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Trio Takes Hard Road to the Arctic Circle

Not a car crash, nor giant mosquitoes, nor dark of night could stop three men who drove from Encino to the Arctic Circle in a 1967 Volkswagen camper.

Blue Nelson, Matthew Gossin and Jean-Ray Tippo returned home this month after spending the last two weeks of July tooling through the Pacific Northwest, the Yukon and Alaska.

“I feel lucky, like it was really meant to happen,” said Gossin, 25, recalling the ups and downs of the odyssey.

The trio left Encino on July 15 and completed their 4,200-mile run to the Arctic at midnight July 29. For Encino resident Nelson, 25, an aspiring filmmaker, it was a chance to combine dual passions, travel and vintage car restoration. Tippo, a recent CSUN graduate, and Gossin, a film editor from Hollywood, were motivated by the spirit of adventure.

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The trip teetered on the edge of disaster several times, mostly due to problems with their timeworn van. On the fifth day, the engine died 15 minutes north of Vancouver, Canada. The men pushed the van for half a mile to the crest of the mountain they were ascending. Then, according to Nelson, they coasted 12 miles to the nearest town, where mechanics fixed the engine.

Nelson, who restored the van in preparation for the journey, took the engine apart two days later to fix an oil leak. The engine flickered out again on July 26 in Whitehorse, a Canadian city on the Alaska Highway.

By now they were in a race against time. Nelson’s girlfriend, Edith Dicconson, was scheduled to fly into the Fairbanks, Alaska, airport at 12:30 p.m. on July 28. Nelson bypassed the normal four-day wait for a new engine by having the mechanic fly one in from Vancouver for $1,200--which they charged to Tippo’s credit card. The engine arrived the next morning.

The worst crisis of the trip was yet to come. Seven hours outside of Whitehorse--near, as it turned out, the fittingly named town of Destruction Bay--driver Nelson asked Tippo to take over the steering wheel while he reached for something behind his seat.

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According to Nelson, Tippo’s eyes briefly left the road, and the next thing they knew, the van was careening into a ditch on the other side, falling heavily on its side.

Miraculously, Gossin suffered only slight injuries and the others were not hurt at all.

They eventually made it to the airport with two minutes to spare, thanks to a timely tow and the help of an itinerant handyman who happened to have a trailer full of automotive tools.

“It was crazy that we walked away from that accident, and the fact that that guy had the tools there in that desolate place,” Gossin said.

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Nelson said he will never forget the friends they made, his first glacier sighting in the British Columbia town of Lillooet, and of course, the moment they reached the 66th Parallel--the Arctic Circle.

“Jean-Ray and Matthew were all excited, jumping around. I was just mesmerized by the fact that we had accomplished it after so many trials and tribulations,” Nelson said.

“It makes me want to continue (traveling) around the world in the same manner--maybe without so many mechanical difficulties,” he added.


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