"The outback," says Garry Sowerby, "now maybe that was the worst. One hundred degrees, and dry. The only scenery is kangaroo carcasses and rusted cars. And live kangaroos, running alongside the car. Huge kangaroos."
"With crash helmets," says his partner, Ken Langley.
"We're stripped down to our shorts, right, thinking we'll be all right," says Sowerby, "we'll be all right," says Sowerby, "we'll be all right as long as we don't hit a . . . hit a . . . And there it was, kangaroo all over the roobar."
Sowerby and Langley, both Candians, both 29 years old and out for adventure, have come roaring into Washington in their white Volvo DL on the last leg of a 26,000-mile, 77-day automobile drive around the world. It's Day 67 as they tumble into the lobby of the Mayflower Hotel. They are telling stories of the first 66 as they walk in, wearing black racing suits and heavy boots.They walk quickly. A schedule is a schedule, you know.
In Western Australia, a solicitous sponsor rented them a brothel for the evening. "Just like the Wild West, eh? With black lights and Merle Haggard on the radio," says Sowerby.
"Now that was a bit of fun!"
A Volvo representative pales. Volvo is one of the expedition's sponsors. "Talk about India," the Volvo man says.
"India," says Langley. "That's where we hit 'The Wall.' The day it took us five hours to get to third gear. The day the monsoon pushed us along. We had water up to the rocker panels, eh?" The muddy one-lane roads, the carts, the crowds, a million hands trying to touch the car and peel off the decals. Day after day of canned cheese and soda crackers. And the awful days after the canned cheese and soda crackers were gone.
And then there was the morning they got up and looked at the car and couldn't get in. Just couldn't get in. They circled it all morning, and finally talked each other back into it, slowly.
They couldn't give up. Sowerby and Langley, and partners Al McPhail and Sandy Huntley, got the idea for the trip back in 1977. That's when they founded Odyssey 77, their company. They'd met in school, and were living in Toronto at the time. Sowerby is an engineer. Langley is a lawyer. McPhail worked for Canadian customs.
They spent three years trying to sell their idea to sponsors and watching their debts grow. Sowerby and Langley drove cabs at one point for 12 hours a day to pay the rent. They waited.
Finally this year, in April, Volvo signed up. Others followed -- Shell Canada, a wristwatch company, a sunglasses manufacturer, a spark-plug company. A record company gave them a set of 60 tapes. They drove, and they played their 60-watt stereo, also a gift.
Of course, they couldn't drive all the way. They needed four airlifts:
Los Angeles to Sydney; Perth to Bombay; Pakistan to Athens; London to Houston. Leaving Pakistan by air brought a new crisis. "We were so tired," said Sowerby. "We'd been eating God knows what for days. Laying on the horn all day long, and getting nowhere. They put the car on the plane. It was a freight plane. We sat up near the cockpit. 'It's too hot,' says the pilot. 'We're too heavy, he says, taxiing all over. 'This runway's just too damn short.'
"We'd pushed ourselves to the limit by then. By that time I was feeling things I'd never felt before. I saw Kenny over by the emergency exit, and I thought, well, there we go. He's going to open that door and jump."
There's a pause. Sowerby and Langley and McPhail look at each other. They burst out laughing.
"We're doing it, aren't we? We've been around the world," says Langley. "I bet the farm we'd do it, and we did."
They only have to make it to Toronto, which is good because they say they're $100,000 in debt. But what's money when you've almost got the record? An American drove around the world in 102 days in 1976. This time, Sowerby does the driving, Langley the navigating.
"People look at us and they always say, 'Why, you don't look like you've been driving 66 days,'" says Sowerby, who's had one Heineken and is beginning to fade. "Well take a look at me, eh? Look at my eyes! These are not the eyes of a healthy man!"
"I've been waking up with throttle leg at 3 a.m.," says Sowerby. "And I'll tell you something," he adds, recalling India, "that's worse than the crabs. Well, almost worse. Did I tell you about the time in India . . . "
And the East German border, where they plied the guards with maple-leaf lapel pins . . . And Rovaniemi, Finland's Las Vegas, a few degrees above the Artic Circle . . . Around the world in 77 days, agony and the wonders of the world all at once through a windshield, to wind up $100,000 in the hole?
They stretch out in the hotel room, order steak sandwiches.
"All those embassy receptions," says Sowerby, thinking back. "What a boost, eh? Champaigne . . . "
The $6,000 car telephone kept them busy, too.
"Who'd we call today, Kenny?" says Sowerby.
"Come on," says Langley, "who didn't we call?"
Langley's got the phone with him, though it's usually kept on the dashboard.
He says he is expecting a call from his mother.
"I brought you some new tapes for the rest of the trip," says the Volvo man, who rode with them from Houston on up through the South.
"Oh yeah?" says Sowerby. "Well, I hope they're not like those tapes the Volvo people gave us in Sweden." He swallows the last of his beer.
"Swedish Country & Western! Now there's a torture unknown in North America, eh?"