BISMARK, N.D.--After traveling almost 8900 miles, two dusty Porsche Carrera 4's rolled across the border into Tijuana, Mexico two Fridays ago, thereby setting a record for covering all of North America-Alaska, Canada, the lower 48, and Mexico--in less than a week. My name won't show up in any record books, but I spent 24 hours driving one of those cars from Spokane, Wash. to Bismarck, N.D.
That was 24 hours, straight through, 24 hours, stopping only for gas and to switch seats with my co-driver. Driving a Porsche, nevertheless, this seemingly inane quest was for chairty. Porsche dubbed it "The Drive for Hope" and it raised $70,000 for the Hope Foundation, a clinical cancer research charity.
It also tested the limits of one of Porsche's sportier models--and its "lucky" drivers.
The phone woke me up at 4 a.m. on Sunday morning in my Spokane hotel room. I thought I should be grateful that daylight savings' time had ended a few hours earlier, but I was in no condition to do any math.
Half an hour later the cars stopped outside, just long enough for me to relieve one of the drivers and continue on our way. Though our ultimate destination was North Dakota, we took off to the south, just down to the Oregon border. (Back-hitting all 48 contiguous states calls for a rather circuitous route.) But after a tour of the Pacific coastline, we finally headed East.
The sun was up by the time we made it to Idaho, and we couldn't have asked for a better combination of car and road. Route 12 winds along a ravine. Looking down to the Middle Fork Lochsa River, the road appears in its numerous switchbacks and then climbs back up the other side into the distance. The guardrails along many sections of the road were apparently removed to allow for more breathtaking vistas--as well as shorter routes straight down if you didn't make it around a turn.
For some reason, the guardrails returned in Montana--perhaps for aesthetic purposes. I-90 runs straight through the state and across the continental divide, nothing to fear here.
The six-speed Carrera 4 proved to be worth its $72,000 base price, gripping the curves and accelerating through 300 horsepower--enough to blow past any car in our way, though more than a few tried to put up a fight.
Sponsors' stickers covered the cars, and spare tires and gas cans sat upon them in roof racks, so we were a curiosity to locals at most rest stops (though not as curious, I think, as the sign for the Testicle Festival in Montana).
I used to insist that I'd one day buy a Porsche even if it meant living in it, so I was grateful to learn that the seats proved comfortable for both driving and sleeping. The seats were so plush that after 48 hours, another driver actually cured himself of a backache. No comment on what actually caused it.
But who can complain when you're in a Porsche?
Unfortuantely, my endurance couldn't match the cars. I spent the full 24 hours, switching from driver to passenger in two-to-three hour shifts, eating whatever vegetarian offerings I could find at highway rest stops.
The first 12 hours went smoothly, and the excitement of driving a Carrera 4 in the land of high speed limits and no cops was enough to keep me alert. But as night fell and a heavy fog rolled in, my body started calling out for rest. I was grateful to switch with my co-driver, Linda, and to get a few hours' rest, but woke abruptly when Linda opened the window to keep herself awake.
There are lots of techniques to keep yourself awake while driving: listening to the radio, turning on the air conditioner, opening a window but we soon learned that they generally apply to everyone in the car. It was also much harder to get back to sleep after considering that my life was in the hands of someone who, after flying from Atlanta to Alaska and then driving for 48 hours, hadn't had a good night's sleep in several days.
Our team captain had recommended eating sunflower seeds to stay awake, but the process of extracting each seed from the shell proved too complicated and the finished product not worth the effort. Instead, I picked up a king-size bag of Skittles along the way, figuring the sugar would keep me alert.
I ate my way through the bag and made it to the next stop, but years from now I'll still cringe at the sight of those little colored candies.
North Dakota never looked so beautiful.