North & South American Speed Ride
It is approximately 23,400 kilometers from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska’s northern tip, to Ushuaia, the Argentinian city regarded to be the southernmost of the world. Riding back to Alaska doubles this distance, totaling 46,800 kilometers. In 2011, Nick Sanders rode this distance with the goal of setting a record time.
The journey starts in the cold at 6 a.m. in Prudhoe Bay. With the receptionist and chef’s signatures in my witness book, I head for the Dalton Highway to ride south for 24,000 kilometers. The Guinness record for this one-way journey is 35 days; I intend to cover it in 21. On my way out of town, the sea is frozen, the wind is still, and I’m surrounded by silence. I suddenly feel overwhelmed by the freedom of being alone.
My motorcycle, a Yamaha Super Tenere, will handle whatever road I need it to, and that’s a good thing; most of the route to the first settlement of Coldfoot is not surfaced.
Before then, straddling the North Slope Haul Road on the Dalton, the famous Brookes Range is bisected by the Atigun Pass, a steep-sided treeless valley. This is the ice road truckers’ route, spectacular, wild, spacious, raw, and inaccessible to most travelers throughout the year, especially motorcyclists.
The sights around me as I travel through Alaska are beautiful. The twisting Dalton Highway is lined with berry bushes everywhere; blueberries, little red cranberries and salmonberries that look like raspberries. The roadside is hemmed in by tall black spruce and aspen standing next to slender willow and birch, whilst mountain ash pops up in clusters. Bald eagles compete with bears for trout. Black bears come out onto the road, then run away. I watch closely for moose as they shoot out of dense thicket, usually in pairs. High up in a starkly blue sky, clouds hang in a windless day.
Beyond the Dalton and half way down the Alaskan Highway, I fuel at a 24-hour gas station at Fort Nelson, and check into the cheapest motel, eat supper and go to sleep inside 30 minutes; I have not slept for 30 hours. Despite bitter cold, I’ve ridden 2,840 kilometers of gravel in 48 hours and am at the end of Day 2. Four hours later I’m awake and on the road again.
This is a journey that will require mental and physical toughness to complete. In 1996, I attempted this record and failed, recording 30 days from Ushuaia to Fairbanks, and went home, disgusted with my poor show. In 2010 I tried again and retired three days from Ushuaia; mishaps, cold, and exhaustion had sapped my will to complete the ride.
This time I’m ready, with my heated vest and gloves beating off the cold. I’m confident in my motorcycle’s abilities, but my battle with fatigue is just beginning. As I race south I sleep for two-and-a-half hours in Calgary and then the same in Salt Lake City. I have completed five full days, each 24-hour period covering 1,440 kilometers with two hours sleep each night. I wake up shaking, unable to control the transition into wakefulness. And by the end of the day, when I step off the bike to eat and drink, I have to steal a few extra minutes’ sleep by putting my head down on the tank.
I ride across Mexico in three days, just riding and refuelling - sometimes I look around, but it’s too quick to take anything in. I focus on the riding, not sideways glances. All day long, I ride a prescribed route, invisibly marked to the nearest inch. The fast riding isn’t always on a conscious level. I’ve spent so much time in the saddle, that riding becomes like breathing, and the separation of man and machine blurs.
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