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A World Odyssey-The Epic Voyage of the Sand Ship Discovery
[Photo of the Discovery]
Loren's perseverance pays off. On June 15, 1984 Loren set off from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, on
the Arctic Ocean, farthest road north on the North American Continent. This time Loren was
driving a second-hand 1966 CJ-5 Kaiser Corporation Jeep, christened, the Sand Ship
Discovery. In October of 1984, when Loren arrived in Panama, I was ready to make that
leap! I knew that once I said I wanted to join the expedition, I had to do everything in
my power to fulfill that commitment. I set off on an adventure that would change my life.
On March 4, 1987, the Sand Ship Discovery, Loren and I arrived in the small river
town of Rio Sucio, Colombia, much to the delight of the local school children, many of
whom had never seen a vehicle. We had spent a total of 741 days to travel 125 miles, from
the end of the Pan-American Highway at Yaviza, Panama to the beginning of a road system in
Colombia at the town of Rio Sucio on the Atrato River, all on land. We remained true to
the original goal and found an all-land route through the notorious Darien Gap. We
crossed rivers, but never resorted to traveling up or down them.
[Photo of Discovery in Gap]
Loren and I were the first to cross the Darien Gap in a motor vehicle,
entirely on land, and this achievement was first recorded in the 1992 Guinness Book of
Once back on a road in Colombia we continued on south via the Pan-American Highway to the
farthest road south on the South American Continent, 39 miles south of Punta Arenas,
Chile. We then crossed the Straits of Magellan to the Island of Tierra del Fuego and
traveled as far south as possible, just over 71 miles east and slightly south of Ushuaia,
[Photo of Discovery at roads end]
In August of 1987 we were most fortunate and received free passage from the Pegasus
Shipping Company on a Greek freighter, the Aran. Loren, the Sand Ship Discovery and I
traveled from Chile to Cape Town, South Africa, a remarkable 30-day adventure, complete
with two "force nine storms." Once in Cape Town we drove further south to Cape
Agulahas, the southern most point of land and road on the African continent, and from
there we began our journey northward .
We spent the next several months in South Africa and Namibia, known at the time as
Southwest Africa. We met some wonderful families that we are still in contact with and
hope one day to cross paths with them again. We experienced first hand the devastation
caused by the floods of 1987 in Natal, South Africa. We visited the Etosha Pan and the
Kalahari National Park and saw, up close and personal, the most magnificent animals that
Africa has to offer. We traveled to the Witwatersrand and were most fortunate to see,
again up close and personal, the deep gold mines of South Africa. In March of 1988 we
prepared to leave the comforts of South Africa and journey north through the Dark
[Photo of Discovery - Roads End, Cape Agulahas, South Africa]
[Photo of Discovery - Finger of God]
[Photo of Discovery - Africa]
Our route through Africa was to travel north through Botswana, Zambia, Zaire, to the
Central African Republic. From the Central African Republic most travelers continue
through West Africa to Morocco or Algeria and take a ferry to Spain, France or Italy. Our
continuing goal was to remain on land; we had to reach Egypt. The only safe option was to
turn eastward in Central African Republic and head for Sudan.
Sudan and its 1800 miles of soft sand and insufferable summer heat reduced the Sand
Ship Discovery's progress to a crawl. Erroneous readings from the engine's
temperature gauge, which at the time we thought was a malfunctioning water pump, limited
our travel to late evenings and early mornings. I came down with a dreadful case of
malaria just before arriving in the capital city of Khartoum. We had been taking malaria
prophylaxis, but our journey was taking longer than expected and we had taken our last
pills a couple of weeks previous. I was running a fever and was unable to keep any liquids
down. Day time temperatures were between 110 and 120 degrees Fahrenheit and I was
extremely dehydrated by the time we arrived in Khartoum. I was immediately hospitalized
and diagnosed with severe dehydration, bacterial dysentery and malaria. After pumping four
liters of fluid back into my system and taking the required super dose of anti-malaria
drugs, I was on the road to recovery and the Sand Ship Discovery was soon on the
road to Egypt.
