Expeditions: What Price Glory?
Dispatches, June 1997
Expeditions: What Price Glory?
Two old friends earn their spot in the record books — with tragic consequences
Suffering from the effects of food poisoning, a severe infestation of lice, and a week’s worth of 115-degree weather while cycling a godforsaken stretch of Baja Peninsula desert, 31-year-old Wayne Ross did what many an adventurer had done before him: He threw a temper tantrum. “I told him I’d had enough,” says Ross of the tirade he directed at
Ramsden cajoled Ross back, and a few weeks later the two wheeled into Guatemala City, the halfway point in their attempt to set a world record for the swiftest ride across the earth’s longest continuous land mass, the classic 15,500-mile route from the top of Alaska to the tip of South America. Ultimately the expedition was successful in establishing a new mark — in March
After five days of being feted by the Guatemalan Ministry of Culture and Sports, Ross and Ramsden sped out of the capital last October 23, en route for the Pan-American Highway. Then, in the midst an almost 5,000-foot descent, a pickup-truck driver pulled alongside Ramsden to inform him that Ross was down and badly hurt. “There was a whole crowd of people around him,” recalls
Such bravado aside, it’s certainly true that the two faced long odds from the start. Ramsden, a 32-year-old professional sailor who had competed in the Whitbread Round the World Race in 1994, had no long-distance cycling experience when he made the decision to take on the expedition. “The first time I ever rode with panniers,” he says, “was when we set out from Prudhoe Bay.”
Nonetheless, convinced that the 311-day record — set by two Americans and two Canadians in 1987 — was vulnerable, the solid, five-foot-three Massachusetts native became a man possessed, devoting a year to raising the necessary $30,000, riding 200 miles a week, and working out an agreement to promote the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation via regular updates to its Web site.
It was behavior that friends say plays directly to type. “Spike’s definitely a weird guy,” says Rob Brown, a communications professor at Massachusetts’s Salem State College who helped promote the expedition. “But he’s also the most determined person I’ve ever met.”
After his original partner dropped out a month before the trip, Ramsden called on Ross, an old high school wrestling buddy who’d already logged 80,000 miles of bike touring in North America, Europe, and Australia. Setting out from Prudhoe Bay last June, the pair began the journey by grinding along the rough, steeply graded Dalton Highway for its 500-mile run to Fairbanks.
But such, well, boyish diversions were few and far between. In addition to getting blown off his bike by winds from an approaching hurricane outside Acapulco, Ramsden had to make his way through rebel-controlled areas of Colombia and was robbed at knifepoint by bandits in northern Peru. “They pulled me off my bike, tied my hands behind my back, and rolled me down a hill,” says
Yet despite the pall that such an accident inevitably casts on an expedition, Ross and Ramsden volunteer little with regard to the emotional aspects, instead awkwardly steering all dialogue toward the achievement itself, as if the tragedy had never happened. “Sure, somebody could do it faster,” says Ross, whose ambitious short-term plans include earning an MBA, relearning to
Photograph by John Huet