By Ron Lane
It all started some years ago through our mutual love of boxing.
On two occasions we, quite by accident, had met while sitting on opposite sides of a high table in the Noosa Surf Club.
On the first meet we introduced ourselves, shook hands and sat back to watch a world title fight on telly while sipping on a cold beer.
A casual friendship had started and as Aussies often do first names only were exchanged; Ron and Geoff.
More fights, more beers but then as sometimes happens in casual friendship we lost contact.
Fast forward to present time and my good friend and club mate, Big Pete Williams asked, “Mate you want someone to write about? I got a good lead for you; ex-army, Vietnam Vet, SAS and mad hiker – walked the Appalachian Trail in America and can you believe, it took six months.’’
As more information was forthcoming the penny dropped and I realised he was talking about my fight mate now identified as Geoff Ellis.
A quick phone call and our friendship rekindled.
Born in the British India and being the son of a British diplomat, Geoff was to spend the first nine years of his life travelling, with destinations such as New York, China and Saudi Arabia being on the agenda.
Being on the move his education was obtained at various schools of international character until at sixteen years he finished his education in Perth, Western Australia.
On entering the workforce, Geoff worked at various jobs – farming, deck hand on fishing trawlers and then selling suits to young studs who wandered in to the big stores of David Jones.
Then finally in 1967 after reading various books on military history, he took the big step and joined the Australian Army.
After completing basic training he was posted to the 2nd Battalion Infantry and this resulted in his Vietnam tour of duty 1970/71.
Stationed at Nui Dat he experienced twelve months of combat duty.
On returning to Australia, Geoff decided to continue his service by volunteering for the famous SAS Regiment.
“By this time as a result of my Vietnam experience I had developed a very strong positive state of mind and this enabled me to handle the selection without too much trouble. I found that I had developed an attitude that on encountering negativity in any shape or form I immediately moved away or gave it total rejection.”
It was this totally positive attitude that, while a member of the SAS, enabled Geoff to successfully undertake the advanced parachute training called Free Fall.
This involves the parachutist jumping out at a height of 10,000 feet and free falling to a designated height before opening their chutes. “You have to really want to do it – the desire has to be there,’’ Geoff said. “Be positive in your approach.’’
After leaving the military in 1974, Geoff spent some time working in the Mt Newman mines located 1890klm north of Perth, and it was here that he met the lady who was to become his wife.
On leaving the mines Geoff applied for a position in the Fisheries and Wild Life Department in West Australia and his acceptance in 1976 was to become something of a career.
He began working on sea-going patrol boats covering various aspects of fisheries inspections and other areas of responsibilities, after a time he was appointed to the position of skipper.
His next appointment was skipper of a Hydrography boat, a vessel which is used for the purpose of charting seas, lakes and rivers; followed this he took a shore job as a Port Officer overseeing fishing boats and yachting harbours.
Taking an early retirement, Geoff and family visited the Sunshine Coast looking for a place to settle.
“Our first thoughts were Maroochydore but one look at Noosa and that was everything.”
It was some time after this that their marriage ended and they went their separate ways.
“Our marriage had lasted for some time but eventually it ended. However I now have two beautiful daughters as well as two granddaughters and we get together constantly.”
It was while working in Western Australia that Geoff got his first taste of hiking; and he found that his army training had given him the perfect background.
As his interest in hiking grew, he slowly became aware of a major challenge in America known as the Appalachian Trail.
“As my knowledge of this trail grew so too did my desire to not only attempt the trek but also conquer it. Unfortunately at the time it was not possible as I was raising kids and looking after a family.’’
But it was in Western Australia that the hiker in him really became aroused. During this time he completed one of Australia’s best hikes, the 1000klm Bibbulmum Track, a hike that he has now, over several years completed three times.
The time expected to cover this track is 40 days; the hiking bug had definitely taken hold.
Then in early 2010, Geoff received a magazine from the British SAS Regiment in which he learned of a planned Long March starting in Lukla Nepal and trekking into the Everest Base Camp via Gokyo Ri and Cho La. The estimated time for this trek was 17 days. Geoff and two other ex-Aussie SAS men posted their necessary information and were accepted.
“It was a great experience,” Geoff said. “We trekked through some of the most incredible country and scenery in the world. At the end we were invited to visit the Gurkha Army Regiment as guests of honour. An unforgettable gesture.”
But then after 26 years of controlling this burning desire to walk the Appalachian (years which unfortunately, through good living, added unwanted kilos) in 2016 the dream to conquer this 3500klm trek became a reality.
This hike, which was first brought to public attention by the Robert Redford/Nick Nolte movie, A Walk in the Woods, has the average time of completion as six months. The course which is on the east coast of America covers 14 states and stretches from Georgia to Maine.
As one can well imagine there are many hazards to be considered.
First of all outfitting yourself correctly is of the utmost importance. Then blisters and sore knees which are minors; it’s the changing weather that can bring on hypothermia (dangerous changes in body temperature), the ever present dangers of bears and their cubs and the risk of contracting Lyme disease (which he did) that leaves one very weak until treatment can be found.
“My worst experience was caused by a tree that fell across my small tent and crashed onto the pillow where my head had been. I couldn’t sleep, so I had rolled over and sat up to reach for a bottle of whiskey a lady had given me, thinking a swig would make me sleep. I am probably the first hiker in the world whose life has been saved by a bottle of whiskey.
“But achieving one’s goals always outweighs the negatives. The people you meet along the track (like the ex-army men using these walks as rehabilitation) are definitely one of life’s pleasures. It’s the personal satisfaction, renewing old friendships and creating new that will last a lifetime. To quote from the Hiker Year Book – We trusted our lives to strangers and called them family. But above all it’s knowing that you have achieved something out of the ordinary.”
This achievement is considered so outstanding that a hard-covered book entitled the Hiker Family Album for 2016 was printed and a copy is now amongst Geoff’s prized possessions.
For now, Geoff would enjoy the chance to speak to and pass on his experiences to those who are looking at hiking; or visiting schools interested in adventurous projects.
“There are many walks in Australia; for example, Larapinta Northern Territory, Hinchinbrook Nth Qld, the Overland Track in Tasmania and of course the famous Kokoda Track.”
For Geoff to give back in particular to the young, what he has experienced would indeed be a fitting end to an adventurous life; a life that has been different – a life of hiking.