3 May -A New Group and Another Damn Long Drive

I met up with “The Kiwis” at the Hotel Shanker. This hotel was about $50 a night and is one of the top hotels in Kathmandu. Originally a palace it was very flash, even had a swimming pool. There were 2 weddings there over the 2 days and a couple of engagement parties. It’s definitely the place to be seen.

But these kind of things don’t impress me too much. The room I shared with Kathy cost me about $50, compared to the Flying Yak for $15 a night. There was very little difference.

We had a couple of days together, getting to know each other. The Kiwis had some shopping to do as all gear was very cheap. There was a stock of toilet paper and hand sanitiser to buy as these things get much more expensive the further up we go. We also needed to get trekking permits so that was another beep, beep taxi ride.

The boys applying for trekking permits

The five men are all good kiwi blokes: hunters, tampers and generally good kiwi blokes. Brendon is also a doctor, but the others have all worked in the farming sector or outdoor work. Kathy, a retired nurse, was originally for England but traveled her way to NZ in the 1970- 1980s when visited Nepal in the hippy days. Grant, Brendon, and Roger are in their 60’s and have all been to Nepal previously. Roy was at high school with me and this is his first visit to Nepal. The baby of the group is Joe (35ish) aka “The Ruahine Hunter” https://youtu.be/O0qxOBSYe-Q

Joe was very excited to be here and reminded me of how I was when I first arrived 17 years ago. Joe was off out to find the night life on his first two nights here while the others were all heading to bed trying to get over the 24 hours of flying. I remembered my first night here last time. I was sharing a room with Evy, a young Israeli guy. We had gone to bed but couldn’t sleep because of the music coming from the bar next door, so we got up and joined the crowd for a few Everest Beers and toddled back to our room later in the night. Now I am one of those going to bed early and falling asleep with my book.

Pemba is to be our Guide. Grant has used him on a couple of previous trips and he comes from the region we will visit. We will also have along Dawa as assistant guide as seven is quite a group to look after. Having two experienced guides means there will be someone to take out anyone who needs to leave the main trek at any time. Dawa has been part of some Everest Summit teams. We will also have 3 porters to carry the gear for 6 of us. Strong, young hunter, Joe, plans to carry all his own gear. I don’t think he understands the effects of altitude as cannot be explained and must be experienced. We will see how he goes.

Drive Kathmandu to Jiri

On the 3rd of May we piled into a mini van for the drive to Jiri. It is 184 km but took about 8 hours. This was 5 star luxury compared to the ride from Jomsom to Pokhara. I am glad that I went on one of the worst bus trips in the world early in this trip so from then on all trips will be much better. Always best to compare with the worst case scenario rather than the best. We had nice seats, no flat tyres, air conditioning , the power to pass other vehicles reasonably safely and only one person was vomiting throughout the journey. (The doctor: poor man!)

The pee stops on the side of the road were much better than at the squat toilets at the roadside cafes, despite the rubbish.

We unpacked and had a wander around the town before meeting for dinner. Our three young porters had just arrived from Lukla after finishing their previous job. They took 3 days to walk here and it will take 7 days to do the same journey with us. They will carry 15kg gear each for two of us, and their own gear. A total of up to 40 kgs and they are only little guys. Amazing strength and for only $15 a day each. I must admit that I have brought along more stuff than I would normally if I had to carry it, but still, my bag is the lightest by far.

4th and 5th of May. Out on trail with the Kiwis

We started out knowing we that we had about 50km to walk over 7 days, 7-8 hour days ahead of us to Lukla where I will leave the group. This does not sound much to the average hiker but the high altitude makes a huge difference.

We were to follow in the footsteps of Sir Edmond Hillary and Tenzing Norgate: the first people to summit Mt Everest. Sir Ed decided that this 7 day walk was a bit much to endure before a summit attempt so he eventually built an airport at Lukla. Therefore this trek has had little use by tourists so has remained very much as it has been for centuries. I was to enjoy it much more that the Annapurna Circuit for those reasons.

We would be walking up and down between 2,000 to 3,500 metres above sea level each day. Huge ascents and huge descents as there is no such thing as flat in this area. I have had over two weeks to get acclimatised so faired better than the rest of the crew. Roy had a cold so was feeling a bit rough and Jo was still a bit hung over from his nights on the town. So I was the only one finding the going okay. Pemba was really good and stayed in front walking at the necessary slow pace. I could see that young Joe had probably never walked this slow in his life but was probably glad for the pace.

