by Alan Rider
Photos by Paige Parker and Jim Rogers
By definition, every road trip qualifies as an adventure. But few of those adventures can compare to the 152,000-mile odyssey that took Jim Rogers and Paige Parker through 116 countries on six continents--not to mention the occasional war zone--at the turn of the millennium.
The 152,000-mile odyssey crossed six continents and took three years. Click on the map abo
"Frankly, I'm surprised we made it back alive," says Rogers. "We're obviously happy about that for a lot of reasons, but especially because people would have said 'what a couple of idiots they were' if we'd have gotten ourselves killed."
The pair set off from Reykjavik, Iceland on January 1, 1999 in a custom four-wheel-drive sports car that combined the best qualities of Mercedes' stylish SLK roadster and rugged G-Wagon. The three-year trip earned the couple a spot in the "Guinness Book of World Records" for longest continuous automobile journey.
Rogers, who retired in 1980 at age 37 after making his fortune in the international investment business, wasn't always such an accomplished traveler.
"I grew up in a tiny backwoods Alabama town, so small that my phone number was 5--and I remember telling my first girlfriend 'gee, you know I'm 16 and haven't been anywhere.' She looked at me with amazement and said 'gosh, I'm 16 and I've been everywhere--Birmingham, Montgomery, everywhere.'"
Rogers has expanded his horizons considerably since those first thoughts about the world outside Demopolis. On Rogers' maiden 'round-the-world voyage in 1990, he traveled more than 60,000 miles on a BMW motorcycle, an adventure chronicled in his last book "Investment Biker." As for their Millennium Adventure, it might be easier to tick off the places Rogers and his girlfriend-turned-wife Parker didn't visit on their 36-month drive (see page 8 for an exact itinerary).
In explaining what it is that has driven him to circumnavigate the globe twice now, Rogers speculates that the cause is genetic, perhaps the result of an adventure gene that often lies dormant in most of the population.
"Experiencing the world at ground level is my passion because I've found it's the only way to really get to know a place," he says. "To see the world as it is, you have to drive; it's what turns ordinary traveling into an adventure."
In preparing for such a monumental undertaking there were countless issues that needed to be resolved, not the least of which was that Rogers hadn't owned a car in three decades and had a complete lack of off-road-driving experience.
"That was pretty foolish looking back on it," Rogers admits. "I hadn't owned a car since 1968, and I hadn't even driven all that much. Paige had more experience behind the wheel, but it wasn't like she'd been out hot-rodding through the Sahara, either."
Rogers admits that their relative ignorance resulted in what amounted to a crash course in extreme driving.
"You talk about on-the-job training. We were trapped in a blizzard in Iceland on the third day of the trip, and I had to have a guy show me how to put the car into four-wheel drive," says Rogers [ED. NOTE: The G-Wagon is full-time 4WD but he probably meant "use the differential locks," which illustrates the point]. "It was like everything else on the trip--we simply had to learn about cars and off-roading as we went along."
Once underway, Rogers says the trip called for constant improvisation. Closed borders, epidemics, infuriating bureaucracies, and on-going hostilities between rebel fighters and government troops all required the couple to be fast on their feet.
"There's no way you can do detailed planning in advance. You can have an idea of your route but you never know what you'll find when you get there," he says. "But figuring all that out as you go along, where you're going to find food, fuel, water, and a place to spend the night--that's a big part of what makes it an adventure."
Snow Drifts and Soldiers
While Rogers admits the trip had its share of more traditional travel memories--visits to the Taj Mahal, Machu Picchu, the Vatican--for him, the trip itself is the thing.
"For me, living on the road is a never-ending sensory high," he says. "I live in New York, which to me is one of the most exciting cities in the world, but when I go out my front door tomorrow, whether I turn right or left or go straight ahead, I know more or less what I'm going to see and what's going to happen to me. But, when I'm on the road, I don't know what's going to be around that next turn. I could meet a bunch of guys with guns or I could meet a goddess--that's the thrill."
Even situations that most of us would regard as outright hardships, Rogers considers them with great fondness. Like the time they had to rescue the professional rescue squad in Iceland.
