We live in a time when there isn’t the possibility to do something for the first time. Shinji Kazama has an astonishing list of “first time in history” adventures. But you probably have never heard about him.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article about BMW’s successful attempt to reach the North Pole by motorcycle. The team had a BMW R1200GS Adventure with an all new two-wheel drive system powered by a hybrid engine. They also had heated gear which made the ride possible, as the tester said. In that moment I started to wonder how incredible this accomplishment was but I didn’t know anything about Shinji Kazama.
Kazama the Adventurer
Shinji Kazama was born in Japan in 1950. Sadly, we don’t know much about the first part of his life and how he got on his first motorcycle. But in 1980, at the age of 30, he ascended Mount Kilimanjaro by motorcycle and this was just a trigger because he started to seek for more. The next big event that Shinji attempted was the 1982 edition of the Paris-Dakar, a race so tough that majority of the participants fail to finish. He was one of the 33 riders who completed the race from the initial 132.
He took part in several off-road races but in 1984 he’s ready to go big riding on the Mount Everest from the South side and reaching the incredible height of 5,880 meters. Apparently, this wasn’t enough for him because he made a second attempt immediately the next year from the North side. At 6,005 meters, he was forced to stop before collapsing for the lack oxygen. At this point, you might already understand what kind of man is Shinji. These are all astonishing accomplishments, enough to be remembered in the Motorcycle Hall of Fame. Well, sit down because there is more…
Ride hard or go home
In 1987, he attempted what seemed to be impossible for all of us. He modified a Yamaha TW2oo by isolating the air-cooled two-stroke engine to keep it warm and fitted a fat rear tire to have enough traction on ice and snow. He was prepared to ride to the North Pole. Just try to imagine what he might have been through. Suspensions jammed by the freezing temperatures, a fairing fighting to keep the engine warm, and frozen plastic part fragile like a wine glass. Not to speak about how the body is pushed to the limit. Despite all these, after 44 days of a desert made of just ice, snow, and sky he was the first motorcyclist to reach the North Pole. But not even this is the end of the story…
Pushing the limit even further
Again with the same modified Yamaha TW200, Shinji took an even bigger challenge. Conquering the South Pole by motorcycle. An expedition even more extreme than the North Pole attempt but with even more determination. Kazama started his journey from the Patriot Hills base camp on the coast on December 8th, 1992. Shinji and his team planned to reach the Pole on New Year’s Eve but on the way, changing weather conditions started to slow him down in a place where miscalculations and mistakes can be fatal. They had pre-located fuel cans along the route providing the right support they needed.
When the snow grew deeper, he fitted a ski under his front wheel which kept the front from diving. But there was another phenomenon that slowed down the expedition. It’s a strange ice formation called “sastrugi”, it consists of rock hard parallel grooves and edges shaped by the wind. His journey got harder and longer but eventually, on January 3 after 27 days of riding through the most hostile place on the planet, he reached the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.
The Dakar accident
In the 2004 edition of the Paris-Dakar, he almost lost his life in a collision with a truck during the race. It happened in the Moroccan part of the rally, after crossing Gibraltar. Shinji was lying with several fractures and bleeding in the middle of the Sahara Desert but the rescue came just in time and he was delivered to the nearest hospital. In Paris, the doctors seriously considered amputating the leg but after several surgeries, they saved his life and his leg.
Shinji walks with a cane now but this doesn’t stop him from riding motorcycles and go on adventures. Kasama-san is now the ambassador for the Bone and Joint Decade charity supported by the World Health Organization. These fundraising trips are not a 10-mile honor ride to an event. He rode 18,000 km crossing Asia, 21,000 crossing Africa.
A real adventurer doesn’t always have the best tools or a fully functioning motorcycle. A real adventurer just needs to get the most out of what he has. This makes all the difference because I think Kazama sees his leg as a tool, it might have been in a better condition before but it’s not a reason to stop the journey.