Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to Ushuaia, Argentina El Salvador

We attempted to drive non-stop across the longest stretch of motorable road on the planet in under twelve days. This is a challenge that very few have attempted. Many have driven, cycled and even walked this route, taking anywhere from months to years to complete the journey.

We gave it a good try! We decided to stop the trip in El Salvador after several delays due to errors in customs paperwork and a leaky air suspension strut – which put us at a high risk of getting stranded at the next pothole or central american killer road bump.

The Car

We bought a 2005 Mercedes S500 4Matic from a one-man dealership in early 2019.  The car was in overall good condition. There were, however, a few foibles:

  • The trunk could not be opened
  • None of the keys matched any of the 3 keyholes in the car
  • The navigation screen flickered when signaling right, but only sometimes
  • Climate control worked at “high heat and full fan speed” mode when choosing any temperature other than the lowest
  • No records of any maintenance

We did as much of the required vehicle maintenance and basic repairs in our disorderly garage. Including:

  • Replacing head gaskets
  • Installing new Airmatic shocks , valves and respective compressor
  • Full brake service with new parts and fluids
  • Fixed climate control
  • Numerous other miscellanea – bulbs, spark plugs, etc…

Our friends at Flintworks in Campbell California replaced the rear main seal, frontend bushings and performed a transmission and transfer case fluid flushes.

The car drove great!

Days before leaving for the startline, we christened the car as Berta after two great people; our beloved grandmother, Berta Sanchez, remembered for being resilient, tough and outspoken, and  Bertha Benz, the first person that drove an automobile over a long distance, pushing the boundaries of automobile history back in the 18th century.

The Test Runs

Yellowstone National Park

In order for us to get intimately acquainted with our new car, we decided to drive as much as possible. We used it as a daily driver during the week and as a grand tourer on weekends. This took us to drive on several long tours through Yosemite and Death Valley national parks and their incredibly beautiful surroundings and amazing roads.

For our first “real” test, all three went on a test run codenamed: Yogi Bear Run.

A 3,100-mile run over a long weekend. We visited 7 states and several national parks such as Yellowstone and Death Valley. This was a 40-hour non-stop drive changing drivers every 4 to 6 hours. We learned a lot – including that we needed much better headlights – and had to replace a faulty shock absorber.

By now we knew the car fairly well and learned how to tame the electrical Gremlins, which for an over-engineered car with more computers than we can count, where relatively harmless.

The Mods

Early August 2019; We are frantically working in the car. We did not modify the car mechanically, but added one 30-gallon auxiliary fuel tank, replaced the center console with a homemade control and information system and added cameras, computers, storage hard drives, radar detectors, radios, cell phone repeater and lots of cables and relays. Christian, our resident programming guru, did all the programming of the console’s three computers from scratch in one weekend and we put several 20-hour days to get the car ready to leave on August 8th.

The Journey

Getting to the Startline

Sunnyvale, California to Fairbanks, Alaska

We left Sunnyvale on August 8th, but we did not even make it out of the city before the first problem. Of course that the innocent “organize the cables” right before leaving left a strangled fuel hose, and Berta’s engine did not receive enough fuel to go pass 40mph. Cutting a couple of zip ties solved the problem. Then the car did not start due to a loose battery connector… no excuses here… anyways, after a quick stop, we hit the road to complete the first leg of our trip.

Our repair and maintenance kit. All this goes in the trunk.

Berta on the road

We cruised thru California, Oregon and Washington. Crossed the border to Canada and continued thru British Columbia and the Yukon territories without problems; or did we. At 10pm, in Dease Lake Hwy, BC – a very isolated road – the engine misfired and quit. This is bear country, so even though we were prepared for spending the night anywhere, we were not very enthusiastic about an engine failure there. Fortunately, all was due to copilot negligence. i.e. we run out of fuel in the auxiliary tank. A simple flip of the tank selector switch, waiting for the air to purge out of the system and resetting the engine controller to erase engine error codes and we were cruising again thru Yukon in no time.

