Motorcyclist Sjaak Lucassen begins epic Alaska to Florida journey
FAIRBANKS — More than two decades ago, Sjaak Lucassen decided he wasn’t spending enough time on his motorcycle. He’s more than made up for it in the years since.
The tall, lean Dutchman rolled into Fairbanks this week atop his cherry red Yamaha R1, towing a distinctive trailer custom-made out of aluminum and polycarbonate panels. Even odder than seeing a motorcycle cruising down College Road in March, however, is the place Lucassen departed — Barrow.
Lucassen, 51, plans to spend the next five weeks cruising through Canada and the U.S., ending his journey in Key West, Fla.
“I’m going northernmost to southernmost,” Lucassen said.
It’s the latest trip in a life filled with adventurous motorcycle journeys. He started in 1992 with a more than 4-month-long trip through Australia and has driven through every continent except Antarctica in the years since then, hitting everywhere from the Sahara Desert to the North Slope.
Lucassen, who once worked on a potato farm in the Netherlands, has turned his travels into his new profession. He gives presentations, has made a DVD about his journey and is selling a digital book about his travels on his website, www.r1goesextreme.com.
“Once you’ve done a lot, you’re just looking for more extreme,” Lucassen said. “That’s how I ended up like this.”
Although he’d made it to Prudhoe Bay once before, Lucassen yearned to make it to the highest latitude in North America. He shipped his motorcycle and a box of supplies to Barrow in early February, spending five weeks preparing for his rugged trip.
The bike is heavily modified, giving Lucassen the ability to mount a heavy truck tire on the back wheel, which is embedded with 8 millimeter metal studs. He has the Yamaha wired so he can plug in his socks, pants, jacket and helmet to provide some artificial warmth. A generator warms the parked motorcycle, which is equipped with an engine block heater. The trailer he tows serves as his sleeping space, also carrying gas and supplies he’ll need along the way.
“I’ve seen some crazy stuff, but this tops them all,” said Frozen Motor Works owner Jon Mansker, whose College Road motorcycle garage has served as Lucassen’s base during his stop in Fairbanks.
Still, the voyage has been no luxury trip. Lucassen had planned to begin his ride last month, but met a few complications along the way.
After assembling his trailer in Barrow, he realized it was too heavy to be pulled along the ice road. He scrapped his original plan to ride along the ice to Inuvik, Northwest Territories, instead steering his bike down the Dalton Highway. To make it to land in Nuiqsut, he had to hire a Barrow resident to pull his trailer on a snowmachine, while also serving as a guide.
“I must admit I had many, many things going not like I’d planned,” he said.
Running the ice road on a motorcycle on the frozen Arctic Ocean was exhausting, he said, providing a constant challenge just to keep the bike upright.
The experience has made him rethink his next goal — driving a motorcycle to the North Pole. Lucassen originally figured this would be a training run for sea ice driving, but he’s not even sure whether it’s possible after his Arctic Ocean voyage from Barrow to Nuiqsut. At the least, he’ll need to come up with a new plan and figure out how to modify a motorcycle for much tougher conditions.
Still, the man who has made a career out of traveling almost everywhere isn’t ruling out a future voyage to the top of the world. “It was hard,” he said. “That’s what I wanted. That’s why I’m doing this.”