Cycling Quest: former locals connecting North and South poles

Dawson Creek schoolmates Tony Viola and Don Searle, both 68 years old, are seven years into an incredible cycling adventure. 

They are connecting the Antarctica to the Arctic on their bicycles on the installment plan. So far, they’ve completed over 9,000 km of the overall 23,500 km quest.

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In January 2012, the pair began the first leg of their epic journey below Santiago, Chile. Three thousand kilometers and forty-seven days later, they arrived in Ushuaia. 

“It was epic,” Searle says. “We crisscrossed the Andes five times and met cyclist from all over the world doing similar trips. One Frenchman had been on the road for a full two years. When we got to the tip of Argentina, that’s when we decided to connect the Poles. It’s been quite the journey, and we still have a lot farther to go.”

One of their most vivid memories is when the two crossed the Careterra Austral, a remote 1,000- km, mostly-gravel road that spans the west side of the Andes in southern Chile. 

Viola says, “Some people call it the road after the end of the road. It’s pretty wild. One stretch of 25 km was single-track between two lakes and was almost impossible to ride. We had to walk our bikes and portage our gear and bike trailers.”

The next year they conquered the 2,300 km Vancouver to Mexico leg and, since then, the two have been knocking off the total distance in installments of 2,000 to 2,500 kilometers each year. 

The northern legs - from the Arctic Ocean in Deadhorse, Alaska, on Prudhoe Bay to Fairbanks, and then from Fairbanks to Whitehorse - they completed in 2014 and 2018 respectively. The pair were joined on the latter by Dawson Creek resident, Wayne Schmidt (68), owner of Gridiron Fitness. Schmidt has plans to join them on future legs.

Earlier this month, they completed Leg #5, 1400 km down the famous Alaska Highway to their former hometown of Dawson Creek. They were greeted on their arrival by Mayor Dale Bumstead at the Mile Zero Post, an unexpected and special end to their trip.

“Don and I met in 1964 in elementary school in Dawson Creek” Viola says. “We both graduated from South Peace Sr. Sec. in 1970, so cycling the Alaska Highway to Dawson Creek has been nostalgic for us.”

It is particular poignant for Viola, who suffered a heart attack in 2014, only months after completing their northernmost leg. He has since recovered and feels strongly that a setback like that only makes the comeback all that much sweeter.

Schmidt says of his friend, “Tony’s story is not just about having a goal. It’s also one of getting back up, rehabilitating and making a full recovery.” 

The cyclists carry their gear either on their bikes or in trailers they pull. Most often they tent, at times just along the side of the road. They set up camp where the end of the day takes them, from sheep corals and gravel pits to farm-yards and ferry terminal parking lots. Technology keeps them connected, but only when internet is available. 

“Our best memories are of the people on the road,” says Viola., “and the friends we make along the way.”

Watch for them around this time next year! They hope to leave the Mile Zero post and head south in a continuation of their quest.

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