Bears in BC and Yukon, Canada

Tasks: Driver drives, copilot navigates and the princess rests. The princess is the name of whoever is at the back trying to sleep. When the copilot falls asleep all kind of unexpected things may happen. The first one was to miss a turn, arriving mistakenly to the southern border between Canada and Alaska. Which we had to backtrack and added four to five hours of driving.

Navigating thru Canada

Fairbanks, Alaska


After 5,100km of driving, we arrived in Fairbanks and rented a house for a few days while waiting for arrangements in Panama to be finalized. We could not start the trip before confirming that we had secured the crossing between Panama and Colombia. We also needed to stock some food, print paperwork and other logistical tasks.

During the drive we noticed something odd with the fuel system. When the auxiliary tank was in use, the main tank would fill up, risking overflowing the main tank and possibly killing the EVAP system, and, under the right conditions, – or wrong conditions in this case – a nice shiny fireball. We bought the only fuel tank selector valve in Fairbanks, replaced it and the problem was gone.

Quick stop: Fairbanks Antique Auto Museum and touring around Fairbanks

The Dalton Highway and Deadhorse

We finally were reasonably assured of the Darien Gap crossing, so we set the start for August 16th, 8:30am local time. That meant that we had about 35 hours till the start, so we left Fairbanks around midnight to have some time to rest in Deadhorse.

Leaving at midnight to face the Dalton Highway – a notorious 666km dirt road featured in the first episode of BBC’s World’s Most Dangerous Roads – might not seem very smart, but we crossed the Arctic Circle not long after leaving Fairbanks and we only had one hour or relative darkness. Therefore, we drove the Dalton Highway during the night hours, but not in the dark.

Our windshield took the worst part of the Dalton and was broken in three places.

Alaska Nice: Alaskan people are nice, but not the kind of forced or sort-of-nice familiar to southern states. They are truly nice. Everyone was friendly and willing to help – really help, not just wishing you luck and hope for the best –. In Deadhorse this was even a notch higher. Population here is almost entirely comprised of oil and oil support workers and its temporary inhabitants are the nicest group of people that we have seen in any U.S. town.

Our windshield was fixed by Price Equipment. When we asked for the bill they refused to accept any payment, wish us godspeed and asked for a way to follow our progress.

In the evening of August 15th, we went exploring around Prudhoe Bay and then had our last relaxed dinner at the Prudhoe Bay Hotel (highly recommended lodge if you make it there).

The northern end of the northest public road in Alaska

Alaska Trooper

Where are the spare fuses?!

Refueling in Deadhorse

Ready, Set, Go!

August 16th, 8:30am local time. We are ready at the end of the Dalton Highway, our starting point for the “official” trip.

August 16th, around 8:45am. Only a few minutes after the start, with only 10km out of 22,000km behind us, we blew the right front suspension. We could try to blame the car, but we hit an unlevelled bridge too fast. No car could withstand that hit without damage. This failure would normally be catastrophic and hinder any possibility of continuing with the trip, but we managed to reset the system, sealed a safety valve and raised the car to normal level in only 11 minutes. Resignation changed to hope and we pushed Berta south as fast as the hole-infested road allowed us.

We did very good time to Canada, but then we started noticing a serious vibration. Initial thoughts were that the alignment was lost after so many holes. After a quick check we found that all four rims had about 2cm of mud and rocks on the inside. After an initial “sort-of-cleaning” we made the problem worse. Luckily, we found a truck pressure washing station and removed all debris from the rims; Berta was as good as new.

The U.S. came and went surprisingly uneventfully and we were entering Mexico 2 days and 14 hours after leaving Deadhorse.

