Couple racks up the clicks on road trip from Arctic Circle to Argentina
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/01/2022 (265 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
When I catch up, via FaceTime, with Jeff Gunn, he’s lounging in the sunshine at a campground in El Calafate, Argentina.
He’s also rocking a COVID-era/overland-trip mane extraordinaire of beyond-shoulder-length blond hair.
The retired Kelowna CIBC banker and his wife Lois, a retired City of Kelowna staffer, are elated, having just completed a life mission, a milestone, an incredible journey.
The odyssey was the 30,000-kilometre Pan American Highway from the northernmost point of continental North America to the southernmost point of continental South America in a pop-up truck camper.
“At times we wondered if we would ever be able to do it all, especially with the 18-month interruption of COVID,” says Jeff. “But we made it. We got to the bottom (of South America) and we’re feeling great. We love long road journeys and the Pan American is the most famous of them all.”
The Gunns have always been fans of long road trips.
For their honeymoon in 1985, they spent five months tooling around Europe in one of those retro Volkswagen Kombi vans.
In 2003, they pulled their two kids out of school to backpack and camp around South America for three months between Rio de Janeiro and Venezuela.
When the couple retired in early 2019, they finally had the time and opportunity to go big and drive the entire Pan American Highway, the network of roads spanning the length of the two continents, which the Guinness Book of World Records declared the longest motorable road on the planet.
While the Pan American is 30,000 km, the Gunns have actually covered 43,000 km on their pilgrimage by adding on numerous detours.
The extra mileage started right off the bat in May 2019 when the couple drove the 5,500 clicks to the Arctic Circle to start the Pan American near Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.
Those following the Pan American are called overlanders, a term inspired by those in Land Rovers with rooftop tents who travel long distances over land.
The Gunns’ pop-up truck camper is a little bigger than a Land Rover with rooftop tent, but not by much.
It was custom-made with an extending roof and pop-up queen-size bed, minuscule kitchen with fridge, stove, sink and dinette for two, and a tiny bathroom that’s little more than a toilet.
The Gunns have learned to live with only the essentials, ensure to put everything away right after they use it and try not to get on each others’ nerves in confined spaces.
“Lois is a trooper. We both love travelling this way,” says Jeff. “We’ve had the odd disagreement. But when we’re not driving or sleeping, we’re enjoying the unlimited spaces of the outdoors. And when we want to stretch out or have some luxury we check into a hotel for the night.”
From Alaska, the Pan American hugs the Pacific Coast pretty closely all the way through Canada and the U.S. to Land’s End at the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula at Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
From there they had to take a ferry to Mazatlan to continue on the Pan American through Mexico and Central America to Panama.
Since there are 106 km with no road connecting North and South America, which is call the Darien Gap, there’s another ferry from southeast Panama to northwest Colombia.
The Pan American continues in South America through Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Chile before ending in one of two places — Fin de Camino (which translated from Spanish means ‘end of the road’) — just south of Punta Arenas, Chile or Ushuaia, Argentina.
The trek was completed in two distinct parts.
From May 2019 to March 2020, pre-pandemic, the couple made it from the Arctic Circle to Santiago, Chile before the world shut down and they had to put their truck in storage and fly home to Kelowna.
In November 2021, when Chile reopened to travellers who are fully vaccinated, the Gunns returned to finish the last bit from Chile into Argentina.
They plan to amble around South and Central America for four or five more months before ending up in Buenos Aires, from where they’ll ship their truck so they can fly home to Kelowna.
The Gunns are chronicling their trip at OneEndlessRoad.com.