by Conrad Blickenstorfer, most pics by Marius Biela, July 2011
The Pan-American Highway is the longest road in the world, connecting the southern-most part of South America with the northern-most part of Alaska. In July of 2011, renowned adventurer and off-road driver, Rainer Zietlow, and his team commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Pan-American Highway with the ultimate endurance challenge—a 16,000 mile two-week drive from Argentina to Alaska in a turbo-charged clean diesel 2011 Volkswagen Touareg. The team's choice of onboard computer: a ultra-rugged Getac V100 convertible notebook.
Start and end: Starts at Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, and ends at in Deadhorse, Alaska, a two-week journey through 14 countries on what is really a network of at least "motorable" roads.
Why the Getac V100?
Why did the TDI Panamericana team select the Getac V100? Officially because "its rugged design allows the Getac V100 to perform flawlessly in extreme working environments where weather conditions and physical abuse are unavoidable." During a satellite phone interview, Zietlow said they essentially had two choices (Panasonic or Getac) and their primary navigation systems partner, Touratech in Germany, recommended Getac. Zietlow also mentioned the compact size of the V100 and, especially, the very bright screen that can also be turned way down so it's usable at night without distracting the driver's concentration. And how is the Getac V100 being used? For the most part to show the team their precise route and precisely where they are, and do so on a display that is much larger and much brighter than any on-board or dedicated GPS display.
How did it go?: Being half a world away doesn't mean the TDI Panamericana team is isolated and cut off. The Toureg has this big Inmarsat satellite antenna on its roof and the team can actually broadcast its progress directly to the world. Recorded video streams are uploaded to the team's TDI Panamericana website and Zietlow frequently reports live from the Touareg.
The big adventure was originally supposed to start on June 29, 2011, but remember that it's winter in the southern hemisphere. When RuggedPCReview.com spoke to Rainer the snow came down heavy, and it got so bad that they had to postpone the start to July 2nd. The all-wheel-drive Touareg could have handled the snow, but a mountain pass (the Paso Internacional Los Liberators at 11,500 feet between Argentina and Chile) was closed. The pictures below were taken July 1 in Ushuia in Tierra del Fuego.
July 2, 2011: And they are off! Leaving from Ushuaia bright and early, the Touareg headed east for the coast, then more or less up the coast and leaving Tierra del Fuego behind, for a good 600+ mile first day. Note that road conditions vary. According to Rainer, in many areas the Pan American Highway is really just a one-lane dirt or gravel road (good thing the Getac V100 has been vibration-tested according to IEC 68-2-6 / MIL-STD-810F, Method 514.5). So the team must make good time when they can!
Where the Getac TDI Panamericana team is on: July 2, 2011
July 3, 2011: But how can they cover 16,000 miles in just 14 days? That's 1,142 miles per day, or an average of 47.6 miles per hour, including whatever stops the team must make, and traveling on marginal roads. To put that in perspective, the team's average speed, if they can indeed make it in 14 days, would be good enough for a top-10 overall finish in the Baja 500, and that is just 500 miles. So it'd be like 32 Baja 500s in a row. Now there's real-world vibration testing for the Getac V100! In the past 24 hours, the team added almost 1,500 miles (Rainer praised Argentina's excellent roads that make cruising at 65-75 mph possible) and they are now just miles from the entrance into the Tunel del Cristo Redentor into Chile. The entrance is at 11,500 feet, almost twice the altitude of Lake Tahoe. Good thing the V100 can handle 15,000 feet. Rainer mentioned their first fuel stop at Mendoza the last Argentinian city before the pass. They filled both the main tank (26 gallons) and the extra 80 gallon tank. Assuming the turbo diese Touareg gets 25 mpg on the open road, the team may be able to go 2,500 miles before refueling!
