Oh, the perils of technology. Way back in April, the folks at GlobeBusters, a U.K.-based motorcycle tour company, sent me a copy of The Ride: Alaska to Patagonia on DVD for a review. Founded in 2002 by world-record holders Kevin and Julia Sanders, GlobeBusters specializes in extensive, exotic adventure tours. In The Ride, the couple take 11 British men with no adventure touring experience down the entire Pan-American Highway, a five-month journey through 12 countries covering nearly 30,000 kilometers. Getting the DVD to work was an expedition all it’s own.
I was eager to dig into the six 25-minute episodes of The Ride, which aired on the National Geographic Channel in 2007 (the trip took place in 2005). But the Euro-format DVD didn’t work on my girlfriend’s HD DVD player, nor on her Wii game console. It also didn’t work on my PC at work or my laptop at home. Exasperated, Carrie and I popped it into her iMac computer…success! Problem was, huddling around the monitor in her cramped office was a drag. We made it through two episodes.
Eight months go by. The DVD collects dust.
On Christmas morning, Carrie unwraps a present from me: an Apple TV player. Tears well up in her eyes. Her Apple gadget portfolio was now complete: iMac, iPod Classic, iPod Shuffle, iPhone, iPad and Apple TV, all of which are connected via iTunes. Though Apple TV doesn’t have an optical drive, Carrie found a freeware application called HandBrake that will convert just about any DVD to the iTunes format. The hours-long encoding process is painfully slow, but it works. Finally, Carrie and I were able to curl up on the couch and watch The Ride on her big flat-screen TV.
By now, most of us have seen Long Way Round and/or Long Way Down. Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman’s collective star power drew lots of resources to their two expeditions. Though I certainly enjoyed both series, there was a made-for-TV element that lacked authenticity. Yes, the mud bogs on the Siberian Road of Bones were real, the mosquito bites red and swollen. But producers and fixers were always nearby, and Ewan and Charley’s celebrity status eliminated hassles and opened doors few will ever pass through.
The Ride is different. The tour leaders, Kevin and Julia Sanders, are a husband-and-wife pair with serious bona fides: two world records, both completed two-up on BMW R1150GSs. In 2002, they completed the fastest circumnavigation of the world by motorcycle (19,461 miles) in 19 days, 8 hours and 25 minutes, besting the previous record by 12 ½ days. The following year, they completed the Pan-American Highway route by motorcycle (17,000 miles) in 35 days, shaving over 12 days off the old record.
For The Ride, they repeated the Alaska-to-Patagonia journey with a group of 11 relatively inexperienced British men, mostly corporate escapees and retirees. They didn’t have a giant garage and a team of assistants to do the heavy lifting for them, and they didn’t complete a high-zoot off-road school or survival training before the trip. They met as a group to discuss details. And just prior to departure, they disassembled their bikes (mostly BMW R1150GS Adventures) and packed them into crates to be air-freighted to Alaska.
Upon arrival in Anchorage, Alaska, they convened at the home of Dr. Dave Baines, a Native American with long braided pigtails. He set up a traditional sweat lodge so the riders could purge their impurities and open their hearts and spirits to the journey. Dave joined the group on the 1,000-kilometer ride north to Prudhoe Bay, the northern terminus of the Pan-American Highway. Immediately they enjoyed the wide-open spaces of America’s final frontier: moose and bear, the oil pipeline, crossing the Yukon River, riding through the massive Brooks Range. In video diaries, two men spoke of tears of joy and awe. Upon arrival in Prudhoe Bay, the somewhat mischievious group snuck contraband beer and Scotch into their hotel rooms (apparently alcohol is banned at the oilfield town of Deadhorse), skinny dipped in frigid Prudhoe Bay and slurped foul-tasting seal oil.
As the group turned southward toward Patagonia, they rode on the Dalton Highway, a desolate, mostly gravel 414-mile road that connects Prudhoe Bay and Fairbanks. Some of the group traveled at a blisteringly fast pace—Jeff the Van Man, the support driver, said upwards of 100 mph—and Dave Baines crashed, shattering his femur and requiring a med-evac helicopter. This crash at the end of the first episode was the first of several on this tour that resulted in banged up machinery, broken bones and shortened journeys for three of the 13 riders. Only a few thousand clicks into the trip, a fourth rider, a cocksure guy named Dom, fried his transmission due to hard riding and constant wheelies; he’s also the only guy who got popped for speeding—twice.
With only one female in the group, this was a testosterone-fueled trip. Woven into the footage of the journey—the stunning vistas, the challenging roads, the heavily laden bikes—were manly activities: a rodeo in Cody, Wyoming; firing machine guns in Tucson, Arizona; late nights filled with tequila and resultant hangovers. As the kilometers added up, the stress of the journey became clearly evident. Kevin and Julia quarreled. A tour participant named Dave got a “Dear John” phone call from his wife. Long, hard miles on dodgy roads in varying weather tested the skills and nerves of the riders.
In the fourth episode, riding in heavy rain in Costa Rica, co-leader Julia crashed and broke her wrist, forcing her to continue the journey in the support van with Jeff and cameraman Adam. In the next episode, riding through the congested city of Arequipa, a tour rider named John hit a pedestrian and slammed into an Armco barrier, badly shattering his left leg and severely injuring the pedestrian. After emergency surgery, John flew home to the U.K. It’s hard to attribute three separate and severe get-offs among 13 riders to bad luck or coincidence. Were these riders in over their heads, like fat cats who pay big bucks to have much better trained and prepared people take them to the summit of Mount Everest?
The Ride provides plenty of inspiration for exotic motorcycle travel. Footage of riding through vast open spaces in Alaska, the Yukon and British Columbia, Montana and Utah; rain forests and ancient Mayan ruins in Central America; Cañon de Pato, along the spine of the Andes and across the Nasca and Atacama deserts in Peru; and along the Carretera Astral and Ruta 40 in Chile toward their final destination in Ushuaia is stunning. Each rider is transformed by the journey, their horizons expanded and their spirits unencumbered by the demands of everyday life. And, of course, the very real risks of such a journey are laid out in clear, unambiguous fashion.
Unfortunately, getting your hands on a copy of The Ride may be a challenge. As of this writing, the “buy the DVD” link at www.theridealaskatopatagonia.com doesn’t work, though video clips are available on the website. It seems to be available from Duke Video (www.dukevideo.com), priced in British pounds (£17.99), but that website was acting screwy, too. And if you do get a copy, you’re may run into the same technological barriers I did unless they release it in U.S. format. Good luck.
For more information on GlobeBusters, visit www.globebusters.com.