Friday, 28 November 2014

Gear review

It is now more than a month since I finished my 600km escape Colditz Challenge. Through the marvellous generosity of my supporters I have raised over $16,000 for the Fred Hollows foundation which exceeds my initial goal and my wildest imagination of what I could raise. Thank you all on behalf of those you have allowed to see again.

The fundraising web site closes at the end of this month so if you still want to contribute or know someone who does please go to

I wanted to write a little about the gear I used as I know that I got great benefit from reading the blogs of other walkers in preparing for my walk.


This was a very important part of my kit. I used the Macpac Tasman 45 this is a lightweight pack which had just enough space for all my gear and basic supplies for the walk. I carried 11-14kg ( depending on how much food and water I had on board) in total comfort and if anything it improved my posture! Very flexible with good pocket access I was able to keep important items close to hand.

The Tasman 45 was tough despite it only weighing 1.1kg (less than one of my water bottles) It withstood some very rough treatment. The stretch side pockets were great for water bottles and could also be strapped down with bulkier items.

The Supertramp ventilated back system allows great airflow and reduces the dreaded sweetly back syndrome. The padded waist belt was comfortable and easy to adjust and transferred much of the weight easily onto the hips. This is a great lightweight pack and I highly recommend it for a long hike.


I walked in a pair of Merrell Moab Mid Gore-Tex . These boats were light and comfortable. They did get wet when walking through heavy dew covered grass and so didn't seem fully waterproof. They were also challenging to dry out once wet and I would need to stuff them with tissue overnight to get the moisture out.

Having said all that they were comfortable, supportive and had a grippy sole. They coped with all terrains that I encountered. By the end of the walk the artificial leather was disintegrating due to being wet for 18 days straight the sole was starting to detach from the upper due to using the side of my boot to dig a depression to sleep in each night. At the end of my challenge I had to throw them out after they had covered over 1000km. I did however buy a new pair directly on returning to Australia.

Sleeping bag

I took the Kathmandu Pathfinder for sleeping which was perfect for the autumn conditions n Europe. It was very compact, light and warm. I took a silk liner incase I had minus temperatures but never used it. Great shape easy to pack and an ideal temp for 10-5C nights.

Bivie Bag

I used an Dutch Military Breathable Bivie Bag. This was tough, fully waterproof and breathable. It had space for a lot of my essential gear inside to dry overnight. It had a hoop pole to keep it off my face, with a bug mesh screen to be open on dry nights. I could also close up completely if the weather got really bad. It was about 1Kg but well worth the weight, and as Ex Military good value at $100.

Mapping app

I used Forevermap by Scobbler on my iPhone. This allows you to download very detailed maps to the phone and then navigate offline. As I was on foot I wanted the most direct route and to be able to use trails and footpaths as much as possible. Forevermap delivered in a big way and put me on great little paths and trails many of which were otherwise completely unmarked. In the 600km I only mist a turn 3 times and all because I was not paying attention. It was easy on batteries as I wasn't online.

I fully recommend this to anyone heading through a new area on foot. Brilliant app.


I took a DD Hammocks Tarp which was an invaluable part of my kit. I only had a few wet nights but the Tarp provided effect cover in all situations. Many attachment points, tough webbing, stitching and super dry. I was able to pack it up very small and dry it quickly in the sunny spells during breaks. This Tarp gave me confidence that what ever the weather did I would have a dry nights sleep. Thanks DD Hammocks.


Honourable mention goes to all the merino clothing I took. I had a hoody that kept me warm in the early and late chill of the day. It also looked good enough to eat at restaurants without looking like I was sleeping in the woods (which of course I was). I had a merino Beanie/scull cap which was very warm for something the size and weight of a handkerchief. The Merino undies were comfortable, light, easy to wash and dry, highly recommended for all occasions.

I also took a battery pack with 5X phone charge to keep me powered up and ran my internet from a 3G mobile wireless hub from O2. This set up worked well and allowed me to stay in touch and blog though out the walk.