Where the Getac TDI Panamericana team is on: July 3, 2011
July 4, 2011: While the US is celebrating Independence Day, the Panamericana team is hauling some serious miles. They made it over and through the Andes, through the Tunel del Cristo Redentor into Chile, down the infamous Los Caracoles (-32.8584, -70.1435; see side bar), a rapid sequence of 17 hair pin curves dropping from 8,400 feet down 800 feet within a distance of 1,700 feet as the crow flies! The team reached the Pacific coast north of Santiago and began the long 1,250 mile haul up the Chilean coast (and that's only about 1/3 of the Chilean coast) to the Peruvian border. Rainer reported some heavy fog and whiteout conditions that forced them to stop at times, else all seems well. Among the team's video equipment is a tiny yet incredibly useful GoPro camera (the same that we use to record giant mantas and sharks on scuba in Socorro). Rainer pointed out that later in the day they'd pass the Nazca desert with its ancient giant sand drawings (see see Nazca Lines). The next fuel stop is around Lima. The two-lane roads through the very dry, mountaineous Peruvian landscape interspersed with green valleys seem good, with the major challenge to fly past very slow trucks and slowing down for the inevitable road bumpers Peruvian villages use to slow down traffic.
Also note that Getac has certified partners in Chile. They are Rugged Tech, which covers Chile, Argentina, Peru and Bolivia and even uses some of RuggedPCReview.com's Getac product images, and M-Tech Chile S.A..
Where the Getac TDI Panamericana team is on: July 4, 2011
July 5, 2011: And the TDI Panamericana team with the Getac V100 rugged convertible notebook computer on board has made it almost all the way through Peru, mostly on Route 1N along or near the coast. They made it past the 9-million metropolis of Lima at night, avoiding getting stuck in traffic. It wasn't easy going past Lima, though, with an endless sequence of mountain passes, and stretches of near inpenetrable fog that reduced visibility to just a few feet. Rainer reports that Peru tends to its roads, but there are some gnarly potholes and a good number of manned traffic lights. Add to that lots of buses, the favorite transportation of the local Incas, and funky 3-wheeler cabs, and the intrepid trio must pay attention, all the while stretching the Touareg's legs with 80 mph runs to make up time whenever possible. Rainer notes how the car handles differently when the big extra fuel tank is filled; it's like having an extra NFL linebacker on board. Life video shows a dry landscape with the occasional mining truck and oil derrick. Rainer ponders that to keep awake the crew listens to whatever local radio station they can get. He, though, Rainer mentions, prefers to listen to the sweet sound of the Touareg's powerful turbo diesel.
Where the Getac TDI Panamericana team is on: July 5, 2011
July 6, 2011: Oh, oh... for a while there it looked like the Touareg was stuck at the Colombian border before Ipiales, but after a delay they're now in Colombia. In his twice daily live update, Rainer reported the team finally managed to have a much anticipated shower in Quito, Peru. Now they are in South Colombia on what looks like a rather narrow stretch of the Pan-American. Rainer mentioned bumpy up-and-down roads, potholes and the constant danger of mudslides (or residual from older mudslides). Then there are the slow trucks that make crossing Columbia a somewhat time-consuming task. The team passes a military police motorcycle with machine guns, then stops for a brief conversation with a group of locals who walk along the road with a donkey. Rainer remarks on the much increased safety and security in Colombia that allows travel at all hours and how it wasn't always that way. By nightfall they hope to pass the Colombian city of Cali, then on to Medellin, and soon it will be time to load everything on a plane in Cartagena to make it past the one 50-mile stretch in Panama where there is no road. Overall, crossing the relatively small country of Colombia takes an exhausting 26 hours or so. Rainer mentions they've covered 5,300 miles so far.
