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(UPDATED APRIL 9, 2009)
On New Year's Day, German adventure traveller Doris Wiedemann started a 16,000-kilometre, ten-week trip that many thought would be impossible - to ride north through Alaska in wintertime, crossing the Arctic Circle en route to Prudhoe Bay and the frozen Arctic Ocean.
Three months later, having ridden around the United States, across Canada and then north through the frozen wastelands of Alaska on her BMW F 800 GS, Doris and her travelling companion Sjaak Lucassen have encountered extremes of blistering heat and severe frost, and experienced a fascinating diversity of natural wonders while riding their motorcycles.
Having recently arrived back in Germany, Doris is still coming to terms with her achievement and plans to write a book about this amazing journey.
"It was incredible trip and there were so many different highlights along the way," said Doris. "There was such a contrast from the early stages of the journey to what we encountered as we were nearing its completion. In the 'lower 48' States, l loved the Florida Everglades as well as the swampy land around New Orleans and the dry country in Arizona. However, the wintry atmosphere in Canada and Alaska was very special and I am still fascinated by the snow-covered tundra in the northern parts of the Dalton Highway and at Prudhoe Bay, where the frozen ocean of course offered another highlight."
When Doris and Sjaak neared their final destination, they had their doubts whether they would actually be able to 'dip a toe' in the ocean at Prudhoe Bay - not just because the sea was completely frozen, but also due to the fact that because there are no 'normal' tourists at this time of the year, access is prohibited for members of the public. Fortunately, a friendly employee from local civil engineering contractor Cruz Construction, gave Doris and Sjaak special access and even transported them the final few miles to Prudhoe Bay, albeit in a truck rather than on two wheels!
"We knew that there would be no tourist tours in this area in winter but we did hope to find a way to the frozen ocean, where we wanted the trip to end," said Doris. "What I didn't expect was for it to be so difficult for us to obtain permission to make the last few kilometres of our journey. Naturally, the people who live in Alaska have a strong sense and understanding for an adventurous lifestyle since this is what their everyday existences entail, due largely to the harsh climate they are living in. Therefore they are by nature very supportive, but ever since the 9/11 bombings, there has been a tremendous increase in security measures all over the States, so it was a big surprise and a great honour that we were finally given permission to go into the security area at Prudhoe Bay."
With the temperatures they encountered ranging from a sweltering 29 degrees Celsius in Florida, down to minus 31.5 degrees Celsius on the Dalton Highway in Alaska, Doris was glad she had chosen the best clothing and equipment for this trip. However, nothing could have prepared her for just how cold she would be on her motorcycle, with no shelter from the elements, and snowstorms restricting their progress on one day to less than 40 kilometres.
"It was certainly the coldest I have ever been in my life - and not only when on the motorcycle," said Doris. "We had very good equipment (Doris took Ortofox and Held thermal underwear, Klan heated clothes, BMW Streetguard suit and BMW Winter gloves, Klan heated gloves for temperatures below minus 15 degrees, Carinthia G-Loft Windstopper suit and Held rain suit) so I managed very well while riding. However, during the necessary stops for taking pictures and filming, the cold quickly got to my hands and my face suffered from the cold wind almost as soon as I opened the visor. This type of cold was almost unbearable - mostly due to the wind-chill - and I had to do something against it immediately. At times, it was just too cold to take pictures, because I couldn't open my visor. Often I'd have to warm my fingers inside the heated gloves with the engine of the motorcycle running so as to not discharge the battery."
Where Doris and Sjaak have been very successful is in providing pictures and video footage to Sjaak's colleagues at the Dutch website, www.Reismotor.nl. Marcus Kingma and Ripko van Alberda have edited and posted many videos, which have allowed lots of adventure travel enthusiasts to follow Doris and Sjaak's journey on a daily basis. In order to allow friends and family to follow their journey online, the two explorers used POV.1 helmet cameras from V.I.O. and a Canon HF100 camcorder for the filming. For the photos, they each used a Canon EOS digital SLR camera and a laptop for image selection.
Furthermore, Doris also used a 'geotagger' from www.geotate.com to tag her pictures with GPS coordinates, before putting them online at the www.panoramio.com website. This automatically places the pictures on a Google Earth map and allows not only viewers to see exactly where and when the pictures were taken, but also allows Doris to easily select pictures in the future with GPS coordinates, using www.cdfinder.de software, when she starts publishing articles.
On reflection, Doris is undecided about which was the most important piece of equipment she carried with her from New York to Alaska. While the camera was useful to document the trip, and she would have struggled without such good quality clothing, her biggest discovery was studded tyres, without which the majority of the trip would just not have been possible.
"Naturally, your riding skills improve with every kilometre travelled, but I just couldn't believe what excellent work studs can do in a motorcycle tyre," she said. "I was amazed just how much grip you have with these little nails pointing out of the rubber. Overall though, the F 800 GS was definitely a very good choice of bike for me to use on this trip. It never let me down - neither in the blistering heat or in the freezing cold - and I had lots of fun riding it on gravel and asphalt, as well as on ice and snow. It served my needs perfectly and the only modifications I would make on a future trip would be a headlight protector and wider crash bars to make it easier to pick up when fully loaded!"
