Two adventure-seeking septuagenarians set out early Saturday on a 7,000-mile round trip from Cambria to the Arctic Ocean, the final stretch of which will be in a car that’s older than they are.
Jay Burbank of Cambria and South Carolina resident Charlie Enxuto will travel about 5,000 of those miles driving a 1931 Model A Ford, a slant-window town sedan converted to look like a U.S. Army Air Corps general’s staff car from World War II. That includes 1,400 miles on the graveled Dempster Highway.
The men are 77 and 75 years old, respectively.
For the rest of the trip, from Cambria to Prince George, British Columbia, and back, the men will tow the antique auto in a 14-foot car hauler behind a Cadillac SUV. Firefighter Tim Murdoch of Cambria will join them on the final leg of the journey, likely in the SUV while Burbank and Enxuto drive the 1931 Ford.
The trailer also will provide a place to mount a Cascadia Vehicles rooftop tent for camping and room to carry filled fuel cans.
The back-up supplies aren’t optional.
“There are long gaps without gas stations” on the way to the edge of the continent at Tuktoyaktuk in the Canadian Northwest Territories, explained Burbank, who owns the vehicles.
“The Model A gets about 15 mpg with a 10-gallon tank,” he said, “and the Caddy gets about 15 mpg with a 25-gallon tank.”
SLO County man known for travels in antique vehicles
Burbank has lots of experience doing other long, international drives in the the 1931 Ford now known as Military Maxi and another, smaller Model A.
Since taking a 2001 trek through Germany, Switzerland, Austria and northern Italy, he’s done antique car tours, runs and rides along the West and East coasts of the United States as well as 18 foreign countries, including Mexico, Canada and Australia.
Why travel from California’s Central Coast to the edge of the Arctic Ocean, partly in an antique auto?
“For the beauty, the people and the adventure, doing something other people think is impossible,” Burbank said, “and to honor military veterans.”
The idea started with a challenge, he said.
While on a Model A trip in Utah, Burbank told a man from Canada that “Someday, I’d like to do the Alcan Highway in Alaska,” the Cambria man recalled.
“Do you want to do an ordinary road like that or have an adventure?” the Canadian asked, referring to the Dempster Highway to Tuktoyaktuk, above the Arctic Circle.
While Burbank’s wife of 57 years, Pat Burbank, often accompanies her husband on his antique auto trips, she’s bowing out of this jaunt.
“The short answer is no,” she said. “It’s a guys’ trip. They’re going to be camping in bear country, and nobody’s told me for sure that bears can’t climb a ladder” to a car-top tent.
Jay Burbank said he and Enxuto plan to protect themselves with a large supply of bear spray and loud sound-emitting devices designed to repel aggressive wildlife.
He’s also taking a protective screen to keep gravel and rocks away from Military Maxi’s engine and windscreen.
Trip to Arctic Circle is tribute to veterans
Burbank is an Air Force veteran who served two tours in Guam and Okinawa.
He met Enxuto, who was in the U.S. Army, in 2007 on a small-ship cruise of the Panama Canal and Costa Rica. The two immediately bonded over their shared passions for photography and travel.
Enxuto has accompanied Burbank on previous Model A adventures, starting in 2008 on a voyage that went from Cambria to Vancouver, British Columbia, across Canada and then to Mackinac Island, Michigan.
In 2019, Burbank repainted and reoutfitted his Model A so he could participate in a recreation of a military convoy a century earlier from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco on a route now known as the Lincoln Highway.
On that trip, Burbank was approached by Tully Garrett, co-owner of the Launching Pad Drive-in on Route 66 in Wilmington, Illinois.
The son of a veteran, Garrett told Burbank how his father was wounded during the invasion of Iwo Jima and how the injured man played dead for two days as he lay on the black sand beach, hearing fellow Marines being killed.
“I was so moved by the story that I asked Tully to sign Military Maxi” with a Sharpie pen in honor of his father’s memory, Burbank said.
Since then, Burbank’s car has been autographed by or on behalf of 700 to 800 veterans. He’s lost count of how many names are there.
After names fill up a section of the vehicle’s exterior, Burbank puts a clear coat on it to preserve the signatures and protect them from sun and rain.
He plans to collect a lot more names on the trip to Tuktoyaktuk, which is dedicated to U.S. and Canadian veterans, especially those who served during wartime.
Maggie Cox is an organizer with Honor Flight Central Coast California, which takes veterans on free Tour of Honor trips to Washington, D.C.
“Jay is one of those amazing veterans who is still giving his time and heart in service to others,” Cox said. “He’s working the Maxi project and raising funds, driving (Maxi) to Calabasas to honor a 97-year-old WWII vet, then bringing his special spirit on our trip to D.C. He is someone special.”
Burbank went to Calabasas because the man hadn’t been able to attend a pre-flight luncheon at which all the other Honor Flight vets signed Maxi.
“He was so excited. His blue eyes were just sparkling,” Burbank said of the man.
“The car does such neat things to people,” Burbank said.
Trip has special meaning for Cambria man
In addition to honoring veterans, the trip will serve as a fundraiser.
The men hope to raise enough for an endowment that would fund at least four $1,000 scholarships per year for Leffingwell grads.
The continuation high school, which celebrated the Class of 2023 in a graduation ceremony on June 1, serves the needs of alternative education students in Cambria, San Simeon and Cayucos, according to its website.
That cause has special significance for Burbank.
As a child and adolescent in the 1960s, Burbank dealt with undiagnosed dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.
He never graduated from high school, he said, and as a young man, he found it hard to concentrate or make friends.
With guidance, determination and grit, he began to bloom. In the military, Burbank developed skills as an aircraft mechanic working on Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bombers.
He went on to become a master wood crafter, metalsmith, photographer and warmly effective communicator.
In Cambria and as part of American Legion Post No. 432, he and his wife found a welcoming community and many devoted friends.
The retired couple devote their time now to giving back to that community and veterans.
To donate to the scholarship fund, go to legionpost432.com
To track the travelers’ adventures through the wilds, follow Pat Burbank’s trip blog at jayspatsadventures.blog.