Sowerby contemplates defeat in Glasgow

“So you have had quite a history on the road setting all of these driving records,” said the cheerful BBC Radio host, directing his questions with enthusiasm. “And now you are here in Glasgow doing what?”

I tried to sound keen, pontificating fuel economy theories and my attempt to drive from London to Land’s End to John O’Groats and back to London without refueling. Up to now, I had had nothing but bad luck, from brick-wall head winds to bad navigation.

“And what about this pickup lorry, or truck, you are making the attempt in?” I was starting to squirm.

“Extended-cab, 6.2-liter-V-8 diesel, four-wheel-drive, modified fuel system,” I gave him the stock answers.

“Well, exactly how much fuel do you think you’ll have when you get back to London?”

His sincerity sickened me. My stomach churned. I couldn’t take any more.

“I pushed it too hard into head winds and got lost a couple of times. I’m not halfway and have burned over half my fuel.”

The rambling confession to all of Scotland helped me relax a little. “There’s no way I’ll make it.”

I slumped in my seat as he urged me not to give up and then switched on Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again.”

“Forget the Loch Ness route,” he advised. “Go northeast via Stirling and Perth. It’s a few miles shorter and a lot flatter.”

The rush-hour traffic was building as Glasgow faded in the rear view mirrors.

I held the engine speed at 1,950 revs per minute, peak torque for optimum fuel economy. The speedometer was steady at 51 mph, rolling along with the commuters. Snow and calm winds were predicted for the next day in the Highlands ahead.

That evening I checked into a small hotel right beside the road. The furnace was broken, but I didn’t want to waste fuel looking around for another place to stay. It was a cold night in there, racking my brain over economical driving techniques.

At breakfast the next morning, my mind was racing again. “I need restaurants right beside the road,” I thought. “No routing mistakes. Keep the speed down.”

“Er, excuse me, mate, but aren’t you the chap trying to get ’round Great Britain without refueling?” His eyes twinkled as he polished off his eggs and blood pudding at the next table. “Heard you on the BBC yesterday.”

Duke Windsor knew the roads of Scotland like the back of his hand and drew short cuts on my map and pointed out the level routes.

“Don’t worry lad, you’ll make ‘er!”

I headed north in the direction of Inverness through rolling hills, past abandoned castles and over rambling streams, stopping for lunch at a small roadside cafe overlooking the shimmering Dornoch Firth.

“Hey, you’re that guy running out of petrol!” the waitress exclaimed. She was sure I would make it, and so were the construction workers widening the road on a series of hair-pin turns just south of John O’Groats. A sea of thumbs shot up as I passed, along with rousing cheers.

There’s not much at John O’Groats, just a hotel out on a barren wind-swept point with a couple of quaint shops nearby. There’s a post office whose charming postmaster stamped the logbook.

“You’ll make ‘er,” he said with a smile as he carefully centered the postmark in the trip log. It seemed that everyone had heard my flaky interview on the BBC.

Back in the truck, I calculated that I would fall 150 miles short of London.

I checked into the hotel and, after freshening up, decided to contact Weathercall, a British weather advisory service and couldn’t believe my luck. A 40-knot tailwind from the northwest was forecast, with gusts of up to 70 mph.

The next morning, the flag in front of the hotel hung like wet laundry as I headed south for Inverness. Fluffy snowflakes settled on large, hairy cows that stood motionless in nearby pastures. I featherfooted the throttle through the Highlands. The winds stayed calm and so did I.

Just after noon, while crossing the bridge into Inverness, I noticed a promising chop on Moray Firth. Further south the tail wind picked up even more. Direction signs drifted past my periphery … Perth 20 miles, Stirling next right, keep left for Dumfries.

My foot was barely touching the throttle. The speedometer was pegged at 58 mph as I passed Carlisle, Preston and Birmingham.

A road sign indicated London was only 140 miles ahead. The auxiliary tank was empty and main tank registered just over an eighth left, or about about five gallons. The needle soon disappeared into the dashboard, yet that diesel engine still purred a fuel-stingy tune as I wound through the outskirts of London.

Approaching Marble Arch, I couldn’t resist pushing the throttle to the floor a couple of times.

“That one’s for my stiff knee, this is for freezing in that hotel and this is because I did it!”

I was laughing, out of control.

Representatives of the Royal Automobile Club were on hand to verify that the seals were still intact. I had driven 1,901.8 miles over the five-day econo-cruise and had averaged 21.89 mpg, close to the original goal calculations.

Looking back, the adventure had been an exercise in self-imposed stress. But with all the planning, the dedication to economical driving techniques, the scheming and the worrying, in the end I was saved by what had been my biggest enemy: the wind.

Garry 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.

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