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Sept. 26, 2022

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Argentinian biker arrives in Alaska after 5 years, pandemic

Border closure due to COVID kept him in Mexico 2 years

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It’s been five years since Diego Saad left his home in Argentina.

Since then, he has endured border closures, been held up at gunpoint, opened a pizza restaurant out of a backpacker’s hostel in Mexico, and realized a major dream: riding his motorcycle to Alaska in May.

For Saad, 44, Alaska had always been the dream. He was drawn to the mass of land on the map poking off the northern end of the continent, his hometown on the opposite far southern edge of the Western Hemisphere.

In 2017, the mountain guide from San Martin de Los Andes, in northwest Patagonia, sold his older motorcycles, bought a new one and began his journey north. But it would take years to reach Alaska, his plans upended by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Saad, who started from his home in South America, said people who ride the journey often start in Alaska and then finish in the city of Ushuaia in Argentina. But he figured it was best to leave from where he lived.

“I live in Patagonia, so I started in my house,” he said. “Like, I didn’t want to go to other city in my country just to start the journey there.”

On a recent gray morning along Anchorage’s Delaney Park Strip, Saad showed off his Kawasaki KLR 650. He’d strapped his camping gear, some bike supplies, an extra gas tank and a bottle of coolant secured with a zip tie on the bike.

He plans to cross into the Arctic Circle soon, north of Fairbanks, to complete his journey and then turn back to head home, which he hopes will only take a few months.

Over the first three years of his journey, Saad spent time in South America — he’s making a documentary about the different ceremonies, traditions, cultures and people he came across along the way — before eventually reaching Mexico.

“I really want to take with me all this knowledge, what I learned on this journey, and take this knowledge to my place and share with my people,” Saad said.

He was fortunate: His bike never broke down. But the trip wasn’t without its trials and difficulties, including asking a Colombian fisherman for a boat to cross over to Panama, he said. He’d been thinking about the crossing the entire way.

“After I crossed it, I made it, and I was in Panama,” he said. “It was like, ‘OK, I made it. So now I feel I can get to Alaska.’ ”

The scariest moment of the trip happened in Sonora, Mexico. Saad was riding down a road he knew was dangerous — there had been trouble between gangs.

He said he was stopped by 15 guys with machine guns who asked who he was and what he was doing there. The men started questioning him, and Saad explained his purpose for being there. After checking his bags, the group let him pass, he said.

That was followed by his lowest point of the trip: when the border closed and he could not leave Mexico for the United States, prompting a two-year stay in the central Mexico city of Querétaro.

As a way to live in the city, Saad built an oven in the backpacker’s hostel he was staying at while in the town and began selling pizzas during the pandemic. Pepperoni was the most popular topping, he said.

Eventually, he could cross into the United States, travel through Canada and reach Alaska in May.

“Especially after these two years, many times I thought to myself, ‘OK, maybe this is over and you cannot get your dream,’ ” Saad said.

So when he did cross into Alaska, he didn’t want to leave. He set up his tent by the sign welcoming travelers to the state.

“I couldn’t believe I was able to make it to Alaska,” he said.

Saad was an Argentinian park ranger and mountain guide in Patagonia and spent a year and a half in Antarctica, which he said prepared him for the trip with a mindset of: “I know I will figure it out. I don’t know how, but I know I will be able to do it. I don’t feel afraid.”

And now, it’s time to head home, back to Argentina.

“I think I need a holiday after this,” he said with a laugh.

Saad will keep riding his motorcycle, but this was likely the last big journey.

“I will travel, and I will ride all my life, of course, but maybe short trips, you know?” Saad said. “It’s important to know when you have to stop.”

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