For us, the "road" to Egypt was non-existent at best. We were traveling up the
west side of the Nile River in open desert, no roads only tracks and even those
disappeared shortly after leaving the village of Dongola. The only road, the coastal road,
along the Red Sea, was closed to vehicles because of an on-going border dispute between
Sudan and Egypt. It was for this reason we found ourselves in the very remote open desert
on the west side of the Nile River. We hoped to eventually meet up with the rumored newly
surfaced road in Egypt that we had heard stories about. The multitude of far-out stories
one hears while traveling overland in Africa are a story in themselves. Shortly after I
was released from the hospital, we were once again headed north. We left Khartoum way over
loaded with food, fuel and water, the Sand Ship Discovery tipped the scales at
5900 pounds, at least 1800 pounds over-weight!
In late June (1988), the 24th to be exact, just over two weeks after I was released from
the hospital, we were traveling through the open sands in an unmarked area of the southern
Sahara Desert, to the west of the mighty Nile River. Temperatures were now nearing the 130
degree Fahrenheit mark; we were navigating by the sun and stars; our compass had died a
most untimely death. While driving out of a most innocent looking stretch of sand, the Sand
Ship Discovery snapped her right rear axle shaft. We had already used our spare and
we found ourselves face to face with a life-threatening survival situation.
The last village was 90 miles back through some very rugged desert terrain; the last human
was a good 45 miles back, tending a few goats; we were guessing we were about 40 miles
south of the Egyptian border, and we'd seen no living creatures for over 24 hours. We had
no idea how far away the Nile River, our life line, was. It was to the east of us, but how
far? We had turned away from the river earlier in the day to drive around a large group of
rugged mountains and had not seen the river for hours. That first night we were a bit
anxious, to say the least. The questions were endless.
The next morning Loren hiked up to the top of the nearby mountains and found that the Nile
River was only about one mile away - a major relief. There was no sign of people, but at
least we had an endless supply of water! Fortunately we were not yet on Lake Nasser and
the Nile River had a good current. After several hours of work, Loren created the S.S.
(Survival Ship) Nile Queen using one of the Sand Ship Discovery's tin
kitchen drawers (measuring about 17 inches wide, 11 inches deep, and 30 inches long). By
using a little Permatex Silicon Sealant, some rope, tamarisk poles, and eight five-gallon
plastic jerry cans Loren built a very "sea-worthy" craft. After we secured the Sand
Ship Discovery in some nearby brush we loaded all of our survival gear (food, cooking
pots and minimal bedding) into the jury-rigged raft. We submerged ourselves in the chilly
waters of the Nile and held on to the sides of the S.S. Nile Queen, and let the
current take us down the mighty river and further into the unknown.
[Photo of SS Nile Queen]
For two and a half days we floated down the Nile River. We would get out of the river late
each afternoon, looking like the proverbial prunes, and make camp, exhausted. On the
morning of the third day we found people and were able to get a truck ride to the village
of Wadi Halfa. There was a twice weekly train that operates sporadically between Wadi
Halfa and Khartoum. Our first attempt to leave Wadi Halfa was thwarted by the local
Security Police. An hour and half after leaving the train station the Security Police
removed Loren and I from the train and drove us by vehicle back to Wadi Halfa. Talk about
anxious moments, it was the dead of night, we were put into an unmarked vehicle by men not
wearing uniforms, nor did they present badges. Were we to join the "never to be seen
again" people who, from time to time disappear in these forgotten backwater places?
We were deposited at our previous hotel, the Crocodile Hotel, searched and our passports
were taken from us, virtually under house arrest. The following day, after much
questioning by the chief of the Security Police and a great deal of "talk" we
were finally allowed to leave on the next train, three days later.
The "Nile Valley Express" train ride from Wadi Halfa to Khartoum was
thirty very long, hot dirty hours. I believe the train cars had seen no maintenance since
Lord Kitchner's day. The glass was gone from all the windows, and in fact, once the train
was loaded to capacity and way beyond, the only way in or out of the train car was through
the open windows. The night air was quite refreshing. However, once the sun
rose, that air was anything but cool and towards the middle of the afternoon we traveled
for several hours through a huge sand storm. We were literally sweating "mud"
when we arrived in Khartoum. The replacement free-floating axle shafts were ordered from
the United States, via a telephone call to my mother, bless her soul, and mailed to the US
Embassy in care of a very understanding American official who did not mind stretching the
rules a bit.
