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Published: Thursday, 11/13/2008

Ultimate road trip in Jeep Wranglers to take group from Paris to New York

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

They're going the long way - 27,000 miles on a path that includes about 3,100 miles of mostly roadless Siberian winter wilderness, 50 miles of horribly treacherous ocean, and 1,500 miles of frigid Alaskan coastline.

And if they make it across, they plan to stop in Toledo next spring to visit the men and women who built their Wrangler Unlimited Rubicons.

The intrepid team of adventure-seekers is led by Matthias Jeschke, 37, a father of two who in 2007 broke a world altitude record for production vehicles by driving a Wrangler to near the summit of Ojos del Salado, a volcano in Chile, to an altitude of 21,837 feet.

Mr. Jeschke was in Minsk, Belarus, yesterday and spoke to The Blade via cell phone and e-mail. Asked why he would embark on

such a monumental undertaking, he said the journey "is one of the few historical automotive performances which still have to be done on our otherwise totally developed and explored world."

A longtime off-road enthusiast and owner of the company Extrem Events, Mr. Jeschke since 1996 has taught others the skills needed to navigate without the benefit of a roadway. In addition to driving to the summit of a Chilean volcano, he's also driven from Alaska to Argentina in a four-wheel-drive vehicle, although that one wasn't a Jeep.

To prepare for this expedition, Mr. Jeschke said he drove one of the Jeeps last winter to Omejkon, Russia - recognized as the coldest inhabited place on earth - where the temperature in winter typically is minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit.

"It was a test drive of the Jeep Wrangler for us," Mr. Jeschke said. "We took one Jeep Wrangler [9,320 miles] across Russia. The whole trip took two months."

He said he chose the Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon for the journey after driving it in South America. "It was absolutely amazing for me how easy it was for me to drive and how strong the cars are," Mr. Jeschke said. "At one point, I approached Chrysler about this and it's why I decided to drive it around the world. It is the strongest car I could have on the expedition."

While the vehicles are important to the success of the journey, he said the cooperation of volunteers in 20 countries around the world was even more vital to making it.

"It is extremely dangerous, so dangerous that we have to expect we can lose our lives. But we've prepared everything so perfect. We are really careful," Mr. Jeschke said. "I'm afraid of a lot of situations. I'm happy that I'm afraid, because it is important to think of a lot of details."

The trip, he claims, "is not crazy. It is very hard project work. We're doing this because nobody before has done this, drive around world."

Project manager Jurgen Graf said the idea for the west-to-east worldwide traverse came to Mr. Jeschke shortly after he set his world altitude record in a Wrangler Rubicon.

Planning for the trip started about 17 months ago in Germany and is ongoing, he said. The three Jeeps left Paris in a caravan on Oct. 1, and expect to roll into New York City on or about May 29.

The trip will be difficult, and the exact route remains fluid, especially so in that big 53-mile stretch where there is no land.

"We [plan to] reach Magadan [Russia] by Dec. 27, then all roads are ending," Mr. Graf said in his thick German accent. "The next 5,000 kilometers [about 3,100 miles] will be without any roads to reach the Bering Strait."

That part of the journey, through the dark and cold Siberian wilderness, is expected to take two months, allowing the team to reach the strait in February - the coldest time of the year and their best chance for an ice bridge that will allow them to drive across most, if not all, of the expanse.

"It's the most dangerous and the most crucial part of the trip," Mr. Graf said. To cross the strait, the Jeeps will put on special outrigger pontoons "as a safety precaution." The pontoons are being towed the whole way on trailers.

The vehicles also are outfitted with outboard engines that, along with their special "swimming tires" should help propel them through the water.

The five occupants of the Jeeps will wear special survivor suits to combat the elements, and winch systems on the Jeeps will be employed to get the vehicles out of the water and back onto the ice, Mr. Graf explained.

Once across the strait, the team will have to traverse coastal Alaska inland to Fairbanks. Local guides have volunteered to show them the way, and arrangements are being made with Inuit tribes in the area to procure food and fuel.

Once the team makes it to North America, they plan to drive their way across the United States and Canada at a more leisurely pace, stopping in a number of towns to visit their sponsors.

Ariel Gavilan, a spokesman for Chrysler LLC, said this week the automaker is providing technical assistance and financial support to the team's efforts. He confirmed that the Wranglers being used were manufactured in Toledo, and that Chrysler engineers have assisted mostly in helping to seal the vehicle's cabin to the elements - including the prospect of open water.

"They're going to face extreme, extreme conditions, so they have made some modifications," Mr. Gavilan explained. "We provided some financial help and some know-how."

Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. of Akron provided the team with special tires to traverse the globe, including a special swimming tire. And Dana Holding Co. in Toledo provided the special heavy-duty axles that are to help the Wranglers survive in the extreme winter conditions of Siberia, Alaska, and the Bering Strait.

Jeep enthusiasts around the world can follow the progress of the adventure on Mr. Jeschke's Web site, www.pny2009.com, and can see the modifications made to the three Wranglers to allow them to complete such a fantastic journey.

Being used are renewable fuels and lubricants that help reduce the team's carbon footprint as much as possible, Mr. Graf explained.

If the team is successful in its historic journey - it should be noted that a 1965 film called The Great Race that starred Tony Curtis was about an automobile race from New York to Paris - the team and its sponsors plan a very long celebration of their achievement linking the three continents.

"Chrysler will probably do a big fireworks when we're crossing the Bering Strait, because then, the world is too small," Mr. Graf said.

Although it wasn't on the trip's original itinerary, Mr. Jeschke said he planned to alter his route to include a stop in Toledo next spring to visit the factory where his Wrangler Unlimited Rubicons were made.

"It'll be the Jeep coming home," he said.

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at:

lvellequette@theblade.com

or 419-724-6091.



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