A Different View: Mountains by Motorcycle

The trees were a blur in my peripheral vision. Quaint grass huts dotted the mountainous landscape, but I didn’t notice. I had my focus squarely on the road as I taxed the Honda 150 dirt bike engine for all it was worth, just trying to keep up with the guys ahead. I remembered the words of Syd (our aviation operations boss), delivered with a finger pointed in our faces as we left on our trip: “I don’t want to lose a couple pilots on that ride!” His mandate was now sounding more difficult.

Our mission was to travel 50 miles overland from Bokondini to Ilugwa to check the runway there and determine if it is still fit for air service after nearly a decade of disuse. The reason? Next month the church is planning to have a dedication in Ilugwa of the Walak New Testament that was recently finished. They would like for some of the guests who wouldn’t be able to make the remote overland trip to be able to fly in. We didn’t want to risk a landing there without a checkout from the ground first.

Our 100-mile round trip ride from Bokondini to Ilugwa took nearly two hours each way on the windiest, most beautiful mountain road you can imagine.

We rode Honda 150L trail bikes, led by Walker Wisley, a 17-year-old missionary kid who grew up in these mountains. Kars Kroneman, a fellow pilot, came next followed by me and Obet. Walker is a senior at Ob Anggen, a private school in Bokondini for Papuan youth operated by his parents. Obet supervises the dorms at the school. I realized the ride was going to be pretty intense as we hit 75 km/hr right out of the gate. I learned to just stand on the pegs and let the bike do the work. And if I saw Kars’ bike airborne ahead of me … hang on! For an hour and 45 minutes, we wound our way on paved, semi-paved, potholed, graveled roads, and a short bit of mud. Rain and fog added to the mix to keep it interesting.

Walker snapped a picture of Obet, me, and Kars on a stop during our ride to Ilugwa to do a runway inspection.

The ride was beautiful, sporting grand vistas, limestone cliff faces, and authentic honai (grass huts) in scattered villages. With a dose of caution thrown in, we arrived at Ilugwa … alive! During the survey we found that the Ilugwa runway is slippery and has a wandering crown and lots of side slope! We kind of expected that. Additionally, the pigs had rooted up the bottom 100 meters, shortening it to 450 meters. We determined that the runway would be useable, but I’m glad we checked it first before trying to land because we might not have noticed the surface issues from the air.

The ride home to Bokondini was less intense because the unknowns of the road were now known, and the capabilities of the bikes had been realized. We sped home (Have you ever tried to keep up with a 17-year-old boy on a motorcycle who grew up riding in the mountains?!) and arrived about half an hour before dark.

With Walker and some of his classmates

The next morning Kars and I gave our testimonies to all the students at Walker’s school in Bokondini. I also told them about growing up on a dairy farm and raising bull calves to pay for my flight lessons so I could become a missionary pilot. Then we flew over to Ilugwa in our Pilatus Porter airplane, practiced three landings, and picked up the head of the church denomination and brought him in for a short visit. We look forward to serving Ilugwa soon for their New Testament dedication!

You can see the Ilugwa runway over the nose of the Pilatus Porter on final approach. It’s grass, sloped, and situated in a pretty little valley at almost 6,000′ elevation. We made sure to land past the first 100 meters where the pigs had rooted it up!
Brad McFarlane

Brad McFarlane

Brad is a missionary pilot with YAJASI, our partner in Papua, Indonesia. He and his wife, Susan, have served there since 1997.