Dokken: ‘3 Old Guys’ gear up for March snowmobile trek from Minnesota to Alaska
Paul Dick, Rob Hallstrom and Rex Hibbert snowmobiled from Grand Rapids, Minn., to Churchill, Manitoba, in 2019. Now, they're about to launch a 4,000-mile trek from Grand Rapids to Fairbanks, Alaska.
GRAND FORKS – In March 2019, they made an epic, 2,950-mile round-trip snowmobile trek from Grand Rapids, Minn., to Hudson Bay at Churchill, Manitoba.
Now, the “3 Old Guys” – as they’ve come to call themselves – are kicking it up a notch. This time around, Paul Dick, Rob Hallstrom and Rex Hibbert are snowmobiling from Dick’s home in Grand Rapids to Fairbanks, Alaska.
The 4,000-plus-mile adventure is set to begin Monday, March 6, said Hallstrom, a retired electrician from Park Rapids, Minn. At 65, Hallstrom is the young guy on the crew; Dick, of Grand Rapids, is 72, and Hibbert, of Soda Springs, Idaho, will turn 70 during the trip.
All three have extensive experience in both snowmobile racing and long-distance riding. In addition to the Churchill trip, each of them completed Cain’s Quest, an extreme snowmobile race in Labrador, Canada, that’s more than 2,000 miles long but doesn’t follow a specific course.
After snowmobiling to Churchill and back, Alaska seemed like the natural next step, Hallstrom says.
“I like adventure – always have,” said Hallstrom, who’s originally from St. Hilaire, Minn. “I’ve always thought of the snowmobile as a key to adventure. We had such a good time when we went to Churchill, so of course, when you’re doing it, you’re sitting around talking, and it’s like, ‘Well, how would you top this?’
“And of course, Alaska starts coming up, and we started looking at how we would do that.”
It’s an opportunity, Hallstrom says, to see firsthand so many of the places he’s read about.
“When you start putting together all these places we’re going to go to, there are so many interesting side stories,” he said. “All my life, I’ve been interested in northern Canada and Alaska, and you read all these cool stories. Well, now, we’re going to be riding and going through some of these areas.”
The course they’ve charted, Hallstrom says, will take them mostly on groomed trails from Grand Rapids to Flin Flon, Manitoba, and beyond that, a backcountry route that includes portions of Reindeer Lake, Wollaston Lake and Lake Athabasca in northwest Saskatchewan. They’ll follow ice roads to the Great Slave River up to Great Slave Lake, the Mackenzie River to the Arctic Ocean at the northern tip of the Yukon, cross the Richardson Mountains to the Porcupine River, steer their sleds southwest to the Yukon River and then finish the trip on the Yukon Quest sled dog trail into Fairbanks.
The three adventurers will drive Arctic Cat Norseman 8000X snowmobiles with 800cc engines. They drove similar snowmobiles, which have longer tracks, wider skis and get fairly good mileage – by snowmobile standards – to Churchill in 2019, but those sleds had smaller 600cc engines.
Each of them will pull tow sleds loaded with supplies, including enough spare snowmobile parts to handle almost any breakdown that might occur, Hallstrom says. From Flin Flon, they’ll also each carry 30 to 40 gallons of gasoline, plus whatever the snowmobiles hold, he says.
“We’ll be loaded up pretty heavy when we leave a town, because it’s just so difficult,” Hallstrom said. “It’s not like a car, where you can just say, ‘OK, we get 20 miles to the gallon, so we need this many gallons.’
“If the snow is hard and frozen, the snowmobiles run really efficiently, and you get good mileage. If you get out there, and there’s 2 feet of powder snow or something like that, you get terrible mileage. You have to consider that when it’s 300 miles between towns.”
Besides food, gasoline and spare parts, their gear list includes an Arctic Oven Igloo-model “hot tent,” a woodstove and sleeping bags rated for -60F. They’ll also have a couple of different satellite communicators, Hallstrom says, which will allow them to send text messages and let a few people follow their course in real-time. The communicators also have an SOS function to contact the nearest authorities in case of an emergency.
They’ll stay in hotels where possible, but the camping gear will probably get plenty of use, Hallstrom says. On the Mackenzie River, they’ve made tentative plans to stay in a trapper’s cabin with a trapper one night, he says.
“Hopefully, it all works out,” he said “There are a few places where, unless we find a shelter out there – there might be a cabin out there someplace – but if not, we’ll be sleeping in our tent.”
If all goes according to plan, Hallstrom says he anticipates the trip will take about a month. They’ll fly home at the end of the adventure and figure out how to get their snowmobiles back to Minnesota later, he says.
“We’ve arranged for places to store them there,” Hallstrom said. “We’ll either ship them home or somebody will go get them next summer on a vacation.
“We kind of think the first thing we should do is get there before we worry about that,” he added. “There’s an awful lot of unknowns. That’s a long way to go on a snowmobile, and we’re going to be in some remote areas.”
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