Well, as another year begins, it’s time to look back on 2013 and reflect on the highlights. And as everyone loves a prize-giving, here’s my virtual podium – my top 3 automotive experiences from the past year:
And the winner is as predictable as it was awesome – V8Nam. 14,000 miles across 21 countries, in a Chevrolet Corvette whose exhaust sounded just a bit like a warzone. To tidy up the loose ends from that trip, in March a Chevrolet Corvette and a Rolls Royce Silver Shadow left the UK, bound for the far side of the world. 11,000 miles and 16 countries later, my friend Brummy sold the Rolls to a hotel owner in Laos, while the Corvette racked up another 5 countries and 3,000 miles before land ran out at Singapore, and it was shipped back to the UK, where it still enjoys the occasional burble across Dartmoor. But to sum up the trip by regurgitating a few facts and statistics like that really doesn’t do it justice, and as a picture is worth a thousand words, here’s a few which sum up the highlight of my past year:
So, what was the individual highlight of the trip? It’s impossible to say. How can you possibly compare being slingshotted through Romania’s snow-clad mountains by a roaring V8 with sneaking a Corvette past the police and into the ruins of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat for a cheeky pre-dawn photoshoot? Is cruising across the endless camel-dotted Kazakh Steppe more memorable than blasting down Thailand’s royal coast with the roof off and the Beach Boys on the stereo? It’s impossible to say, such is the broadness of experience offered by the trip’s eight time zones; however, there is one highlight that’s easy to pinpoint – the most unexpectedly memorable country. It was China, and the full story is here: https://80breakdowns.com/2013/06/01/china/
While V8Nam was the definite highlight, the silver medal goes to another road trip which, though only two weeks long, packed in the memories more densely than we could have imagined when we decided to do it. This was Brummy and my unplanned trip across Vietnam, from Hanoi to Saigon, on a pair of old bikes we’d impulsively bought for about £200 each. This 2-week trip took us 1,400 miles along the length of the country, and predictably, we managed to notch up 12 breakdowns and a couple of crashes in that time. It was tough and uncomfortable, but in the end, it was worth it for moments when we’d stumble across a great road and urge our bikes along it as fast as our total lack of experience allowed. And there were certainly some great roads:
So what warrants the bronze medal? Not a road trip, but a purchase.
On my return to the UK at the end of August, I needed a cheap car to keep me mobile through the winter. While on a stopover in Taiwan, the day before getting back to the UK, I did my usual scouring of the classifieds, but there was only one vehicle which really grabbed my attention – a white Porsche 944 Lux, just like the one I once drove across Africa. The idea of indulging in a bit of nostalgia was too much to resist, and so within 5 hours of landing at London City Airport I’d headed up to the dealer, checked it over, haggled down the price and bought it. And the memories of the African Porsche Expedition have been flooding back ever since. It’s amazing how the details – the things you don’t think twice about – stick in your mind, even all those years later. Things like the way the steering seems to lighten slightly if you turn into a tight corner very enthusiastically, or the fact you can still find every switch in the darkened cabin; even after all the intervening years. The memories came back all the faster the first time Laura and I took it for a drive, completing the troika which had formed Team Porsche all those years ago. What a difference five years makes:
So that’s my 3 automotive highlights of my 2013. In 2014, road trips are going to be a bit thin on the ground as I continue setting up my new business and getting the book about V8Nam written; however, the plan for the next really big trip – penciled in for summer 2016 – is now set in stone. And just like V8Nam was a huge undertaking which was inspired by a single word, so the next big trip also goes by an irresistibly minimal name. Pub2Pub. A trip from the most northerly pub on the planet, to the most southerly. From the Arctic to the Antarctic. All overland, with no planes allowed.
Given its name, it’s predictable that this idea maintains the V8Nam tradition of being dreamed up in the pub. This happened pretty recently, so the exact details are still to be thrashed out, but the jist of the plan is this:
The most northerly bar open to the public is on the island of Svalbard, deep in the Arctic at 81 degrees north. The most southerly is at the Ukranian Antarctic research base at Vornadsky, at 65 degrees south. The plan is to start in the Arctic by downing a beer on Svalbard, before hitching a lift to mainland Europe on a ship. We’ll then hit the Arctic Highway and head south across Scandanavia to Northern Europe, then Britain. From Southampton, the expedition goes transatlantic, as we board the Queen Mary 2 and set sail for the New World, spending a week at sea living it up in a tuxedo on the world’s most prestigious ocean liner. After ending the 3,500 mile ocean passage by passing the Statue of Liberty and docking in New York, we’ll jump in a car and hit the road across the Southern States to Mexico. From there, a casual drive down through Central America, and a boat around the Darien Gap, will land the Pub2Pub expedition in Colombia. Then, a quick drive down the length of South America beckons. But not too quick, as the forests and volcanoes of Equador, the salt flats of Bolivia, the ruins of the Inca, the sands of the Atacama and the mountains of the Andes all demand more than a cursory exploration. And then it’s on to the most spectacular landscape of all; the Patagonian wilderness, where hopefully summer will have broken, allowing us to reach Ushiuia and board a boat to Antarctica – the expedition’s forth continent – where journey’s end awaits at the last bar on earth, serving vodka distilled on-site at $3 a shot.
So that’s the plan, and it’s a big one – the biggest yet. And just like when we had the idea for ‘V8Nam’ all those years ago, there’s a lot of work to be done in making this plan a reality. But the planning and dreaming, the process of turning a dream into reality, is a big part of what makes these big trips so satisfying. And there’s still so much to do. So far there’s a vague route plan, but as to what cars we’ll be using for the Europe leg and the Americas leg, who’ll be coming along, and which whisky company we’ll talk into sponsoring us to bankroll the trip – that’s all still to be confirmed.
It’s going to be a long and interesting journey to Antarctica, and it’s just getting underway now.