Seeing America the beautiful (and Canada) from the saddles of their motorcycles
By TOM CAMPBELL
Editor's Note: Last summer, Steve Cain, BS '76, took time off from his job as a disaster education specialist with the Department of Agricultural Communication to ride his motorcycle from Indiana to the Arctic Circle and back, raising money for the fight against multiple sclerosis along the way and beyond.
Failure was never on their minds as Steve Cain and his son, Ryan, planned their motorcycle rides to the Arctic Circle for a cause.
That was at least until July 16, the day Steve, 56, left his home in Indiana and set out on the round–trip journey of 10,980 miles, an adventure that would last for five weeks.
"A cousin asked me if I'd thought about what I was getting myself into," Steve said. "It never hit me until about 7:45 a.m. the day I rode away from home. The question slipped into my mind: Can I do this and live to tell about it?"
The idea for the trip started when father and son rode motorcycles with their wives in Ireland in 2008. During dinner, the Cain men challenged each other to ride the length of the Americas from the Arctic Circle to Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost tip of South America. To be practical, they would break the trip into two parts: ride to the Arctic Circle in Alaska in 2011, then in 2015 ride from San Francisco to Tierra del Fuego, the latter trip a distance of more than 7,000 miles.
The cause for the trips came in 2008, when Ryan's wife, Katelyn, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Ryan and his stepmother, Kathy, came up with the idea of raising awareness and money for MS. It became known as Cain's Cause (www.cainscause.com).
Steve got on his 1500cc Kawasaki Vulcan motorcycle in Round Grove, Ind., on July 16 to start his trip. But just before he left, he wrote on the Facebook page: "I reflect on the fact that in two days, if I am lucky, I will cross storied Route 66, Lincoln Highway, and will parallel the Lewis and Clark Trail. I will travel the Badlands to the Rocky Mountains. I ride a steel horse that needs no rest at the end of the day, but I surely will."
That same day Ryan, 31, left from his home in San Jose, Calif., on his new Triumph Scrambler. The two planned to meet two days later in Fairmont Hot Springs, British Columbia – about 100 miles north of Idaho – and complete the trip north together.
Steve rode quickly through the Midwest, covering 1,650 miles in two days. Ryan, however, ran into trouble when his motorcycle blew a piston 100 miles east of Portland, Ore. "Thoughts of failure began to enter my mind," Steve said. The success of the trip was in jeopardy.
The next day, the two agreed that Steve would continue on and Ryan would do whatever it took to catch up, even if it meant flying to Anchorage, where they had planned to spend some time with family members who were vacationing there.
But Ryan struck a deal with Triumph in Portland. Instead of getting his motorcycle fixed – that would take weeks – he traded his motorcycle at no extra cost for a new Tiger model that had just been introduced to the U.S. market. After a delay of four days, Ryan was on his way to meet his father at a new rendezvous point at Carlo Creek, about halfway between Fairbanks and Anchorage in the Denali National Park. The dream was still alive.
Meanwhile, Steve was facing his share of difficulties. "I was floundering in British Columbia with more than the usual amount rain and cold in the Canadian Rockies," Steve said. The tips of his fingers felt as cold as the glaciers he passed, even with two pairs of winter gloves. He thought perhaps he wasn't tough enough to finish the trip.
The next morning, he watched the weather and waited to ride until about 10 a.m., when it warmed to 46 degrees. In one day, he went from riding in 100–plus heat–index days in the States to crossing the border into Canada and coping with winter weather conditions.
Once in the Yukon Territory, with some 3,300 miles under his belt, the weather began to improve. Steve could see patches of sun breaking through the thick clouds, and temperatures climbed from the mid–40s to the low 60s – a big difference on a motorcycle going 60 mph.
But then the roads fell apart. Steve lost an extra tool kit that shook loose from the bike somewhere along the hundreds of miles of gravel and broken pavement road between appropriately named Destruction Bay and the Alaska–Yukon border.
From Carlo Creek, they rode together for the remaining seven hours to the Arctic Circle on the mostly gravel, mud and broken pavement that is part of Dalton Highway, also known as Haul Road, that runs to Alaska's north coast at Prudhoe Bay. Steve described the stretch as "slime with a few inches of loose mud on top of a slightly harder packed mud." To Ryan it was like "riding on a porcelain floor with two inches of toothpaste on top." By mile 10, Ryan had prayed about a dozen times that he would not slide into the back end of his father's bike.