Haligonian Garry Sowerby, the four-time world-record holder for long-distance driving, has experienced extraordinary events behind the wheel. I caught up with him last week and asked him to share a few.
What’s the most frightening experience you’ve ever had behind the wheel?
Getting ambushed in Kenya. Six guys pop up at the side of the road aiming guns at you. Shooting bullets through the window and blowing the tires out. Sounds cliché but time really did slow down. You wonder all sorts of things – like are we going to get our throats slit? – but you also remain calm and go by instinct. Then, you become more terrified after. We were still in the middle of the desert in northern Kenya for the next several days. And it could have happened all over again.
You set the world record for driving around the world – but without speeding. Why and how?
Guinness made that rule probably for their own liability. We drove all around the world without getting a speeding ticket. And how did we do it? We didn’t speed. The first couple of days, it was boring. But we covered bags of territory doing the speed limit. You’re buying less fuel, so you’re stopping less. It diminished the stress because you’re not worried about getting stopped all the time.
What’s the oddest thing you’ve ever done behind the wheel?
Northern Territory of Australia, middle of nowhere. We’d see a car every four hours. We decided to see if we could get away with driving nude for an afternoon.
It’s Australia! It was hot, we had no air conditioning. We didn’t look at each other or anything. And besides (chuckles) 30 years later, when Steve calls for an interview, it would be something I’d remember.
What was the biggest surprise on your travels?
When we shipped the Suburban across the Red Sea. We put the truck on a smuggling boat – on the advice of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Djibouti. We gave the smuggler $5000. Never thought I’d see the truck again. Five days later, Jizan, Saudi Arabia – between these two vast supertankers – there’s this little wooden sailboat. We plucked the car off … and drove on our way.
Any ideas for future records? You’ve set four already.
Well, no. But there will be one somewhere, sometime. I want to set five records before retiring. I don’t have the means or the desire to retire. All I do know is the next record won’t involve chasing the clock. I’d like that last record to involve all I’ve learned. Communications, meeting people, travel. A message that made people consider how lucky they are to have the ability to go where they want.