These "three old guys," as they call themselves, are adventurers, that part is certain. But perhaps most of all, they're motorheads.
They would have to be.
Because somewhere in the Canadian high Arctic, Paul Dick, Rex Hibbert and Rob Hallstrom are, as you read this, grinding north toward the Arctic Ocean, riding three identical Arctic Cat Norseman 8000X snowmobiles.
The trailblazing trio — Hallstrom is a retired electrician from Park Rapids, Minn.; Hibbert a farmer and rancher from Soda Springs, Idaho; and Dick is a retired beer distributor from Grand Rapids, Minn. — departed Grand Rapids on March 6 on their sleds, headed for Fairbanks, Alaska.
Such an excursion has never been done, and for obvious reasons. Temperatures encountered are frigid. The distance is long — quite a bit longer, as it is turning out, than the three men had planned.
And, occasionally, snowmobiles catch fire.
What's more, by their own description, these guys are, well, not young.
Hallstrom is 65, Dick is 72 and Hibbert will enjoy his 70th birthday en route to the 49th state.
"The wind is a son-of-a-gun up here," Hallstrom said the other day from Fort Providence, Northwest Territories, Canada. "But we're holding up surprisingly well."
To Hallstrom, Dick and Hibbert, the trip isn't as crazy as it might seem to the rest of us, in part because they have already survived one snowmobile marathon together. In 2019, the trio departed by snowmobile from Dick's home in Grand Rapids and rode north to Churchill, Manitoba, on Hudson Bay. Then they turned around and came back, a distance of almost 3,000 miles.
That journey featured only one breakdown that was quickly resolved near Thompson, Manitoba, thanks to the help of a local man who knew a guy who knew a guy who was a welder.
"So far on this trip we've only had one experience we were lucky to get out of," Hallstrom said. "We were breaking trail after leaving Flin Flon, Manitoba, doing a lot of hand sawing and chainsawing of trees, and a stick from one of the trees got stuck in the hood of my snowmobile. I pulled it out, but I didn't realize part of it remained inside and laid across the motor."
The machine subsequently caught fire, but the blaze was put out with the help of a fire extinguisher.
"We were really lucky to get the fire out so quickly," Hallstrom said. "There's a computer under the hood that essentially operates the snowmobile, plus some fuel lines. Nothing got seriously damaged, and we limped back to Flin Flon to repair the machine so we could get going again."
The three men spent about two years planning the Alaska trip, with long hours passed poring over Google Earth images and reading historical accounts of dogsledders and other Arctic travelers passing from point to point through the northern bush.
Their common love for snowmobiles and snowmobile adventures led each of them some years ago to Labrador, Canada, where they competed in Cain's Quest, a 2,200-mile race billed as the "longest and toughest snowmobile endurance race on the planet."
Previously, Dick and Hibbert had competed in Alaska's Iron Dog snowmobile race, which, not to be outdone by promoters of the Labrador contest, claims to be "the world's longest, toughest snowmobile race," covering some 2,500 miles.
Realizing after meeting in Labrador they were kindred spirits, the three men subsequently cooked up the idea for the Grand Rapids to Churchill trip, and, following its successful completion, dreamed of riding from Minnesota to Alaska.
Arctic Cats are their machines of choice in part because Hallstrom grew up in Thief River Falls, Minn., where "Cats" are built, and he has remained loyal to the brand.
"We realize that in Canada, Ski-Doos, which are made in Canada, are everywhere, not Arctic Cats," Hallstrom said. "But we're familiar with our machines, we can fix them if need be, and we carry a lot of spare parts. Having said that, the more weight we bring on trips like these, the bigger the headache. So it's always a discussion that we have, what to bring and what to leave behind."
The journey's first 1,200 miles, from Grand Rapids north to Flin Flon was — comparatively speaking — a walk in the park, with a lot of marked trails and smooth riding.
Since then, the going has been tougher. Rough lake ice has been one problem. Deep snow another. But so far, they have had to spend only one night in their tent, cocooned in sleeping bags that are rated to minus-60.
On the trail, behind each of the three snowmobilers follows a custom-made sled loaded with spare parts, including clutches, computers, tie rods, front and rear axles, belts, springs and tools. A defibrillator-equipped medical kit is also loaded.
Depending on a day's route, each rider totes a minimum of 10 gallons of extra gas. The machines are powered by two-stroke engines, so extra oil also has to be carried.
How much oil and gas are burned in a day depends on snow depth and whether lake ice is smooth or, as it oftentimes has been, rough.
From Flin Flon, the men's route took them cross-country to Reindeer Lake and Wollaston Lake in northern Saskatchewan, then to Great Slave Lake and, in coming days, north on the Mackenzie River to the Arctic Ocean.
When I talked to them the other day, the trio was headed the next morning to Fort Simpson, NWT. Leaving Fort Providence at 6:30 a.m., they didn't shut down their snowmobiles in Fort Simpson until 11 p.m. The only food the men ate all day was energy bars, washed down by water.
The trip, Hallstrom said, is taking longer than the 30 days or so that were originally planned. Stops and starts and bushwhacking have slowed them, and the original estimate of 4,500 miles has been expanded to about 5,500.
The three men also are well over their financial budget, due to high gas, food and lodging costs. "It's running us over $100 just to fill up one machine with gas," Hallstrom said.
Hallstrom's daughter, Kasie Plekkenpol, operating out of her Twin Cities home, updates the trio's Facebook page, and also has set up a buymeacoffee account for people who want to pony up for dinner for the intrepid travelers, top off one of their machine's gas tanks or perhaps kick in enough for a few energy bars.
Now, on Day 21 of their adventure, the trip's toughest stretch awaits them, Hallstrom said.
"We want to make it to the Arctic Ocean at the northern tip of the Yukon before crossing over the Richardson Mountains to Alaska, where we hope to follow the Porcupine River to Fort Yukon and eventually to Fairbanks.''
Friday, the men had their most challenging day yet. Hibbert called it a "double black diamond day" that covered 140 miles from Fort Simpson to Wrigley, Northwest Territories. The route featured broken ice, river overflow, creeks to cross and snow so deep they got stuck several times.
"Today was so fun!" Hallstrom said. "Crazy, absolutely crazy, but fun. Never, ever want to do it again."
Yet, and still, every morning Paul Dick, Rex Hibbert and Rob Hallstrom start their snowmobiles and climb on, three old guys headed north to Alaska.