Loren was concerned about the Sand Ship Discovery being left all alone, so after
purchasing a six week supply of rice, beans, oatmeal, and powdered milk, he returned to
the Jeep, via Wadi Halfa to await my return. Loren's return trip was a fifty-two hour
ordeal on the "flying camel" (The Nile Valley Express) that was spent
on a flat car exposed to the merciless sun. He had to stand for the first 12 hours because
the car was so packed with humanity.
I remained in Khartoum staying with a wonderful American family we'd first met when we
arrived in the city in early June. The axle shafts, Loren had ordered both a right and
left, arrived in unbelievably short order; eleven days after my mother posted them I had
them in my hands! HOWEVER....
Khartoum sits at the confluence of the White Nile and the Blue Nile. Exceptionally heavy
rains in the mountains of Ethiopia (source of the Blue Nile) and in the southern part of
Sudan (the White Nile flows through this area); along with what little rain fell in
Khartoum, produced catastrophic results. Khartoum was cut off from the rest of the
country. The railroad tracks were washed away; what "roads" existed no longer
did, and all domestic flights were canceled. I was stuck in Khartoum. I was sure that
Loren and the Jeep were above the flood waters of the Nile, but I had no way to inform him
as to the cause of my delay. I knew his food supply was dwindling, by now he'd been back
at Broken Axle Camp for some 40 days. I talked to everyone I could think of, and
even asked for information about camel caravans going north! After a couple of weeks of
talking with charter airlines, Sudanese government officials, friends, and some of the
relief agencies, I made contact with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in
Khartoum. This organization had the monumental task of coordinating all the relief
agencies' efforts. The Belgium Air Force had just loaned UNDP the use of a Lockheed C130
Hercules for transporting relief supplies to the northern villages, the ones hardest hit
by the flooding Nile. The Hercules was flying to Wadi Halfa the following morning and it
was arranged for me to be on board.
Upon arriving in Wadi Halfa I was taken under the wing of the Shell Oil agent, Mr.
Murbarak. Along with the entire village he was well aware of the situation involving the
Jeep. He took me to his family home for the night and helped me arrange for a boat to take
me up the swollen Nile River the following day. It was a long six hour struggle up the
Nile, whose waters were the color and consistency of a thick chocolate milk shake.
Loren was able to replace the broken axle shaft in fifteen minutes. Since the axle is of
the free-floating design, he did not even have to jack the Jeep up or remove the tire. For
this minor, fifteen minute repair, we were "down" for a total of 70 days!
Four and half hours and 36 miles after leaving Broken Axle Camp we were on the
rumored tarred road in Egypt, it was a good feeling! We had traveled some 8000 miles
through the heart of the Dark Continent, nearly half of which was done in four wheel
In Aswan, Luxor, and Cairo we played the role of tourist. To us, after six months of
traveling in the real heart of Africa, straight up the middle, Cairo was a very modern
city with just about anything we could want. To some of the tourists we talked with, who
recently arrived from Europe, Cairo was a primitive city with nothing in common to their
world. But isn't that why we travel to foreign countries? If it's just like
"home," why go?
[Photo Discovery - Pyramids]
After Cairo it was through the tunnel under the Suez Canal and into the Sinai, a truly
beautiful area well worth a more lengthy visit. From the Sinai it was into Israel and the
Occupied West Bank. It was here that we came up against our one and only insurmountable
road block. In order to remain entirely on land from Africa to Europe we had to drive
through the Middle East. At the time we were there, October of 1988, the political
situation was still rather delicate and we were unable to drive from the Israeli Occupied
West Bank into Jordan. And traveling through Lebanon at that time was definitely out. We
got to within one mile of the Jordanian border and had to turn back. As of August 1997,
there still remains a "gap" in our world circumnavigating expedition, Roads End
to Roads End. One governed not by Mother Nature, as in the Darien Gap, but rather by human
nature, which is, by far, less forgiving. With the current advances in the peace process
it is now possible to drive from Israel to Jordan. Our plan is to drive the Sand Ship
Discovery that Final Mile one day very soon.