The first day we walked to Deurali (2,700m) rained most of the day and I started out with my new lilac poncho. Purchased in Kathmandu, I found that it leaked and I was soon getting cold as we walked downhill all the way to a tea stop. At these altitudes going downhill is also a slow pace.

We stopped for a hot cup of tea at a small tea house so I pulled out my new umbrella hat which proved good for the downhill and flat parts of the trail. It reduced my vision too much going uphill. At our lunch break most of the crew bought umbrellas and then, of course, it stopped raining. I think young Jo would have trouble admitting to his hunting mates that he tramped with an umbrella!

Part way through our first day I got up close and personal with Kathy. She had blood pouring from up under her shorts. The poor porters, guides and the blokes really did not know where to look when they came across Kathy and I on the track. Kathy, had her pants down and I had my head up between her legs, under her long poncho. I was trying to get my bad eyes to focus on the wound so I could work out where the blood was coming from. Kathy had assured me that, at 66 years old, she was not having her period! I couldn’t see too well at that angle but managed to put on a dressing and stem the bleeding. After we arrived that evening I was able to get a better look with my torch and found that it was a leech bite. Naughty little fella getting way up there!

This region is very steep so up and down we went. Sometimes on recently built roads, but mostly on the centuries old tracks. There was very little traffic on the roads as most people had not bought vehicles yet.

We had a nice evening around the pot belly stove and then I coughed all night, getting only about 2 hours sleep. Luckily my room mate, Kathy, snored her way through the night and was not annoyed by me. We are getting on well.

The day started with a huge decent, taking us through a very picturesque valley dotted with houses surrounded by their little farms. Most people here survive on what they grow along with their goats and cows. Then a 1100 metre ascent to Sete. Again, Pemba, went in the front and kept at a really nice steady slow pace.

We made good time arriving at 4.30. Kathy and I washed some clothes. The boys were more interested the teahouse owner, who had some pine trees on his property. He was using his chainsaw, no chaps, no earmuffs, no goggles and wearing jandals. They were very impressed with his final product: perfectly straight boards and all limbs intact.

Day 13 to 19. 120 km to Collie. Total km walked 320.

Not a lot to say about the tracks in this 7 day section as everyday was nearly flat, about 20km long and through native bush full of wild flowers. I walked alongside the Murray River and actually got my feet wet for the first time walking through a deep puddle on a dirt road. I saw some kangaroos and lots of ants. The huts are all very much the same as they were all made at the same time 25 years ago when the tack opened. However there was a new rammed earth shelter at one place as the original hut was burnt down in a recent fire.

At Swamp Oak and Murray Campsites we were joined by a school group who all tented. One of the teachers was a Kiwi woman so we had a good chat. Most nights on they section there were another 5 or 6 people out for a few nights or going in the opposite direction to me. Other campsites were Dookanelly, Possum Springs, Yourdamung and Harris Dam. Funny names!

I have started too develop my Tramily (Trail Family). It consists of 81 year old Darcey Mawson from New Zealand and “Handful” Peter ,68, from Victoria.   Also John who is about 40 and looks more like a hobo than a hiker as he wears steel capped boots, overalls and looks like he hasn’t had a shower for months rather than just a week like the rest of us. We have been going hut to hut this whole section. Peter arrives first and collects up the firewood and keeps the fire going into the evening. I do enjoy sitting around the fire at night as it gets down to about 7 or 8 degrees after the sun goes down at about 6.15pm. We are usually in bed by before 8pm, which is hikers midnight.

On Day 15 I started the day remembering that it was the 17th anniversary of Garry’s death. First I thanked him for continuing to get the weather right for me by buying the Weather God a beer or two. I know I will have a huge bar tab to clear once I get up there but it is well worth it

As I walked I recognised a feeling I frequently have. I feel that there is a blank in my life. That blank would be filled by the man who would be carrying the heavy pack ,  driving the car, spraying the weeds,  doing the cooking, telling me to settle down,  pouring my wine, and snoring beside me, being very excited about the grandkids coming to stay and lining the cups up in the cupboard.
The blank is Garry Cole.

