Expedition to Papua New Guinea - Charlie Walker

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In mid-March 2019 Charlie Walker, a professional adventurer, will set off for Papua New Guinea, on an expedition to summit the three highest peaks in the country and then paddle the longest river. In all he will spend approximately two months hiking 300 miles, paddling for 700 miles and cycling for approximately 600 miles between the various access points.

He is certainly not new to this sort of thing. Walker spent four years in his mid 20s cycling 43,000 miles through 60 countries and he has hiked in the Eastern Gobi Desert and Mongolia, as well as descending a river in Africa. In 2017 he made a 5200 mile journey that followed the border between Europe and Asia – by skiing, kayaking and then cycling.

He is aiming to cover the 1600 miles in Papua New Guinea in two months. You can see his website here, www.cwexplore.com, and his Twitter and Instagram feeds @cwexplore. His book, Through Sand and Snow, about his journey to the furthest points on three continents, is available through Amazon here.

First a bit of Form
Charlie Walker: The idea of becoming an adventurer happened slowly for me. As I was growing up I always enjoyed travel literature and maps, but I never thought I’d end up travelling for a living. When I left school I started taking short trips whenever I could afford the time and money. At first it was just backpacking, but soon this developed into more active and intrepid adventures. The decision to cast off from home on a bicycle for several years was a defining moment in my life and everything else just followed organically from there.

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Simply put, the idea was to see places, meet people and learn things. The physical side of what I do is secondary, however, being physically exhausted brings about a certain mental vulnerability, and this in itself can give an interesting insight and outlook on new places.

I don’t know if I will do this forever. I don’t really plan very far ahead. For the time being I’m doing this and I love it. But if the passion ever fades or shifts then I won’t hesitate to re-assess.


A Life of Adventure: It’s worth noting some of the expeditions that Charlie Walker has undertaken over the past ten years -

- Cycled 43,000 miles through 60 countries in Asia and Africa over four years

- Hiked 1,000 miles from Beijing across the Eastern Gobi desert to Ulaan Baatar in Mongolia

- Trekked 600 miles across Mongolia with a pony

- Descended 550 miles of a Congo tributary in a dugout canoe, dodging rapids and hippos along the way

- Skied, kayaked and cycled the 5,200-mile length of the Europe-Asia border.

Why Papua New Guinea? Why now?
I’ve wanted to explore PNG for about a decade and now is just the first time I’ve found the right time and opportunity. Conceptually this journey is quite simple: to summit the three highest peaks in the country and to paddle the longest river from source to sea. I will complete the entire journey without motorised transport, using a bicycle to get from the coast to the mountains and then hike across country to get to the river source.

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The concept is really just a frame on which I can hang the chance to visit this remote and misunderstood country and get a feel of the place. I wanted to complete a different, longer route but was limited by the visa allowance of 60 days.

The trip to PNG is a stand alone expedition, though in a personal developmental sense it is a continuation of other things. The common theme in what I do is that journeys are physically difficult somewhere geographically remote with interesting culture(s).

How important is the physical side? Have you trained for the trip?
If I’m honest, I’ve never really “trained” for an expedition. I tend to start my journeys relatively slowly and build from there. That said, I try to maintain a reasonable level of fitness all the time. Unfortunately, on this occasion, I snapped a metatarsal about three months before my departure date and I am only just able to jog again now (with 6 weeks to go), so I’ll have to balance general fitness with not overdoing it.


What will be the most challenging aspect of the trip?
The trip will be pretty tough, physically. Papua New Guinea sits just two degrees south of the equator and it is hot and humid all year round, so hacking through dense jungle will be exhausting and slow going. The route I’ve chosen involves about 600 miles of cycling, 300 miles of hiking, and 700 miles of paddling… all in two months. I think the first third of the packraft down the Sepik River will be the toughest as it is very remote with no settlements for at least 200 miles and lots of rapids and canyons to contend with.