Where the Getac TDI Panamericana team is on: July 6, 2011
July 7, 2011: And they made it to the top of South America, so far having passed Argentina, Chile, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. 6,100 miles are in the book, with another 6,000 to go, so that's less than the 16,000 miles quoted in the original press release. It'd still mean an average of 35.7 mph, good for a top 20 finish in the Baja 500, but like 24 Baja 500s in a row. Now it'll be a short plane ride on a cargo Boeing 737 from Cartagena's Aeropuerto Rafael Nunez to Panama City and then on through a good half dozen small Central American nations. The team's morning report (they usually live-report twice a day, at 10AM and 2PM their time) was fairly brief. All seems well in the Touareg with the Getac computer onboard. Relatively slow going on the narrow, busy Colombian roads with slow trucks and speedbumps. The team has been on the road now for six days straight, driving over 23 hours each day, full concentration required at all time, and just what looks like a thin mattress on top of the secondary diesel tank to grab some shuteye. Apropos diesel, Rainer says the special low-sulphur fuel is shipped in drums from Houston and placed along their refueling supply chain. Not too many needed, though, with the Touareg probably going almost 2,500 miles on the two tanks.
And the team has now made the 300 mile flight to Panama City's Aeropuerto Internacional De Tocumen (how does one check a Volkswagen?).
Where the Getac TDI Panamericana team is on: July 7, 2011
July 8, 2011: After landing in Panama City, the TDI Panamericana team took to the road again, tackling a string of small Central American nations. First crossing the Panama Canal just west of Panama City, then negotiating the the entire length of the narrow (in certain parts just 35 miles) country, then over the border into Costa Rica at Canoas. Costa Rica, a nation of under five million people, has been a stable republic for almost 200 years and prides itself in being one of the "greenest" countries in the world. They must have liked the clean diesel Touareg. Just seven hours later another border, this time from Costa Rica into Nicaragua.
In the team's morning live feed, Rainer told of the plane ride in a "very old" plane where they were even allowed to sit in the cockpit. He then praised Panama's infrastructure, and how green and lush Costa Rica was. Narrower roads there and many national parks. We got to see a live border crossing on a wet gravelly road from Costa Rica into Nicaragua with Rainer explaining the ultimate importance to have all your paperwork done and ready to produce at all time. The Latin and South American countries seem so united, he said, but border crossings are "strictly old style." Normally they have to pay a fee of US$10-15 per person, but getting into Nicaragua cost just a buck each. An endless row of trucks going the other way, with a passing one forcing the Touareg clean off the road. Rainer thanked Peter Nagel, their logistics partner, for his terrific work in oganizing all the boder crossings and other important details. Now it'll take just three hours to make it through Nicaragua and then into Honduras.
Where the Getac TDI Panamericana team is on: July 8, 2011
July 9, 2011: Slower going on the Carretera Panamericana through these Central American nations. In the past 24 hours, the team made it through Nicaragua and into Honduras at San Juan (top picture below) for a brief 80 mile stretch in Honduras, then past the border between Honduras and San Salvador at El Amatillo (bottom picture below). Both of these border crossings look quite adventurous, with wild rivers and officious border buildings on each side (see below).
Making the entire length of El Salvador is just a 160 mile trip, then it's another interesting border into Guatemala at La Hachadura (see below). Having firsthand experience with those borders, I suspect Peter Nagel's assistance came in handy.
Then the team crossed Guatemala (200 miles or so) and then another picturesque border crossing into Mexico at Ciudad Hidalgo (see below). Too bad they probably didn't get a chance to look around much. Guate is a beautiful country and I have very fond memories of Antigua Guatemala, the country's old capital with gorgeous but earthquake-ravaged Spanish architecture.
In his live feed from Southern Mexico, Rainer talked about one of the main slow-downs, the temporary registration/importation paperwork and procedures for the car. Compared to that, passport controls and other paperwork is simple, but to get the vehicular registrations all settled often means going out of the way to get all the necessary stickers and import papers. They had good weather the past couple of days, but Rainer says for the first time on this trip, the team is now quite exhausted, there are some minor tensions, the magnitude of this endurance challenge is sinking in, and the team has to fight for motivation and staying awake. After the very challenging roads in Guatemala, they are now looking forward Mexico's much better highways and then the US. But first a stop at the Viva Mexico building for the Touareg's temporary vehicle importation permit. And here they run into a South American guy who is also doing the whole trip from Ushuaia to Alaska, allocating about 20 days. Sounds like while the Pan-American road itself works well, there's a lot of hassle actually using cars on them!
