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2 Britons will try to drive across Bering Strait

LONDON — Two British explorers left London Saturday to launch a bid to become the first people to cross the Bering Strait between Alaska and Siberia by land vehicle.

Steve Brooks and Graham Stratford hope to claw their way across the 56-mile strait — in winter a mass of shifting ice floes — in a specially adapted snowmobile that doubles as a raft.

"The Bering Strait connects the old world of Russia and the new of the U.S. It is 56 miles of danger and beauty," said Brooks, a 40-year-old builder from London.

The two men left London for Nome, Alaska, from where they will drive 170 miles to the Inuit village of Wales on the shore of the Bering Strait. The crossing is scheduled to begin next week, if the weather allows, and is expected to take six days.

For a few weeks a year, when temperatures drop as low as 94 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, a fragile ice bridge forms across the strait.

Brooks and Stratford, a 38-year-old who works as a mountain rescuer in Wales, will have to negotiate ice that is constantly moving toward the North Pole at three miles an hour.

The pair will attempt the crossing in Snowbird 5, a customized snow tractor equipped with two large cylinders designed to keep it afloat if the ice breaks up. The vehicle also has thick treads and claws that should allow it to grapple its way back onto the ice.

The men will wear rubberized survival suits and carry a gun in case of polar-bear attacks.

"So much has been done on this planet to test human ability, such as going to the moon or climbing to the pole. This is one of the last feats that has not been achieved," said Brooks.

Previous attempts to drive across the strait have all failed. A 1998 bid by adventurer Sir Ranulph Fiennes ended when his amphibious Land Rover sank.

If the expedition is successful, the pair plan to drive from New York to London, crossing the strait again.

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