Into the Jungles of Papua New Guinea

jim and rachel pre pngWhen I was three years old my father set out to the jungles of Papua New Guinea (PNG) to research his book The Ghost Mountain Boys. He had been there a number of times before, with my uncle in 1989 and later with my mom on their honeymoon (!). They all loved the country even with the threat of malaria (which my mother contracted) snakes, and overwhelming heat. So, naturally, I have been hearing stories about Papua New Guinea for a long time. Not just about the bad and the dangerous times, but about the wonderful people, the rare birds of paradise, and the beautiful jungles, mountains, and beaches. Now, I  get to experience it for myself.

This Friday, July 20th, my dad and I are leaving for PNG to do a 22-day trek across the Papuan Peninsula. PNG is shaped like a bird with long tail feathers, the tail being the Papuan Peninsula. kokodamap2
We will walk from south to north across the Peninsula, from a village on the coast called Gabagaba to Buna on the north coast. Along the way, we will cross savannah, jungles, and the peaks of the Owen Stanley Mountains, just like the U.S. soldiers, whom my dad wrote about in his book, did in 1942. Training for this trip has been a long process. Although we trained most of the time in Wisconsin, we took a 3-week trip to Colorado and Montana to train and adapt to altitude. We later returned to the green hills and heat and humidity of Wisconsin, saying goodbye to the Flatirons of Colorado and Yellowstone National Park.

As hard as training had been, packing was almost as hard. In an effort to keep our backpacks as light as we could, we had to keep packing and unpacking, winnowing down what we would need to the bare essentials. In preparation for this trek I made countless trips to Target for pharmaceutical supplies, browsed through thousands of outdoor clothing companies online, took a Wilderness First Aid course in case anything went wrong, and worked out hard so that I could climb the mountains with energy.

Here’s is a partial list of the essentials:

  • Gloves for holding onto trees and roots on the steep hills and for protection against salat, a plant like stinging nettles
  • Smartwool socks to keep the feet dry
  • Silk and Smartwool underwear
  • Moisture wicking shirts and a lightweight rain shell from Outdoor Research
  • Knee-high gaiters to keep out leeches and keep mud and debris out of the boots
  • Trekking poles for the steep inclines and declines
  • Lots of electrolytes to prevent dehydration
  • Garmin Oregon 600 GPS
  • A Garmin watch (Forerunner 735XT) to record details of trip (provided by Garmin)
  • Mosquito net for sleeping
  • Malaria Medication (Malarone)
  • Immunizations against Japanese Encephalitis, Typhoid, and Rabies, too (a bit overkill)

In addition, we will be carrying lots of moleskin, topical antibiotics, antiseptic pads, and ointments, especially ointments that prevent rubbing and chafing. But we are also bringing along stronger medications for more serious circumstances such as cephalexin for skin infections, cipro for UTIs, fever, and nausea, azithromycin for sinus issues, bronchitis, pneumonia, and a cough and fever, prednisone for rashes, and allergic reactions, benadryl for allergic reactions, and finally, eye antibiotics and anesthetic.

Finally, my dad and I have also been studying the language of PNG: Tok Pisin/Pidgin. Pisin is a old trade language that uses a mixture of French, Spanish, German, and English, but most of the words resemble English. Here’s a quick sample of some of the words and phrases we’ve been learning:

  • Liklik raunwara- Small lake
  • Nem bilong mi- My name is…
  • Biknait- Night (11 p.m.-4 a.m.)
  • Mi gat liklik wari bilong mi- I have a little problem
  • Inap mi malolo liklik- Can I take a rest here?
  • Food- Kai kai
  • Breakfast- Kai kai bilong moningtaim


Lukim yu (see you later)!


In the Wildness of Alaska


alaskaIn Last Child in The Woods, Richard Louv writes, “Nature calmed me, focused me, and yet excited my senses.” I know exactly what he means. Last summer, I participated in a NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) course in the Talkeetna Mountains. I thought I understood remoteness until I went to Alaska. My family and I spent a lot of time in the Mountain West and I grew up on a small farm in rural Wisconsin, outside of a town without even a stoplight. We have chickens and bees, a cat and dog, a garden, fruit trees, and fifteen acres.

IMG_5444 (2)I love home, but I found a different kind of bliss in the Alaskan wilderness. I found simplicity. I carried everything I needed in my backpack: food, hiking clothes, a sleeping bag and pad, a WhisperLite stove, and a poop trowel. And I loved the routine, too. After waking up and taking down my tent, I would trudge the 100 yards to the makeshift kitchen, cook, eat, and then clean up. Then I would repack my pack, and set out on the trail with the rest of the group for the next 6-7 hours. When we reached our destination, we would scout out the flattest, driest spot and set up camp. As soon as I could, I would take off my hiking boots and put on my camp shoes and a fresh pair of socks. Only then would I relax and read or write, and sometimes, we would sit around and talk about the food we missed and how nice it would be to have a hot shower and a real bed. Some nights, we would listen to our instructors read and recite poetry and around 11, with the sun still up, I would crawl into my sleeping bag. Often, in the middle of the night, I would wake up and peer out of my tent to see the mist filling the valleys. By morning I could see the Chugach Mountains again and I would sit outside my tent, enjoying the beauty. But I knew that soon I would have to put on my wet, stinky hiking clothes and prepare to trek across mud, rivers, and boggy tundra. We were in grizzly country, of course, and that scared me, but I loved the beauty and wildness of Alaska. It excited my senses.


Gritty Sis

My sister Aidan turned 202nd pic of girls for blog.JPG this summer and is working as a river guide in Gardiner, Montana. We just got back from visiting her there, where she treated us to a rafting trip down the Yellowstone River and to some hikes in Yellowstone National Park.

In many ways, Aidan is my role model. When she was my age (15), she made three, five-week trips to Arctic Alaska with my father and wrote about her experiences at her blog Growing up, Aidan and I attended the same small school, where, despite my admiration for her, I grew increasingly tired of being known as her younger sister. Occasionally her friends would even call me “Little Aidan”, not because we resembled each other, but because that’s how they saw me. I was proud to be Aidan’s sister, but I wanted to be known for my own accomplishments. But that seemed impossible because everybody knew Aidan as a star: as the girl who won state her freshman year in the 800m; as the girl who survived living on an island with a polar bear; as the girl who got into Yale.

For a long time I wrestled with being in Aidan’s shadow until I realized that I had to define my own path, using Aidan as my inspiration. Aidan had followed her dreams and became the person she wanted to be; I was determined to do the same. I started Thai kickboxing classes after school; I joined a sailing club and raced; and I took up phoaidan and rachel blog.JPGtography. These things were mine. But while struggling to define myself, I also needed to allow for the fact that Aidan and I had some of the same interests: Nordic skiing, Indie Folk music , and a love of travel–especially to remote places.

Last summer I took a NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) trip to the Talkeetna Mountains of Alaska and was as taken with the landscape as Aidan had been. Like Aidan, I am now inspired to write about my adventures–in Alaska, this summer in Papua New Guinea, and wherever else my dreams may take me.

I believe in following my bliss and this is the first in a series of blogs about that. I am hoping that some readers might be as inspired by me as they were by Aidan. I will try to blog as often as I can this summer from the jungles of New Guinea and this fall and winter from the woods of Wisconsin. I hope that you will follow me on my journeys.