Across the Bering Sea - by Land Rover

A MIRFIELD farming couple are about to set off on the journey of a lifetime.

Steve Burgess and his partner Nicky Spinks, of Hopton, are planning to travel from Mirfield to Cape Horn in Chile.

If they make the entire trip they will be the first to successfully cross the 56-mile Bering Strait between Siberia and Alaska – one of the most perilous stretches of sea and ice in the world – in a single vehicle.

And they will be making the entire 45,000-mile journey across sea and land in their converted Land Rover Defender.

Steve, 52, who met 40-year-old Nicky sky diving, said he has never lost his sense of adventure.

He said: "It is a big world out there and I want to see as much of it as I can. I think Nicky feels the same."

The couple have been tirelessly researching and working towards the journey for six years. They have had to study maps, climate, weather patterns and conditions in 26 countries in the world. Steve said: "The weather is critical – being a farmer helps because you are always checking on the weather in this job.

"The areas of preparation have been vast. For many countries you have to have prior permission to enter them, and there's factors to take into account like safety and the risk of diseases."

The vehicle the pair are using has been specially adapted. By the time their journey starts they will have spent up to 250,000 transforming their Land Rover into an amphibious vehicle.

The Land Rover, which is registered as a boat, has two floats which are secured on the back when it is on the road.

For the drive across the Bering Strait they will be attached to brackets on either side.

The transmission to the wheels will be decoupled to power a propeller lowered at the back and a tiller will take over from the steering wheel.

The vehicle has a diesel-powered heating system which heats the engine's coolant and will also provide warmth to a roof-mounted sleeping tent.

Steve, whose family have owned the 100-acre Liley Hall Farm in Liley Lane since 1961, has thought up all the engineering ideas himself.

He said: "I'm entirely self-taught – I've acquired skills as a farmer but I'm not much good on cars."

This is not the first time Steve and Nicky have set themselves a difficult task. In preparation for their massive journey voyage they crossed the risky Irish Sea in their prototype vehicle in 2004. Before this they also tested it in the Lake District and – briefly – in the sea at Bridlington.

They then developed the amphibious Land Rover using the knowledge they had gained.

Steve said: "We were absolutely delighted at the outcome of the Irish Sea crossing.

"Before that we had built the Land Rover to float and tested it to make sure it did just that. But we had never set out to sea in it. It was a massive endorsement of what we had set out to achieve."

Much is being put at risk, including the safety of Steve and Nicky's passengers, friends Simon Dedman and Dan Evans.

CONFIDENT

But Steve is confident that the amount of research he has carried out will enable them to successfully make the crossing.

He said: "It is something that has never been achieved before, but we have put so much hard work into this and there are no possibilities we have not covered. It has been an absorbing challenge for the past six years."

They will also cross the mythic Darien Gap, in Panama's rainforest. The 10,000 sq mile area mostly consists of unknown land occupied by jaguars, poachers and drug smugglers.

Some people who have previously ventured into its depths have disappeared. Despite the obvious dangers, Steve seems fairly unfazed. He said: "I am not unnerved at the moment – maybe I will be when I get there. But Nicky and myself have already been to Columbia and planned the Panama rainforest part of our trip."

Steve and the team will be pushed to their limits and have to rely on basic survival skills – they will have to cut with a machete and winch their way down the Archipelgo De Sans Blas and face temperature of minus 50C degrees in Siberia.

But to Steve and Nicky, who also does fell running, it is an exhilarating challenge.

Steve said: "Nicky has a lot of drive and is very physically fit. Sometimes I have to work hard to keep up with her. But this is a challenge for both of us. I think my tenacity will keep me going."

The couple have been lucky enough to get 13 sponsors for their journey. Their supporters range from companies which provide mechanics for 4x4 vehicles to those offering high energy frozen meals and thermals.

Steve said: "The sponsors have gone above and beyond the call of duty and I have a lot to thank them for."

The journey will start in Mirfield on January 29, reach Moscow by February 5 and hopefully Uelen on the Bering Strait by April.

But they will have to wait until June – when the ice has melted in the Bering Sea – to set off across the Bering Strait. The centre of the strait is a constantly moving patchwork of water and ice slabs and if they drove across the ice they could be crushed. Crossing in June will mean they should also miss the hazardous fogs.

After this they will continue their journey down the coast of Alaska and towards Cape Horn in Chile, which they hope to reach by December.

The farm will continue to operate with reduced activity. There are breaks in the journey when Nicky may return to keep things going. Should they reach Cape Horn in Chile, the four will have completed a trip no man has ever managed before in one vehicle.

Steve said: "A lot of people think it is impossible. There have been people that have said 'You can't do that in a Land Rover' but I will give it my best shot and hopefully I will produce the goods."

For more information about the expedition visit www.capetocape.org.uk.