I soon caught up with Darcy and decided to walk with him today. I needed the company and I know he did too. Lots of good stories from Darcy made the kilometers tick by without effort. He walks a wee bit slower than me which makes for an easy day. Darcy has been a hunter,  sea kayaker, tramper all around the world, worked in  Cook Islands head of high school. Great story teller. He kept me amused all day.

Unfortunately we were both engrossed in on elf his stories and we missed a marker that should have taken us off a dirt road onto the track in the bush. Using my app I could see that the track was only about 50 metres from the road we were on. Unfortunately there was thick bush between us and it. Just our luck that it wasn’t bush that had been burnt lately. I tried to get through to find it unsuccessfully so Darcey went off to have a look. I stayed on the road calling out to him every few minutes so that he could find his way back to me if need be. But both of us have ears that are a bit on the old side so it wasn’t long before we lost sound contact. After about half an hour Darcy appeared just up the road a bit. He thought he had found the track but had just gone around in circles. He looked like he had gone 3 rounds with an angry kangaroo as his old this skin was all scratched and bleeding. Being a Kiwi he was in shorts and a short sleeved shirt. So we went to plan B and retraced our steps back up the road until we found the track crossing. We both decided that this little adventure added something different to the day so was worth it. I helped patch him up when we arrived at camp.

Never look at an old man and just see an old man. Remember those wrinkles and scrawny legs could have done way more than most people will do in life time And Darcy is still doing it. This is his 3rd time on Bibbulmun and I am amazed at the details he remembers from 10 years ago.

He carries a pack that is twice as heavy as mine. His pot and plates are not lightweight titanium like mine; they are over 50 years old and have the dents and marks to prove it. They have been all over the world with him on hikes and months of sea kayaking. The tent he carries is one he bought as a young fella so it is probably older than me. It is canvas and has no floor or bug netting. He walks all day with only a few 2 minute “sit on a log stops” eats nothing and only drinks about 300mls of water over 5 -6 hours of walking. Mention any place in the world that you could do outdoors stuff and he has been there. Just don’t stop he says.

Food seasoned with hunger and  excersion is always the highlight of the day. As the days are easy I usually arrive at camp by 1pm so have my lunch there rather than stopping on the track. Crackers with salami and cheese accompany my soup. My dinners have been varied: couscous, noodles, pasta with mixed veggies, TVP or jerky. Any food is good out in the fresh air.

Sometimes I wash out my socks in the plastic bin that holds the hut book. I also try and be first to put my food bag in the bin overnight for safekeeping against critters.

In the evenings Handful (Peter) kept me amused with his tales of hiking, kayaking and a 35,000km motorcycle ride planned  from Sydney to London. He only got has far as Pakistan because he had his bike confiscated at the border basically because he didn’t bribe the right people.  Most people who are out on the trail are adventurous people so there are lots of tales to share around the fire or table. If you wanted to make a podcast about adventures and around the world these fire pits would be the place to hang out.

The wild flowers have been something to see. Ne Zealand bush is rugged and green and thick and beautiful but has few colours so this is a real novelty for me to see. I do not know the names of any of these plants but here are some I have seen in this section.

I saw a number of these emu poos on the ground. Apparently the emu eats these seeds then poos them out. The seeds need to go through the stomach to be able to germinate and the emu spreads them far afield. Very clever I thought.

Emu poo carry seeds

Cameron, Amanda and Rebecca came out to Collie to meet up with me for the day and bring resupplies. We went for a drive out to the magnificent Wellington Dam and had some nice normal food. I stayed at the Black Diamond backpackers which is a really lovely place. Lots of extras like fruit juice in the fridge, good coffee, a section of teas, condiments and a proper bed with a TV and a fridge in the room. Even. fire pit that Peter and I ate our very expensive fish and chips beside. $9.50 for a piece of shark! It was a public holiday here and a Monday so there was nothing open for dinner. I have a rest day here today so have done some shopping and washed all my clothes. I enjoyed my first shower in 7 days and slept well in a proper bed.

Day 10 and 11. 200km completed to Dwellingup

After hearing about the resident snake at Mt Wells I decided to do a double hut day. That means missing a hut that day.  So I had a 3.5 hour walk to the hut. Mostly flat then a then a steepish climb up to an old forest fire wardens hut. It is the only fully enclosed hut on the trail as it was where someone lived during the fire season. That poor person climbed up the tower and looked out for fires. Now there is a whole lot of electronic gear there to do the same job.

