Army Paratroopers Undertake Expedition Thru Dangerous Darien Gap
New documentary to showcase treacherous transcontinental moto journey.
Many adventure riders have made the trip from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, to Tierra del Fuego at the tip of South America. It’s a ride spanning everything from tundra, to jungles, to windswept plains, but thanks to the Pan American Highway road network, it can be done by just about anything on wheels. The Guinness Book of World Records calls it the longest motorable road in the world.
Virtually everyone who has made the trek, however, has one thing in common: they skipped the roadless expanse of dense jungle linking Panama and Colombia known as the Darien Gap. The Darien packs more danger in 100 miles than the rest of the trip combined: poisonous snakes, armed paramilitary forces, drug smugglers, mountains, swamps and crocodile-infested rivers are some of the challenges that await travelers who stick to land instead of sailing around this knot of jungle. People die trying to cross the Darien Gap.
For one group of adventure riders, the danger is the draw. Four U.S. Army paratroopers, who have put together an expedition called “Where the Road Ends”, intend to ride 19,000 miles from the Arctic Circle to the tip of South America, crossing the infamous Darien Gap. A few motorcycles have crossed the Gap before, but these guys intend to ride the whole tip-to-tip transcontinental expedition continuously in just four months. They’ll have to time their crossing in the Darien’s dry season in January 2018, which means leaving Alaska in November, 2017. It’s cold in Alaska in November, in case you hadn’t guessed, as cold as 40 degrees below zero. But they’ve planned for that.
“Each bike will have sidecars, spare batteries, lights, and cold weather gear for the Arctic portion from Alaska to Oregon,” says team operations officer Wayne Mitchell. “Once in Oregon, we will drop the sidecars and go down to hard cases and soft case luggage. When we reach the Darien we will lighten the bikes up as much as possible, remove some extra parts, and go forward with just a lightweight pack per rider with just hammocks, bug nets, food and water.”
The rest of the team is Michael Eastham, a former Army motorcycle scout; mechanic Rich Doering, a street rider who is new to adventure bikes; and Simon Edwards, a former Army medic, a land-speed record holder at Bonneville and a seasoned Baja racer.
They’ve been planning the ride for three years, and training hard and assembling their equipment for about two years. Judging by the group’s pitch video “Where the Road Ends”, they’ve prepped for almost everything trying to get acclimated to a long, difficult trip on their fleet of 2017 Kawasaki KLR650s.
Recently they took a recon trip to the Darien to hone their skills riding in sloppy mud and crushing humidity, hauling bikes across rivers with ropes and dealing with the locals. They’ll have to coordinate their crossing with at least three separate groups: Panamanian customs, a rebel group known as FARC, and a paramilitary border service known as SENAFRONT. (They made some inroads with SENAFRONT, at least, by giving a soldier a ride in their dugout canoe on the recon trip.)
The actual crossing will involve three days of travel in small dugout canoes to the town of Paya, the last outpost before the Colombian border. From Paya, they’ll follow a narrow dirt track 20 miles into Colombia. They will have to cross several rivers without the aid of a bridge, and move their bikes through deep ravines and up steep, muddy slopes. Then it’s back to the water in the canoes to travel across the Atrato Swamp and to the nearest road in Colombia.
A film crew, made up of current and former members of the 982nd Combat Camera Company (Airborne), an Army Reserve unit out of Atlanta, will be documenting the trip. Mitchell says a full-length film should be ready for festivals by winter 2018. They’ll also do live updates via social media once they hit the road.
As expedition camera operator Jake Hamby put it, “We are going to be taking motorcycles and putting them in the worst conditions in the world.”
Adventure doesn’t get any better than that.
To follow the “Where the Road Ends” expedition visit their Facebook page.