hand in hand with my wife. So ended an incredible and very special journey of 966km over 46 consecutive days, which began on April 21st in Albany.

This was an emotional moment, undoubtedly experienced by many before me, but to a 74 year old with two artificial hips, who had delayed hip  replacement surgery for years and put up with the pain because of the fear that it might curtail his love of hiking, this was something very, very special.

To walk ‘end-to-end’ was an idea conceived in Nepal on our second trekking visit there in December 2008. During that visit we were able to spend time at The Leprosy Mission Hospital at Anandaban outside Kathmandu. My wife Elwyn and I had for many years been financial supporters of The Leprosy Mission in Australia, and now were able to experience at first hand the great work of locating, treating, rehabilitating and bringing sufferers of the debilitating disease back to productive village life.

Over a four year period prior to our visit we had conducted fund-raising sponsored bushwalks in the hills around our home in Brisbane and had raised $25,000 for Leprosy Mission projects. We were informed that The Leprosy Mission was about to embark on a special project in the Central Development Region of Nepal, with the primary goal of empowering and improving the quality of life of people affected by leprosy and other physical disabilities, with attention given to women and marginalised people. We met with the project leaders Elisa Yule and Shovakhar Kandel, and committed ourselves to raising $100,000 for this exciting, ground-breaking project.

The goal of rehabilitation and restoration of lives was close to our hearts. To raise $100,000 needed something special, which I determined for me would be to walk the length of the Bibbulmun Track in 46 consecutive days – no mean feat for a 73 year old with two false hips!

With promised sponsorship of over $50,000 my wife (70 years of age), and I set out from Albany on May 13th 2009. Our plan was to walk the first nine days together to Walpole, after which Elwyn would follow by car and catch up with me at towns along the way to provide support.

I set out on my own from Walpole for the six day journey to Northcliffe when disaster struck in the form of a serious bladder infection. There was no mobile phone service, my analogue EPIRB was out of date and there were very few people on the Track. I was in extreme agony when I was
rescued in what I feel was a wonderful living example of God’s grace and provision. Two Bibbulmun volunteers who “just happened” to know who I was, what I was doing, and just how to cope with the emergency – and who “just happened” to be there two days earlier than planned – appeared out of the bush at Gardner River bridge. One day later I was undergoing surgery in a Perth hospital. It was a humbling and unforgettable experience, and God taught me so much in two very eventful days.

I now had some unfinished business and immediately put into action a plan to return to Western Australia around the same time in 2010 and start all over again. Why? Well, I believed it was by God’s grace I was still here – by God’s grace I was still available – why would I not do it all again?
I truly believed God wanted me to complete the journey.

This time I would have some good mates accompanying me on various stages so that I would have only three sections on my own, a total of 10 days. I also planned to have a satellite phone and a “Spot Messenger” (Ed: see note below) to ensure contact with the outside world. My wife would again supply the support as well as walking with me on the six days between Walpole to Northcliffe.

During my time on the track I found that people appear to walk the track for a number of different reasons. For me the objective was two-fold, firstly to help support and raise awareness of a project dear to my heart, and secondly to set an example and inspire others to follow. In completing an
end-to-end I achieved my goals and proved to myself, and hopefully to others, that hip replacement is not a sentence to a sedentary life, but a chance to get a reasonably active life back again.

You need a good team behind you, to set some goals and be willing to work hard at your rehabilitation and ongoing fitness. As I have always said, “your attitude determines your altitude”. You must personally resolve to do it. Have the courage to step out, put your life, your body, your problem in God’s hands. You must take the responsibility for the problem and the outcome. No other person can make the decision for you.

You may ask “do you think I can improve my life?” and I can only reply “how much do you want to?”
Alan Alexander

(Editor’s note: A “Spot Messenger” is a communication and location device. For further information, visit the website https://www.findmespot.com/en-au)