By Conor Mihell
Record-setting backpacker Adam Bradley discovered new pleasures last summer on an epic multi-sport, self-propelled adventure that took him from Reno, Nevada, to the Bering Sea. Bradley, 40, is best known for a 65-day mission in 2009 that shattered the speed record on the 2,663-mile Pacific Crest Trail. But ever since he walked the length of a controversial renewable energy transmission corridor that runs north-south across Nevada in 2010, he's been more interested in promoting pure, low-emissions adventuring (Read more on Bradley’s Nevada project HERE).
"I saw the impacts of green energy and the environmental costs of bringing it to market," says Bradley. "As a result, I committed to going human-powered all the way in my future endeavours."
With this ideology in mind, Bradley set off last April 24 by bicycle, riding north from Reno across the Canadian border and the northern Rockies to Skagway, Alaska. By the time he exchanged his bicycle for hiking boots, Bradley had covered 2,847 miles. Then he braved late season winter storms and unstable snowpack in traversing the historic, 33-mile Chilkoot Trail to reach Bennett Lake, at the headwaters of the Yukon River (Check out the route HERE.)
"It was an immense feeling just to top the pass," says Bradley, who works in customer service with outdoors apparel manufacturer Patagonia. "It had snowed the night before I topped out and I kept thinking, 'I will be floating on all this sometime soon.'"
With a background as a raft and canoe guide, the 1,892-mile paddle down the Yukon to Arctic tidewater was nothing new for Bradley. What was different, though, was how floating the swollen Yukon exposed Bradley to deep wilderness, wildlife and an increasingly rare, sustenance-based way of life much more profoundly than any of his previous adventures.
The Yukon demanded a high degree of awareness, says Bradley, from the sudden winds that picked up out of nowhere on its headwater lakes to the wood debris that choked the flooding upper portion of the river. Despite the easy pace of downstream travel, Bradley brought a fastpacker's mentality to the river: A typical day involved 12 hours on the water, which translated to 50 to 80 river miles. But he still made the time to visit with the small Alaskan communities that still make a living by the river and land.
"The people were always very curious about what I was up to," he says. "In a canoe you're more approachable. Everyone was very friendly. They all ask where you're going and where you came from, and if you met anyone upstream. At that time of year the sun's up all the time, so people were out doing chores at all hours of the day."
On July 16, Bradley paddled an extra 10 miles down the Yukon to finally dip his paddle in the salty Bering Sea, before doubling back upstream to the village of Emmonak, where he chartered a flight home. He admits that his adventure still required the consumption of fossil fuels, but far less than most. Most important was a revelation gleaned on the canoe across Alaska: Northern paddling expeditions are his next big thing.
"I'm hooked," says Bradley, who's already dreaming up a long bike ride to northern Canada and a canoe trip down the Yukon Territory's Wind River. "I'm done with going fast and trying to set speed records. I want to observe as much as possible. That's the biggest thing I took from this trip."
Watch a trailer for the documentary Bradley plans to produce from his 2012 trip: