The World’s Toughest Trucker

By Tom Clynes

Warm beer won’t win you any friends up here, mate. Trucker Garry White’s Australian torture trek fuels the fridge.

Authors note: My first feature for National Geographic Adventure was a lot of fun, and it’s still one of my favorite stories. I often bring it up in my keynote talks. 


Hidden under the rainforest canopy at the top of Australia’s Cape York Peninsula, Pajinka Wilderness Lodge is a tropical retreat for wildlife lovers, bird watchers and fishermen. The lodge lies just short of the northernmost point in Australia, at the tip of a slender green finger that stretches up from the wide brown continent toward New Guinea. Locals call this spot simply The Top.

After a day in the sun deep-sea fishing with Pajinka’s manager Alan Geary, a few guests cooled off at the lodge’s outdoor bar. Someone brought over a round of XXXX (Queensland’s home-brewed beer, pronounced “Four-X”) and asked Alan a question of essential interest:

In a place where the temperature rarely dips below 90 degrees, a place far too remote for electrical lines, how is it that the beer at Pajinka is always cold?

Alan answered with a tropical syllogism. For good conversation, he said, you need cold beer. To get cold beer, you need electricity. To get electricity, you need fuel for the generator. To get fuel to The Top…you need Garry White.

Three times a year, Alan told us, “this bloke Garry” pulls his full-size tractor-trailer rig out of Cairns and heads up the peninsula to the fuel depot at Weipa. There, he fills the tanker with diesel for the cattle stations and aboriginal settlements in the distant north, and for Pajinka. The 1,500-mile round trip—not a single foot of it on paved roads—takes him through the continent’s most inaccessible wilderness. He has to plow through jungle rivers, chain-saw through downed trees and shovel his way out of truck-gobbling mud holes. Every time he stops to change a flat tire or replace an axle, he’s bait for leeches, wild boars, taipans and giant crocs.

“It’s a well-known fact,” said Alan, “that he is the world’s toughest trucker.”

Read the entire story here.


Author, photojournalist and National Geographic speaker Tom Clynes travels the world covering the adventurous sides of science, the environment, education, and archaeology. His work appears in National GeographicThe New York TimesNature, Popular Science, The Atlantic, and other publications. As a keynote speaker, Tom works with organizations that want to catalyze creativity and engagement at their events, inspiring audiences and bringing them along on assignment to some of the world’s most intriguing places. To contact Tom and discover more about his memorable and inspiring programs, please email info@tomclynes.com.

Plugging Into Nature

By Tom Clynes

One parent’s quest to raise analog kids in a digital age.

Authors note: This essay first appeared in Issue 4 of Adventure Journal.


I was at the campfire, flipping pancakes, when 13-year-old Ethan came over and asked if he could use my phone.

“I want to show those guys a YouTube video,” he said, nodding toward his brother, Sam, and my sons, Charlie and Joe.

I looked up and arched an eyebrow. “Seriously, Ethan?” I said. “We all agreed this would be an electronics-free camping trip. Remember?”

“I know,” he said, “but it’s a video about camping.”

Before Ethan could fall further into the irony hole he was digging, I plopped a flapjack onto his plate and he rejoined the other boys. “I guess we’ll have to watch it when we get home,” he sighed.

Keeping kids connected with nature used to be simpler. For my own parents, it was mostly a matter of opening the back door and setting us loose in the neighborhood, where we’d find an orchard or a brush pile or some other semi-wild place to fool around.

But for 21st-century children, such improvised outdoors scenarios are increasingly rare. My parents’ generation didn’t use “parenting” as a verb, and what they called just kids being kids is now called free-range—a concept that alarms hyper-vigilant would-be advocates. Kids don’t have the same kind of license to run around outside, and even if they do there’s the ever-present draw of electronics. As smartphones and social media become ever more ubiquitous and embedded, the love of nature—what E.O. Wilson called biophilia—is morphing into videophilia, a love of electronic media.

“We’ve quickly gone from a place where the average child would choose active outside activities to one where kids choose sedentary activities involving computers and smartphones and video,” says conservation ecologist Patricia Zaradic. She and Oliver Pergams co-authored two studies that found that per-capita visits to national parks and forests, and other indicators of nature recreation, have declined in developed countries since the late 1980s, due in large part to the increase in the amount of time spent on electronic media.

The trends they’ve identified have alarmed conservationists, whose efforts to protect wilderness depend on the support of people who connected with nature during their formative years. A rising generation of adults with little experience with wild places and little understanding of their value may ultimately have a greater impact on biodiversity and ecosystem health than bulldozers, invasive species, or even greenhouse gas emissions, some think.

Read the entire story here.


Author, photojournalist and National Geographic speaker Tom Clynes travels the world covering the adventurous sides of science, the environment, education, and archaeology. His work appears in National GeographicThe New York TimesNature, Popular Science, The Atlantic, and other publications. As a keynote speaker, Tom works with organizations that want to catalyze creativity and engagement at their events, inspiring audiences and bringing them along on assignment to some of the world’s most intriguing places. To contact Tom and discover more about his memorable and inspiring programs, please email info@tomclynes.com.

