16 April 2021

'He would be incredibly proud': Montana back on the road in memory of his mate

| Lottie Twyford
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Montana O'Neill sitting atop a mountain

Montana O’Neill is ready to get back out on the Te Araroa trail in New Zealand in honour of his childhood friend. Photo: Supplied.

COVID-19 put a stop to many things, but for one Canberra local, it only paused his determination to complete one of the world’s toughest hikes in memory of his childhood mate, Jake Apps.

Montana O’Neill set out in January 2020 to complete New Zealand’s gruelling 3000km Te Araroa trail which snakes from the bottom of the South Island all the way to the top of the North Island.

However, his attempt was cut short due to pandemic-induced border closures.

So now with the announcement of the Trans-Tasman bubble, Montana is going back to finish what he started.

In memory of Jake, who suffered from cystic fibrosis, Montana has already raised more than $14,000 but hopes to hit the $25,000 mark – $1000 for every year of Jake’s life.

His fundraising page remains open.

Montana flies out of Australia on Tuesday, 20 April, and will land in Wellington, where he will then travel to the nearby town of Levin, where he was forced to quit his adventure last time.

The last hike took an interesting detour, involving him spending more than a month stuck in New Zealand working on a kiwifruit farm before undergoing mandatory hotel quarantine upon his return to Australia.

More than a year later, as he prepares to cross the Tasman once more, this time without any unpleasant quarantining, Montana says Jake would be incredibly proud of him.

“I think if Jake had been alive to witness my efforts, he would have been pretty impressed to see me doing this to honour him,” he says.

The two friends had always planned to go hiking together, but unfortunately that never eventuated.

Montana O'Neill and Jake Apps as teenagers at GIO Stadium

Childhood mates Montana O’Neill (left) and Jake Apps (right). Photo: Supplied.

Montana says he is determined to hike the remaining half of the trail to finish his challenge. This time, he says, he will do his absolute best to stay in the country until it is finished.

If everything goes to plan, it should take him around two months to complete.

“Of course, I am nervous as the situation is changing rapidly – almost daily – but I am also excited to get back out there again,” says Montana.

He has family who live in New Zealand and he says he will stay with them if he is forced to remain over there for longer than expected. He is not keen to travel back and forth and risk potential periods of quarantine.

Montana is not totally unprepared either as he has been training in the Brindabellas and even managed to get down to Tasmania for a spot of hiking with his family just after Christmas.

READ ALSO A mate’s long trek honours Jake Apps’s courageous life

However, he does say there is more to it than physical preparedness, with the long stretches alone on the trail taking their toll mentally.

“It will be difficult to go from home comforts and living in the city to getting back out there in the wilderness where I’ll be alone with nothing but my thoughts for hours, if not days, at a time,” says Montana.

Family and friends, sponsors Rubik3 and ETM Perspectives, as well as those who have come across Montana’s story online, are hoping this time there are no unforeseen diversions along the way.

You can follow Montana’s Trek for Jake – Walk for a Mate on Facebook and Instagram, where he says he will continue to post regular updates from his hike.

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