Medical scare makes for exhilarating test drive

I was driving about as fast I could along the narrow, twisty secondary road. I had a feeling the ferry might not run after midnight and, considering the circumstances, it was imperative we make the boat that would take us across the river so we could get to the city as quickly as possible.

I eased off, slipping through patches of ground fog, but on the high ground under the yellow cast of a full moon, I hammered the throttle and let the turbocharged engine do its magic with the agile little Subaru Impreza WRX station wagon. Every now and then, I would catch the faint silhouette of my 15-year-old daughter strapped into the passenger's seat.

"Is it getting worse?" I asked, trying to conceal my concern.

"No, but if it closes up before we get to the hospital what will we do?" She sounded scared, on the verge of crying.

A few hours earlier, Natalie had complained of a constriction in her windpipe that seemed to be cutting off her ability to breathe. It was a feeling she had never experienced and, considering we were at a friend's cottage an hour away from any medical help, I decided to take her to the hospital.

I had heard too many horrific stories about allergic reactions and even though Natalie didn't have a history of allergies, I had no idea what she might have encountered during the previous two days of swimming, tubing and romping around the lush vegetation along the river.

I was thankful to be behind the wheel of an exceptionally safe and well-handling car. Maneuvering through the labyrinth of back roads, I thought about the experience two days earlier when I had an opportunity to ride as a passenger with John Paynter, who with his brother Clarke, are rally champions. With the exception of suspension modifications, a roll cage and a free-flowing exhaust system, their car was essentially the same as the WRX I had today.

The ride with Paynter, down a designated one-lane private logging road, defied what I considered a car could do. He had casually drifted the WRX through impossible corners at ridiculous speeds with the ease most people push shopping carts through grocery stores. Getting airborne on some straight stretches added to my wonder of when anyone would ever need a car that could do what his WRX was doing. But now, with the ferry dock in sight, I was using every bit of those performance ingredients to get Natalie to someone who could tell us what was going on in her throat.

Earlier in the week, I had taken my travel agent, Catherine Tuck, on a spin in the WRX. At one point, while waxing on about the car's features, I forced the throttle down in second gear on a highway entrance ramp.

"With 227 turbocharged horsepower, it really hauls. Except for that slight turbo whine there is no engine noise, even under full throttle."

The tachometer was approaching the 7,200 rpm redline.

Catherine was rigid with feet braced to the floor. Both hands white-knuckled the armrest. Her wide eyes reminded me of a scene from "Night of the Living Dead." As I slammed the shifter into third gear, I heard her quietly murmur, "no engine noise."

But not as quiet as Natalie and I were during the short ferry ride across the shimmering, moonlit river. She was obviously upset and I didn't want her to know how worried I was. Then, it was a straight shot down a virtually empty four-laner to the city.

At the hospital, we were fast-tracked through the paperwork and taken directly to a treatment room, bypassing the horde of waiting-room late-nighters. A doctor was with us shortly, poking and prodding at Natalie while presenting a barrage of questions about allergies and her activities over the previous 24 hours. He looked serious.

Natalie and I took turns explaining what she had been up to ... swimming, playing cards, laughing and screaming on the back of a tube towed by a motorboat.

"Lots of that tube-towing stuff?" The doctor seemed to be relaxing a bit.

Nat nodded.

"And is your voice always raspy like it is now?" he asked.

She shook her head from side to side.

"Well it looks like you are suffering from T.M.F." He had a twinkle in his eye.

"T-M-what?" I asked.

"Too Much Fun. She has irritated her vocal chords from screaming too much. Get a good night's sleep and don't talk a lot for the next couple of days." The doctor obviously enjoyed giving the prognosis.

It was a quiet drive back to the cottage. And every once and a while, when the moonlight found its way into the cockpit, I could make out a little grin on Natalie's face. What a night. What a ride.

Sowerby, author of "Sowerby's Road:Adventures of a Driven Mind," is a four-time Guinness World Record holder for long-distance driving. His exploits, good, bad and just plain harrowing, are the subject of World Odyssey, produced in conjunction with Wheelbase Communications. Wheelbase is a worldwide provider of automotive news and features stories.