'3 Old Guys' — aged 65 and up — complete epic 8,000-km snowmobile ride from Minnesota to Alaska
'Every bend in the river seemed to bring on a new challenge of some sort'
Rob Hallstrom says they dealt with pretty much everything on their epic, month-long, 8,000-kilometre snowmobile journey from Minnesota to Alaska.
"We rode through conditions that were unbelievable. You know, we went through deep snow, we went through slush, we went through good ice, bad ice, no ice ... gravel, over rocks, through mountain passes," he recalled.
"Every bend in the river seemed to bring on a new challenge of some sort."
Hallstrom and his riding companions Paul Dick and Rex Hibbert — self-dubbed "the 3 Old Guys" — finished their big adventure this week when they reached Fairbanks, Alaska. They started on March 6 in Grand Rapids, Minn., and were set to fly back home to Minnesota on Friday evening.
Hallstrom, 65, says he's the young one of the trio. Dick is 72, and Hibbert turned 70 on the trail.
Writing on their Facebook page, the group said the international snowmobile trip — which took them through northern Manitoba, Saskatchewan, across the N.W.T. and the Yukon — "renewed our passion for adventure, revived our faith in humanity and educated us on history and land."
Hallstrom said the trip took a lot of planning, especially figuring out the route they wanted to take. He said he's always loved reading stories about the North, and that helped them "patch together" a plan.
They were on groomed trails to Flin Flon, Man., and from there used some lesser-used historic trails to reach Lake Athabasca. From there, they followed the Slave River to Great Slave Lake, then the McKenzie River to Tuktoyaktuk and Inuvik, N.W.T. From there they hopped over to Fort McPherson, N.W.T., through the Richardson Mountains to Old Crow, Yukon, and then down the Porcupine River into Alaska.
"Originally the plan was to get to Alaska. Well, there's lots of ways you could get to Alaska, most of them much easier than the one we took," Hallstrom said.
He described the fun of planning, and calling ahead to people in small communities along the way.
"[You would] tell somebody what you're trying to do and usually they'd say, 'you know, you should talk to this guy.' And then that guy would say, 'you know, I know a trapper. Why don't you give him a call?'" Hallstrom recalled.
He said the group was struck by how isolated they were through most of their journey. Hallstrom said they expected more local traffic travelling on trails between communities. Instead, they found they were often all on their own in some remote country.
"I mean, once you've got 20 to 30 miles out of town, there was nobody out there," he said.
Still, they also found that word quickly travelled about their adventure. Often they'd arrive in a small town to find local residents expecting them. Hallstrom describes pulling into Circle, Alaska, and being surprised to hear that dinner was waiting for them at the local school, that they also had a place to sleep there, and that the local fire hall was available as a warm space to do any snowmobile maintenance.
"All these communities seemed to really get into our journey, which was surprising to us but a lot of fun," Hallstrom said.
"We found that all the way along our trip ... you'd stop, you know, [in] these small towns and the elders would come over and talk to you about your next leg of the journey, you should maybe stay on this side of the river, or you know, different tidbits of information. It was just very helpful, very, very kind."
There was no shortage of mechanical issues along the way, but Hallstrom says he's amazed at how well their snowmobiles held up in some rough conditions.
He describes a fire that almost destroyed one of their machines somewhere in northern Manitoba. A stick had gotten stuck in the machine, lodged against the muffler, and it caught fire. Hallstrom said they put the fire out, and then managed to quickly patch things up with some aluminum, duct tape and screws before hitting the trail again.
Now that the journey's done, Hallstrom said he's looking forward to going home. But he's also hoping the "3 Old Guys" will ride again.
"We're of course tired and lonesome and wanna go home. So it's nice to have it over, but that doesn't mean that we weren't enjoying every minute of it," he said.
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"I want to go home and sit in the rocking chair and have a cup of coffee, but I don't want to do it the rest of my life. I'd like to do that for a while, 'til I think of a new trip."
With files from Leonard Linklater