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Quick refueling stop. One hose per tank

In Mexico we cruised south largely without problems, but we did have to outrun some unidentified armed groups.  At no point they chased or engaged with us in any way, but we did not want to stay around for too long. There are several checkpoints, but we only stopped at the ones clearly identified as Federal Police or when they completely blocked the road. 20 hours and 30 minutes after entering Mexico we arrived at the border with Guatemala.

Aguas Calientes, Mexico

It hit the fan

Due to errors in customs’ paperwork we were delayed before entering Guatemala. We managed to cross the border and continued driving, arriving to the border with El Salvador 4 hours and 16 minutes later. Here we found out that the problems were not really fixed, and after a delay of more than 14 hours, all sorts of payments, fees, penalties, etc., we were at serious risk of Berta being impounded. Luckily, we managed to correct the errors, get all our paperwork in order and enter El Salvador. All good now; … well not really.

During the frantic night crossing of Guatemala the “speed reducers” killed our hastily repaired suspension again. The speed reducers are basically bumps on the road, but seem more like a curb than a speed bump. Completely unmarked and as dark as the surrounding road.  They are hard to see in daylight and almost impossible to see at night.

After we managed to fix the suspension, we had lost almost a full day. “Fix” may be an overstatement here. The real status of the suspension was “holding for now”.

The lost time and frail suspension made us decide to stop the Run in El Salvador. We rested for one night, performed some required maintenance to Berta and started driving north. Up to here we were over 14 hours ahead of the existing record and traversed from Alaska to the southern tip of Mexico in only 3 days, 10 hours and 48 minutes.

Going back home

After one day we started driving back. Our tourist pace going north allowed us to fully appreciate the wonders of the region we were in.

El Salvador is a fantastic and strange – in a good way – place to discover.

The city of Antigua Guatemala still keeps the old Spanish architecture and is surprisingly quiet. In sharp contrast with other cities, vendors and tourists coexist in a very peaceful and civilized way (i.e. no aggressive street vendors) We only met nice people there.

Going north in Mexico is a completely different experience than going south. Drugs move northwards while money moves southward, so northbound checkpoints are everywhere. We lost count, but we were stopped over ten times. Some by the Federal Police, some by Narcotics Police and some by who knows whom.

Our car was thoroughly inspected by dogs and zealous people with tools that partially disassembled every panel of the car.

We must mention the following: at no point we felt threatened or in danger. All checkpoints were conducted in a very professional and courteous manner. We were asked for “gifts” in two occasions, but we politely refused and suffered no consequences. Mexican Federal Police and Mexican Army were by far the most professional and polite of all law enforcement agencies that we interacted with along the route. But don’t get confused, they meant business and were very serious about their job.

One of the many militarized checkpoints in Mexico



After six months of preparations, 16 days on the road and 20,684km – without counting over 10,000km of tests prior to the trip – Berta is now parked in Sunnyvale, California. Our attempt was cut short, but we learned a great deal along the way. We will do some necessary repairs and plan the logistics for next year.

Entire loop. 20,684km

Warmest thanks to:

Pirelli P7 Cinturato

We received six tires from Pirelli and we are super impressed by their performance. After 20,000km of rough roads, infinite potholes and one broken suspension, all tires look like new. We have not used any spare yet.


They supported us and helped from day 1 in planning stage. They helped us navigating all logistics in Panama

Meyer’s Tugs

Can we put an S500 on one your of your tugboats’ deck and get a private ride to Colombia? That is not a common or easy question, but they managed to arrange all.

Flintworks, Campbell, California

They did a great job repairing the car. Friendly and committed mechanics.

Brice Equipment

If you are ever in any kind of mechanical trouble in Prudhoe Bay, ask for Maurice. He is the nicest of all nice Alaskan inhabitants.

Comercial Kaufmann, S.A.

Deep Blue Shipping

Customs and port agents in Colombia. They can coordinate all for non-standard shipping operations.

ILG Logistics

Custom agents and logistics in Panama. They can coordinate all loading, unloading, paperwork, ship preparations and other logistic tasks.

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