Web Exclusives: PawPlus

February 13, 2008:
Around the world in orange and black: The journey of a Princeton flag

By Denali Barron ’09

For the last two years, Denali Barron ’09 has been carrying an orange-and-black checkered flag, “liberated” from a nearby golf course, with an extraordinary goal in mind: take the flag to all seven continents before graduation. With the help of friends and family, she has completed that goal with time to spare, as she explains in her travel journal. A quick guide to the abbreviations: “DB” refers to the author, “JC” is classmate John Colosimo, “BB” is Brooks Barron ’11, “TAB” is Tom Barron ’74, and “LH” is Lyra Haas ’09.

May 26, 2006. Princeton, N.J., USA. Flag is liberated from the Princeton golf course by JC ’09. He bestows it upon DB ’09 as a birthday gift, under one condition: It must accompany her to all seven continents before the auspicious day of their graduation.

June 4, 2006. Aspen, Colo., USA. Hiking through knee-deep snow high in the Colorado Rockies, Flag joins DB in a lunch-sized portion of leftover green curry on top of Buckskin Pass. The 14,000-foot peaks – Snowmass, Pyramid, Maroon and North Maroon, Capitol, Cathedral, Castle, and Conundrum – are far more inspiring than the sandpits and Forbes Addition of Flag’s origin, though DB calls them home. They are humble compared to the places that Flag will see.

FlagJuly 13, 2006. Uttaranchal, India. Flag crests a new pass, halfway across the world from Colorado. Though swift clouds obscure what are surely spectacular views of the Indian Himalaya, DB anchors Flag among a string of its pious cousins and snaps a picture. Tiny bells, left at 16,000 feet for purposes of luck or prayer, are piled on the ground. Descent from the ridge top follows quickly, for after two weeks of backpacking in the Milam and Ralam valleys, DB cannot resist the idea of another thatched-roof chai house down the trail.

Aug. 10, 2006. Grand Canyon, Ariz., USA. Flag accompanies DB on a scouting run of Lava Falls, long considered the most treacherous rapids in the Grand Canyon. As the Colorado River boils and roars, brave boat commanders visualize how they will pull their oars to counteract the current. A flash flood in some dusty side canyon has dyed the river red today, in a rare return of its natural pigmentation. DB can only imagine how much red dirt settles and shifts behind the Glen Canyon Dam. Rocks, gathering the heat of the sun, tower thousands of feet above the river’s rage. It is a last gasp at splendor for a river that no longer reaches the ocean.

Oct. 30, 2006. U.S. Virgin Islands, Caribbean. Flag accompanies DB off of a plane and into the luscious feel of Caribbean air. Sultry breezes and withering sun could not be more different from the campus that we left this morning: pouring down rain, a miserable chill, thunder preceding dawn. For a glorious week, Flag lies forgotten in DB’s roller bag as the Tigerlilies tour the U.S. Virgin Islands. Several cruise-ship docks, steel-drum bands, and sandy swimsuits later, the respite – quite unfairly – ends.

Dec. 18, 2006. Buenos Aires, Argentina. DB’s brother, BB ’11, proudly drapes Flag out the window of a skyscraping hotel in Buenos Aires. On the street below, women wear tight jeans, high heels, and fashionable sunglasses. They walk straight past a young man playing Spanish guitar. In the evening, a troupe of tango dancers embodies the city’s summer spirit. DB returns to the hotel knowing she will never be as graceful, nor as strong, as they. She will, however, continue to Antarctica.

FlagDec. 27, 2006. South Georgia Island, South Atlantic Ocean. Flag makes landfall among 300,000 King penguins on Gold Harbour, a mile-long bay on South Georgia Island. The smell of guano and grunts of elephant seals announced this land from several kilometers away. Flag stays very still as a curious bird investigates. Strong sun continues to diminish hanging glaciers that Ernest Shackleton crossed nearly 100 years ago. DB travels in style, returning after a few short hours to the USS Explorer II for tea.

Jan. 1, 2007. Antarctic Peninsula. Sunrise: 3 a.m. Flag glides into white, silent Paradise Bay, as DB sleepily anticipates her first step on the Antarctic continent. Sculpted icebergs drift in glass-calm water; a tiny abandoned research station is a mere speck at the seam where broad, glaciated mountains meet the sea. DB is astounded: The harsh land dwarfs the man-made shack on the scale that her whole body dwarfs her thumbnail. And yet that massif of rock and ice is only the edge of the Antarctic Peninsula, which itself is but the smallest finger of the desolate White Continent. Flag rides a “zodiac” motored raft rather close to the jagged maw of a tidewater glacier. DB gazes deep into blue depths, ice that might well be older than the Grand Canyon’s storied cliffs.