The walk was pretty with lots of interesting plants, rocks and a view from the tops.

At the hut had a look for the snake but didn’t see him so I sat out in the sun for 1.5 hours enjoying a break. i was trying to trick my body into thinking it was the next day and could manage another 15 km.

I made some phone calls and then chatted with Susan, physio, trail running lady who is walking the Bibbulmun Track is sections over the weekends. Then it was another 15km and 4 hours to Chadoora camp. My feet were screaming at me by the time I arrived 4 hours later. It was a really flat and boring section, not much changed.

There was 5 adults and 2 kids already at camp and 3 million flying creatures. Apparently they were termites but they are not biting just annoying. So I brought out my bug net and I was envied by all the others. Only 6 got in my soup and about 10 in my dinner.

We had a lovely evening around the campfire singing all the old Aussie songs before we all turned in for the night. I was on the platform between 2 tents. I slept with my bug net on.

The next day was a 16km flat walk out to Dwellingup, my first track town. I walked for the last half of the day following an old logging rail track. A section is used for a tourist train so I had a smoko break at the station.

Not much to say about the day, just flat through the bush, heard one family of Kangaroos and lots of birds. No snakes, no ticks. I walked for the last half of the day following an old logging rail track and came across some rusted relics of the past.

I stopped at the place where a thriving town was completely burnt down in 1963. The only remnants was the introduced plants growing wild.

After a big day yesterday I was knackered and the last 3km was torture. But I made it at exactly 12 noon which was my planned arrival time. 200km done and dusted and sweated and hobbled!

The little forestry town was heaving as it was Saturday and only an hours drive from Perth. Cameron and Amanda met me and we headed to the pub for lunch. There was a group of Tramily there to enjoy a beer with. It turns out that Cameron works with one of the walkers son-in-law. Small world. The meals were 1.5 hours wait so we headed to the Blue Wren cafe fore a pie and chips. Yum yum!

Back in Perth I washed off 11 days of red dirt, sweat and grime and Amanda (Podiatrist) dealt to my blisters. By the next morning I felt like anew person. Clothes were washed and food for the next day was sorted all while I caught up on the Queens death news. I will always remember that I was at Helena Hut on the Bibbulmun Track when I heard the news. We all sat and watched the funeral for the first 5 hours until it was time for my last sleep in a house until early November.

Day 5 to 8. To the Albany Highway access with Cameron. Total 135km

It was a chilly(Kiwi me)   freezing cold (Aussies) 6° morning and rain had been forecasted for the afternoon so we set off at 7am for the 15.5km to Mandanocks Hut.

It ended up being 16.2km because we headed along the wrong track within 5 minutes of departing. Luckily Cameron’s smart watch shouted out “You are off track”.  We took just under 5 hours which was probably a bit faster than I would have done on my own. 

Keeping up with a fit 45 year old, 185cm, over 6ft male is a bit of a challenge for this old duck. But I make it a training day day to get me faster, fitter and thinner. I managed to stay with him until about 2km before the hut when I told him to take off and get the pot on for a cupa. I arrived about 5 minutes behind him.

The next 4 days saw us climb 4 mountains and stay at Manadnocks, Mt Cooke, Nerang and Gringer Creek campsites. The days were similar being about 16km each, mostly flat with a “mountain” or two to climb each day. 600 metres above sea level is a mountain here so not like a New Zealand mountain. But in saying that I did huff and puff up them as I chased along behind Cameron. (Good training) So for my Taranaki friends that the Kaitake range is over 1,000 metres high. Manawatu friends, the Gorge loop walk is similar. Te Araoroa walkers would probably not even notice the change in incline!

We had one day with some heavy rain at times and even hail just before we left camp. We would dry out just to get wet again. Unfortunately arriving at camp soaked through one of the days. My highlight was climbing Mt Cooke as I know I will never summit New Zealand’s highest mountain, Mt Cook. The days were a mixture of bush and red roads. There was one long diversion because of a planned burn off that was still smouldering.

Still smouldering

The Tramily (Trail Family) is beginning to develop as we meet other walkers and we had some good evenings with a range of other walkers. Most of them snorers so my earplugs are being well used. They also have the added benefit of allowing me to sleep through my own snoring and not feel so guilty when I blow up my leaking mattress every couple of hours. The walkers going the other way are good for info on the track coming up.

