A group of four military veterans are riding motorcycles from Alaska to Argentina. Riding the Pan-America route is not unusual, but the Army vets are attempting an unprecedented continuous journey that includes going through the road less Darien Gap.
The “Where the Road Ends” expedition started in Deadhorse on Veterans Day. Expedition leader Wayne Mitchell, who grew up in Alaska, said the idea for the 19,000-mile Pan-America journey began with a conversation with fellow rider and Alaskan Mike Eastham when they were deployed overseas.
”In 2004, Mike and I were in Iraq together, and we were talking about how they still hadn’t built a road from Panama to Columbia,” Eastham recalled.
Mitchell said the hundred-mile stretch of swampy jungle, known as the Darien Gap, has been traversed a couple times by motorcyclists making the trip from Alaska to Argentina, but not as part of one continuous ride.
”The reason why nobody’s really done it in a continuous trip is because, to travel by land through the Darien Jungle, you have to shoot for January, February when it’s the dry season,” Mitchell said. “So, in order to do that, when you backward plan from there, you’re left with going through Alaska in November.”
Expedition member Simon Edwards recounts the trip south from Prudhoe Bay as fairly smooth.
“It was a good shakedown cruise for sure,” Edwards said.
Edwards said except for sliding off the road a couple times, the riders and their side car equipped motorcycles held up well. Whether it’s the cold and darkness of Alaska or the heat and snakes of Central America, Edwards said army training has prepared the team.
”In the military, you get real comfortable with being uncomfortable,” Edwards said.
“We’re used to frustration, and we’re also used to improvising and depending upon ourselves to get through a challenge.” Team-member Rich Doering of Fairbanks said.
Doering hosted the expedition at his home, characteristic of Alaskan hospitality rider and mechanic Mike Eastham expects won’t be matched as they head south.
”The Alaska portion has been gravy because of the support quite honestly. Place to stay and meals… that will be the easiest part of this trip. I’m not joking,” Eastham laughed. “When we hit Canada… tent camping and hotdogs and oatmeal, ya know?”
The team cited numerous people and businesses that are backing the trip, which is being filmed for a documentary. Expedition leader Wayne Mitchell said it’s about shining positive light on military veterans post combat lives.
”As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have continued on, a lot of veterans are getting out of the service and doing a lot of really cool things,” Mitchell said. “And I don’t think they really get advertised as much and talked about as much in the media, so that’s certainly one of the goals of the documentary side of it.”
The “Where the Road Ends” expedition is scheduled to reach the southern tip of South American this coming March.