It have been a great adventure, amazing experience and I am planning my next challenge.

Thanks again for your interest and support.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Setting a new target after passing my initial fundraising goal

Three weeks after finishing my challenge I have reached my fund raising initial target of $15,000. I set this as my goal as it represented someone's sight being restored for each of the 600km I walked. When I started walking it became apparent that this would be a very tough target to reach and I thought that perhaps half way might be more realistic. This was despite the fantastic support from so many of my friends around the world. Then something remarkable happened. The Fred Hollows foundation put out the story of my challenge and Tony Wright wrote a great story in "The Age" about Aussie Colditz POW Jack Millett and linked it to my challenge. At this time I had already reached Switzerland but then people from all over Australia, whom I have never met, started to donate, some donating as much as $1000. Soon I was on my way to to my target. As I write I have collected $15,615.50 for the Fred Hollows Foundation. I have set a new Goal of reaching $17,000.

I can't thank you enough for the support that has been shown by the donations of friends and strangers. The impact on the lives of the recipients of Fred Hollows sight restoring surgery is massive and spreads to their families and the whole community. I thank you on their behalf.

Three weeks on and I am definitely missing the simplicity of life on the run. I am still holding on to the new perspective it has given me and starting to imagine what the next challenge could be.

I have now increased the goal on my fundraising page to $17,000 as I would love it if more people want to donate and I will keep the page open for the rest of November.

I can't believe it was over a month ago now at midnight on the 27th September that I walked out of Oflag IV C Colditz Castle and set off for Switzerland. This is the video of me "escaping" at midnight that I had previously only posted on Facebook.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

One week on back in Australia

Exactly a week ago I was taking my last steps towards the Swiss border after my 600km journey from Oflag IV C Colditz Castle. I had planned to challenge myself and I certainly managed that.

 I hoped to raise $15000 for the Fred Hollows Foundation. At the time of crossing the border I had raised just over $6000 as of today I have raised over $12000 thanks to great support from individuals sharing my challenge and to a fantastic response to the article in the Age by Tony Wright about original Australian escaper and Map maker Jack Millett and my challenge. Thanks Tony for highlighting the life of Jack and my fundraising efforts for Fred Hollows. Thanks also to everyone who has shared my story and encouraged others to contribute.

I have had a little time to reflect on walking to Switzerland, when you first think about walking 600km it seems like a really long way. Once you start walking you realise that it's a ridiculously long way. However there were many unexpected bonuses. There was an incredible simplicity to just walking everyday, making sure I could eat enough, drink enough, had a place to sleep and was warm and dry. It allowed me enjoy common everyday things in an elevated way and re-calibrated my sense of what luxury is. I was able to savour the pleasure in a sunrise, a square of chocolate, a cup of tea, dry socks or an apple gleaned from a tree. I gained more pleasure from these simple things than from some of the most extravagant luxuries from normal life.

After walking 600km I was 5kg lighter, stronger, fitter and (with the exception of my feet) more free of aches and pains than I have been in years. Many of the original wartime escapers reported that they never felt as alive as when they were on the run in Germany. Admittedly I didn't have an army looking for me but I can understand the sentiment.

Just so you don't think it was all "beer and skittles" I have included a couple of photos of my feet.

I am so close to my goal now of saving sight for every km walked that I really hope I can make it with a few more donations. Please share the story with your friends and your enemies. Encourage people to match your donations and see if we can really make 600 people see again.

Many thanks for following my challenge.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Across to Switzerland

I wanted to recreate as close as I could the route that Airey Neave and Pat Reid the original Colditz escapers would have used during their escapes. So I walked to Singen station where they would have arrived on the train ( they were smarter so didn't walk from Colditz.)

I walked out of Singen towards Ramsen which was the famous crossing point. It was a beauiful sunny day and would have been far removed from the desperate winter night time dash across the border that they would have experienced. 

My admiration for all thoes involved in POW escapes has only increased with my experience. I marvel at the ingenuity, the bravery, the persistence and optimism they displayed. 