"These are some of the most-capable and best-equipped four-wheel-drive people in the world, but they got stuck in a snowdrift as they were escorting us through the mountains," he recalls. "So there we were helping to dig out these guys' huge four-wheel-drive truck in the middle of a snow storm. It was the damnedest thing you ever saw."
Of course, even Rogers' sense of adventure has its limitations, most notably his strong aversion to being shot at.
"For Paige, the scariest moment was the night we were stopped by a general on the front lines of a war zone in Angola and forced to spend the night in the camp with his troops," Rogers says. "For me, it was in the eastern India province of Manipur where the chief of police didn't want to let us continue because he had too many of his men killed on the road ahead. I was so scared I didn't even tell Paige, and every time we went around a curve or saw a couple of guys standing by the side of the road I figured 'oh, man, this is it.'"
Whether it was those "life flashing before your eyes" moments or the sum total of their experiences, both Rogers and Parker say the 1101-day road trip had a truly profound effect on their lives.
"When I walked through my front door after three years my first thought was 'I gotta get rid of all this stuff,'" says Rogers. "I want to simplify my life. I don't need a new painting. I don't need to go out on the town. None of those things most people think are important really matter much to me anymore."
The couple has taken shorter road trips in the GLK since their return home, but big plans are currently on hold as the pair embark on what many believe may be the biggest adventure of them all: parenthood. Still, let there be no doubt that Rogers' wanderlust is alive and well.
"Without a doubt my biggest disappointment about the whole adventure is that it's over," Rogers says. "Even though I'm back in New York, every time I see a travel story in a newspaper or magazine I think 'gosh, why aren't I there seeing and experiencing that myself?'"
A Car Is Born
When it came time to find a suitable vehicle for his Millennium Adventure, Jim Rogers had only the most general notions about what he wanted.
"I went around the world once on a motorcycle and that was extraordinary," he explains. "But, as wonderful as that was, doing it again would have been anticlimactic so I decided a sports car would offer a similar experience and still be different."
With his lack of automotive savvy, Rogers needed someone to help him turn those vague ideas into a reality capable of carrying him around the world. His search took him to the International Off-Road Show in Munich, Germany, and, eventually, to southern California where he met Gerhard Steinle, an independent designer who also just happened to be the former head of Mercedes' North American design studio.
"At first, Jim said he was thinking about mounting a Porsche cabriolet body on Toyota four-wheel-drive platform, which I thought sounded like a crazy idea," says Steinle. "But after giving it some thought, I did some quick measurements and found that the Mercedes SLK roadster would be a perfect fit on the chassis of the short wheelbase G-Wagon."
Steinle showed some initial renderings to Rogers, and the Mercedes GLK was born. He then contacted his former colleagues at Mercedes who agreed to donate both the bright-yellow SLK and the two G-Wagons (a short-wheelbase two-door for the conversion and a four-door model that served as a support vehicle). With just two months before the car was scheduled to debut at the SEMA show in Las Vegas, the folks at Metalcrafters, a local firm that specializes in creating concept cars for auto manufacturers, set to work turning the two vehicles into one. Steinle says he's still surprised, not to mention pleased, to see how well his unique off-roadster design held up to three hard years on the road.
"There were few problems with the GLK, which is great considering how little time we had to put the body and chassis together, build the matching trailer, and test the whole thing."
Looking back, Rogers believes the vehicle Steinle built opened doors and made friends in a way no ordinary sport/utility vehicle could ever hope to do. In fact, he says the GLK was key to the success of his journey in some rather unexpected ways.
