Three men drove west from Lookout Pass on Tuesday in an attempt to break their own world record.
They left in a rented van provided by Enterprise, one of their sponsors. A sign mounted on the side read: “Guinness Record 48 State Drive in Progress.”
In 1994, Jay Lowe, of Texas, and two partners set a Guinness World Record for driving through the contiguous 48 states in the least amount of time – 118 hours, 15 minutes, Lowe said. Since then, Guinness has stopped publishing the event in its record book. Despite that, others have attempted to break the record, spurring the record-holders to push their time lower and lower. In 1999, Lowe and his partners completed the journey in 104 hours, 57 minutes.
This time, Lowe, Ted Jacobs, of Tennessee, and a new navigator, Andrew Shull, of Texas, intend to put it out of reach. They’re shooting for 96 hours and think they have mapped a course to achieve that. They started at the Idaho-Montana border at 3 p.m. Tuesday and, if everything goes according to plan, they’ll end up in White River Junction, Vt., at 3 p.m. Saturday.
“I have mapped this thing 200 times,” said Jacobs, a 60-year-old truck driver.
Driving a van and armed with a laptop to research last-minute route changes, they’ll have to account for things like dodging rush hour and construction in all 48 states. They’re pretty tight-lipped about their route, but it essentially zigzags north and south, spanning 6,550 miles.
They won’t leave anything to chance. Consider:
•They budget no more than 4.5 minutes for each gas station stop.
•If they have to, they urinate in jugs in their van.
•They already have a New Jersey Turnpike pass to ensure they’ll sail through the toll booths.
“It’s really a mapping and a strategy event more than it is a speeding event,” said Lowe, a 55-year-old State Farm insurance agent who has tapped other agents nationwide for advice on the most efficient way through their areas. He even asked this reporter for tips on traveling westbound on Interstate 90 through Post Falls, considering the bridge construction near the state line.
Advance information about the Inland Northwest led the men to change their route to avoid U.S. Highway 95 south from Coeur d’Alene, through Lewiston and Clarkston. Instead, they’ll loop through the Tri-Cities on U.S. Highway 395 before heading toward Oregon.
“Sometimes the shortest distance is not the fastest,” Lowe said.
The men adhere strictly to the original rules laid out by Guinness, which they consider sacrosanct. Among them: Competitors can have only two drivers and one navigator; a traffic infraction, including speeding, means disqualification; and proof must be kept in the form of a log book, photos and witnesses. They use a video camera to capture images on the fly when they pass state signs and landmarks.
“You get to take one week of your life and face the challenge,” Jacobs said. “You feel good because you did it.”
Sara Wilcox, a spokeswoman for Guinness in New York, could not confirm the men’s record, despite an official-looking certificate on their website, 48in96.blogspot.com. She said those records are kept in the London office and could not be immediately verified. Guinness has more than 40,000 records in its database and only about 4,000 make it into the book every year, Wilcox said.
Lowe said he’s been lobbying Guinness for years to include the event in the book again.
He said the keys to their success include a route painstakingly developed over two years by Jacobs, who Lowe said won mapping awards in the Army. They consider the route a closely-guarded secret. And they travel almost nonstop.
“Don’t slow down; don’t take your time and relax. When you pull over for gas, don’t say I’m going to pet this cow over here,” Lowe said. “We’ve got a job to do.”
They won’t plan their 22 gas stops in advance. However, Shull, who is Lowe’s 28-year-old son-in-law, will use the laptop to research the closest stations just off the road and will call ahead to make sure the pumps are running fast.
“The gas stops have always been everybody’s nightmare,” Lowe said. “If you speed up an extra three miles an hour 30 minutes before and after a gas stop, you will eliminate those eight minutes.”
Lowe said he always gets asked which state is the prettiest.
“I promise you, every single time we always say the same thing – Idaho,” he said. “We love Idaho. That’s our No. 1.”