Posted on 3 March 2020
When 76 year-old Kapiti man Ken Ash walks into Island Bay this week it will mark a major milestone in his journey to walk the length of the country while raising funds for a cause that is close to his heart.
Ken, who began walking the 3000km Te Araroa Trail in November last year, says he will celebrate finishing the North Island leg of the walk with a cold dark beer – his favourite.
“I decided to do the walk shortly after I retired from the Open Polytechnic where I worked as a plumbing, gasfitting and drainlaying tutor,” Ken says. “It seemed like an interesting thing to do and I thought it would challenge me.”
Ken is doing the walk alone to raise funds for the Neurological Foundation of New Zealand, a cause that hits close to home.
“They do a lot of great work researching different brain conditions and I wanted to help them raise funds so they could keep doing what they do.”
Ken’s mother had Alzheimer’s disease and in 2005 his wife Robyn was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Several of his former work mates have also suffered strokes.
Robyn says she is proud of Ken for doing the walk, even though it means he has had to delay a bathroom renovation that he promised to do.
Before setting out Ken says he did some training but nothing could really prepare him for the challenge ahead.
“I’ve always been a runner, the boys at work can vouch for that. I used to run up and down the hill at the back of the Polytech so they nicknamed it Mount Ash.
“The walk itself has been quite hard and you do have to be really careful along the way because being alone an accident would be pretty bad.”
While the sights Ken has seen have been memorable, he says the people he has met along the way is what really sticks in his mind.
“At one point I had just left a forest and I hailed a guy down in his car to ask where in the area I could pitch my tent for the night,” Ken says. “He told me to walk down the road and up a driveway, to knock on the door and his wife would put the kettle on.
“The couple invited me to stay the night, did my laundry, fed me a beautiful meal with a few wines and I spent time with their family. That sort of thing restores your faith in human nature.”
A foot infection and subsequent ankle issue slowed him down north of Auckland, leading to a two month break from the walk. But two months ago he returned to the trail and has made good progress.
Asked if he has considered giving up and going home at any point, Ken responds with a ‘heck yes, many times’.
“Most of the time I figured if I’d started walking up something then I may as well keep going, either that or go back the other way.”
“A memorable spot was Mount Pirongia in the Waikato, it was like a giant mud pie with trees on it.”
Ken also recalls walking through 18km of mud in Raetea Forest in Northland and the ‘feast’ he had afterwards when he came across a fish and chip shop.
While Ken says he has enjoyed his travels so far he says he is looking forward to getting back to the ‘creature comforts’ of home.
“You miss those simple things like being able to have a cup of tea, or go down the road and meet a mate for a beer.”
If he successfully finishes the trail Ken will be one of the oldest people to have ever walked the entire thing, possibly even the oldest.
“I would be quite chuffed,” he says. “It’s a little bit of an ego boost when you are 76.”
Ken says he will wait until next summer to complete the South Island leg of the walk due to the weather over the winter months.