Logistically it’s fairly straightforward. I need to buy a basic bicycle on arrival but beyond that it’s fairly simple. I’ll carry everything I need and just top up my food supplies along the way.

People talk a lot about the tribal violence and gun crime in PNG, and of course there are wildly outdated rumours about headhunting and cannibalism. However, outside of the few urban centres, I believe it is relatively safe. My biggest concerns will probably be wildlife. Snakes, spiders and crocodiles (both fresh water and salt water) are all concerns.

What is achievement?
That’s a difficult question. I think it has to mean different things to different people. But I believe there’s more to be achieved by setting ambitious goals and perhaps failing than there is by easily accomplishing relatively unambitious targets. The old adage of ‘strength through strife’ has definitely proven true for me. But I feel a sense of achievement from all sorts of things in all different parts of my life, not just from slogging through jungle or across tundra. Filing my tax return and not being late to meetings both feel like achievements! Perhaps it’s something about managing things that you don’t feel naturally easily able to do.

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Team Antigua and The Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge 2018

Team Antigua training ahead of the start of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. CREDIT BEN DUFFY (2).jpg

On 12 December 2018, Team Antigua Island Girls set off on the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge 2018, a crossing of the Atlantic from La Gomera in the Canaries to English Harbour on the island of Antigua in the north-eastern Caribbean. They are one among 28 rowing boats in the event, crews of solo rowers, pairs, three, fours and even fives. The crossing is approximately 3000 miles and teams are expected to take between 30 and 75 days to complete the distance.

As their name implies, the four rowers of Team Antigua Island Girls are from Antigua: they are Kevinia Francis, 40, Christal Clashing, 29, Samara Emmanuel, 32 and Elvira Bell, 37. They have been training since early in 2018 and did not know one another before the team got together. This is the first time that any of them have attempted such a huge challenge, but they are gunning for several firsts, including first all-black team to complete the race and first all-female team from Antigua . They are also raising money for Cottage of Hope, a charity that works in aid of disadvantaged children in St Johns, the Antiguan capital.

Their progress can be followed at the live tracker at the Talisker Whisky Altantic Challenge website.


Is this a first, or have you done this sort of thing before?
Kevinia: For all of us, the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge is our first time rowing. We only started to learn during our training so just being here is an achievement. Samara has previously done a lot of sailing and we’ll benefit from her nautical knowledge so that’s a great skill to have within the team.


What was the dream?
All: Successfully row the Atlantic in the 2019/20 race!

Elvira: It’s only been since earlier this year that we realised that we were strong enough to be a part of the 2018/19 fleet. We’ve come a long way in a short space of time.

Samara: It’s also an opportunity to raise a lot of money for the charity Cottage of Hope.

Team Antigua Island Girls at the start of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge 2018 (from L-R Elvira Bell, Cristal Clashing, Samara Emmanuel, Kevinia Francis) CREDIT BEN DUFFY (1).jpg

How did you come across the event?
Kevinia: The Antiguan Government put a call out looking for a team of rowers to do the race, and they were specifically looking for females. We all applied separately without knowing each other.

Christal: There’s been two Antiguan teams in previous years so we’re following in their footsteps. But at the same time, we’re going to be creating a new path - we’ll be the first all-black team to take part in the race, the first all-black team to row the Atlantic, and the first all-female team from Antigua.


What do your friends think?
All: That we’re crazy!

Christal: They are all really supportive, but for each of us, taking up a challenge like this is not completely out of character, so in some ways many of our friends and family kind of expected it.

Team Antigua training ahead of the start of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. CREDIT BEN DUFFY 1.jpg

What sort of training have you done?
Samara: Once a week we’ve been out on the water and we’ve been practicing doing long rows of a minimum of 8 hours at least once a month.

Kevinia: Then around 5 or 6 days a week we’re in the gym training, doing weights and just preparing our bodies as best we can.

Elvira: We’ve also done a lot of mediation for mental preparation and tried to learn techniques and skills that will help us keep focus but also to re-gain focus when we need to dig deep.

