KETCHIKAN, Alaska — With a brief stay in Ketchikan to embark on their planned 80-day excursion north through Alaska, a pair of Scottish expeditioners have begun a lengthy human-powered journey over land and sea from the Dixon Entrance to the nation’s northernmost fringe.
Luke Robertson, 32, and his wife, Hazel, 31, both of Edinburgh, Scotland, left Ketchikan in the wee hours of one Sunday morning to start the nearly 2,000-mile adventure as part of a larger expedition to raise funds for the United Kingdom-based cancer charity Marie Curie.
Impassioning youth worldwide to tackle adversity head-on is also part of their mission, the couple said while resting up for the trip at the Black Bear Inn.
They plan to span the state from its southernmost point at the Dixon Entrance to its northernmost point of Nuvuk, which lies near Utqiagvik, the Arctic town formerly known as Barrow.
While others have completed individual legs of the journey, Robertson said that, based on his research, nobody appears to have completed the entire human-powered passage across the state.
If not a world-first, it’s certainly a personal best.
“We’ve done quite a lot of different things,” he said of past endurance tours. “This is the longest in terms of distance and time that we’ve ever done.”
Robertson said he and his wife have been completing various expeditions over the past nearly two years in support of their cause.
Among other partners, the couple has teamed with the Scottish education system, Education Scotland, and the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, which has dubbed them both as explorers in residence.
No stranger to adversity in life, Luke Robertson’s heart was fitted in 2008 with an artificial pacemaker, and he underwent life-saving surgery in 2014 to remove a large brain tumor.
Neither challenge has stopped him from exploring the world.
Among a host of endurance sprees, Robertson in 2016 spent nearly 40 days completing a 730-mile solo ski trek from the Hercules Inlet of Antarctica to the South Pole.
Together, the couple recently ran the scorching, 156-mile-long “Marathon de Sables” through the African Sahara and completed the terraneous 250-mile “Cape Wrath Ultra” running expedition of Scotland.
“This (Alaska) expedition and what we do are about showing people that they can overcome challenges,” Robertson said. “The hardest times are usually when they find out the most about themselves, become the most confident about themselves and realize how strong they can actually be.”
“So it’s about trying to inspire people to realize how strong they can actually be and take that first step into doing something they love doing,” he said.
The Last Frontier has been on their adventure bucket list.
“We were looking for something with the education aspect, something that would really grab people’s attention and imagination and fire them up on that,” Hazel Robertson said. “I actually used to live in Alaska as a kid for a few years, so it was on our list.”
“As you go from south to north, the landscape changes so much,” she said while noting the northerly transition from temperate rainforest to glaciers, mountains and tundra. “So just such a change as you cover the distance, as well, so I think just that and the big wilderness appeal, we were just like, ‘It has to be Alaska.'”
Having arrived mid-May in Ketchikan, the Robertsons originally planned to depart May 14 for the Dixon Entrance, though poor weather conditions temporarily kept them grounded.
With no support team following, they were dropped off at the Dixon Entrance by Svenson Sportfishing and were expected to pass through the Ketchikan area again within a couple of days.
Aboard a tactical Klepper military kayak of Kevlar-reinforced canvas, the couple is following the coastal waters of the Inside Passage for nearly 400 miles to Haines, camping along the coastline and at U.S. Forest Service shelters that pepper the route.
At Haines, they will ship the compactible Klepper kayak up-route and then begin cycling 650 miles — thanks to a pair of loaner bikes from Haines’ Sockeye Cycle — northwest through Canada’s Yukon Territory en route to Fairbanks.
From there, the two will begin a 550-mile run north along an access road of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline to Deadhorse. The Robertsons will then reassemble their kayak, and paddle the Arctic Ocean for about 300 miles from Prudhoe Bay west to Utqiagvik.
As the adventure progresses, the couple fitted with a range of location and communications gadgetry will be regularly updating their locale, which will be tracked at duenorthalaska.com/.
“On our website, we’ll have a live-tracking map that will go up when we start,” Hazel Robertson said. “So you’ll be able to see the route we’re taking. You’ll see where we’ve been, and it’ll update roughly every hour.”
Information from: Ketchikan (Alaska) Daily News, http://www.ketchikandailynews.com