RECORD-breaking biker, Declan McEvoy, has started 2023 on a high by completing a polar extreme adventure. Over the past fortnight, he has driven solo on his Honda 250 Rally from Helsinki to the very northern tip of Scandinavia, a distance of over 2,000km.
Fresh from his adventures on the west coast of Africa in 2022, Declan set the Artic Circle in his sights. No stranger to temperatures well below zero, Declan previously set a new Guinness World Record for riding the length of the frozen Lake Baikal.
This year, Declan set himself the challenge of enduring night-time temperature of minus 18 degrees as well as regular blizzard conditions in bitter winds en route to Nordkapp. Inclement weather almost put paid to Declan’s ambitions with authorities shutting the last let of the route. A last minute change-of-fortunes brought the smiles of the weather gods and Declan reached his goal early on Wednesday last.
Throughout the Arctic odyssey, conditions were truly gruelling. Declan faced the unexpected challenge of a lack of snow shortly after setting out from the Finnish capital. “Studded tyres hate asphalt,” he explained. “Poor grip I can contend with as I can nurse the bike along nice and easy but worn out studs before I reach Nordkapp is just not an option.” The alternative was to take the treacherous Finnish backroads. “Imagine driving from Galway to Dublin on R-type roads only and that’s only 200km or so,” he said.
After crossing into the bitterly cold Artic Circle, camping in conditions of minus 12 degrees and living on army ration packs, Declan found himself back on “beautiful show”. While this suited the studded tyres of his bike, it brought further challenges. “I’ve endured a few heavy blizzards and now understand what a whiteout is – when you just can’t read the road surface due poor visibility, you’re in a sea of white soup,” he explained.
Then, setting off from the Finnish municipality of Inari, magic happened. “About 100km into [the] journey in the midst of a beautiful snow shower I saw two reindeer running ahead, side by side and in the same direction as me,” he said. “I slowly drew in behind to them, yet trying not to spook them. I managed to get right behind them, they were running literally just in front of me. I followed them for at least two kilometres. I could see every characteristic about them. For a fleeting few moments I felt I had the exact same view from the seat of my motorbike as has the big man himself has when he makes his journeys. It was truly a thrilling experience!”
Violent winds proved to be a very unwelcome aspect of Declan’s Arctic experience. He and his bike were almost swept off the road. “I ended up colliding with a steel roadside guard rail,” Declan explained. “I can’t believe that a passing motorists who saw me clearly struggling in such inclement conditions drove right by.” Declan’s faith in humanity was restored, however, when a snow plough driver came along and provided shelter from the gales.
With just 30km to go to Nordkapp, Declan’s adventures almost came to an abrupt end.
Due to the extreme weather, only occasional convoys were permitted attempt the journey.
While hoping for a ‘weather window’, Declan had to face the prospect of not making Nordkapp. “The authorities had decided to keep the road closed overnight,” he said. “I resigned myself to the fact that it wasn’t to be on this occasion. I was disappointed, but my experience of these kind of journeys has already conditioned me to the possibility of such failures and so I packed up my stuff and I prepared my attention for the next mornings journey south to Alta.”
A final check on the weather brought hope, however, even as Declan was preparing to return to Helsinki. “I somehow noticed that no warnings were showing for the road north to Nordkapp,” he said. “I thought this couldn’t be because it was still snowing heavy outside. I checked again, perhaps I was mistaken, but again no warnings. I then rather excitedly checked two other weather related apps and they didn’t indicate any extreme conditions either. I couldn’t believe it. I was now feeling a rekindled excitement so I quickly decided I’d make a go for it.”
Still unsure if he would make the final icy kilometres, Declan said he “watched the GPS count down, 20k to go, 10k to go”. As Nordkapp came into view, the relief was immense. After revisiting the famous Globe Monument, marking the northern most end point of Europe, Declan prepared for the road home. “Weeks of research, preparations and planning have paid dividend, it has somehow all come together,” he said. “Any questions about why you would make such a journey in the first place are clearly answered.”