Christal: We’ve been able to have the added bonus of training a lot in the kind of environments out at sea that we’ll face during the row due to where our island is, which will hopefully give us an advantage as we get closer to home.

Samara: Our first major row was in April, from Antigua to St Kitts. We set off at sunset and just got on with it, we knew we wanted to practice rowing at night as it is something we’ll face every day during the race so it was just one of those things we needed to do. We actually came to the UK in October whilst our boat was being upgraded and adjusted so we trained there as well; we did a 12 hour row on the River Crouch in Essex, which was a journey!

Kevinia: We had the guidance and advice of the previous Antiguan teams and Eli Fuller has given a lot of his time to help prepare us as best as possible. But there’s a saying you hear a lot in the ocean rowing community and that’s that nothing can really prepare you for rowing an ocean.

What strategies do you have?
Christal: Like a lot of the foursomes we’re planning on having two team members at a time rowing 2 hours and then having 2 hours off. But in that ‘off’ time you have to do all of the other things that are needed; eating, trying to keep hygienic in the conditions, sleeping, navigating making water… its relentless.

Kevinia: Staying hydrated will be key to be able to function and do everything that needs to be done. And we’ll keep morale up with our music. We’ve got a lot of gospel to keep us going and of course some Christmas songs!

All expeditions are about endurance, how will you balance out the mental and physical demands?
Christal: Our team spirit will keep us together and push us on.

Elvira: And the meditation skills we learnt will be crucial to just re-setting and re-focussing when something doesn’t go to plan rather than getting stressed out.


Team Antigua Island Girls at the start of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge 2018 (from L - R Cristal Clashing, Samara Emmanuel, Kevinia Francis, Elvira Bell) CREDIT BEN DUFFY.jpg

What will be the most challenging aspect of the race?
Elvira: I think experiencing the sleep deprivation in full for the first time will be a challenge, you can’t really prepare for it or know how we’re going to handle things until we’re in that place.

Samara: I’m going to miss having fresh food! All the food we eat whilst out there will be dehydrated, I can’t wait to have fresh fruit and vegetables when we get home.

Christal: Sea sickness is another thing. We won’t know how it will fully affect us until we’re out there. It can be completely debilitating and has made many previous strong teams and team members retire. If we get it really bad, we’ll be too weak to carry on.

Kevinia: And the calluses and blisters we’re going to get will be huge! I don’t think we’ll be able to avoid them but they’ll definitely make things more challenging as time goes on out there.

Samara: We’ve got waterproof notebooks to record how we’re feeling and to help deal with our emotions. And to cheer ourselves up we have dehydrated mango we’ve brought from home and ginger for snacks. And playing our music nice and loud!


What are you looking forward to?
All: Getting home!

Kevinia: The whole island knows about the race and will be there to support all the teams when they get in.


What does achievement look like?
Christal: For us, definitely winning.

Kevinia: We’re going for the titles, we want to take the record for the fastest female four.

Elvira: Even if it’s only beating it by a second, we’ll do what it takes!

The elation awaiting them at the finish line…

The elation awaiting them at the finish line…

Just Before Departure @Shirls Row

In about ten days Shirley Thompson will be setting off on her double-record breaking attempt on the Atlantic Ocean. She has tapered her training and is finalising her planning and getting everything in place for the three month voyage. Her boat, RV Amigo, is already on its way to Puerto de Mogan in Gran Canaria, where she arrives around on 15th November. She will set off for St Barts on around 22nd November. Read her earlier thoughts on the adventure from early September here. Below are her thoughts shortly before departure.

During the crossing you can follow her on facebook at Shirl’s Atlantic Row and at her twitter account - @ShirlsRow.


How has the final training been going?
Shirley Thompson: It has gone well. I have been out rowing at every possible moment, building my time on the water and getting to know how the boat handles, and I now feel comfortable in her and geared up for my imminent departure. At the same time I have been accustoming myself to how the equipment works and learning knots, weather, navigation using the stars. And of course gathering together all my kit and food. 

