These are images are from a National Geographic magazine story I shot in 1996. My mission was to document three adventurers Roman Dial, Paul Adkins and Carl Tobin as they mountain biked the length of the Alaskan Range. They started at the Canadian border and rode 775 miles to Lake Clark in Western Alaska. The trip took them 7 weeks. I joined them on four segments of the trip. I photographed the start as well as the last week of the trip plus I joined them during the major mountain and glacier crossing sections of the trip. I utilized Alaska bush planes to rejoin the group.
The biggest challenge was actually riding and shooting. I would alternate riding in front, to the side or if I wanted to capture the landscape they were riding into I would hold back as they rode into the scene. Probably the most anxious moments on the shoot were the glacier crossings. Falling into a crevasses when riding across snow covered glaciers was a deadly hazard. In the photo below Paul has just stepped into small crevasse. He is tied to the other cyclist as well as to me. Notice how the rope is tight on Paul, If he plummets further a tight rope will keep us from being jerked off our feet. If he does fall into the abyss and our light 7 mm rope does not snap when shock loaded we will try to arrest his fall and then haul him back to the surface. On the trip I fell into two crevasses and I only needed to be pulled out of one crevasse. Romans advice was I should step more softly.
Another danger were the numerous river crossings. It's bad enough to fall during a river crossing and to be swept down river. This did happen to me once, but because the water is glacier melt and the air temp is in the 40's hyperthermia is going to set in fast. When I lost my footing on one river crossing. I heard Roman yell for me to hold onto my bike. If I lost a grip on on the bike it would be lost in the rapids. As soon as I made it to shore a bonfire was lighted and I was warmed up. During that particular swim I drown my Nikon f4 camera and the 24 mm f2.8 lens. I was left with one more camera body, my back-up body, and two lenses a 70-150 zoom and a 16-35 zoom. I didn't swim anymore rivers so the single body lasted until we reach our next supply 5 days later.
What is amazing about this trip is it was my first trip to Alaska. The landscapes I passed through probably see a a handful of visitors a year if even that. The trip pressed all my buttons. The vast landscapes, the adventure and to roll through this country on a bike was truly extraordinary.
I have to hand it to these three adventurers they lead me with their extensive wilderness knowledge and strength safely through one of the most dangerous wilderness regions in North America. We had mishaps, Paul previously frost bitten feet were made worse by having constantly cold wet feet. The condition made it difficult for his to walk during the last few days of the trip. I lost nearly 15 pounds of body weight as I couldn't get enough calories with the freeze dried food and energy bars ration. Roman and Carl suggested I bring more snickers bars next trip.
It was also on this trip that I learned a lot about light weight packing, packrafts for crossing rivers and the importance of good organized logistics to keep everyone healthy and to insure a successful expedition. You go out into this country unprepared and inexperience you will suffer the consequences. Despite all of the hardship and the many long climbs with the bike on our back we did get in miles and miles of great mountain biking. What I didn't realize at the time was this thing we were doing, Roman called it "hell biking" was to become a popular world wide adventure activity. In 2018 it's got a catchier name, bikepacking and there are gear manufactures who sell to the growing number of people who chose to travel this way. I can say that this trip was maybe my second or third hell bike trip and
today, 22 years after this trip I am still bike packing. Today my bike is a full suspension carbon fiber and I have a slew of specialty light weight gear to stash my goods for long over-night bike adventures, but that's simple progress. What I really enjoy is with the passing years I have never lost the will to get out there and suffer to see beautiful new country.