Ger­man adventurer Rainer Zi­et­low has spent his life be­hind the wheel, hav­ing toured 110 coun­tries by car and set­ting sev­eral ve­hic­u­lar records. He re­cently set a new world record by trav­el­ling from Dakar to Moscow in three days, four hours and 54 min­utes.

Leisure Wheels (South Africa) - - ADVENTURER INTERVIEW - Text: GG van Rooyen Pho­tos: Sup­plied

Rainer Zi­et­low has spent his life do­ing crazy things with cars. In 1988, when he was 18, and just six weeks af­ter get­ting his li­cence, he set off on a road trip with some friends. They trav­elled from Ger­many to Niger, where they sold their Mercedes-Benz 230E and headed home. He was im­me­di­ately hooked. This was what he wanted to do with his life. In 1996, he un­der­took his first round-the-world ve­hi­cle tour, and these days he spends his time set­ting new ve­hi­cle records. He has part­nered with Volk­swa­gen and Goodyear for these record at­tempts, and he sup­ports the in­ter­na­tional char­ity or­gan­i­sa­tion SOS Chil­dren’s Vil­lage by always vis­it­ing one of their vil­lages along his record routes.

How did your part­ner­ships with Goodyear and Volk­swa­gen come about?

My part­ner­ship with Volk­swa­gen started in 2004, dur­ing my first world-record at­tempt. My team drove to Ojos del Sal­vador in Chile’s Ata­cama Desert, which is sit­u­ated at 6 081m, with a stan­dard Volk­swa­gen Touareg. It took some con­vinc­ing to get the brand on board, but it has proven to be a great part­ner­ship, and I’ve used VW ve­hi­cles ever since. My part­ner­ship with Goodyear is newer. It started in 2014. What do you view as your great­est ad­ven­ture/ac­com­plish­ment to date? I would prob­a­bly have to say my 2011 Panamer­i­cana ex­pe­di­tion. The Panamer­i­cana

(Pan-American High­way) is the long­est road in the world, run­ning from the south­ern tip of South Amer­ica to the very top of the North American con­ti­nent. It cel­e­brated its 75th an­niver­sary in 2011, and to com­mem­o­rate this, I tried to set a new time record for the road. Along with two other ad­ven­tur­ers, I drove 23 000km in 11 days and 17 hours. That was a long jour­ney, but a tougher ex­pe­di­tion was prob­a­bly my 2013 Amarok Po­lar Ex­pe­di­tion. We spent 10 weeks in the eastern ter­ri­to­ries of Rus­sia. It was win­ter, so tem­per­a­tures dropped as low as -500Cel­sius. We drove where no ve­hi­cles had ever driven be­fore.

What has been the scari­est sit­u­a­tion you have found your­self in?

It was def­i­nitely dur­ing the Amarok Po­lar Ex­pe­di­tion. We were hit by a ter­ri­ble bl­iz­zard. We couldn’t see a thing – a com­plete white­out – and our ve­hi­cles kept get­ting stuck. We spent two days trav­el­ling through a storm, never quite know­ing what was go­ing on around us. Not be­ing able to see the hori­zon, or even what’s hap­pen­ing right out­side your win­dow, is scary when deal­ing with rough and un­known ter­rain.

What has been your most mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ence?

It was that first record with the VW Amarok in Chile. Not only was that my first record, but it was also some­thing that had never been done be­fore. Be­ing the first to ac­com­plish some­thing is always spe­cial. Stand­ing at the top of Ojos del Sal­vador and know­ing that our feat would ap­pear in the Guin­ness Book of World Records was sur­real.

Any large and am­bi­tious projects you'd still love to com­plete one day?

There are quite a few, but I couldn’t men­tion them. You don’t want to give any­one any ideas...

What are some of your favourite coun­tries that you've vis­ited?

My favourite coun­tries are South Africa, Aus­tralia and Ar­gentina. The peo­ple are friendly and the scenery is spec­tac­u­lar.

Are there any spe­cific ad­ven­tur­ers that have in­spired you?

Back in 1996, dur­ing my first trip around the globe, I met Sir Ed­mund Hil­lary in New Zealand and got to sit down with him for quite a while. That was a spe­cial ex­pe­ri­ence, and I found him to be an in­spi­ra­tional man.

Be­low: Ger­man adventurer Rainer Zi­et­low is a pro­fes­sional road trip­per… well, sort of. He makes a liv­ing from set­ting long-dis­tance driv­ing records. He uses VWs for all his record at­tempts. Op­po­site page, from top: Zi­et­low and his team with a VW Touareg, which he drove from North Cape in Nor­way to Cape Agul­has in South Africa. Sam­pling some lo­cal del­i­ca­cies along the way. An­other Touareg, an­other long-dis­tance driv­ing record. Up close and per­sonal with Maa­sai teenagers, in Tan­za­nia. In a (favourite) nut­shell: Food: Ham­burger. Drink: Tonic wa­ter. TV Show: Bun­desliga. Favourite sport: Hand­ball. Movie: Steven Spiel­berg’s The Duel. Band: Cold­play. Place on Earth: Ayers Rock, Aus­tralia. Hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion: Venice, Italy.

Rainer Zi­et­low is a Ger­man adventurer who spe­cialises in ve­hic­u­lar ad­ven­tures. He has spent the last two decades criss-cross­ing the globe and set­ting var­i­ous records.

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