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Friends reunite 50 years later to relive epic journey around Americas on London double-decker bus

The group spent 22 months on the bus, enduring scorching desert heat and bone-chilling cold on the prairies while traveling at a maximum speed of 50 mph.

Friends reunite 50 years later to relive epic journey around Americas on London double-decker bus
Representative Cover Image Source: Getty Images/Gwengoat

Fifty years ago a group of friends traveled around the Americas on a London double-decker bus for 40,000 miles. The surviving members of the crew reunited in 2023 at the launch of a travelogue of their adventure. Over a hard country cider, Mike Conway, Sally Rich, Bernice Poole, David McLaughlin and John Winter recalled how the idea for the journey originated from Mr. Roger Poole and his late wife Joan and discussed the challenges they faced during the trip. Out of the original 11 members, only the aforementioned five reunited in Bristol for the 50th anniversary, reports Good News Network.



 

The idea, advertised twice in the local paper by Mr. and Mrs. Poole, attracted John Winter, who joined them for a year and is now publishing a book called Bus To Bust about their adventure. Winter said, "The bus really was the hero of the story, we had totally torn out the upper floor to fit beds and living space. But it was unlike anything any of us had ever done. I stayed with the group for about a year."

In March of 1970, a group of eleven strangers sailed the 'Sir George White Special' bus from Bristol to Canada before starting a 40,000-mile journey. They spent 22 months on the bus, enduring scorching desert heat and bone-chilling cold on the prairies while traveling at a maximum speed of 50 mph.



 

As they traveled, the group performed various jobs to support themselves, such as fruit picking, planting lily bulbs, restaurant cleaning and car chauffeuring. Negotiating challenging routes and mountains proved difficult, and because the bus was too large for US roads, they caused damage to bridges and overhead wires.

"Usually the police were very good and gave us escorts sometimes, but eventually in California, we were stopped by a determined policeman who wouldn't let us go," Winter recalled. "We had to take the bus off the road, but eventually were given permission to drive on by Ronald Reagan – who was Governor of California at the time. We met him briefly which was fun, though only for a moment."

The group's monumental journey reached its end when the bus sank while attempting to cross a river in Peru.

Image Source: Getty Images/Steve Eason
Representative Image Source: Getty Images/Steve Eason

According to David McLaughlin, who served as the driver and mechanic, "it was an adventure" traveling on the roads in Central and South America, reported BBC. Their original plan was to reach Mexico City for the FIFA World Cup in 1970, as England had failed to qualify for the first time since winning it four years earlier.

Winter explained, "While leaving Mexico City too we almost got the bus knocked over by fans shaking it – it was quite scary and we kept having to drive the bus back and forth."

Image Source: Getty Images/	Grant Faint
Representative Image Source: Getty Images/Grant Faint

According to McLaughlin, as they headed south, the double-decker bus was not designed for climbing mountains, but eventually, it was a river that caused the demise of the Sir George White Special. "The final stretch of the journey only had five or so members of the group left – and by the time the bus was lost in the River Chira, there were just three left," according to Winter. 

Encountering a low-lying bridge that the double-decker bus couldn't pass, they devised a plan to float the bus on a special raft, but unfortunately, it slid into the water and sank, ending their adventure. In 1972, everyone returned home on a container ship.

"That part of the world is just much more dangerous now and the US has much harsher visiting laws. I think people would struggle to do it again. These days I can only imagine it would be a very different experience," wrote Winter. Sally Mears, a member of the crew, expressed her disappointment at seeing the bus sink, saying, "When I saw the bus [go down], my heart sank because I knew it was the end of a lifetime journey."

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