The next day is much the same, although a wrong turn at the last moment in Stanton, Virginia, puts us in third position. The day after that, Claus's infallible luck falters a bit; road debris causes him to swerve unnervingly close to edge of the road. One 22-inch wheel nails the shoulder at 70 mph and its rondure becomes compromised. We continue to drive in spite of copious vibrations through the steering wheel. Eventually the tire comes unsealed and deflates rapidly, but we're prepared for just such a situation. Claus pulls to the side of the road and we replace the bent wheel with an extra packed in the Magnum's cargo area. As quick as we were, the incident slows us considerably and we make it into Savannah, Georgia, in 15th or 16th place-easily the worst finish of the entire rally.
I bid everyone a wistful goodbye. I don't want to leave. And as it turns out, I'll miss the most exciting leg of the entire trip.
Savannah, Georgia to Miami, Florida
*Clayton Edwards died April 7, 1974. He was a good husband and a loving father.
That's what his tombstone said, anyway. For the last 20 minutes, I've been hiding behind a four-foot slab of marble dedicated to Mr. Edwards. I've examined every inch of his marker, all the fonts carved into the stone, every crack in the seams. In an effort to stay low and motionless, I have become one with the gravestone, I have merged with it.
Your mind does funny things under stress. Mine did. You see, I didn't want to go to jail in Georgia. I hear 'Southern hospitality' has a whole new meaning there. I didn't order that this morning.
Earlier, I was enjoying coffee and croissants in Savannah's beautiful Mansion on Forsyth Park. I had been officially driving in the 2007 Bullrun for 12 minutes when things went to hell. Police pull a dozen drivers from the freeway and we are among them. These cops are really pissed and rightfully so. A few Bullrun drivers did some incredibly stupid maneuvers and almost upset a big rig. Hell, it made me angry.
We exit the freeway while flanking a panel truck, forced to go left instead of right, away from the men with guns and badges. I mention the term 'evading arrest' to Claus and he pulls into the first driveway he can find. It happens to be a cemetery, the place I meet Clayton Edwards.
By now a helicopter has joined the fray and we see squad cars flying up and down the road, lights blazing. Being German, Claus is almost genetically wired to follow the rules-he wants to give himself up and be a good citizen. Luckily, I didn't inherit any of those genes.
I make him wait until things calm down and make a timid jaunt down the road. Another squad car hurtles toward us, but he's too far away to get a make. Claus makes an immediate right, placing us on a rural route in the middle of nowhere. For the next 30 minutes, he's calling dozens of contacts scattered throughout the South. Nobody has any suggestions-none we want to hear, anyway.
A good ol' boy drives by, his truck festooned with the requisite NRA sticker and Confederate flag. "Ya'll need some help?" he asks.
Speaking through several inches of chewing tobacco, he tells us the only way out is through a series of side roads, some no more than glorified dirt paths. Claus offers him 50 bucks to get us back on the highway-the guy lights up like a lottery winner. Our new guide cases out the road ahead. It's safe to proceed.
We pass boiled peanut stands and possum skinners until we finally merge onto the highway. Our guide blasts off with a flourish of tire smoke while Lynyrd Skynryd's Freebird fades into the distance. We are close to the Florida border and it literally looks like Hell on Earth.