CHAPEL HILL — In the hippie days, many a couple decided to strike out for California in a brightly decorated Volkswagen bug when warm weather came.
Forty years later, anOrange County husband and wife are following that dream a few thousand miles farther. They're driving their 1967 VW from New York City to San Francisco, then across China, Russia and Europe to Paris.
Active older people Ed and Janet Howle realize their 44-year-old car, however iconic, can't cross the Pacific Ocean after they reach San Francisco. So, like the 15 or so other teams starting next month in a recreation of the 1908 World Race, they'll wait for a month while their vintage car is shipped across the ocean.
Once the cars arrive inChina and spend two days in quarantine, it's on to Paris and a July 23 deadline.
"Our concerns are endless," said Janet, 65, a pediatric physical therapist who will switch off navigating and driving with her husband. "These are long, demanding days."
Why rough-ride around most of the world when for the same money they could luxuriate on a cruise ship? It turns out that the Howles, especially Ed, 76, might be calledcrazy restless.
The couple once moved to Paris for five years on a whim, raised three biological children and adopted three others, spent months sailing the Caribbean while home-schooling their youngest children, and were booked to take part in a 2008 World Race until the Chinese government canceled it because of political unrest.
Ed says he's able to fix the car if it breaks; the Howles own other vintage cars including a 1957 Mercedes 190SL and a 1932 De Soto.
"It beats a retirement community," said Ed, a retired UNC-Chapel Hill economics professor. "I'd rather be driving through Kazakhstan than living in the most luxurious retirement community in the world."
Even though it's called a race, the 14,000-mile jaunt takes the form of a rally, where drivers and cars have to reach a series of predetermined destinations at specific times. It's an attempt to revisit the 1908 race, which covered 22,000 miles in 169 days. The success of participants including George Schuster, who won driving an American-made Thomas Flyer, helped convince the world that horseless carriages were more than a passing fancy.
"There were 250,000 people at the start of that race," said Jerry Price, of Plymouth, Wis., owner of Price Team Racing and an organizer of the modern version. "If it wasn't for that race, there wouldn't be an Indianapolis 500. The automobile craze started after that."
To understand the Howles' whole saga, it's necessary to explain the role of the walker and the book.
The walker is the Kaye posture-control walker, a device that the couple invented using her expertise in physical therapy and his mechanical nature. Designed to allow children with cerebral palsy and other disabilities to get around, the walker caught on almost immediately and is used all over the United States and internationally.
"It's one of those things that spread because of the need," Janet said.
Continuing to earn income by designing a series of products, they embarked on projects including the book, "The Long Road to Paris," a suspense thriller based on the 2008 World Race, the one that didn't happen. Janet describes it as "a lethal combination of international espionage, a secret alternative technology engine and a convoluted, dangerous romance." It's for sale via the couple's website, www.thelongroadtoparis.com; the curious can read the first 40 pages on Amazon.com.
A visit to the Howles in the woody recesses of Orange County can take on a surreal quality. They're outgoing, educated people, with a spacious and comfortable home and some great cars. However, the VW bug that will be their home for several months, with nightly stops at hotels, looks no more comfortable than the ones boomers remember from the day.
Yet, barring the unforeseen, they'll take off from New York City next month and together negotiate roads across America, China, Kazakhstan, Eastern Europe and the boulevards of Paris to wind up at the Eiffel Tower more than three months later.
"They're a great, great couple, and it'll be lots of fun," Price said.
If there's a message in it, said Janet, it's a simple one: "The important thing for people of any age is to make your life the adventure you want it to be. It can be gardening; it can be watching your grandchildren."
Added Ed: "And don't let people tell you that you can't do it."
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