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ADV RidesArmy Paratroopers Undertake Expedition Thru Dangerous Darien Gap

Army Paratroopers Undertake Expedition Thru Dangerous Darien Gap

 New documentary to showcase treacherous transcontinental moto journey.

Published on 02.24.2017

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.

Where the Road Ends Darien Gap Adventure Motorcycle Expedition
US Military Veterans, Wayne, Richard, Mike and Simon are ready to drop everything to ride their motorcycles from the Arctic Circle to Tierra del Fuego, crossing through the infamous Darien Gap. The entire expedition will be filmed and turned into a feature length documentary.

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.”

Where the Road Ends Darien Gap Adventure Motorcycle Expedition
The Team’s weapon of choice, the KLR650, will be outfitted with a custom sidecar for stability on the ice and extra storage capacity for cold weather on the Arctic portion of the journey. Once in Oregon, the sidecars will be dropped and the team will go down to hard cases and soft luggage.

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.)

Where the Road Ends Darien Gap Adventure Motorcycle Expedition
The ‘Where The Road Ends’ Team practicing water crossings and working with ropes in the Darien Gap during a recent 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.

Where the Road Ends Darien Gap Adventure Motorcycle Expedition

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.

 

Bob Whitby Author ProfileAbout the Author: Bob Whitby has been riding motorcycles since age 19 and working as a journalist since he was 24, which was a long time ago, let’s put it that way. He quit for the better part of a decade to raise a family, then rediscovered adventure, dual sport and enduro riding in the early 2000s. He lives in Arkansas, America’s best-kept secret when it comes to riding destinations, and travels far and wide in search of dirt roads and trails.

Author: Bob Whitby

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15 thoughts on “Army Paratroopers Undertake Expedition Thru Dangerous Darien Gap

  1. Looks interesting. I assume Kawasaki is backing them by providing the bikes. I sure hope those guys know to fix the doohickey problems and carry extra oil.

    I’ve never been a fan of chase vehicles on these kinds of rides (it’s cheating) but I can’t help but think I’d rather have that than have to deal with side cars from Alaska to Oregon. But whatever.

    I’ll say this much.. at least it’s not yet-another-trip-on-BMWs, and I do look forward to reading more about it!

  2. There’s another group doing the same trip starting in March – the British Trans America Expedition. Six Brits on CCMs. Check out their page on FB.

  3. It has come to my knowledge that this is not the first time and Antonio Moaventour has already done the Darien gap crossing before ….

      • Hi Erivan, Yes, as we mention in the article, a few motorcyclists have done the gap before (even before Antonio Braga).

        We did ask the WTRE Team about this and this is what they said: “I think the key difference is that we plan to do the entire two continents and the Darien in one continuous trip. Most other people have either not ridden the entire length, or they have broken it down by seasons.That being said, we’re not too concerned about the “record setting” aspect. If another team manages to (or already has) beat us to the punch, it will not impact us. We just want to do it our own way and tell the story.”

  4. I believe Helge Pederson, who now lives in Seattle, was actually the first person to ride through N and S America through the Darien Gap.

  5. Danny Liska of Niobrara, Nebraska did the trip from the Artic Circle to the Magellan Strait in 1960 with a BMW–he did hike the Darien Gap and his guide was eaten by tribesmen. He wrote a book called “Two Wheels to Adventure” which is a terrific story about that trip.

  6. don’t start your Expedition in a lie not.you do do not going to do sumthin that is never been don.look at the book; “two wheels to Adventure” by “Dany Liska” .he cross the Darien Gap by himself. with his motorcycle

  7. Mike, Stop in Arizona between November and April and you guys got a place to stay. We are south of Tucson about 25 miles. I don’t do face book but email harrymac62@gmail.com Yes, stop because one of my bikes could use a little mechanical work and you be the mechanic so I see. Life has changed since the boy scouts of the 80’s but adventures are the meat that makes the meal worthwhile.
    best to you all,
    Harry McManus

  8. There is also a british team on the way to cross the darian gap, if I remember right the opposite way round. Would be funny if they met in the middle of the jungle! 😉
    The brits are using ccm450s, by the way!

    • That’s correct, the british team on GP450s will be starting from Tierra del Fuego. Will be interesting to see how the KLRs and the GP450s perform.

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