Only nine men had successfully crossed the United States in an automobile at that time. Two of these men were recruited to assist race officials with charting the American leg of the great auto race. From New York the teams were to proceed to the first official checkpoint – Chicago. Roads were meager, but seemed downright modern compared to the dirt paths of the Great Plains and mountain trails of the far west. The second, and final U.S. checkpoint was San Francisco. From there, racers were to travel by ship to Valdez, drive across Alaska, over the ice of the Bering Strait, then on to Siberia, Asia and Europe.
That was the plan at least. And that’s why race organizers chose to start in the middle of winter – so that the Bering Strait would be frozen. The American entry was the first to find out that driving past the 49th parallel in North America would be impossible.
Adjustments to the official race route were constantly required. In the end, teams traveled by ship from San Francisco to Japan, drove across the island, crossed the water to Vladivostock, slogged across Siberia, through Manchuria, Russia, Germany and into Paris.
But it was easy to draw lines on a map. No one could have charted mountains 10,000 feet high, bridgeless rivers, miles of mud tall enough to reach a horse’s belly, seasickness, deserts, mutiny, bandits, wolves, and average citizens who would go to great lengths to help their favorite team – or hinder the ones they weren’t cheering for.
Almost six months from the sound of the starter pistol and 22,000 miles from Times Square, three of the six starting teams pulled into Paris.