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.
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.
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.