Ignorance is Bliss (Oxfam Trailwalk)

Four team members in the first leg...

Ignorance is Bliss…

I always thought this was a trite and pointless saying until now.

This weekend I and three of my Telecom team-mates took up the NZ Oxfam Trail walker 2011 challenge. We thought it would be challenging -this is where that ‘ignorance is bliss’ comes in.

I have done a number of challenging, (some might say stupid), things over the years and this was definitely one of the hardest. Late last year our team lost a friend and colleague, James Batty, to cancer. We asked ourselves what we could do to remember him that would be… ‘significant’.

When I found out about the Oxfam challenge and put it to the team I quickly got volunteers to make up our team of four. The team of walkers was made up of: Earl Hardcastle; Chris Hanlon; Annette Hamilton; and Mike Hadnett. We all thought we could do it, we didn’t realise that not all of us would make it.

But the team was much, much bigger than that. We had Alvina Sciascia-Bizaoui and Anna Hunt spearhead the organisation and support crew. The rest of the support crew who helped over the course of the 36 hour event included: Anthony Smith (who set up a wireless point and SKY TV for the Warriors game all from his van); Milly Mitimeti (who greeted us vibrantly as we entered each checkpoint and led us to our support area); Mandy de Beer (who also walked a 20km leg with us) and Will Gunning (who was in charge of estimating how far away we were and co-ordinating the boiling of the jug). And of course the rest of our Service Capability team up & down the country helped out with fundraising and anything else they could do to support the event.

It was a real team bonding experience.

Plus we got some great support from Telecom and suppliers. Telecom Team play sponsored our entry fee. Marketing Impact Ltd. were the biggest donors to our sponsorship page (Thanks!) and Datam also supported us.

So how did it play out?

Start was 0600 Saturday morning, at Kinloch outside Taupo, still dark. As the sun broke through we were climbing the hills around Taupo’s Acacia bay and were treated to some stunning views.

About 0800 or so a team of four ran past, I thought we might see them slowing down up ahead. We later figured that this was the Army team and they finished the 100km in a mind-blowing 11 hours.

In the second leg we hit our first real hurdle. Earl started suffering debilitating cramps in his calves and then thighs. The cramps were so bad we could actually see the muscles tightening before Earl yelled in pain. This was just before we had to climb the highest point in the entire trail. Earl soldiered on through obvious pain. We had to stop frequently while his visible muscle spasms diminished. Everyone overtook us, and it felt quite demoralising.

Earl retired at Checkpoint 2

At the next checkpoint after 30km Earl bravely made the call to retire. He wanted to go on, but realised that he was slowing the team down and that if he had real problems between checkpoints he may have difficulty getting to help.


In the next leg Mike pushed us hard by setting a great pace and we overtook everyone in sight. The temperature was soaring and there was no cover on this leg. We were drinking as frequently as possible, with Earl’s muscle cramps fresh in our mind.

We finished the next leg (total of 52km) in pretty good condition, still going quite quickly. Mike & Annette had blistered feet, which I had fortunately avoided.

Disaster struck again with Mike’s choice of footwear proving to be unfortunate. His walking shoes did not have thick enough soles, and some of the surface was truly unforgiving. (–I was feeling the bruising from loose rock through my thick hiking shoes). Mikes feet were shredded about 2300, 17 hours and about 63km after we started. They were so bad that we considered calling in to event control to have him picked up.

There was a problem doing this though. The event rules allow for team members to retire, but you are not allowed to continue with less than three walkers (for safety reasons). If your team gets under three walkers you need to be ‘adopted’ by another team so that there are at least 3 of you.

Our concern was that if Mike was to get evac’ed out, it would also spell the end of The Event for Annette and I. –We could only be ‘adopted’ at a checkpoint. Mike courageously and painfully sucked it up and we progressed slowly to the next checkpoint at the 66km mark except for the times we would go up hills when Mike would speed up as he could use the front parts of his feet which weren’t so blistered.

We were passed by a few teams in the dark, and this again had a demoralising effect. In fact we were expecting to get to the next checkpoint and see just our support team with everyone else already gone past. (Actually there were still about 70 teams behind us at that point).

The event rules allow you to nominate one support person to walk one leg with you before the event. We had nominated Mandy to walk the toughest 20km stretch with us. This was fortunate as it meant that with Mike retired we could do the leg without having to look for a team to ‘adopt’ us, as Mandy was our third person.