After 4 days we were met by Cam’s in laws Rudi and Bev who would take Cameron back to Perth. I had enjoyed having this time with Cameron and especially pleased when he carried some of my gear for me. I had thought this would slow him down and speed me up but not really!. I appreciated the picnic they brought along and the next 4 days of food for me. I left with a full tummy and a full pack, including fresh filled rolls and slice to share with Tony back at camp.

Yummy food (Not dehydrated)

I shared the evening with Tony who is planning to take about the same time as me to complete the track. Another couple of guys arrived just as it got dark, Glen and Steve. They had double hutted (meaning 2 huts in a day, about 30km). Steve from the airforce arrived full of beans and went off to put up his tent. Glen, army man, was absolutely buggered so laid out his sleeping bag on the platform in the hut. We had a fun evening around the table and crawled into bed by 7.30pm (Hikers midnight)

I found my first tick tonight on my arm and Tony managed to get it out with my tweezers without leaving the head behind

Day 4 To Canning Camp

We were off in the morning and Rebecca was looking forward to meeting her Dad along the way and passing the baton on to him. He could continue introducing Granny to the nuances of the Australian bush.

Today I saw my first snake. It had probably been attacked by a bird and was cut in to two pieces. Apparently the bird sits and waits until it dies before eating it. That is a good idea, I thought. Both parts were still alive and wriggling. (Does that mean I saw 2 snakes?)

First snake sighting

More hot walking and a couple of short sharp hills had us looking forward to the iced coffees and fresh sand rolls we had ordered. The track had been diverted around 2 of the huts because they were doing controlled burn offs. We walked along side the smokey blackened bush for a few kms on a firebreak road. 

At about 1pm we saw Cameron striding towards us with a welcome flask of cold water. We were soon back at his truck unloading our packs.

He drove us along a bumpy 4wd track to the temporary campsite that was to replace the 2 huts. This consisted of a port-a-lou and some Jerry cans of water and a fire pit. The Aussies like their fire pits to sit around and share stories on a balmy night.

New Zealand huts have fire places inside the huts to warm us up to prevent hyperthermia and to dry out our clothes that are generally wet from days tramping.

We enjoyed our picnic lunch then drove onto the Brookton Highway where Cameron and I started our 5 day walk together.

It was only about 10km to Canning Hut and we made good time. We went over some rocky outcrops with good views across the National Park

Cameron had brought along a new air mattress for me to replace my leaking one. Just to be sure that it was leaking and not my imagination I let Cameron use it. He definitely confirmed that it leaked as he had to blow it up 4 times during the night. That made me feel better about the $200 spend.

Fire seems to be the biggest risk on this track. There are signs everywhere pointing out that my safety was their concern but my responsibility. The Bibbulmun Track is best walked out of the summer season when the fire danger is high. They burn off the undergrowth at this time of the year so there is less fuel for the fires.

Day 5 Paekakareiki to Waikanae with some company – 22km

After another fun night with Phillipa and her friend I was ready for another 22km walk along the west coast with some company for the day. Pip and Jane are walking Te Araroa South Island SOBO starting before Christmas this year. They have followed my SOBO blog and are all kitted out and excited about the adventure to come. I am sure they will love every hard damn step of it!

Also along for the walk was Linda, a landscape gardener, who was involved in planning the original track through the area with Geoff Chapple. She must be proud to see the trail being used by so many people now.

It was a chatty day as you would expect with 4 women together for about 8 hours straight. We walked along paths adjacent to the beach most of the way with a small section on the actual beach. That was enough to remind me that beach walking is not so much fun with a full pack on my back.

We came across some locals whitebaiting. There is is a short season each year where we can catch these wee fish in nets, usually in estuaries. They are a iconic New Zealand delicacy. People have favourite spots which are closely guarded and defended.

The plan had been to head into the Taraura Ranges the next day with Lois but the weather was not looking good. It is an acceptable risk to be in rolling farmland in a gale but definitely not safe to be on a mountain range in a storm for 5 days. However Lois and Rohan met us along the trail and we joined them for a much deserved beer. over the beer or 3 we decided to try again for after the 25th, 2 weeks away. The others caught a train back to Plimmerton then I was picked up by my friend Trevor and taken to stay with him and Maxine in Paraparaumu for a few days while I tried to hatch another plan.

