Bold Adventurers Are Driving a 1951 Chevy Pickup 19,000 Miles from Argentina to Alaska

Well, we do love a good drive...

chevy camper
Instagram | @ expnaestrada

Despite what all those high-dollar builds flooding your Instagram feed might champion, overlanding doesn't require spending tens of thousands of dollars on gear. Sure, it's nice to have the coolest Toyota 4-Runner at your local adventure expo, but you don't really need a rig like that to hit the open road, or what lies beyond it. That's the approach for Andre Jardim and Julia Prates, a couple who is taking on the mighty task of driving from Tierra Del Fuego to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska in a lightly-modified 1951 Chevrolet 3100 pickup truck along the notorious Pan-American Highway.

Jardim and Prates moved into the Chevy full-time in May of 2018, though the green-colored beauty named "Mary Lou" had been in their family for around 30 years at that point. The truck underwent a months-long mechanical restoration to beforehand to ensure it would be ready for the myriad challenges that lie ahead—but it's still the same modest old truck with a 235-cubic-inch inline-six and three-speed transmission. It doesn't even have four-wheel-drive, which hasn't stopped the duo from driving it here, there, and everywhere around South America.

A bed-mounted Turis camper (a Brazilian manufacturer) makes for a tidy, mobile living and sleeping space, and upgrades are limited to a pair of exterior awnings to combat both blazing sun and pouring rain. Inside, there's a bed, small table, and little else, though at least everything is relatively new. The pair converted the Chevy's ancient electrical system to 12 volts so they can at least power a few additional accessories. Mechanical modifications are few and far between; even the spare tire wears the same road-focused shallow tread as the others.

#Vanlife conversions are a dime a dozen these days, even counting unique bases like Jardim and Prates' 1951 Chevrolet Advance Design pickup. Far less common are those willing to truly test their machines on a hemispheric journey like the Pan-American Highway from the southern tip of Argentina to the northern reaches of Alaska. The Pan-American Highway is actually a network of interconnected highways, byways, and rural roads that run the length of the two continents and make it possible to drive their entire length in one shot. Minus, of course, the notorious Darien Gap separating South America and North America, a 60-mile buffer of dense jungle patrolled by armed gangs that's impassible to all but highly specialized off-road vehicles. Boats are a lifeline here.

Andre Jardim

Challenges to Pan-American travelers are both natural and man-made. The roads veer from high deserts to swampy lowlands and cross every conceivable environment in between. Seasons matter greatly—some areas are impassible during winter rains or snow. Then there's the human factor. The route takes drivers across no fewer than 14 separate border crossings, some of which are run by corrupt governments, and random crime remains a problem along certain stretches in Central America. 

Still, Jardim and Prates have full trust in their old machine, which has carried them faithfully and reliably from their old home in Brazil to points all around southern South America. They also say being from Brazil means they're pretty familiar with the... anything-goes dynamics you sometimes encounter on the continent's rural roads. Currently, the two are in the midst of final preparations in the town of Ushuaia in Tierra Del Fuego. If all goes well, they'll roll into Prudhoe Bay, Alaska in May or June of 2021 (just in time to celebrate the truck's 70th birthday, Jardim explained to The Drive).

If you're interested (or interested in placing bets on how far they get), trip updates will be added almost daily to the couple's Instagram @expnaestrada. If you speak Portuguese or don't mind using subtitles, you can also check out their YouTube vlog by searching "Expedição Na Estrada" or clicking this link.

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