Great American Tour
The World's Longest Tricycle Race starts in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska and follows the path of the Pan-American Highway to Ushuaia, Argentina. Initially, up to 7 competitors start the race, chasing the $500 Million prize at the end.
History No one has ever completed the course. During the first running of the race in 2011, the last of 4 competitors quit due to injuries sustained in a fall near Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. In the second running of the race in 2015, thanks to stronger competitors, better tricycles, and a summer start, the competition ended near Albuquerque when the final competitor was tragically lost in a flash flood. The most recent race in 2019 ended when the final 2 competitors disappeared in the Darien Gap in Panama. Unfortunately, the footage of what was presumably their final days was not uploaded successfully, and they have never been located.
September 6, a Monday, the participants had their last bit of rest at the Aurora Hotel. Padding around in their slippers, everyone from the grizzled mountain man Denver, to the 22-year-old BMX champ Dana, sipped espressos (the hotel and the city are alcohol-free) and chatted excitedly.
The next day dawned crisp and cool. Even in the summer, temperatures stay close to freezing and today was no exception with 37 degrees at 9 AM. Denver, Dana, Hai, and Erik were dressed in layers and prepared to tackle the Alaskan wilderness with only what they can carry on their tricycles.
Dana Baker had been training hard in the Rockies for the past 2 years. The first 30 miles of the flat boring wasteland zoomed as if it wasn't even there. She took a short break, drinking a Gatorade and eating a sandwich before anyone else caught up with her. Back on the road, she continued to increase her lead as she started up the incline. Precisely at the 60 mile mark, she stopped and set up her small tent, built a small fire and made some supper.
Although the sun rose around 6:30, Dana didn't emerge from her sleeping bag until 8 AM. She rekindled the fire, cooked some grits, and set off around 9 into the mountains. Her training in Colorado was paying off and she was making great time on the mountain roads. She was elated that no one on the team was close to her fitness level in the mountains. For a moment, her attention wavered. She hit a rut in the road, similar to many she had encountered while training, but this one caught the front wheel of her tricycle and brought it to a dead stop.
The next thing she knew, she was flying through the air. She put out an arm to catch herself and heard a crack as she came down. The pain was excruciating but she lay there pondering setting it and continuing. As she tried to move, she realized that alone, she would not be able to set it properly and it would turn into a career-ending injury. She activated her emergency beacon and an air ambulance picked her up in about 45 minutes.
Her race was over.
Hai Nguyen also started with a relatively brisk pace. He was able to put in 40 to 50 mile days for a week and a half.
Arriving in Coldfoot, he checked into the Coldfoot Camp Inn. Seeing an opportunity to recharge, he chose to stay an extra day.
The next day, as he was leaving Coldfoot, he passed a small RV. Behind the RV, a man emerged from a small wooded area pushing a woman ahead of him.
Hai noticed chains between her ankles. "Stop, let her go!," he said. The man responded, "Make me, tricycle boy!"
Hai dropped into a karate-style stance. The other man pushed the woman to the ground and followed suit.
"I don't really know karate," Hai said, half-shrugging. As the man started to reach a hand behind his back, Hai rushed him at full tilt.
The man swiftly pulled a gun from holster in the small of his back and fired into Hai's left arm. Hai hit him a brief moment later, knocking him backwards and sending the gun flying. Hai scrambled for the gun, grabbing it and rolling over to point the gun at the man. The man lunged towards him and Hai fired 3 shots center mass, killing the man instantly.
Hai activated his emergency beacon and police and air ambulance responded. The woman told of being abducted from a store near her home in Vancouver and held captive for the past 2 months. Hai and the woman were transported to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital for treatment.
His race was over.
Erik Muller rode 50 miles the first and second days, giving him a solid 2nd place position.
The third day, he planned to reach Galbraith Lake. Around the middle of the day, a truck was headed towards him. He happened to look at the driver and see him laughing, followed by a huge splash as the truck hit a puddle, sending a wave of cold dirty water flying through the air and drenching him.
He was livid. Certain the driver had his the puddle on purpose, he fumed, cursed, and threw rocks at the rapidly disappearing truck.
Erik changed into dry clothes and continued on.
Seven hours later, the driver passed him again on the return trip. He didn't notice. As he neared the turnoff for the Galbraith Lake Campground, three trucks were stopped by the side of the road as the drivers shared a supper. As Erik approached, he heard the words "and he was totally drenched" followed by raucous laughter.
Erik leaped from his trike, yelling obscenities. "You doused me on purpose." He struck the trucker with his metal water bottle. The trucker went down and Erik started kicking him.
The other 2 drivers tackled Erik. One of them tied him up, while the other called the police. After what seemed like an eternity, Helo 5 flew in, took statements, and arrested Erik for the attack on the trucker.
His race was over.
Denver Matthews took a pace more fitting for a 19,000 mile race. Counting on his survival skills to give him the edge, he set off at a leisurely pace.
He didn't care who knew his strategy. He bragged that he was the only one tough enough to survive the harsh conditions and that he would outlast them all. Charting the route, he planned to complete the course in just under 2 years by traveling 30 miles per day.
He kept to his pace for the first week. By the 5th day, he had reached Atigun Pass. As he came to the top of the pass, he made a critical error and, instead of resting at the top before his descent, he started down the other side. As he started to pick up speed, he failed to control his speed. As he picked up speed, he left the roadway and slammed into the guardrail. He flipped over the guardrail and fell onto the rocks below. The coroner said later that he was most likely killed on impact.
For 45 seconds the only sound was his impact sensor alarm shrieking. When that timed out, the sensor system automatically activated his emergency beacon.
His race (and life) was over.
Day 1: Dana (1), Erik (2), Hai (3), Denver (4) Day 2: Erik(1), Hai (2), Denver (3), Dana (Injured, Accident) Day 3: Hai (1), Denver (2), Erik (Arrested), Dana (Injured, Accident) Day 4: -- Unchanged -- Day 5: Hai (1), Denver (Deceased, Accident), Erik (Arrested), Dana (Injured, Accident) Day 6-10: -- Unchanged -- Day 11: Hai (Injured, Shot), Denver (Deceased, Accident), Erik (Arrested), Dana (Injured, Accident)
Unceremoniously, the race came to an abrupt end. Instead of the extended drama of traversing multiple countries in their quest for riches, this race turned out to be the shortest ever.
Dana recovered from her broken arm in about 6 weeks. She's back on her bikes, but she's not planning to participate in any more tricycle events.
Hai was granted the Alaska Medal of Honor for his actions in rescuing the kidnapped woman. He is still working to get full mobility on his left arm.
Erik was charged with assault for his altercation and sentenced to 8 years in prison. He is currently serving his time at Wildwood Correctional Complex in Kenai, Alaska.
Denver was buried in Bozeman next to his wife Alice who had passed away 7 years previous. His son, Arnold, told us, "Dad went out the way he would have wanted, having a grand adventure riding his tricycle."
The race organizers say this was the final run of the overly ambitious race. Rather than running it again, they tell me they are focusing the more reasonable 14,000 mile trek from Capetown, South Africa to Magadan, Russia on outdoor elliptical bikes.