Jan. 26, 2007. British Virgin Islands, Caribbean. Déjà vu: the same sweet tropical air, balmy baggage claim, and 10-person taxi full of Tigerlilies. This time the Lils are bound for the British Virgin Islands where, once again, Flag proves seaworthy. Nothing of note occurs. DB goes scuba diving and attempts to learn to water ski, but fails.

May 26, 2007. Rumney, N.H., USA. On the one-year anniversary of its first adventure, Flag sits in a tent all day while DB learns to sport climb in Rumney. Now 20 years old and facing her sophomore summer, DB is optimistic that Europe, Africa, and Australia soon will make themselves available. JC watches from the wings, presumably quite jealous of the epic quest he’s set in motion.

June 30, 2007. Mount McKinley/Denali, Alaska, USA. Disaster. Camped two long days from the summit of Denali, or Mount McKinley – the highest point in North America – DB leaves Flag in the snow kitchen overnight. Wind picks up to 50 mph and a blizzard materializes, so that by morning the ex-kitchen is just another sculpted drift. For 10 horrifying minutes, DB digs to no avail into a mountain of whispery crystals. At last, she finds it, frozen stiff. When the weather clears, she carries it up the headwall to a knife-edge ridge above 16,000 feet. Twisted cathedral summits of Foraker and Hunter float, unseen to the rest of Alaska, in a sea of clouds. DB runs out her rope to peer over the far side of the ridge, and is cautioned by a fellow mountaineer who has not yet introduced himself: “You don’t need to look down there. Nothing down there but water bottles and dead bodies.”

Oct. 28, 2007. Beijing, China. Flag whips tight in the wind that blows from the borders of ancient Mongolia into the heart of modern China. DB rests it on a sturdy battlement and takes the portrait, barely able to believe how far the Great Wall snakes away before it blends with the hazy horizon. All the Lils adore Beijing and its multiple strange wonders; DB agrees with them, though she is occasionally tempted to press Flag against her mouth in an attempt to block the swarm of diesel particulates making an entrance there.

Dec. 29, 2007. Quebec, Canada. On thin cross-country skis, Flag and DB skoosh through four inches of fresh snow in the wintry woodlands of Quebec. Rolled up securely in DB’s pocket, Flag cannot hear her humming a funky French Christmas carol; nor does it know that this family outing is only the beginning of its travels this holiday break. DB skis on and watches as, in the course of one week, the St. Lawrence River fills with ice.

Jan. 5, 2008. London, England. En route, DB and her father, TAB ’74, have just enough time for a picnic in Hyde Park. Flag’s black and orange checkers are studded with crumbs, hearty bits of multi-grain bread that gather in the folds and creases. An enormous wedge of cheese – milked and matured on the Isle of Mull, purchased not half an hour before at Harrod’s – has waned significantly at the father-daughter duo’s hands. Thick slices from a trio of vine-borne French tomatoes complete the rough-edged meal. Dying rays of northern sun set the statue of King William of Orange, bronze, ablaze in Kensington Gardens.

FlagJan. 12, 2008. Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda, Africa. Two 400-pound silverback gorillas tussle in a bamboo thicket. It’s behavior that one might expect from 3- or 4-year-olds, but never from these majestic kings of the jungle. Rwanda is full of surprises. Though dozens of birds caw, sing, and warble within earshot, DB and TAB are spellbound: We hear nothing but gorillas breathing, vegetation rustling, one of the silverback’s – playful?! – smacking chest-beats. Other members of our trekking group pale, gape, and giggle in succession. A female with an infant looks up, alert, when DB carefully draws Flag from her pocket. Less than a mile from this dense and wild forest, furrowed fields cover every square meter of Rwanda’s thousand hills. In the face of a burgeoning population, resource pressure and extraction, and international instability, can this tiny country save its remarkable national parkland? Its efforts have been exemplary so far.

Jan. 19, 2008. Princeton, N.J., USA. Six continents accomplished. One to go. Today I, DB, bestow the Flag upon LH ’09 as she embarks for a semester studying politics in Australia. The condition shall be met, but Flag has many places left to go. Iceland? Turkey? The Galapagos Islands? Even an auspicious Princeton graduation?

William of Orange only knows what will be next. END

Denali Barron ’09 is majoring in anthropology, with a certificate in environmental studies. She camps with the Outdoor Action Leader trainers and sings with the Tigerlilies, but her favorite part of Princeton is being on vacation.