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By: Athene Thompson

For those who haven’t taken the 1000 Steps challenge… do it once to say you’ve done it and don’t be surprised if you get hooked!

Before even reaching the 1000 Steps there is a 10 minute walk to get there, so enjoy the sounds and scents of the lush bushland along the way – There is also a resident wallaby that looks inquisitively at passers-by whilst having a snack.

The steepness of this track prepares you for the forthcoming task ahead. Finally you see the start of the steps in all their glory. Only about a quarter of them are in view, but trust me there are 1000 ahead of you!

There is something incredibly rewarding about climbing these solid, stone steps. It’s a very grounding and meditative exercise (even if it’s tough as hell). I don’t actually look forward to doing it, I look forward to how I feel after it’s done – that’s the buzz.

Having said that, I am all about being in the moment so walking up one gruelling step after another gives me time to think about what my body is enduring, what my mind is experiencing and what my senses are feeling. This is a truly beautiful place as the steps are surrounded by vibrant green forest, colourful birds and little forest animals. The smell of the forest is always fresh and invigorating and encourages me to keep going.

There is something strangely supportive in climbing these steps knowing that everyone wearily doing the same is going through what I am in that moment. How do I know this? I can see it in their faces, the way they propel their bodies forward even though we all want to turn around and go the other way.  I can hear it in their laboured breathing, the panting and the tired sighs. I hear it in their comments: “Oh my god, my legs are like jelly,” and “I wish I hadn’t missed a week, now it’s hard to do them again”.

It makes me silently chuckle because I know exactly how they feel. We are all in it together and we have to keep going. There are the empathetic smiles to one another in our focused intention and the mutual acknowledgement we share in doing something challenging that is so good for us. The steps are about camaraderie as much as going within. If someone looks like they may slip, there are always hands that reach out to stop their fall. I’ve seen it time and time again; the best of human nature, strangers looking out for each other.

It is important to note why the 1000 Steps exist. They are based on the Kokoda Trail of Papua New Guinea where our soldiers were stationed during WWII. Surrounded by cold, dank jungle they would face a trail such as this one in harsh circumstances surrounded by an invisible enemy. Their historic stories are on display in plaques along the way. These incredibly brave men fought and tried to survive under the most extreme conditions placed upon them. Their courage is outstanding and humbling… Lest we forget.

500th step! Halfway up and I know I’m doing something worthwhile for my cardiovascular health whilst achieving things on other levels too. Stamina and endurance come to mind. Releasing positive endorphins into the system, as physical activity does, is the investment in overall health and well being. The other appealing factor is that the steps can help manage weight! I consider it nature’s workout each day and far more aesthetically pleasing than a gym.

Finally, 150 steps left… I take my time, stopping when I need to, when my body feels it cannot take one more step, to rest for a moment, take in the scenery, breathe deeply and carry on.

I know every curve of that stone staircase, I know every step on sight. I know how long I have left to go before it’s over and I’ve reached the top.  Every day it’s the same elated feeling as I come to the 900th step. Every day is like winning my own personal marathon. Just me and nature, along with everyone else in their own worlds, toughing it out!

At last, the 1000th step! I’ve arrived… I’m here. It’s only a half hour journey from the time I started but what a mammoth half hour. I’ll carry on, savouring the time at the top, go for a private walk just off the beaten track, quietly giving thanks for the day. It’s really lovely up here. I know I’ll be back tomorrow to face that upward toil again so for now I enjoy my victory.

Now, in jubilation I’m racing down those steps, I feel like I can do anything! To me these steps are a metaphor for life; our challenge, our pain, our endurance, our stamina, our achievement, our jubilation, our camaraderie, our solitude, it’s all there in the 1000 steps. Just like in life the rewards for focus, determination and action are many, and stopping frequently to take time out, breathe deeply, observe and inhale the beauty of what surrounds us, tune in to what is within us whilst being in the thick of it creates the balance to keep going.

The 1000 Steps site is located at the corner of Burwood Hwy and Mt Dandenong Tourist Road in Upper Ferntree Gully. Take a picnic lunch and make a day of it at the foothills of the beautiful Dandenong Ranges.

What you discover about yourself and your personal capabilities will be well worth it.

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