When I first met Steve Shoppman and Steve Bouey more than two years ago, their plan sounded a little crazy. The longtime roommates and adventure lovers had read a 1967 memoir called Who Needs a Road?, about a road trip all the way around the world, and they decided to repeat the journey -- a story told in "Road Warriors," my January 2007 Westword feature article. Ignoring the fact that the book's authors, in the introduction to a 1999 reprint, cautioned intrepid dreamers that such a trip could not be done again because the world had grown far too dangerous, the Steves set about repeating the feat. They built a website, www.TheWorldByRoad.com, attracted sponsors, cashed in a 401(k), obtained the necessary visas, vaccines, insurance and driver's licenses, and shipped the Toyota Tundra and Sequoia they'd be traveling in to Australia.
In February of 2007, their two-year drive through six continents began in Australia. They would then wind through Asia, Europe, Africa, cross the Atlantic by ferry to South America and come up through North America. When I talked to them in June of 2007, they'd already run out of gas in the middle of the outback and had to hand pump twenty-year-old aviation fuel into the trucks, been attacked by leaches in the jungle, seen Thai villages devastated by a tsunami, shown border guides where to sign and stamp their own papers, and experienced more than one funding crisis.
Today - two years and 65,800 miles later - they're back in Denver, recharging before they drive to Alaska and then New York to complete the journey.
Shoppman and Bouey have hundreds, if not thousands of stories to tell - off-roading through Mongolia because there were no roads; taking a snow plow in Norway to the point farthest North you can drive anywhere in the world; having customs agent itemize the bribes they were demanding in Buenos Aires. But by far the wildest adventures came in Africa. The crew had been planning to travel the more developed East side of the continent, but they couldn't get visas into Libya, so they had to travel the West coast through Congo, Nigeria, Niger, Senegal and Mali. "Probably a third of the countries had just gotten out of civil war or technically were still in civil war in some places," Shoppman says. "It was pretty intense. For two months, we slept outside every day. It was the real-deal Third World. We all lost a ton of weight. Both Steve and I got Malaria."
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As far as the craziest experience, Bouey says it was without a doubt their encounter with the "ninja" rebels in the Pool Region of the Republic of the Congo: "We knew we would be driving through rebel territory and that there was a chance we would run into remnants of the rebels who had recently just signed a peace accord with the government, but nothing can truly prepare you for when you turn the corner on a muddy road in the middle of the Congolese jungle and see a bunch of young, stoned rebels blocking the road holding Ak-47's. Images from Blood Diamond immediately start to flash through your mind. It was a tense moment, but we were able to negotiate in French and convince the rebels not to rob us or worse. We did give them a few packs of cigarettes and a few dollars, but in return, we told them we were famous reporters from the U.S. and that if they posed for photos with us, we would put them on the cover of Time magazine. They agreed and we have some of the most amazing photos from the trip as a result. Later that day, we ran into more rebels and this time convinced them not only that they should not rob or kidnap us, but that they should let us camp with them for the night. CRAZY."
You can meet the crew and hear more wild stories tonight at Vinyl, 1082 Broadway, for their welcome home party starting at 9 p.m. on the roof. (Admission is $5, or $10 if you're under 21.) They'll be showing videos and photos, and the trucks will be parked out front for people to check out. Both Steves have spent every last dime they have, so they'll be looking for sponsors and donations, too, to help them get back on the road to Alaska in a month.
When the trip is done, they plan to make a documentary, write a book and travel to schools on a speaking tour. The purpose of the trip has always been educational, Shoppman says, and he wants to share not only what he's learned about the world - which is a lot - but his newfound appreciation for American culture, and his home state of Colorado.