PEMBROKE — On July 3, a trio of friends from Pembroke returned home after a 13,023-mile motorcycle trip to the Arctic Circle and back. It was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure that the men had already crossed off their bucket lists nearly two decades earlier.
“We always said we were going back,” said Dennis Clark, 70, a Navy veteran and retired owner of an airspace engineering company.
According to Clark, a lot has changed since he and Ronnie Revels, 69, and Keith Dial, 60, first traveled to the tundra in 1995 alongside Colorado resident James Collins, 65, and Virginia resident Don Williams, 63.
“When we went then, everybody was in good physical condition,” said Clark, who has since survived a bout with pancreatic cancer.
Revels, a retired telephone company employee and fellow Navy veteran, has suffered two heart attacks. Collins, a retired HUD worker, is now a full-blown diabetic. Williams, an Air Force veteran and retired computer administrator, recently underwent a hernia operation.
Dial, a retired juvenile probation officer and Army veteran, was described by Clark as “the kid” of the crew and “the only healthy one.”
The gang was also short a man this time around: Raphael Jones, who died in 2012.
“We promised him we would do it again,” Clark attested.
While passing through Rugby, North Dakota, Clark and Williams staged a photo to pay tribute to their late friend. In the photo, the two men are standing in front of a cobblestone sign touting the city as the geographical center of North America, their arms wrapped around an empty space.
It was one of many memorable stops the group made during their 51-day journey across 19 states and three Canadian provinces.
In Alberta, Canada, they stood in wide-eyed admiration of girdling vistas. In the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska, they noticed how much the once-mighty Portage Glacier has receded over the past 19 years.
While traveling along the Stewart-Cassiar Highway, Collins spotted a wolf in the road and slowed down to avoid hitting the animal.
“The wolf chased him,” Clark said, laughing. “He’ll never forget that.”
After adjusting to weeks of continuous daylight in the arctic, the friends were astonished to see the sun slink down the Seattle skyline during their ride back to Robeson County.
“You forget you’re on the road sometimes because the scenery is so spectacular,” Clark said. “There are a lot more people and the roads have improved tremendously, but there’s congestion. We used to go for hundreds of miles and see nothing, now we go for 100 and see nothing.”
The men maneuvered through snow, hail, sleet and rain during their trip. The temperatures ranged from 93 to 29 degrees, and the winds reached 50 mph.
“We went through every type of terrain and weather you can experience,” Clark said. “Riding a motorcycle through hail is interesting, to say the least …We had an advantage because we had done it before.”
The ride wasn’t easy, but it did yield rewards.
Clark, who serves as president of the Robeson County Area Beekeepers Association, picked the brain of a beekeeper in Wiseman, Alaska.
“That was my highlight of the trip,” Clark said. “He kept bees for three years at 50 degrees below.”
Before the group made their way back home, they placed a piece of it in Alaska.
At Watson Lake, there’s a signpost forest where travelers attach signs displaying the names of their cities to trees.
“I put a sign up for Pembroke and when you walk into the signpost forest, it’s one of the first signs you see,” Clark said.
Jaymie Baxley can be reached at 910-272-6146, or on Twitter @Jaymie_Baxley