Three Decades Of Back Road Adventure
It was 1972 in South Lake Tahoe, California, when we put the world on hold, packed the necessities of life into a '67 blue Land Rover 109 (aka La Tortuga Azul), hooked up a modified military support trailer full of stuff we didn't need, and slowly headed south on a torturous route, like a turtle with our house on our back. The Turtle Expedition Unltd. was born. Borrowing from a page in John Steinbeck's Travels With Charlie, our guideline was "Don't take the trip. Let the trip take you."
Thirty-three years is a long stretch to do any one thing, but like the old saying goes, "Time flies when you're having fun." We certainly can't complain. Sorting through the thousands of slides to prepare this feature reminded us vividly of just how amazing those years have been. Somewhere between here and the last beach camp or river crossing, it occurred to us that time flies whether you're having fun or not. Time really doesn't give a rat's one way or the other, so you'd better enjoy yourself.
We know many of you remember our first adventures with our trusty Land Rover, though you may have been stealing the magazines from your dad. From idyllic camps on the Pacific to sandy two-tracks in the Yucatan and mud-clogged trails in Belize, we climbed the temples of Palenque and Tikal and hiked to the rim of volcanoes in Guatemala. Those were days we fondly think of when life gets hectic - days when our only worry was what kind of fish to catch for dinner, or which fork in the road to take.
Younger readers may recall our travels in the Turtle II. There were giant lobsters in Baja, remote beach camps on the Sea of Cortez, world-class fishing in Oregon's high-country lakes, and dozens of tales in between. We swapped engines and transmissions, headers and manifolds, cams and carburetors, and bumpers and lights more often than Trump does wives. It was a time of learning what works, and we made our share of mistakes.
Not too long after that, we built the Turtle III, our first Ford diesel, and explored Canada's Atlantic provinces to test new ideas. We camped beneath the northern lights of Labrador, traveled the backroads of Newfoundland, and went bear hunting in New Brunswick. It was all just a warm up for our 14-month/50,000-mile South American adventure. Topping the highest pass in the Andes at 16,710 feet, we could feel our hearts beating in our eyes. Crossing Chile's Atacama Desert, a place where a drop of rain has never fallen in recorded history, we camped beneath the magnificent spires of Torres del Paine and the sheer walls of Fitzroy. Finally, we reached a long-standing goal - Tierra del Fuego, the most southern point you can drive to in the world. We could have stayed in South America another year, and now we're sorry we didn't, but we did stop for Carnival in Rio before slogging through the mud-choked Brazilian Amazon and Venezuelan jungles, where barges were needed to travel up swollen rivers.
More recently, many of you traced our three-year trek around the globe in the Turtle IV, including 11 months across Siberia and all of Russia. It was the first documented wheels-on-ground drive from the Pacific to the Atlantic through the former Soviet Union. There were some great white-knuckle moments, such as driving over thin ice during a 600-mile stretch up the frozen Lena River with temperatures as low as -87 degrees F. As spring arrived, we explored the shores of Lake Baikal and discovered an old trade route south of the snow-clad Mongun-Tayga Mountains, which led us very close to the middle of nowhere. We were also trapped in a snowstorm in the mountains of Tuva near the Mongolian border, with both axles buried in the mud.
After crossing the Ural Mountains that divide Asia and Europe, we enjoyed lengthy visits in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Battling a fierce winter storm, Hammerfest, Norway, -the northernmost city in the world you can drive to - was a triumphant end to one adventure and the beginning of another. Finland, Germany, Switzerland, France, Spain, Italy, Norway, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Newfoundland, and Nova Scotia marked our path of stepping stones on the way home.
Since that memorable journey, we haven't been idle. Picking up ideas from fellow backroad travelers in Europe, we began the design and preparation of the Turtle V, with its European-style Tortuga Expedition Camper. Built on a Ford F-550 4x4 with the Power Stroke diesel, we introduced some functional concepts mostly unknown to the American RV market. Testing new suspensions, tires, and off-road capabilities of the Turtle V has taken us across the country and deep into Baja and mainland Mexico. Many have asked if we'll ever build Tortuga Expedition Campers commercially. The answer is maybe. There will be a detailed overview of the Turtle V in a future issue of Off-Road magazine. In the meantime, we've kept ourselves busy leading exciting backroad tours into some of our favorite haunts south of the border and planning our next big adventure: Africa, a return to South America, or possibly the Silk Route across Asia.
We haven't forgotten, though, that it all started here in Off-Road, and it was the enthusiasm and moral support of readers such as yourself that propelled us on to more challenging destinations. For that, we are grateful. It has been a lifestyle full of unforgettable experiences. The Sacramento Bee once called us "modern-day vagabonds," and you can be sure we aren't letting any grass grow under our feet. Many have tried to follow in our path. We encourage that through detailed information, the forum on our Web site (www.turtleexpedition.com), and in countless e-mails we answer every week. As you will see in coming issues of Off-Road, though, there's only one Turtle Expedition Unltd.