Photo: Stephen Bouey and Steven Shoppman

Photograph courtesy The World by Road

By Ryan Bradley

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It was at the edge of the Caspian Sea, between Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, that Steven Shoppman and Stephen Bouey’s drive around the world almost came to an end.

The two friends from Denver had been on the road for 14 months and 30,000 miles, and now, thanks to an intractable border guard, it looked like the wheels might just come off.

“What are you doing here?” the guard demanded. They were circumnavigating the globe by road, they explained, and they were doing it as never before: Through Web posts and word of mouth, Shoppman and Bouey had been recruiting a rotating cast of locals to join in their travels.

As the guard listened, the pair recounted the time in Thailand when a group of Internet-savvy monks enlisted them in the construction of a gigantic standing Buddha, or how in China they were joined by a state-sanctioned “guide.” They described crossing the Mongolian steppe led by nomads and climbing volcanoes with tribesmen in Indonesia. Soon, a bottle of Georgian moonshine was on the table, and soon after Shoppman and Bouey were motoring west toward Europe, leaving one more new friend in their wake.

From their start in New Zealand in 2007, Shoppman and Bouey had left much of their journey in the hands of locals. “The magic of this trip,” says Shoppman, “was that it was not just our own—we had all of these people who felt like they were a part of it. Who were a part of it.”

After Azerbaijan, the pair blazed through Europe, north to the Arctic, then south all the way through Africa. At Cape Town they ferried across the Atlantic to Buenos Aires, sped down to Tierra del Fuego, and motored up the Pan American Highway to Alaska before ending in Denver this July, two and a half years after they’d set off. In crossing 69 countries and racking up more than 77,000 miles, Shoppman and Bouey had learned many things: Friends are easy to find, accidents can be beautiful, and the world isn’t nearly as dangerous as most people think. It’s just that most people haven’t driven all the way around it.

Originally published in the December 2009/January 2010 edition of National Geographic Adventure