"When we came driving up in that bright-yellow convertible we startled so many people that it probably saved our lives many times," says Rogers. "Most people have never seen a yellow car period, let alone one like ours, and I'm quite sure that a lot of the bad guys we ran into probably thought to themselves 'why didn't we rob or kidnap those people?'"
|Just The Facts Ma'am|
|Engine||Mercedes-Benz six-cylinder 3.0L turbodiesel, four valves per cylinder, 22: 1 compression ratio|
|Horsepower, hp @ rpm||177 @ 4400|
|Torque, lb-ft @ rpm||244 @ 3600|
|Transmission||Mercedes-Benz five-speed automatic|
|Drivetrain||Full-time, 4wd w/ front, center, and rear differential locks (from Mercedes-Benz G-Class) |
|Brakes||four-wheel antilock disc brakes|
|Chassis||Mercedes-Benz G300 short (160-inch) wheelbase |
|Ground clearance, in||8.3|
|Fuel capacity, gal||38.5|
|Fuel range, miles||620|
|Wheels||Mercedes-Benz aluminum alloy; 7.5 x 18 in |
|Tires||Bridgestone Dueler HP0680 P265/60R-18|
|Body||Steel w/ fiberglass fender flares enlarged around wheelwell openings, and custom fiberglass bumper skirts and rocker panels w/integrated step|
|Communication||Short-wave radio receiver and walkie-talkies|
|Trailer: Custom two-wheel off-road trailer with leaf springs, electric brakes, and the same 18-inch wheels used on the GLK. Trailer houses a spare tire under the rear bumper and features one large upper compartment with front and rear hatches to allow access to drinking water, spare fuel, camping gear, medical supplies, and luggage.|
Love On Wheels
They say there's no better test of a relationship than traveling together. If that's true, Jim Rogers and Paige Parker's love passed the test with flying colors. Which isn't to say there weren't some speed bumps along the road to their becoming man and wife.
"Jim told me over and over again how difficult this was going to be, how every day something was going to go wrong, and I said 'no, I'm tough, I can handle it,'" Parker remembers. "But the third day of the trip we were caught in a horrific blizzard in Iceland, and I remember thinking 'this man that I have so much faith in, a man who was warned not to go out in this storm, has just gotten us stuck in a snow bank--what the heck am I doing here?'"
Rogers recalls having his share of doubts early on, as well.
"She was hysterical almost from the very first day, and it only got worse after that," he remembers. "We were in Europe. We hadn't even hit the serious stuff yet--and I often thought she was gonna go home; I often wanted to put her on a plane to send her home."
On his previous motorcycle trip, the mode of transportation made these sorts of relationship difficulties easier to live with.
"If my girlfriend and I had a fight on that trip, we'd be on our own separate motorcycles and usually by the end of the day the fight had gone away," he explains. "But in this small car, the fight was sitting right there next to you all day long."
The pair were engaged a month before they left New York and married exactly one year into the trip in Henley-on-Thames, England. But it wasn't until they were heading for home in the fall of 2001 that the magnitude of their relationship's three-year trial by fire hit home, according to Rogers.
"We met a guy who told us in utter amazement, 'I don't know how you did it--my fiancee and I drove from Connecticut to California, fought the entire way, and haven't spoken to each other since.'"
In the end, it's obvious that Parker hung in there long enough to become comfortable with the uncertainties of life on the road.
"The fact that she stuck it out for three years and we're still married is probably the most pleasant surprise of the entire trip," he admits. "By the end of it you could see the change in her; she was a different person and as good an overland traveler as you will ever meet."
Tunes to Travel By
If you had to choose just a handful of music CDs to last you through the next three years, what would they be? Here's what Jim Rogers and Paige Parker settled on to provide the soundtrack to their Millennium Adventure:
Count Basie & His Orchestra: The Count Basie Collection
Patsy Cline: 12 Greatest Hits
Johnny Cash/Willie Nelson: Storytellers
Willie Nelson: Greatest Hits (And Some That Will Be)
Pretenders: The Singles
Sade: The Best of Sade
Grateful Dead: Hundred Year Hall
Bob Dylan: Best of Bob Dylan
James Taylor: Greatest Hits
Aretha Franklin: Greatest Hits
Lauryn Hill: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
Hole: Celebrity Skin
Jerry Lee Lewis: Rockin' Up a Storm
New York Philharmonic: Beethoven's Symphony No. 9
New York Philharmonic: Symphony No. 41 in C major, K. 551
Berlin Philharmonic: Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik
Berlin Philharmonic: An Alpine Symphony, Op. 64; Concerto No. 1 for Horn & Orchestra, Op. 11; Mozart's Symphony No. 39 in E-flat major
Whether you're traveling through the wide-open spaces of Siberia or the shifting sands of the Sahara, the one thing you can count on is having some, er, interesting dining options.