Hang in there guys! You're doing great and the world is watching you! And awesome pictures and video, Marius!
Where the Getac TDI Panamericana team is on: July 9, 2011
July 10, 2011: The team is hauling some serious miles on the Mexican highway system! After a few slow days in Central America, they've spooled off about 1,300 miles in the last 24 hours. Rainer tells of the very nice Mexican roads, mostly toll roads that use sort of an EasyPass system. Not sure what the speed limit is, but the Touareg is doing 90mph (I believe) when he reports. Rainer sounds very alert, but Carlos in the passenger seat keeps nodding off and Marius is "very tired." They had hoped to be able to sleep on top of the auxiliary tank, but there's just too much stuff, and so they sleep in their seats.
Rainer praises the 3M paint protection film on the Touareg that made a difference on all those gravel roads. He also mentions the Getac V100 that they've used as their primary navigation system. The Touareg stops at a toll booth (not all work with EasyPass) and Rainer tries to pay with Peruvian money by mistake. Oops. Rainer hopes that the team may see some US fans as the Touareg goes up US Route 25 after they enter the US at El Paso.
Where the Getac TDI Panamericana team is on: July 10, 2011
July 11, 2011: And the TDI Panamericana team is in the US. After what seemed a lengthy stop at the Mexican-US border at El Paso where the team got their CBP Form I-94, piling on the miles on the US highways is easy. Almost 1,400 in the past 24 hours and they are near Casper, Wyoming. Despite 9 days and 6 hours on the road continuously, the team is in good spirits and highly motivated. A smiling Rainer gives a tour of the car, showing all the equipment, including the Getac V100 they used to display the detailed maps in South and Central America. The Volkswagen Touareg is jam-packed-full of stuff, but there's surprisingly little clutter. Those guys are pros!.
In his second live broadcast of the day, Rainer reports from Montana, cruising along at 75mph, and wishing the state had not repealed unlimited speed at night. The big VW Touareg, packed full of stuff, with large tires and the sizeable immarsat antenna on the roof, consistently gets between 26 and 28 mpg. Very impressive. Rainer tells how the police chief at Prudhoe Bay in Alaska will welcome them and receive the medallion sent along with the team by officials at the trip's start at Ushuaia in Tierra Del Fuego, Argentina.
Where the Getac TDI Panamericana team is on: July 11, 2011
July 12, 2011: One look at the map shows what single-minded long distance drivers can do on a modern interstate system. Almost 1,500 miles in the last 24 hours! The team very quickly crossed the United States and is now already some 600 miles into Canada. These guys must have good bladder control to boot. Not much in Rainer's morning report, but apparently mosquitos and assorted bugs are now an issue. Unfortunately, it still seems difficult to upload pictures and high-res video, and they haven't been able to update the gallery since Colombia. During the day, though, Marius manages to upload a cool video showing their flight from Cartagena to Panama City.
Later on in the day, it's obvious on the map that the TDI Panamericana team is making incredible time. They made it through Alberta, then British Columbia and already entered the Yukon, and are just 300 miles from the Alaskan border.
Where the Getac TDI Panamericana team is on: July 12, 2011
July 13, 2011: And the team is now just past the Alaskan border on the Alaska Highway, after a good thousand miles through the Yukon Territory. Now it'll be on to Fairbanks, and then pushing up through the final few hundred miles to Prudhoe Bay. I can only imagine what the TDI Panamericana team in their Touareg must feel. They must be very far beyond tired after almost two weeks without a bed.
Where the Getac TDI Panamericana team is on: July 13, 2011
July 14, 2011: Just as the TDI Panamericana team negotiated the final stretch of their incredible adventure, the RuggedPCReview.com team departed on its own journey, a trip to Switzerland that temporarily reduced our Internet access to what was possible on an iPad, which unfortunately did not include reliable access to our files.
