Garry Sowerby World Odyssey: A cool vibe - East Valley Tribune: Business

Garry Sowerby World Odyssey: A cool vibe

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Posted: Friday, November 28, 2008 10:35 pm | Updated: 8:57 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

No, Canadians don’t live in ingloos, but instead inside lovely ice houses such as this. Just kidding.This rare sight (even for Canadians) has gorgeous ice carvings within.

I figured morning at Num-Ti-Jah Lodge, a rustic treasure overlooking Bow Lake Glacier, in the Canadian province of Alberta, would be different.

So I lay wide awake for a few long minutes before sneaking a look at the digital alarm clock beside my 15th bed in as many days.

In the silence, I tried to convince myself that this time the clock wouldn’t register the ungodly hour of 4:11 a.m. that was getting so familiar. But thoughts of the day ahead soon revved me up, my eyes popped open and there it was: a four and an eleven staring me in the face.

Yes, the ever-present “Drive the Vibe” was reminding me more of the movie Amityville Horror where the primary characters wake up at the exact same time every day. But the similarity always ended when my bare feet hit the floors of a mishmash of unlikely accommodations between Canada’s east and west coasts.

A few months earlier, the folks at General Motors had asked us to develop a cross-Canada media event. At the time, the General was launching a new car called the Pontiac Vibe and, considering the notorious Canadian winter climate, reckoned a cross-country drive would avoid the possibility of a brutal snowstorm blowing out an event staged in a single location. Nothing like being a moving target for the weather.

My job would be to develop and referee an engaging road game for up to 60 competing journalists armed with a technological concoction of laptop computers, cell phones, Blackberrys and digital cameras. Results would be played out to a virtual Internet audience as the trans-continental quest unfolded.

In the weeks leading up to the mid-February start date, GM recruited three relay teams of 20 journalists each. Meanwhile, my wife Lisa and I drove more than half an equator length back and forth across Canada building the framework of the 5,000-mile road game.

Our intent was to produce an event that would showcase just what the Great White North has to offer during the worst possible time for a cross-Canada driving trek.

In late February, Lisa, myself and a threeperson support team launched three Vibes on Leg One out of the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic on the Halifax, Nova Scotia waterfront. For the geographically challenged, that’s northeast of Maine. Participants would score for finding, photographing and experiencing a series of obvious, quirky and bizarre stops along the way. Uploading related pictures and status reports to the Internet using the amalgam of new technology would earn extra points.

While Lisa handled the logistics and compiled the scores from our office, the roadies Bill Rumsey, Peter Schlay and Heather Capstick helped keep the wheels of the non-stop brain cramp in motion.

Along the way we solved plenty of behindthe-scenes problems. We rescheduled rooms in Rocanville, Saskatchewan — straight up from North Dakota — after getting bumped by a chinchilla convention, staffed the relay points and visited plenty of small-town car washes. We sent teams ice fishing on snowmobiles and endured midnight fire alarms.

Our guests feasted on moose meat in an isolated fishing camp and relaxed at Sunday dinner with all the trimmings at a prairie farmhouse. One freezing night, a whole town turned out and threw a curling party for us. In case you’ve never heard of it, curling is like shuffleboard on a 100-foot-long stretch of ice.

The interiors of our support vehicles looked like mobile command posts. While power inverters hummed, walkie-talkies crackled and cell phones chirped, roadie Heather Capstick and I kept ahead setting up the 34 overnight and lunch venues. Meanwhile, roadies Bill and Pete swept the routes waiting for problems. At night we became Vibe-raters, scoring the daily results. We juggled more than 200 activity options. We chased gremlins around the technology.

When it ended on the west coast in Vancouver, British Columbia — north of Seattle, Wash. — we went our separate ways. I got back to dealing with Lisa in a non-virtual way. Bill Rumsey rallied the wrenches in his service bay back home and Peter Schlay strapped on his real estate job. Heather probably reached for her seatbelt more than once sitting at her desk in the Nova Scotia Museum where she worked.

The trusty Vibes became just another list of stock numbers and the journalists turned their attentions elsewhere. Hopefully, the marketing and public relations people at General Motors patted themselves on the back for the novel and engaging way the event helped the journalists looked at themselves, Canada and the new Vibe.

The Odyssey roadies were happy for a job well done but sad to see the end of the unrelenting “Drive the Vibe”

And I was relieved to wake up to a clock that didn’t read 4:11 a.m.

Join Garry Sowerby, a four- time Guinness World Record holder for long-distance driving, on his tales of motoring mania.Follow his accounts of 30 years of global road adventures: out-driving the clock on a race around the world; narrowly escaping bandits’bullets in Kenya;and smuggling books behind the Iron Curtain. The master road tripper hasn’t slowed down yet.

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