"We wanted to experience what life was like in these places so, for the most part, we ate what the local people eat," says Jim Rogers. "That meant eating some strange things including dog, horse, iguana, guinea pig, crocodile, porcupine, kangaroo, silk worms, termites, and grasshoppers. I drew the line at monkey, though, as it seemed a little too close to home."
Ironically, Parker came down with food poisoning several times on the trip, each time after having eaten dinner at a five-star restaurant. And even though there were several local delicacies she admits she couldn't quite bring herself to eat, she says dining like locals on their way around the globe was a high point of the adventure.
"There so many times where we'd been driving for 12 hours on these horrible roads and then arrive in a village with no restaurant," she recalls. "So we'd manage to find a woman who would fry us some chicken--a woman who just happened to have the only Marvin Gaye tape and cold beer in town--and those situations turned out to be some of the most memorable meals on the entire trip."
Around the World in 1101 Days
Just in case you're considering following in Jim Rogers and Paige Parker's tire tracks, here's a look at the itinerary for their Millennium Adventure (water crossings are in italics):
Click on the map above for an 800-pixel-wide enlargement, that shows more details on the t
Iceland: December 29, 1998-January 12, 1999
United Kingdom: January 12-20, 1999
Ireland: January 20-24, 1999
United Kingdom: January 24-30, 1999
France: January 30, 1999
Belgium: January 31, 1999
Germany: January 31-February 9, 1999
Austria: February 9-11, 1999
Hungary: February 11-15, 1999
Yugoslavia: February 15-16, 1999
Bulgaria: February 16, 1999
Turkey: February 16-23, 1999
Georgia: February 23-26, 1999
Azerbaijan: February 26-March 4, 1999
(Caspian Sea: March 4-5, 1999)
Turkmenistan: March 5-11, 1999
Uzbekistan: March 11-20, 1999
Kyrgyzstan: March 20-21, 1999
Kazakhstan: March 21-April 1, 1999
China: April 1-May 17, 1999
(Yellow Sea: May 17-18, 1999)
South Korea: May 18-31, 1999
(Korea Strait: May 31-June 1, 1999)
Japan: June 1-July 2, 1999
(Sea of Japan: July 2-4, 1999)
Russia: July 4-28, 1999
Mongolia: July 28-August 3, 1999
Russia: August 3-20, 1999
Kazakhstan: August 20, 1999
Russia: August 20-September 4, 1999
Belorussia: September 4-6, 1999
Lithuania: September 6-7, 1999
Russia: September 7-8, 1999
Lithuania: September 8, 1999
Latvia: September 8-10, 1999
Estonia: September 10-11, 1999
Russia: September 11-15, 1999
Finland: September 15-19, 1999
Sweden: September 19-29, 1999
Norway: September 29-October 4, 1999
Sweden: October 4-5, 1999
Denmark: October 5-11, 1999
Germany: October 11-28, 1999
Switzerland: October 28, 1999
Italy: October 29-November 4, 1999
Vatican City: November 4, 1999
Italy: November 4-8, 1999
San Marino: November 8, 1999
Italy: November 8-11, 1999
Slovenia: November 11, 1999
Austria: November 11-13, 1999
Slovakia: November 13, 1999
Czech Republic: November 13-20, 1999
Germany: November 20-21, 1999
Liechtenstein: November 21-22, 1999
Switzerland: November 22-24, 1999
Italy: November 24-25, 1999
France: November 25, 1999
Monaco: November 25-27, 1999
France: November 27-29, 1999
Spain: November 29-December 1, 1999
Andorra: December 1-2, 1999
France: December 2-12, 1999
