theclutchpedal
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theclutchpedal

Why I Flew My Land Cruiser to Europe

Waking up at sunrise in a heaving cabin in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea is as good a place as any to start writing again. I drove my Toyota Land Cruiser onto the ship yesterday afternoon; a ship known as the Cruise Smeralda, operated by Grimaldi Lines. A few months ago, a similar vessel operated by Grimaldi had a major onboard fire that killed close to 10 passengers, so I wondered about safety when I booked my ticket, but I must admit that the 200 Euro price tag was quite attractive for overnight passage which includes a private stateroom, three full meals, and most importantly, space for my vehicle.

Today’s view of the Mediterranean.

There is a long list of things, both large and small, that I’ve wanted to experience in my lifetime. One of the small things is to experience stormy seas in a large ship. Rolling seas that make the curtains sway, make doors open and close, and possibly even make chairs slide around. Five hours from Tunis, I’m in the early stages of wondering whether I might be prone to seasickness, despite never having had any issues with motion sickness during my life. Suddenly I better understand how my five kids felt growing up and riding everywhere in the Land Cruiser that’s four decks below me right now — that feeling of rising dread when nausea starts to kick in, and you’re a bit too embarrassed to say anything to anyone about it until it’s too late.

Over 20 years ago my wife (at the time) and I walked into Melody Toyota and drove a new Land Cruiser off the lot. It was perched on one of those huge, ramped steel stands along El Camino Real in San Bruno that’s designed to show off new cars to people driving by. We had been driving back and forth from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe in a front-wheel drive Volvo, we had a rapidly growing family, and in the realm of first-world problems, I was getting tired of putting on and taking off snow chains. Things were going well in my venture capital career at New Enterprise Associates, so we decided to splurge and buy a fancy new Toyota Land Cruiser with four-wheel drive, a powerful V-8, heated leather seats, automatic climate control, and a third-row seat. Plus — I’m not ashamed to admit it — I loved the idea of owning and driving a massively capable off-road vehicle on a daily basis, instead of a minivan.

One of many road trips in the Land Cruiser with all five of my kids. June 2010.

The Land Cruiser doesn’t have a name. But it is loved, and my relationship with the car has lasted longer than the marriage did. When we bought it, it was in my ex-wife’s name, but I made sure to keep it in the divorce. Over the years it’s required a ton of maintenance and there have been many times when a repair shop has asked me “…are you sure you want to do this instead of getting a new car?” Instead, I’ve continued to invest in the car, and 217,000 miles later it’s become an integral part of the fabric of my life.

On the beach in Malibu with Ross, Scott, and the Land Cruiser. June 2011.

Many people love to travel the world. A much larger group wants to, but never gets around to it. For the last decade, despite not having a lot of free time, I’ve made a point of traveling and getting to know entrepreneurial ecosystems all over the world. That’s meant a lot of relatively short trips flying to places like London, Munich, Auckland or Tokyo from San Francisco for a long weekend, or slightly longer trips with multiple stops around a region such as Southeast Asia or the Middle East, and then suffering from jet lag for most of the following week.

I’ve dreamed of being able to take longer trips, without a set schedule, and experiencing places without feeling rushed. As an early-stage venture capitalist for over 25 years, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet tens of thousands of interesting people. It’s become an enormous number of people that I like, love and respect — and have wanted to visit. Given that aspiration, the last few years have been difficult for me. After 23 years living in San Francisco, I moved to Seattle in late 2018 with the hope of catching my breath a bit, deeply integrating into the Pacific Northwest, and traveling the world in my spare time. And then, as we all know, the pandemic hit and shut all of that down.

So, like everyone else, I spent the better part of the last few years working on Zoom. That’s made it a lot easier to keep in touch with my international friends. At the same time, my itch to travel became stronger and stronger. I started to hatch a plan — to drive the family Land Cruiser to the top of Alaska. I delivered the car to Nick Casten at Torfab, a world-renowned Land Cruiser specialist that happens to be located near Seattle. They added some important modifications, including doubling the fuel-carrying capacity to 48 gallons, which gives it a range of nearly 600 miles. As soon as the Canadian border with the United States opened again last August, I cleared out my schedule for three weeks in early September and drove it all the way from Seattle to the Arctic Ocean. During that trip the thought hit me … why don’t I drive the same vehicle all over the world to visit friends and entrepreneurs?

On the Dalton Highway, about four hours south of Deadhorse, Alaska. Deadhorse is located on the Arctic Ocean and as far north as you can drive on a public highway in North America. September 2021.

As I started looking into it, I confirmed that although it is possible, shipping a US-registered vehicle halfway around the world is not something many people do. And when they do ship a vehicle, it tends to be something valuable like a Ferrari, a Porsche, or a Lamborghini. Most shipping agents, even those specializing in vehicles, were baffled by my request for a quote to temporarily ship a two-decade-old Land Cruiser to Europe. Finally, I found Cosdel, a specialist in high-end vehicle shipments, who was willing to work with me for a reasonable price.

Long story short, the car arrived in Germany on March 7th via a Cargolux 747. When I left Seattle to meet it in Frankfurt, I posted an Out of Office email auto-responder message that I’ve always wanted to write:

“Thanks for your message. I am currently on a three-month sabbatical and driving all over Europe. If we are connected on social media, that is the best way to reach me. During my trip I will still be readily available to Shasta portfolio companies by email and cell, but other than that most business-related replies will be delayed until I return to the US in mid-June.”

Over the last week, I’ve already driven the Land Cruiser through Germany, Luxembourg, France, Switzerland and Italy. I can also legally confirm that the top speed is a little over 110 mph.

Driving the Land Cruiser along the Amalfi Coast at dusk. March 2022.

Now that I’ve spent a week acclimating and getting over jet lag, I’m planning to visit and hang out with many of my friends and acquaintances from the last few decades, while also driving through much of Europe. If you’re interested in seeing some of the photos from my trip, I’m posting regularly under @theclutchpedal on Instagram.

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