They were pleased to do their bit for society and take in a homeless, jobless tramp and feed her up with good nourishing food before sending me on my way back home.

It was 2 hour bus trip back to Palmerston North, all masked up, listening to my e-book “Batavia” about a shipwreck in 1629 along the Western Australian coast. I had downloaded this to set the scene for my walk in Australia. I definitely would not have wanted to come across any of the mutineers from that ship. They turned into thieves, rapists, murderers and brutes in their fight for survival and over the treasure aboard the ship. I hoped the resident Australians would have been a lot less scary. Those who survived had eaten a lot of the funny looking “cats” that hopped around on large feet and had babies in their pockets.

I am ready to go but Covid-19 is not ready to let me leave

As planned I finished my 14 month contract position at Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency. There I have learnt a lot about Revenue, Reporting and Analysis for all the different transport related taxes in New Zealand. My repertoire of accounting knowledge now includes Road User Charges, Regional Fuel Tax, Fuel Excise Duty, Clean Car Discounts, Tolling, Driver Licensing and Motor Vehicle Licensing and Registration. All great knowledge to have gained but basically useless in any other field of work. This was my first real Public Service role so that was a learning curve for me. It is undoubtedly different!

I have learnt about that people can prepay, post pay, not pay, repay, under pay, over pay, mispay, don’t pay, can’t pay, won’t pay and pay twice. That all creates quite a lot of work for the finance department.

I worked with people from all over the world, with different personalities, strengths, work ethics and foibles. I had a good team of bright young accountants to lead who showed up how much I am slowed down in my old age. I have also made some new friends along the way.

But it is time to go off an another adventure and I was all ready to leave on Wednesday. However New Zealand has gone into a strict lockdown because the Delta variant of Covid-19 has got through our borders. We have had a great run over the last year living our life as normal, unlike many countries. So I suppose we can’t complain about the snap lockdown as we need to all get vaccinated before life will really get back to normal (whatever that will be in the future). I have been fully vaccinated since early June and was ready to go to Western Australia which has tracked along a very similar path to New Zealand. I have a G2G Pass which allows me into WA with a 14 day self isolation clause. My son has a decent sized upstairs area for me to isolate in away from the rest of the household. They can put my meals at the bottom of the stairs and I can sneak down to pick them up, just like a stray dog. However, I cannot get on a plane out of New Zealand yet. Tickets re booked for 1 September and I just have to wait and see if that comes about. Locked down until midnight on 31 August.

Our All Blacks pulled out of a game scheduled for Saturday in Perth so we have upset the Aussies so I hope they don’t take it out on Kiwi Granny who just wants to come over to visit her family and walk one of their great walking tracks.

In the mean time I am jobless and homeless as of tomorrow as my tenants take over then. This had always been the plan as living with what is on my back is something I do every now and then and quite enjoy. I will be staying with my youngest daughter, her husband and 11 month old grandson. This will give me some good time with them before I go away but I hope lockdown doesn’t last longer that they can put up with me. My eldest daughter had me for 4 months of the last lockdown as I had just finished Te Araroa when Covid-19 hit. I will do some much needed training for Bibbulmun Track by pushing the baby in the pram around the neighborhood with my pack on my back. That should do the trick!!

My bags are packed and I am ready to go but I may not be leaving on a jet plane too soon.

Hit the Subscribe Button if you want to get notification of any new posts. I will need to know that there are people out there waiting to hear about my encounters with poisonous snakes and spiders, ticks and mosquitoes, kangaroos, pigs and dingoes. I will be walking during the Wild Flower season so will try and keep the gardeners happy too.

Getting Ready for Bibbulmun Track

I have booked flights to Perth, Australia for 26 August and plan to start the 1,000km walk on 1 September. My son, Cameron, will walk the first week with me which I am very excited about. Hopefully my teenage grand daughters, Bec and Elle, will join me during their school holidays at some stage.

I am bringing some gear over for them to use so will need to pack carefully so as not to go over the weight restrictions. My gear list has not changed much from what I took on Te Araroa as I had that working well.

The first week of walking will be a shock for my poor body as I have put back on all the weight I lost on the Te Araroa and I have lost a lot of fitness and strength also. However I am sure I will be okay and end up fit and strong by the end and back to looking like the photo below.