Swallowing the bitter disappointment of not being able to drive from Israel to Jordan we
returned to the Sinai and took a ferry boat up the Gulf of Aqaba to Aqaba, Jordan. While
in Jordan we visited Petra, the Rose Red City. From Jordan our route was swift through
Syria and into Turkey. From Turkey we drove into the former Soviet block countries of
Bulgaria and Romania. It was in Romania that we were to enter the Soviet Union.
However, due to a glitch in the paperwork treadmill, our permission to enter
the Soviet Union was not waiting for us at the Intourist Office in Bucharest as
pre-arranged. It was now late October and we were told by Intourist, the official Soviet
government operated tourist agency, that all camping facilities were closed for the
winter. We could not afford hotels and motels, besides we certainly did not want to travel
above the Arctic Circle this close to the onset of winter since all our winter clothing
had been stolen out of the Sand Ship Discovery while in Khartoum - we are desert
rats, not snow bunnies!
We headed for England and found a wonderful welcome on a farm just outside of Canterbury
in the small village of Chislet. Loren stayed with the Sand Ship Discovery while
I returned to my mother's home near Seattle for the winter. I wrote at least a hundred
letters seeking sponsorship to help us finish our expedition. After four and a half years
of traveling, our finances were dangerously low. American Airlines was one of the first to
agree to help us with space-available air transportation. They flew me from Seattle to
London and later after we completed the expedition, they flew both Loren and I from London
back to the United States. When I returned to England in the spring of 1989 I had some
terrific camping gear, courtesy of Coleman.
We left England on the 16th of June with the Sand Ship Discovery sporting new Firestone
Tires and Rancho springs and shock absorbers. Our route through Europe was uneventful
until we crossed the border between what was West Germany and East Germany. The military
guard at the border post was being very insistent that we pay for our visas in deutsche
marks and not U.S. dollars, even though there was a sign in the window of the border post
stating "U.S. dollars were OK." After going around and around on that topic for
several minutes, finally the guard looked up at Loren with a big grin and said, "it's
ok we are on your side." I guess it was a sign of things to come, for within a year
the Berlin wall was down and Germany was reunited.
We passed swiftly through East Germany and Poland. Our route then took us into the Soviet
Union. Before leaving England we had visited the Intourist Office in London and we had all
our paperwork in order. Everything, visas, camping sites, and motels, were all paid for
before we even left England. We did have to abide by certain regulations traveling in the
Soviet Union with our own vehicle, such as: no driving before daylight or after dark, we
could not travel more than 500 kilometers (310 miles) a day, we had to leave our passports
and visas with the "clerk" when checking into the campground or motel, and we
could only travel on the "approved" roads. If there was one thing that was
constant throughout our entire route through the Soviet Union, it was that we met some of
the most friendly people on our entire world journey.
[Photo Discovery - Moscow]
From the Soviet Union we traveled into Finland and then into Norway. We found that the
farthest road north was at the Sletness Lighthouse just outside of the small fishing
village of Gamvik, Norway. After taking one American-made vehicle around the world, we
found it most fitting to officially terminate our world expedition on the Fourth of July,
1989. The Sand Ship Discovery had been out for just over five years and had
clocked over 56,000 miles since her start in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, less than 3000 miles
over the North Pole. Since we had traveled to the Island of Tierra del Fuego in South
America, we decided to travel to the Island of North Cape, off the northern coast of
Norway. Once there we also drove as far north on the Island that we could possibly go.
From there we traveled back to the Netherlands and shipped the Sand Ship Discovery
back to the United States.
[Photo Discovery - Sletness Lighthouse]
Loren and I have put together a slide presentation of our Roads End to Roads End Jeep
expedition: A World Odyssey - The Epic Voyage of the Sand Ship Discovery. If you
are interested please contact us.
Through The Gap-The Taking of the Windmill
For More Information Contact:
Outback of Beyond Adventures
P.O. Box 803
Salmon, ID 83467