Scaring away polar bears and leaving a stationary motorcycle running for hours at a time to beat engine failure were all part of the adventure on Michael Martin’s latest trip. The explorer is known for visiting the world’s deserts and capturing stunning photographs. But on his latest journey, he tackled a different kind of barren landscape – Canada’s frozen Northern Territories and the North Pole. The German native, who has spent much of his life traveling the world on BMW GS motorcycles, faced temperatures of -54°F (-48°C) and treacherous ice roads.
Michael admitted that the sub-zero climate was much tougher to cope with than the hot and arid conditions he’s used to, saying, “Riding in the snow is a problem. It’s very difficult to ride out there, I can’t recommend it – the ground is very slippery and it’s just so cold. I much prefer the heat of the deserts.”
The trips formed part of Michael’s latest project, Planet Desert, which will see him take a total of 40 journeys to deserts all around the globe. Almost all of the expeditions will be undertaken on his R1200GS Adventure, although it was not possible to take the motorcycle to the North Pole. “But I rode on nearly every other trip,” he says. “I love the freedom and the flexibility it gives me and the GS allows me to be very close to the people and the landscape. Plus, I have more fun!”
The coldest temperatures that Michael and his bike faced were while he was riding Canada’s ice roads over the Mackenzie River. “Because it was so cold – always between -45 and -48°C – the problem was getting the bike to start. Once it was going it was very reliable and worked great, but no battery in the world would start in those temperatures. This meant that when you stopped riding the bike you kept the motor running, even if it was for three or four hours. The truck drivers out there are familiar with the problem and they never switch their engines off.”
Despite having to cope with such extreme conditions, Michael said he is enjoying his latest expeditions. “One of the highlights is the wildlife; I’ve seen many polar bears, narwhals and seals. The polar bears are fearless. They come to the camp and you have to scare them away by making lots of noise. The problem was that they were really curious about us and I was quite nervous because they are known to be very vicious animals.”
Michael’s other high spot has been exploring the North Pole itself, “the landscape was so impressive,” while the ice roads and unbearable cold were low points. He wore heated clothes and underwear as well as polar-style outerwear to try and keep warm, but during the nights was protected by just a tent, and sometimes even slept outside in a sleeping bag.
The research and exploration for Planet Desert will take Michael until 2014 and he is already preparing to leave for his next adventure. The explorer took time off to go to BMW Motorrad Days, in Garmish-Partenkirchen where he gave presentations on his voyages to the deserts of America and Africa. But he had little time to relax after the event, “Later this month, I am headed to Russia. I am looking forward to it and I feel I am prepared – I have been traveling for so long and have so much experience that I do not really need to prepare.”