Luxembourg: December 12-14, 1999
Belgium: December 14, 1999
Netherlands: December 14-17, 1999
Belgium: December 17-18, 1999
United Kingdom: December 18-21, 1999
Ireland: December 21-24, 1999
United Kingdom: December 24-January 25, 2000
Belgium: January 25-February 2, 2000
France: February 2-5, 2000
Spain: February 5-10, 2000
Portugal: February 10-13, 2000
Spain: February 13-18, 2000
Gibraltar: February 18-20, 2000
Spain: February 20, 2000
Morocco: February 20-March 5, 2000
Western Sahara: March 5-11, 2000
Mauritania: March 11-21, 2000
Senegal: March 21-25, 2000
Gambia: March 25-28, 2000
Senegal: March 28-29, 2000
Mali: March 29-April 7, 2000
Burkina Faso: April 7-9, 2000
Ivory Coast: April 9-16, 2000
Ghana: April 16-24, 2000
Togo: April 24-25, 2000
Benin: April 25-27, 2000
Nigeria: April 27-May 3, 2000
Cameroon: May 3-10, 2000
Equatorial Guinea: May 10, 2000
Gabon: May 10-24, 2000
(Atlantic Ocean: May 24-25, 2000)
Republic of Congo: May 25-28, 2000
Angola: May 28-June 8, 2000
Namibia: June 8-14, 2000
Botswana: June 14, 2000
Zimbabwe: June 14-15, 2000
Zambia: June 15, 2000
Zimbabwe: June 15-16, 2000
Botswana: June 16-18, 2000
Namibia: June 18-22, 2000
South Africa: June 22-July 2, 2000
Lesotho: July 2-3, 2000
South Africa: July 3-8, 2000
Madagascar: July 8-11, 2000
South Africa: July 11-18, 2000
Swaziland: July 18-21, 2000
Mozambique: July 21-30, 2000
Malawi: July 30-August 5, 2000
Tanzania: August 5-30, 2000
Kenya: August 30-September 10, 2000
Ethiopia: September 10-27, 2000
Sudan: September 27-October 20, 2000
(Nile River: October 20-23, 2000)
Egypt: October 23-November 10, 2000
(Red Sea: November 10-11, 2000)
Saudi Arabia: November 11-25, 2000
Qatar: November 25-28, 2000
Saudi Arabia: November 28, 2000
United Arab Emirates: November 28-December 5, 2000
Iran: December 5-6, 2000
Bahrain: December 6-7, 2000
United Arab Emirates: December 7-8, 2000
Oman: December 8-23, 2000
(Gulf of Oman: December 23-27, 2000)
Pakistan: December 27, 2000-January 9, 2001
India: January 9-February 22, 2001
Bangladesh: February 22-28, 2001
India: February 28-March 7, 2001
Myanmar: March 7-24, 2001
Thailand: March 24-26, 2001
Malaysia: March 26-30, 2001
Singapore: March 30-April 10, 2001
(Strait of Malacca: April 10-12, 2001)
Indonesia: April 12-28, 2001
East Timor: April 28-29, 2001
Australia: April 29-June 4, 2001
Vanuatu: June 4-6, 2001
New Zealand: June 6-21, 2001
French Polynesia: June 21-29, 2001
Chile: June 29-July 13, 2001
Argentina: July 13-20, 2001
Chile: July 20, 2001
Argentina: July 20-22, 2001
Chile: July 22-23, 2001
Argentina: July 23-August 10, 2001
Uruguay: August 10-13, 2001
Brazil: August 13-17, 2001
Argentina: August 17, 2001
Paraguay: August 17-21, 2001
Argentina: August 21-23, 2001
Bolivia: August 23-September 6, 2001
Peru:September 6-23, 2001
Ecuador: September 23-October 3, 2001
Colombia: October 3-4, 2001
Venezuela: October 4-7, 2001
Panama: October 7-10, 2001
Costa Rica: October 10-14, 2001
Nicaragua: October 14-17, 2001
Honduras: October 17-20, 2001
El Salvador: October 20-23, 2001
Guatemala: October 23-27, 2001
Belize: October 27-29, 2001
Mexico: October 29-November 13, 2001
United States of America: November 13-20, 2001
Canada: November 20-28, 2001
United States of America: November 28-December 2, 2001
Canada: December 2-8, 2001
United States of America: December 8-January 5, 2002