The bike is now on its way back to Europe and will be on display at various meetings and shows during the next few months. As for Doris, her book about a recent motorcycle trip to China has just been published, so she is currently engaged in publicity for this. Following that, her plan is to make a video of the Alaska trip and write some magazine articles about the adventure, as well as consider writing a book about this trip.
And last, but not least of course, there is the dream of another trip, because as any adventure traveller knows, once the adventure travel bug has bitten, it's hard to stay at home for too long...(Previous Report Below)
February 27, 2009
After starting her 15,000-kilometre trip from New York to Alaska at the beginning of the year, Doris Wiedemann and her travelling companion Sjaak Lukassen have made fantastic progress. They have ridden safely from New York all the way to Fairbanks, Alaska, and are now within touching distance of the Arctic Circle, with the final destination of Prudhoe Bay just a couple of weeks away.
Riding a BMW F 800 GS, Doris headed directly south from New York to sunny Florida, where the trip 'officially' began in Key West - the southernmost point of continental USA. Since then, she has ridden across the United States and Canada before journeying across the border to Alaska. Along the way, they have met up with some truly inspirational riders, including Dave Barr, who lost both legs in a land mine explosion but still managed to travel around the world by motorcycle; Ted Simon, the famous author of the overlanders' 'bible', Jupiter's Travels; and renowned globetrotter Helge Pedersen, whose world travels were documented in his best-selling 10 Years on Two Wheels book.
Along the way, there have been many variations in road surfaces, terrain and of course weather conditions. The sunny Florida landscape and tropical temperatures of 28 degrees Celsius are now a distant memory, as the display on Doris's BMW F 800 GS recently registered minus 31 degrees Celsius in British Columbia, Canada. All things considered though, the bike has coped extremely well with such massive variations in climate and temperature, according to Doris.
"The F 800 GS is running great and has really made a good impression on me. Even right at the beginning, when I had to carry four winter tyres plus my entire luggage from the warehouse in New York to the motel where we were staying, it only took about half a kilometre for me to feel completely 'at home' on the bike. It has been equally capable on the long rides on the Interstates, riding the twisty narrow roads in California and even on the snow and ice we're tackling at the moment."
Doris is happy with the low fuel consumption of the BMW and is finding that she only needs around four or five litres of petrol for every 100 kilometres of riding - even fully loaded with luggage. She also thinks that she would be able to ride around 300 kilometres on a full tank of gas, but she hasn't had a chance to try this theory out yet, as Sjaak's Yamaha R1 is a bit thirstier, so they stop whenever he needs gas.
Now they are riding on snow and ice, the two most important issues are keeping the bikes upright and themselves warm in the arctic conditions. To this end, they have both fitted self-drilling studs to their tyres, which can be screwed in either by hand or with a power drill. As for the riding kit, they are now both kitted out in full winter clothing designed to cope with the coldest of temperatures.
"We have thermal underwear, heated pants, socks, jackets, inner and outer gloves, heated soles and a specially made thermal overall," said Doris. "Furthermore, we even have heated visors on our helmets. I am wearing my BMW suit and on 'warm' days, when the temperatures are 'only' around -10°C, I use my BMW winter gloves to save power from my bike's battery. I'm also using a soft jacket as a 'neckwarmer' to keep the icy chill from getting into my helmet and hurting my face. Together with the heated visors and the special 'snorkel' Helge Pedersen made for me in Seattle, this combination works very well."
Doris and Sjaak have packed sleeping bags that are rated for temperatures down to minus 40 degrees Celsius but, fortunately, they have not been forced to use them in these conditions yet. However, since entering the Alaska Highway, everyone that they meet on the road is rather surprised to see two bikers heading north at this time of the year.
"The last motorcyclists we encountered were our friends from Touratech USA, who accompanied us out of Seattle, and Scott, who rode with us all the way to the Canadian border. Since then the truckers, police or border guards we meet on the road mostly think that we are nuts - and I fully agree! - but they all wish us good luck and a safe trip. They all tell us that we are the first bikers they have seen this year and the first motorcycle travellers they have met on the Alaskan Highway in winter!"
Even though there is only one road going up to Prudhoe Bay, Doris and Sjaak have relied on maps for the entire trip, although they do use a GPS logger (http://www.geotate.com) to tag their photos and videos with GPS coordinates so that those who are following their journey can see exactly where all the pictures were taken. To date, more than 20,000 viewers have been watching videos of their travels on YouTube and these numbers are increasing now that they are continuing their two-wheeled journey on snow.
Doris and Sjaak hope to arrive in Prudhoe Bay at some time in early March, depending on weather and road conditions. At the moment there is lots of wind and snow ahead of them, so they are taking their time in order to ensure that they arrive at their destination safely. To view video footage of their travels so far, please visit the www.reismotor.nl/ website and select the 'English language' option from the main menu. Alternatively, click on www.doris-wiedemann.com to see Panoramio location photographs.