Day 1 – Canyon de Chelley

October 1, 2016, 24 miles on horseback

We are in Navajo Nation, and are about to explore one of the most beautiful canyons in the Southwest. We struggle up our horses. tra_9036Most of the gang have never been on a horse.
We set out at 9 am for an 8 hour ride.

We get off to a bumpy start with a bit of trotting. The discomfort is definitely offset by the phenomenal scenery. We ride by a number of cliff pueblos built by the Anasazi. tra_8897


At one point Jonathan and his horse take off galloping and it seems we have a bit of a show off. Little did we know his horse got spooked, with Jonathan hanging on like a pro.

A few hours later, when we reach the furthest point, the horses sense we will heading back to camp soon. Martha’s horse has had enough  of the dominguero on her back and gallops off. We are impressed at the chivalry of Brendan as he goes after her at top speed hollering something. We assumed he meant for Martha’s horse to stop as he storms off. We found out later, he was holding on for dear life and was not the least bit worried about Martha. tra_8946

Toward the end of the day, we are alone in the canyon. We make our way toward Junction Ruins, and set up our tents. We are all walking a bit funny.



In spite of the soreness we all feel, we scramble up the cliffs above us for an incredible view highlighted by a double rainbow. It has been a rough day for this gang of motley cowboys.


Day 0 – Route 66 @ the WigWam

Sept 29 and 30, 2016.

image1After traveling half a day to the USA, standing around for a couple of hours to register for their Jeep Wranglers, and driving another 3 hours, the folks from England and Ireland, Andy, Andy, Josh, Gavin, James and Caroline, found themselves driving on Route 66 at midnight. Along with Brendan from the DC office, they drove up to the WigWam Motel dead tired. Their first night in America was to be in big cone shaped rooms built in the shape of a wigwam.

The motel looked a bit familiar. The cone shaped rooms were surrounded by antique automobiles. This is the place that inspired Disney’s animated movie Cars. A nice start to our American Spirit Challenge. The wide open road, car culture and adventurous spirit.


Staying at the WigWam gave the UK folks time to rest and make their way to the starting line of the Challenge, Chinle, AZ. Finally having got a bit of rest, a chance to stretch, take a look around the somewhat desolate town in Navajo Nation and attend a high school football game, the gang is a bit perplexed. They walk up to the registration desk and ask, “excuse me mate, where can we find the nearest pub?” A long pause, “well, that would be in New Mexico about two and half hours away.” A much longer, somewhat stunned pause, “excuse me?” “Well, this is a dry county.” Welcome to America.

1 Week to Go


Preparations for the 2016 Northland Challenge are being finalized. This year’s Challenge has been a long time in coming. As I have traveled for Northland and participated in Challenges in other parts of the world, a recurring theme is “you guys are different.” I sometimes understand this to mean “you Americans” are “eedjets” or “naive” or “narrow-minded.” However, it more often seems to mean “I can’t believe you just did that” or “we could never do that” or “you are a bunch of cowboys.”

This last impression is one popularized by old western movies and tv shows, reinforced by the Reagan years, and glorified by the Silicon Valley.

I don’t believe there is much truth to this stereotype of Americans as Cowboys abroad, but I thought it would be a fun premise for the Northland Challenge 2016. What would it take for someone to travel over hundreds of miles of desolate landscape on foot or horseback? Why would someone leave home, to pan for gold in the Sierras? or prospect for oil in the desert? or act in a movie? or turn sand into computers? or electrons into intangible wares?

It seems surviving the American Southwest with little more than a paper map, a Jeep and some boots might have something to do with it. So, in a week’s time, we will begin a journey to better understand the American psyche.