The boat leaves for the Canaries by road this weekend, 10-11th November and I fly out there on the 14th, so I am there for its arrival on 15th.  I expect to depart for the crossing around 22nd November.

The physical side can only take you so far. What have you done to prepare yourself mentally?
I will break the crossing into tiny pieces, into one hour, a rowing session of a few hours and then a complete a day. If I can do an hour then I can do another hour, if I can do a 2-3 hour rowing session then I can do the next one, and if I manage a day then I can do another day and so on. My mind will control my body - I know this challenge will be a huge mental battle.


Have you settled on a routine?
I will row each morning from 6 am to midday and then row 2 hours on 2 hours off until midnight. I will then sleep from midnight to 6am.  This is a minimum. I would like to increase the rowing time to 14 hours a day if possible. The “off oars” time is for admin, eating, coping with sores, aches and pains, cleaning the boat, repairs etc etc

What approach do you have to food and hydration?
I intend to use the same strategy as I do in endurance races, ie never allow myself to be thirsty, so I will keep hydrated and I will eat often, both snacks and 3-4 dehydrated meals per day. I am mixing my food with cold water, I am not carrying any facility to heat water.

I think hydration will be the main priority at the beginning of the crossing. I am likely to suffer from seasickness so I will need to make sure to keep hydrated. 

What are your final preparations?
There are so many last minute things to do, down to the practicalities of being away and out of touch for 3 months. 

In terms of preparation for the row I think I am pretty much on track, though I frequently wake up in the middle of the night remembering something which I then have to write down!!

As it departure comes more sharply into focus, what are your main concerns?
The enormity of it. The unpredictability of the ocean, the weather, going through potential problems in my mind and how to resolve them. 

What will be last your indulgence before you set off?
An ice cream!!!


Shirley Thompson attempts a double-record, solo crossing of the Atlantic

In mid-November, Shirley Thompson will set off on a solo, unsupported crossing of the Atlantic Ocean, from Puerto de Mogan in Gran Canaria to the French island of St Barts in the Caribbean. The distance is some 3000 miles. She is going for two records in the attempt – to become the oldest woman to make the Atlantic crossing solo and to be the first Irish woman to row any ocean solo. She will make the crossing in a Pure Class boat, which is 1.8 meters wide and around 7m long, and depending on the Tradewinds, the journey could take her as long as 90 days.

Shirley has never done anything quite like an ocean-crossing before, but she is no stranger to adventure, having organised the Jungle Marathon in Brazil for many years. You can follow her crossing on facebook at Shirl’s Atlantic Row and she has a website at www.shirlsatlanticrow.com.

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First a bit of Form
Shirley Thompson: This is my first monumental adventure, though over the years I have competed in many endurance events, including the Marathon des Sables, Trans 333 (a 333km non-stop desert run), the Guadarun (7 day staged run in Guadeloupe), Antarctica Marathon, Verdon Trail and the Yukon Arctic Ultra. And of course Jungle Marathon, which I organise. 

I got into adventure by accident At the age of 42 I took up running, swapped a 60 ciggies a day habit for a running obsession. I got into ultra running 6 months after that and never looked back!

Why an Atlantic crossing? Why now?
I wanted to do something huge for my 60th birthday (I was 60 in May). For many years I promised myself I would climb Everest, but the more I have read, the more I have been disappointed – by the lack of helping your fellow man (leaving people near the summit who are suffering, so you can get down to safety yourself), the rubbish on the mountain etc. It’s not very green.

So, I began to look further afield and discovered that although more than 450 women have summited Everest, only 15 women have ever rowed an ocean solo. That was also the moment I remembered that the water is my nemesis - I don't like to be out of my depth and up until a month ago I couldn't swim. It is a huge challenge for me. I started to research it further at the beginning of this year. Initially I signed up for a race, but then I decided I‘d prefer to go it alone. 

