Happy 80th Birthday, Tim Cahill, my friend!

In 1987, Tim Cahill, Montana-based best-selling travel adventure author, and I completed a successful bid to drive faster than anyone from the bottom to the top of the Americas for a Guinness World Record. Last month, my friend and co-driver turned 80 and I got to thinking about our 37-year friendship, that epic trip and our celebration at the finish line. Here is what I wrote on his birthday card.

 

You and I had been driving for a while, 23 days, 22 hours and 43 minutes to be exact, including five days on the Stella Lykes container ship between Cartagena, Colombia and Panama City.

We were pretty stunned pulling up to an industrial guard shack on the shores of the Beaufort Sea, 500 kilometres above the Arctic Circle in Alaska.

The end of the line.

 

You didn’t punch me out (your goal, apparently, when we got to the finish line, unbeknownst to me) for screaming at you when you were chasing a Peugeot 504 with diplomatic plates across the Atacama Desert because you deliriously thought the lady in the passenger’s seat was in love with you.

 

Tim Cahill, left, and Garry Sowerby at the finish line in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. The team had captured the Guinness world record for fastest drive from the bottom to the top of the Americas. Friendship intact. Maybe?

 

Thanks to a solid plan, a run of good luck and a friendship forged by a mindset bent on the challenge at hand, we had managed to halve the existing Guinness World Record for driving from Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska faster than anyone.

Which is a mouthful for ‘fastest drive from the bottom the top of the Americas’.

 

 

So much for the existing 56-day Guinness record set by a German prince in a Range Rover.

 

Somewhere in Tierra del Fuego, Tim Cahill, left, and Garry Sowerby, rolling north in 1987,

 

You and I were dying for a celebratory drink.

Aside from a run-in with a half-gallon of vodka on the Stella Lykes ‘cruise’ through the Panama Canal, we hadn’t had a drink since guzzling two bottles of champagne the night before we left Ushuaia so we could start the mission with a decent hangover.

So, after months of planning, pre-expedition research trips and three weeks of driving, we arrived at the finish line in Prudhoe Bay only to discover it was a ‘dry’ community, like everywhere else along the 500-mile Dalton Highway from Fairbanks to the end of the road.

 

Of course, in the true spirit of friendship and victory, turning around and driving the icy 500 miles back to Fairbanks was a no-brainer.

We reckoned we would get there in time for a few drinks and slap each other on the back before your flight south, back to life beyond the cab of the truck we had been strapped into for over three weeks.

 

To help launch Tim Cahill’s book, Road Fever, about the Pan-American record drive, Garry and Tim paired up again to lap Iceland in the dead of winter in a 1991 GMC Jimmy..

 

Finally at the hotel in Fairbanks, I started downing gin martinis and you kept pace with gin tonics. After a few, you went to the room to crash before your middle-of-the-night flight.

I stayed in the bar with a who-needs-food attitude for a couple more rounds then went to the room. It had twin beds with a night table between them.

 

I opened the drawer and cleared my stomach down to the bile, left it open and passed out.

I heard your alarm and some grumbling about you missing the flight. In my bleary-eyed stupor, I could see you staring at the drawer of barf.

As you left the room, you muttered your final words to me on that trip. “Ugh, and it’s all over the Gideon bible.”

I drove the record-setting truck to Anchorage that day while you winged south to Montana. It was one of the worst hangovers I’ve ever had, but thoughts of what we had just done somewhat pacified the jitters, nausea and headache.

And now you are 80 and that bit of Road Fever is 37 years old. That means we have known each other for nearly half of our lives and the friendship we forged in the cab of that pick-up truck has stood the test of time.

Thanks for being my friend, Tim. I’m proud of you, and of our friendship.

 

Road Fever, an account of the 23-day Guinness World Record drive, like many of Tim’s books, has become a travel cult favourite.

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