Strongpela Meri

“Rule Nambawan,” one of our New Guinean guides called over his shoulder as we trudged up a mountain, “Never look up. Longwe tumas. You lose strength.” He spoke a mixture of Tok Pisin and English, and I understood him perfectly: this trail was hard. It was the steepest trail I had ever seen. Barely wide enough for two hiking boots, it was surrounded by thick jungle and it went straight up. Leaning hard on my trekking poles, I wondered if the Papua New Guineans who used the trail to hunt and take their betel nut, peanuts, coffee beans, and cucumbers to the Port Moresby markets had ever heard of switchbacks. My dad and I had trained in Colorado and Montana, but we’d never seen a trail this rugged.

LRG_DSC01030After two hours of tiresome climbing, we made it to the top of a high peak, and were rewarded with a view of the Kemp Welch River valley, green and dense. We enjoyed it for a while and soon began our descent – again straight down. All the roots and rocks that I had used for footholds on the way up were now my enemies. One slippery misstep and I’d be tumbling into the valley, possibly all the way to Goreba, our first village stop.

LRG_DSC01713

It wasn’t until day 6 that I developed what I called my “ jungle feet.” I learned instinctively to place my feet between the slick roots and rocks rather than on them, and I learned how to navigate the stretches of wet clay. I grew fast and efficient at climbing up and down the hills and peaks, and soon I was keeping up with our guides.  I felt agile, strong, and exhilarated. Cresting a hill, I would hear our guides exclaim, There’s our lead girl!” I had earned their respect and a new nickname, “Strongpela Meri.”

Elevation Profile:

IMG_2571

Rule Nambawan- Rule #1

Longwe Tumas- Long way to go

Strongpela Meri- Strong girl

 

In High Mnts

I will not be able to post any blogs while my dad and I are in the jungle. Our only means of communication is via a satellite phone and our coverage is very spotty. So far our messages to home have been “All Well,” “Killer Hike Today,” “In High Mtns,” and “All Good”.

This is a photograph of village boys in PNG taken when my dad hiked this same trail over a decade ago when writing his book The Ghost Mountain Boys. If you are interested in seeing video footage of Papua New Guinea, you can follow this link to his Ghost Mountain Boys site and watch an 8-minute trailer about his book: http://www.ghostmountainboys.com/trailer.html

PNG Boys

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.