Laser Scans Reveal Maya “Megalopolis” Below Guatemalan Jungle

A vast, interconnected network of ancient cities was home to millions more people than previously thought.

By Tom Clynes

Author’s note: This story, which I reported in Guatemala and Mexico, really caught the world’s attention. It garnered more than a million reads on the NatGeo website and was picked up by nearly every major media outlet. One of the more curious reactions came from some members of the Church Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who argued that the new discoveries


In what’s being hailed as a “major breakthrough” in Maya archaeology, researchers have identified the ruins of more than 60,000 houses, palaces, elevated highways, and other human-made features that have been hidden for centuries under the jungles of northern Guatemala.

Using a revolutionary technology known as LiDAR (short for “Light Detection And Ranging”), scholars digitally removed the tree canopy from aerial images of the now-unpopulated landscape, revealing the ruins of a sprawling pre-Columbian civilization that was far more complex and interconnected than most Maya specialists had supposed.

“The LiDAR images make it clear that this entire region was a settlement system whose scale and population density had been grossly underestimated,” said Thomas Garrison, an Ithaca College archaeologist and National Geographic Explorer who specializes in using digital technology for archaeological research.

Garrison is part of a consortium of researchers who are participating in the project, which was spearheaded by the PACUNAM Foundation, a Guatemalan nonprofit that fosters scientific research, sustainable development, and cultural heritage preservation. The project mapped more than 800 square miles (2,100 square kilometers) of the Maya Biosphere Reserve in the Petén region of Guatemala, producing the largest LiDAR data set ever obtained for archaeological research.

The results suggest that Central America supported an advanced civilization that was, at its peak some 1,200 years ago, more comparable to sophisticated cultures such as ancient Greece or China than to the scattered and sparsely populated city states that ground-based research had long suggested.

Read the entire story here.


Author, photojournalist and National Geographic speaker Tom Clynes travels the world covering the adventurous sides of science, the environment, education and archaeology. His work appears in National GeographicThe New York TimesNature, Popular Science, The Atlantic and other publications. As a keynote speaker, Tom works with organizations that want to catalyze creativity and engagement at their events, inspiring audiences with his stories and photos and bringing them along on assignment to fascinating locations around the globe. To contact Tom and find out more about his memorable and motivating programs, please email info@tomclynes.com.

Yukon: Canada’s Wild West

By Tom Clynes

Author’s Note: The Yukon, with its brawling, big-mountain physicality, is one of those places that tugs on adventurous imaginations. It’s also one of those places that tends to draw passionate people with passionate opinions. The debates that have overtaken Canada’s Far North are emblematic of the tension that runs through many of the world’s still-unspoiled places—between those who would keep it wild, and those whose success depends on digging it up.

As it turned out, this National Geographic feature would be one of the most rugged and most fun assignments I’ve ever experienced. Over three weeks I explored high ridges with gold prospectors, paddled through impossibly beautiful Arctic valleys with conservationists, and hunted caribou with some of the last hunter-gatherers on the continent. I came back with mountains of material—enough notes and photographs to fortify four magazine stories (including this one) and enliven plenty of keynote talks. As for the debate over the future of the northern wildlands, it is still far from settled.


Shawn Ryan recalls the hungry years, before his first big strike.

The prospector and his family were living in a metal shack on the outskirts of Dawson, the Klondike boomtown that had declined to a ghostly remnant of its glory days. They had less
than $300 and no running water or electricity. One night, as wind sneaked through gaps in the cladding, Ryan’s wife, Cathy Wood, worried aloud that their two children might even freeze to death.

Today the couple could buy—and heat—just about any house on Earth. Ryan’s discovery of what would eventually amount to billions of dollars’ worth of buried treasure has helped reinfect the Yukon with gold fever, and fortune seekers have stormed the Canadian territory in numbers not seen since the 1890s.

The minerals rush has reanimated Dawson’s weather-tilted bars and bunkhouses, whose facades glow in pastel hues during midsummer’s late-night sunset. The scene could be from more than a century ago, with bearded men bustling along wooden sidewalks and muddy streets, hooting and trading rumors of the latest strikes and price spikes. Inside Diamond Tooth Gerties casino, miners mingle with tourists and cancan girls, thronging four deep around beer taps and poker tables.

Read the entire story here. 


Author, photojournalist and adventure speaker Tom Clynes travels the world covering the adventurous sides of science, the environment and education. His work appears in publications such as National Geographic, The New York Times, Nature, Popular Science and The Atlantic. As a keynote speaker, Tom inspires audiences and brings them along on assignment to fascinating locations around the globe. Whether your group or organization is in search of adventure speakers, environmental speakers or your own in-house “National Geographic speaker series,” Tom’s presentations will earn high praise. To contact Tom and find out more about his memorable and inspiring programs, email info@tomclynes.com.