This leg Annette took charge as we left at 0104. We started very slowly, almost gingerly. We let our muscles stretch back out slowly. Soon Annette had set a cracking pace and we were again passing everyone in sight. This leg started with straight flat dirt roads which were a blessing, and the exception rather than the rule on this event.

Putting on the leg supports for night walking...

Around 0430, after about 83km, and 22½ hours into the event, Annette and I hit our physical limit. A few hours earlier we were at the stage that Annette called pain equilibrium: it hurt, it continued to hurt but you could deal with it. Now we moved to what I (unimaginatively) referred to as torment. We had no real reserves left, everything seemed to hurt and this was exacerbated by the time of day.

The early hours of the morning are notoriously difficult in the best of circumstances, but after 22 hours of activity it was a killer. And we were not entirely sane.

I remember Mandy & Annette stopped for a second so that they could get something out of the pack. I couldn’t stop. When I stopped waking I almost fell over, as if my brain no longer remembered how to keep balance in the absence of forward motion.

Mandy was great encouragement getting us to the next checkpoint at the 86km point where Alvina tended to our feet and the rest of the team fetched us cups of tea and bananas (the only food we could stomach at that point due to nausea).

The sky lightened and 24 hours after the event began we set out with our adopted team (appropriately named “We must be nuts”), on the second to last leg -a mere 7km. We had hoped that it would be getting easier, but this leg contained the most treacherous muddy piece of downward trail above a drop into the Waikato River (below Huka falls). My knees were not responding well by this point and I remember thinking that anyone slipping here would probably take two or three others for a fall.

We decided that the last checkpoint would be a very brief stop as we did not want to seize up.
Traditionally the NZ Oxfam Trail Walk Challenge has teams finishing in fancy dress (the only country in the world to adopt this tradition), Annette and I decided it would be more fitting for us to wear the ‘Batman’ T-shirts in remembrance of James Batty across the finish line, so we changed into those.

The last leg was fairly good terrain. The only difficulty was a large number of uneven steps down to Taupo itself. Annette took these in her stride, but by then my knees were shot and I half stumbled, half fell down each one as people bunched behind me.

It was very gratifying to see Mike & Earl just before the finish to walk a little way with us, and of course it was a proud moment (and a huge relief) to go through the finish line.

It is quite funny because the photos show us passing the finish line at 29:44:14 however we got so caught up celebrating, thanking and hugging people that we didn’t realise we had to ‘check in’ and get our barcodes scanned. So our official time was something like 29hours 47minutes.
–Something to remember for next time!


I started by saying ignorance is bliss, and the truth is that this can be a good thing. If we each knew beforehand the pain we would face, would we have started?

Many worthy deeds; businesses; and inventions were started in ignorance, where the full knowledge of the obstacles that needed to be overcome, might have meant they were never started at all.

Even within Telecom we have felt a lot of pain through changes to the organisation, which we might not have had the courage to implement had we known the difficulties beforehand.

But when you embark on a course of action with a clear purpose, and remain resolute to that purpose, regardless of the obstacles you encounter, then the real achievement is not simply reaching the goal, it is also who you have become in the pursuit of it.

The fundraising for the event finishes on the 15th June. We are still shy of our $2,500 target which will help Oxfam to support communities with fresh drinking water and education. If you would like to show your support for our team and Oxfam you can do so at our Oxfam team page

Update: I can’t use ignorance as an excuse this time! We are doing it again on 31st March 2012. This time we have an Auckland and a Hamilton Team. Please support us: Team Bazinga 2012


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About Chris Hanlon

Chris has worked in or owned small businesses most of his life, before lured into the corporate world where he spent over a decade. However his passion for small business has remained, and taken life in The Profit Wizard blog, his published book, and some coaching he does for a variety of businesses. You can follow Chris on Twitter @TheProfitWizard

4 Responses to “Ignorance is Bliss (Oxfam Trailwalk)”

  1. Steve Roughan April 29, 2011 at 2:23 pm #

    Awesome effort team. You did so well to finish this event. Nicely told too Chris. Well done!!

  2. Marina Allen April 29, 2011 at 6:03 pm #

    What an adventure guys. in some parts it feel like Bear Grills and in other support roles it reads like Mike Rowe, Discovery Channel. You have really gone the extra mile and a bit more than that. Very Proud and many Congratulations guys for such a wonderful reason KAI KAHA!

  3. Jay Shaw May 3, 2011 at 12:56 pm #

    You all are amazing! Excellent outro in this post btw Chris :)

  4. Chris Hanlon May 3, 2011 at 1:23 pm #

    Thanks Guys! :)

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