I love the idea of being at one with nature, so far from land and humanity. I love the isolation, the struggle and the privilege of experiencing something that so few people will ever do. I want to prove to myself that an ordinary person can do something extraordinary. 

I also like the idea that I can demonstrate that age is just a number, and that a 60 year old woman is not past her sell by date - which is often how we are viewed by society. 

What sort of training have you done?
Until the beginning of August my boat, RV Amigo, was being refurbished, so I only got on the water with her then, but I have been training with her almost daily since and will continue to do so until I leave for Gran Canaria.


I always keep fit, I run 10-15km a day, I water jog, I go for long hikes, but since I signed up for the crossing earlier in the year I have increased the levels. Before the delivery of RV Amigo in August, I was rowing on an ERG for 4+ hours a day (often getting up twice in the middle of the night to do 2-hour stints). Now I am on the water rowing for as many hours as I can and I will have done at least 200+ hours before I leave. Also I am swimming 75 lengths of a pool a day (I couldn’t swim a width a month ago) and I am doing weights for some upper body strength.

I have been training with Leven Brown, the legendary Scottish Ocean rower. He has refurbished my boat and will provide weather reports for me during the crossing. He will also be my “phone a friend” when I am out there.

Does being 60 make a difference?
In terms of training I don’t think it’s different. In terms of tenacity I think we have more at 60, though my creaky old back might say differently after a couple of months at sea.

And what sort of preparation have you done?
There has been quite a bit of other preparation, obviously. I have trained in sea survival, sea first aid, navigation and seamanship, I got radio operator’s licence and I have been on an ocean rowing course.

I will be eating dehydrated food mixed with cold water to avoid the danger of scalding myself in high seas. As far as the bathroom goes, it’s a bucket and chuck it scenario.


How important will the physical side be in this?
The physical plays a part, but as long as I have a solid fitness base the rest is mental for me. There’s no doubt that the mental drives the physical, and pushes you through the pain barrier when you have blisters on your hands and feet, salt sores on your bottom, sea sickness and are fed up to the back teeth of being constantly wet and covered in salt water, terrified of the storms and cannot see land….

What safety gear and back up do you have?
I will carry a life raft (a 4-person raft, so it is much bigger than my boat!!), immersion suits, lifejackets, EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio beacon - if I set this off then all ships in the ocean are informed of a Mayday and the closest one will come to the rescue), PLB (Personal Locator Beacon – it will be attached to my lifejacket, so I can activate if I go overboard and cannot get back into my boat), a VHF radio (useful only by line of sight). Also I will have Leven Brown at the end of the sat-phone, so that he can troubleshoot in case I have an issue on the boat that I cannot deal with myself.

I will be wearing a harness and will be tied on to the boat in two places at ALL times. I have three sets of oars with me and back-ups for everything, ie 3 sets of sunglasses, two sat-phones, two radios, a hand-held water maker, hand-held GPS, compass. Also I’ll carry ballast mineral water in case both water makers fail...

What is the most daunting aspect of the crossing?
As I look ahead there are so many things - rogue waves, seeing a container ship on my course that doesn't hear me on the radio! stray containers that have fallen off cargo ships. Rowing 14 hours a day is challenging enough in itself. Other daunting things include capsizing- though I do know my boat self-rights - not eating fresh fruit and veg and missing my dogs. 

Is there anything to look forward to about being out there?
All of it!! The good and the less good and the terror - it’s all part of the journey. I’ll be seeing dolphins playing by the boat, whales, sharks, sea turtles, and no doubt I’ll see a few mighty waves. Even the physical battle of rowing 14 hours a day will be good. Oh, and my survival.

Most of the all though, I will be looking forwards to that very first ice-cold rum punch when I reach St Barts!

What is achievement?
To my mind achievement is anything that makes me feel fulfilled. This is really a journey to test me!

I am going for two world records – first the oldest woman ever to row any ocean solo, and second the first Irish woman to row any ocean solo. Getting those world records will be an achievement.