Belgian, Alaska adventurers want to cross Bering Strait - both ways

Posted: Monday, March 29, 2004

SAVOONGA - A Belgian and an Alaskan are scouting the ice conditions on the treacherous Bering Strait for an expedition across it next year.

Dixie Dansercoer, 42, and Troy Henkels, 37, on Friday were in the village of Wales, the last community before North America drops into water.

The two men - experienced adventurers in extreme cold - said they hadn't expected the wild winds and expanses of frigid water, which have forced them to scrap their initial plans of using kites to propel them on skis across the ice of the strait.

"It shifts our focus from a foot-skiing expedition and makes us aware we have to be amphibious," said Henkels, who lives in Eagle River and has been preparing himself for the 2005 expedition by dragging a sled loaded with 200 pounds of sandbags to work since November.

Kites aren't completely out of the picture. The men might rig kites to their buoyant sleds and harness the wind to sail across the water.

"It's the game of obeying nature's will and trying very carefully to play along with it," Dansercoer said by phone from the village on the tip of the Seward Peninsula, 111 miles northwest of Nome.

The team joins a host of others, usually foreigners, who have been fixated on getting across the 56-mile stretch of ice and water between Alaska and Far East Russia.

Since the mid-1980s, all types of people, including elite athletes and the mentally ill, have tried to cross the strait in a variety of ways, including swimming, dog mushing and bicycling.

Most recently, British multimillionaire Steve Brooks and a partner clawed through the ice, partway to the international dateline, in an amphibious vehicle in 2002. Russian border guards cut the journey short.

Though the obscure challenge isn't long on distance, most expeditions fail because of the erratic conditions: ice, wind and water currents. Polar bears, hypothermia and frostbite are other hazards.

However, one man says he made it - Russian explorer Dmitry Shparo and his son Matvey entered the Guinness Book of World Records in 1998 after they crossed from Siberia to Alaska, mostly drifting hundreds of miles north on sheets of ice.

Dansercoer, famous in his Belgium for polar exploration, plans to push the boundaries on the feat. He wants to cross the strait twice. If plans to return from Siberia in a hot air balloon don't get financial sponsors, Dansercoer said he and Henkels will do it on foot.

Shparo thinks a double crossing can be done and via e-mail from Moscow described Dansercoer as "a strong man."

Henkels and Dansercoer are staying in Wales at the home of Dan Richard, who has helped with expeditions across the strait for two decades. Richard thinks walking across the strait is still next to impossible.

"They'd have to be lucky and have a lot of ice," Richard said.

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