Adam Bradley on Floating the Mighty Yukon River

On_the-yukon-bradleyAdam Bradley's view of the Yukon River. Photo: Adam Bradley

If you follow notable (read: crazy) solo expeditions, you likely recognize the name Adam Bradley—or Krudmeister, as his friends call him. In 2009, Bradley set a record for the fastest unsupported through-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail: 65 days, nine hours, 58 minutes, and 47 seconds. But recently, besting records on established trails is less appealing to him than blazing his own.

Last summer, Bradley undertook a 4,738-mile biking-hiking-canoeing expedition from Reno, Nevada, (where he lives and works at Patagonia as a customer sales representative) to the mouth of the Yukon River, where it meets the Bering Sea. "After last summer, I would prefer to spend my time in vast tracts of wilderness and I don’t need a trail laid out in front of me," he says.

While the expedition was focused on reconnecting with his Alaskan roots—Bradley was born and raised in Anchorage, where his family homesteaded in the 1950s—it put the changes taking place in the landscapes and cultures of the far north into stark relief. Adventure Ethics spoke with Bradley and got the full story.

How did the BLC (or Biggest Little City, a.k.a. Reno) to Bering Sea trip come together?
I did a few bike tours here in Nevada and started thinking about doing a multisport thing, where I would use the bike to get into a trailhead or a river. Then I started researching a route to Skagway, Alaska. My dad and some friends of his did a trip in the 1970s that was documented by National Geographic. It's called the Yukon Passage trip. National Geographic heard about it after they did it and actually asked them to reenact it, to film. What they did is they hiked the Chilkoot Pass, much like the miners did, and then literally made a log raft with a cabin on it that they floated to Bering Sea. Part way down they got iced in, so they broke the boat down and made a cabin, until the river completely froze up and then they dog-sledded out the rest of the way. So I saw that as a kid and it definitely made a huge impact on me in terms of me becoming a river guide. So then when I started planning this trip I thought, Well, I have to hike this trail.

So you rode from Reno to Skagway, hiked the Chilkoot Pass, and eventually met up with a canoe and shotgun that you had shipped into Canada. But that's when things got complicated.
I did run into a hassle with customs officials at Frasier. I had purchased a shotgun and learned how to use it [before the trip] and did all the paperwork and everything, registered it. But when I got there, Canada had moving goal posts for me, so they kept changing what they were going to allow me to do and not allow me to do, so I ran into a lot of delay there. When I got to Lake Bennett, which is where the canoe was supposed to come up the White Pass on the Yukon Railroad, my gear didn't arrive because the customs officials were hassling the train, saying I was smuggling guns, which is funny, in retrospect, because I had declared it. If I had been smuggling I probably wouldn't have opened my mouth and attempted to do it the legal way.

Filed To: Adventure, Science, Biking, Exploration, Paddling

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