by Al Podell
ALBERT PODELL author of AROUND THE WORLD IN 50 YEARS: My Adventure to Every Country on Earth is the only American to visit every country on earth and set a record for the longest automobile journey ever made around the world. His inspiring story tell how he survived riots, revolutions, wars, trigger-happy child soldiers, voodoo priests, robbers, corrupt cops, as well as an escape from a crocodile attack. Needless to say he is an incredible adventurer.
A Late Start
In December of 1964 I teamed up with Harold Stephens, a travel/ adventure writer and ex- Marine, to try to break the record for the longest direct, nonrepetitive, land journey around the world. We aimed to accomplish this by shunning the old Paris- to- Peking route (then blocked by the Iron Curtain and the Bamboo Blinds), and taking a longer, more southerly course, across the deserts of North Africa, through the Middle East, along Marco Polo’s route across Central Asia, through India and Southeast Asia to Singapore, then across the width of Indonesia and Australia, and back to New York from Panama.
There had been four previous transworld auto expeditions, but all had taken shorter routes. The Great Race of 1908 had sent the competitors from New York to Alaska, to Vladivostok, to Moscow, then across Europe to Paris. The Wanderwell Expedition of 1919– 1925 had wandered well over the map, but its direct route had taken its Model T Ford from Spain through Italy, Greece, Turkey, on to India, Japan, and San Francisco. The 1955 Oxford and Cambridge Far East Expedition had driven a Series 1 Land Rover from London to Singapore via Austria, Yugoslavia, and Turkey, but had not circuited the world. The remarkable 1956 solo drive of Group Captain Peter Townsend was poignantly recounted in Earth, My Friend. He pushed a Land Rover over a similar course but did go all the way around, partly as a healing process after Britain’s royal family broke up his romance with Princess Margaret Rose and refused to permit her to marry him because he was divorced, something a royal just didn’t do in those staid days before Di and Charles and Camilla.
Harold Stephens and me (with hat), the co- leaders of the Trans World Record Expedition, seated atop our Toyota Land Cruiser FJ40 at a press conference in Paris explaining our proposed record setting land route around the globe. This was ten days into what would turn out to be an arduous 581- day journey. From the book Around the World in 50 Years.
Those previous globe-girdling expeditions had— after deducting for side trips, backtracking, indirect routing, and city tours— traversed 16,000 to 18,000 goal- oriented, nonrepetitive miles. By driving closer to the Equator, where the earth’s circumference is greatest, and by filling in some oceanic gaps with drives across Indonesia and Australia and up from Panama, our goal oriented, nonrepetitive mileage would exceed the others by at least 6,000, thereby establishing a clear and unbeatable record for the longest latitudinal
land traverse of the globe.
I optimistically named us the Trans World Record Expedition.
I wasn’t wealthy, nor was Steve— only his mother can call him Harold— so we needed sponsors to provide the equipment and cash for what we envisioned as an eight- month jaunt. Within six weeks, calling on contacts I’d made editing magazines, we had 30 big backers, including Toyota, Dow, DuPont, Union Carbide, Firestone Tire, American Cyanamid, Thermos, Hat Corporation, Thom McAnshoes, Sea & Ski, the Bourbon Institute, SC Johnson, and Manischewitz, which wanted a photo of us sharing their matzos with
Arab camel drivers in front of the Great Pyramid in Egypt. We had sponsors for almost everything we needed, with a couple of manageable exceptions. I couldn’t get a petrol partner because no oil company had service stations in every nation on our route. And the toilet tissue manufacturers turned us down because I could not contrive an acceptable method of photographing their product being used in a variety of exotic locations.
Several corporations, declining official sponsorship, nevertheless donated their products: Upjohn, figuring that we wouldn’t be eating well, gave us three thousand vitamin pills; Johnson & Johnson sent a first- aid pouch and a snakebite kit with a note expressing the hope that we didn’t have to use either; Allied Chemical showed both its charity and pessimism by providing a set of inflatable splints; and Travelers Insurance, after rejecting us for a liability policy, sent us six of their trademark red umbrellas. Between the corporate givings and misgivings, we were well- equipped, fully bankrolled, and ready to hit the road. On March 24, 1965, we watched from the deck of the Queen Elizabeth as our Land Cruiser and a half ton of supplies were hoisted aboard, bound for France. I was on my way to 26 new countries and a world of adventures.
ALBERT PODELL has been an editor at Playboy and three national outdoor magazines and has written more than 250 freelance articles. He was co-leader of the Trans World Record Expedition and co-author of Who Needs A Road?, an adventure classic still in print after nearly five decades. He holds a B.A. in government from Cornell, was the graduate fellow of the Committee on International Relations at the University of Chicago, and received a law degree from New York University. He lives in New York and is an all-around outdoorsman–skier, boarder, mountaineer, climber, camper, hiker, biker, archer, angler, surfer, kayaker, scuba diver, windsurfer, long-distance swimmer, and vegetable gardener.