Image: More than bragging rights at stake: lifelong friends Jimmy Leahey-Butler (left) and Christopher Ryan (right) are about to embark on the journey of a lifetime. Photography by Wendy Chung and Stefania Zara Kleynendorst.

In previous larks, best mates Jimmy Leahey-Butler and Christopher Ryan have travelled from their hometown of Canberra right up to the tip of Cape York, and back down the East Coast.

But at 40,000km, their next trip will be a bit longer than any they’ve undertaken before.

On August first Chris and Ryan will embark on a six-month motorbike journey from the tip of North America to the southernmost point of South America.

They’re doing it for more than just bragging rights.

Their cause: to raise to crucial funding for cancer research through the Cure for Life Foundation.

Beginning at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska and culminating in Ushuaia, Argentina the voyage will span umpteen nations, three of the world’s most dangerous roads, and eight out of ten of its most dangerous cities.

“But as far as the trip goes, we’re keeping it positive,” says Chris.

“We both are.  I think all we can really do is stay positive, and keep the goal in mind.”

Chris lost his own father after a prolonged battle with brain cancer in 2008.

Seeing the deterioration of a loved one at the hands of the disease prompted Chris, a plumber and self-professed Aussie ‘everyman’ living in Gladstone, to play his hand in its prevention.

He contacted lifelong mate Jimmy, a mechanical engineering student now based in Maroochydore.

“We were just having a good positive chat about everything, and we thought to ourselves: ‘you know, it’s about time we do something with our lives’,” says Chris.

Nudged along by a life-affirming weekend in Byron Bay in early 2012, the pair deduced an idea that combined their penchants for motorbike riding with their desires to travel through the Americas.

As well as the standard host of overseas travel vaccinations and logisitics, they set about mitigating as much risk as possible from their voyage.

This itself is no negligible task.  The motorbikes will tread everything from Alaska’s iciest terrain to South America’s most sun-scorched desert stretches.


Jimmy Leahey-Butler (left) and Christopher Ryan (right) flexing their riding muscles on two dirt bikes. Photography by Wendy Chung and Stefania Zara Kleynendorst.

“We’ve spent a lot of the time on the bikes,” says Chris who, tellingly, doubles as a motorbike modification enthusiast.

“We put long range fuel tanks on them, rear suspension, new tyres, new tubes, panniers, pannier liners, GPs, dual filters.”

“We’ve even re-wired the neutral sensor, so on that there’s a switch that actually deactivates the bike from operation if anyone tries to steal it.”

The two Aussies have even been trying their luck at learning Spanish.

Yet, they’re wary of the numerous hurdles their journey may throw at them

“But I’m fairly confident that whatever does happen, to the point of getting hijacked or robbed, or you know, having some of our stuff stolen, we’ll be able to work it out,” says Chris.

“You know, I’m happy to stitch up Jimmy’s leg if I have to.”

But, as Chris says, the ride itself is only half the battle.

Under the banner ‘Head in the Clouds, Wheels on the Ground’, the boys have set about 18 months of fundraising for the Cure for Life Foundation.

Cure for Life Foundation CEO Catherine Stace assures that donations are imperative to the sustaining of the Foundation’s work.  She says brain cancer is a relatively under-researched field with high mortality rates.

It is both the highest non-accidental cause of death in children and the leading cause of cancer death in people aged below 40.

“It has a mortality rate that’s almost 400% higher per patient than other cancers,” she says.

The foundation aims to improve survival rates by improving existing research models to accelerate medical advances across a network of research facilities.

“The difference between the year 2013 and, say, 20 years ago is that brain cancer researchers are now collaborating and working together,” she says.

“This means that we can start to share knowledge and get the system of research streamlined.”

Yet the sheer volume of resources required to advance research naturally entails considerable expenses.

The Cure for Life Foundation has pledged to raise in excess of $20 million by 2015.

It’s a goal that Chris and Jimmy are helping the Foundation achieve through their fundraising target of $20,000.

After hosting of music in Fortitude Valley’s The Zoo music venue, among numerous other charity endeavours and word of mouth momentum, the pair are currently less than $4000 dollars from their goal.

As far as Chris is concerned, all they can do now is strap the helmet on, put the key in the ignition, and hope for the best.

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported.

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