While we jetted across the US and then the Atlantic, Rainer and his team in the Getac V100-equipped Volkswagen Touareg TDI Clean Diesel completed the trip in record time. The last leg consisted of a long ride on the Dalton Highway that more or less runs alongside the oil pipeline from Anchorage to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. They arrived at Deadhorse after 11 days, 17 hours and 22 minutes of non-stop driving, covering 14 countries and almost 16,000 miles.
RuggedPCReview.com congratulates the TDI Panamericana team on this incredible demonstration of endurance and determination! And Getac for making available their V100 rugged convertible notebook computer.
Where the Getac TDI Panamericana team is on: July 14, 2011
Getac V100 Specifications
Rugged convertible notebook
Mid 2010, as update to existing V100
Intel Core i7 640UM with 4MB L3 cache
1.2GHz (up to 2.26GHz with Turbo Boost)
Thermal Design Power
Intel Graphics Media Accelerator HD with maximum of 1024MB dynamic shared memory
Integrated into processor
Windows 7 Professional
2GB/8GMB DDR3 800/1066MHz
10.4-inch/1024x768 pixel sunlight-readable "QuadraClear" TFT with 1,200 nits LED backlight
The Pan-American Highway is less of a highway and more of a loose network of at least "motorable" roads measuring almost 30,000 miles in total. The highway winds through Argentina, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, the United States, and Canada. The roadways are contiguous except for a roughly 50 mile gap in Panama.
From top to bottom: Rainer Zietlow (expedition leader and primary driver), Juan Carlos Fernandez (technician, translator and co-driver), and Marius Biela (photographer, videographer and co-driver).
The computer: Getac V100
A Getac V100 convertible notebook with cutting edge, glove-friendly multi-touch and full sunlight readability with Intel Core i7 power and in a MIL-STD-810G tested and IP65 compliant magnesium alloy package built to survive and handle the job wherever it takes you, even the Pan-American Highway.
The car: VW Touareg TDI
A 2011 Volkswagen TDI Clean Diesel SUV with 4MOTION all-wheel drive. The engine provides an impressive maximum torque of 406 lbs.-ft. at 1,750 to 2,250 rpm while producing 225 horsepower at 3,500 to 4,000, and it still gets class-leading fuel economy (28 MPG hwy/19 MPG city EPA estimates). As it turned out, the big Touareg got between 26 and 28 MPG on the open road even fully loaded with larger tires and the immarsat communications dish on the roof.
What sort of modifications did the VW Touareg need for this trip? Almost none. There's the big satellite antena, bigger tires, and a supplementary 80 gallon fuel tank (see below) that feeds the main tank. The Getac V100? Apart from some mounting hardware, none.
The VW Touareg uses "clean diesel" technology that has lower CO2 emissions than a gasline engine. It also uses a special DeNOx catalytic converter that, augmented by a special injection system that sprays a synthetic solution (AdBlue) into the exhaust, reduce NOx emissions by up to 90%, and lets the engine meet the Tier 2, Bin 5/ULEV II standards imposed across all 50 U.S. states. Problem is, this requires low-sulphur fuel that's not necessarily available along certain stretches of the Pan-American Highway. Rainer said they'd set up a fuel drum chain along such stretches, with the drums flown in from Houston. The Getac V100 needs no special consideration. Its 87 watt-hour battery lasts a very long time, and it's also wired into the Touareg's electronics.
The Darien Gap
As mentioned above, the Pan-American Highway does have one break, the Darien Gap. It's a 54 mile stretch between Panama and Colombia that's nearly impassable even now. There are many reasons why there is no road there. Originally, the US was concerned that a road would open a path for hoof and mouth disease. Later, political obstacles were possible drug trafficking and environmental concerns. For now, the Darien Gap is impassable, forcing the TDI Panamericana team to fly the Touareg over from Cartagena, Colombia, to Panama.