I was happy and proud to have completed my challenge but sad that my simple life in the forest " on the run" was over. Honestly I don't think my feet would have made it much further without a significant break. 

The support in terms of donations and messages online has been truly fantastic and kept me moving when I was struggling. So a big thanks to everyone for that. 

I have offline donations to add and the donation page will stay open untill the end of November so please keep supporting Fred Hollows. Share my story and encourage your friends to contribute to an amazing cause.

Last night in the forest

I saw the alps tonight. It was a special felling after Leaving Colditz Castle on the night of the 27th September nearly 600km ago. 

This will be my last night camping out all going well I will be enjoying the comport of a hotel in Switzerland tomorrow night. 

I wanted to try and make good distance and so walked right up to dark. It was some of the worst main road with no foot path I have experienced. I was happy to get back on country roads. The terrain has really changed now. Tthe flat farmland has given way to foot hills and a more mountainous character. I was greeted with the most spectacular sunset which the photo doesn't do justice. 

I am very much looking forward to tomorrow's 30 km stroll to the border. 

I had the wettest night of the trip so far but a good camp kept me very dry and comfortable. All my gear has worked out perfectly, the tarp, the bivvie bag and the sleeping bag. 

This morning I'm walking in a thick fog hoping it will burn off through the day and I will have a view of Switzerland. 

I am so pleased we have passed $6000 and a good chuck of the way to $7000.  Keep the support coming in. Please let everyone know that today is the day I cross the Border and it's a great time to show support.

99km to Switzerland

I thought I'd try for an early start today to really get some km 's done. Turns out it really isn't propyl light until 7:45 so that was when I set off. 

I hadn't really got well prepared for the lack of shops for food on Sunday. I had eaten into my supplies for my evening meal last night. Smoked sausage and crisp bread. Thanks for asking. So understandably I was getting low after breakfast. After about 10km I passed a bakery closed but with people inside. They opened up for me and I had to quickly decided what to buy from the whole bakery. Needless to say I chose like a five year old and came out with a lot of cakes and Danish. After a. 30 min break and about a 1000 calories I hit the road to try and get the bulk of the K's done. 

After getting a good 20 KM done by lunch time I hit the wall a bit and struggled through the afternoon being passed by the elderly on Sunday afternoon strolls. I did pass a driving school with a great name. 

I again fell foul of the unpredictability of German towns. Towns of the same size can have a massive variation in the number of restaurants. Thankfully there is always the kebab. 

 but this does not give me the washing facilities that I would normally use. Well I'm escaping so I don't need to smell nice. First mission for Monday swim or a good wash. 

I managed 35 km for the day. Set up a simple early camp. In bed at dark which is 7:30!!

I started at first light and headed for the shops for a resupply. I was pretty motivated so made 20km before lunch and will try for another 15 to put me 33km from Switzerland. 

I'm sure I can hear yodeling but I may be hallucinating. 

It has been great to be walking in the forest again and off the main roads. 

Well we smashed $6000 and are already strongly towards $7000. Only one more sleep till the boarder crossing. Please get out there and rattle the tin for my Fred Hollows challenge.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

The Germans finally caught up with me.

I got an early start and had a magnificent 5km along the Danube in Ulm. 

After 15 days on the run the Baveria. Border patrol found me. Thommy, Helene and Johann my friends from Augsburg. 

It was really special to have friends to walk with and locals to share my experiences of the journey with. We had a great few Km's along the river before it was time for them to go back. 

It seemed  all my papers were " in ordnung" and so they let me go and gave me an Augsberg beir. Which was very much appreciated. 

After the social morning it was time to get down to some serious walking and I ended the day with just 99km left to Switzerland,  another big milestone. 

I got to camp early but in the rain so set up what I hope to be my final wet weather camp. Fingers crossed. 

Getting incredibly close to $6000 raised. I have only got 3 more days to Switzerland all going well. Please encourage others to join in and support my challenge for The Fred Hollows Foundation.