Thursday, November 13, 2008

Riding the Spine: From Alaska to Argentina

If you’re a cyclist, which I happen to be, “riding the spine” would probably have to be one of the ultimate cycling adventures. In fact, I’ve often wandered if anybody else has ever done the trip, or even considered it.

The ultimate trip I’m referring to takes you from the Alaskan Arctic Coast to the tip of South America.

Just the other day I found out about three cyclists who are currently attempting this epic ride.

Jacob Thompson, Sean Monterastelli and Goat (yes, Goat is his real name according to their website) began their trip in July of 2006 from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. Primarily using off-road trails, the three Santa Cruz, California natives are riding along the Continental Divide spanning the entire length of the Americas. Their ultimate destination is Tierra del Fuego in Argentina, which is at the southern tip of South America.

With roughly 100 pounds of gear loaded on their Xtracycle “sport utility bicycles”, the trio averages about 15 miles a day. They spend about $12 a day, making their money stretch by camping 99% of the time.

After more than two years and 12,000 miles, the adventurers recently arrived in Colombia, South America.

As you might expect, the trip has not been without incident.

During the first week of their journey, Jacob was chased by a wolf along the Haul Road near the Arctic Circle. He describes the encounter in his blog:

"It was clear to me that the wolf was going to catch me, and I began fumbling for the bear repellent in my handlebar bag, riding as hard as I could, all the while so as to buy some time. ... Eventually, I managed to get it out, but saw that the wolf was now within 10-15 feet and I haven't taken off the safety. I imagined if I stopped, the wolf would complete the chase with a flying leap to grab my throat. I finished taking off the safety and saw the trucker driving behind me swerve and hit the wolf, and quickly pulling to the left to avoid hitting a very appreciative me. I waved a thankful wave, a couple of them as if I was honoring this trucker who seemed to step in as my guardian angel. He did not slow down a bit, just kept on going.”

In Canada and Montana they had to deal with snow, subzero temperatures, and trails covered with black ice. There were constant snow-related bike failures. One night Goat suffered hypothermia and frostbite, and, were it not for a cabin stocked with plenty of firewood out in the middle of nowhere, things could’ve been a lot worse.

In Copper Canyon in Chihuahua, they camped at a river next to a drug smuggling operation. That night the Mexican military surrounded their campsite, machine guns cocked and aimed at their heads. After a few tense moments, the Federales sorted things out and realized the cyclists weren’t smugglers.

Their most recent adventure occurred just the other day. In order to get across the Darien Gap, a large swath of undeveloped swampland and forest separating Panama and Colombia, the trio was forced to hit the water. Strapping their bikes on top of kayaks, the group spent the next two weeks island hopping and paddling almost 500 nautical miles.

The indigenous Kuna people of this region didn´t quite know what to make of the trio paddling bikes across their territory. One morning they were ambushed by Kuna police wearing masks. They held the cyclists at gunpoint until they confirmed that the American adventurer’s weren´t actually a threat to their independent nation.

You can follow their journey as they make their way to Tierra del Fuego by following the journals and videos on their website.

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