Camel Trophy winner Mike Hussey
In 1980 the Camel Trophy introduced the world to automotive adventure. Created with the intention of traversing a three thousand-mile trek along the Tranzamazonica highway (a Brazilian road stretching across the Amazon,) the Camel Trophy brought three teams from Germany to the jungle with the goal of returning in one piece. In the end, only one team managed to cross the finish line—in a Jeep that had been battered, lost parts and suffered a missing wheel.
Map of the course | Story by Anthony Orona | Photos Courtesy of Mike Hussey
After the initial event, the lure of adventure enticed teams from across the globe to put their automotive prowess to the test, and the Camel Trophy soon became an international affair. Two participants were required to represent each competing country, and after a few events, the Camel Trophy was considered the ultimate four-wheel drive competition in existence, earning it the title, “the Olympics of 4×4.”
For the second competition, the Camel Trophy introduced Land Rover as the official event vehicle and moved the competition to Sumatra (subsequently moving to different locales across the globe.)
By 1993, the Camel Trophy had evolved tremendously: All competitors now drove the iconic Land Rover Discovery, and throughout the course of an event, not only had to conquer the planned route, but were now evaluated by their team spirit and ability to accomplish special tasks under strained conditions.
Some of the special tasks included: winching, timed driving courses, and other non-automotive related challenges, such as building bridges and repairing roads to improve local driving conditions.
1993, Team USA
The 1993 event was held in Sabah, Malaysia, and was the only competition that Team USA won in the 20-year course of the Camel Trophy. That year, Tim Hensley and Michael Hussey made up the winning duo. Their combined automotive mastery, brilliant display of outdoor skills and comradeship enthralled both judges and competitors alike, as they tackled the jungles of Sabah with ingenuity and resolve, leading in special task victories and helping other teams cross the finish line. After securing the win, both Hussey and Hensley became instant sensations in the overlanding scene, and although Hensley began to do work for Land Rover and Hussey went into business, they remained friends since 1993 and have both become heroes in the overlanding world.
Recently, we had the opportunity to meet Michael Hussey and discuss the victory in Sabah, his philosophy about automotive adventure and any advice he could offer Tread enthusiasts.
We’re stoked. It’s not every day you get to pick the brain of a legend:
TREAD: We know that you were part of the champion team of the 1993 Camel Trophy event and you instruct and guest lecture for Vermont Overland, so we’re excited to ask you a few questions about overlanding/adventure travel.
A lot of our readers are serious off roaders but the majority have not set out on month-long trips or treks across thousands of miles. What kind of skills do you need to set out on an overlanding expedition? Are there practical things you should know to prepare properly?
HUSSEY: Some good practical things you should know are first aid and navigation, not GPS, though. It’s good—works well—but it’s not like knowing a map and compass. You need to know the area of where you are without the help of technology and batteries. When you’re out in the country, you have to be able to rely on your outdoor skills to be successful.
Basic mechanical skills are necessary. At least have a working knowledge of automotive things. Knowing your vehicle and what it can do is something you need to consider, as well. If you are equipped with a winch, know how to use it.
Consider the area of where you are going, as well. This will determine what you need or do not need to bring. You have to pack for what you’ll need, nothing more, and nothing less. For instance, some things people don’t think about bringing, but you’ll need, especially if you’re in the woods—is a chainsaw. Bring axes that you can put on your rig. Know how to use these and strap them down well for safety.
Camping skills are crucial. Need to know how to pack and cook food, store water and make a fire. Bring auxiliary flashlights.
When you’re going outback, another thing to remember is that cell phones don’t work in a lot of places. Cell phones don’t work well here in Vermont . So you have to leave behind a game plan. Let someone else know where you plan to go and at what time you should reach your destination. If for someone reason, your vehicle fails or the weather leaves you stranded, you’re going to want to have someone knowing your plans and where you intend to camp at any given point along your route.
TREAD: What about actual driving skills? Have you ever seen anyone lose a competition/ get themselves in a tough spot simply because their driving skills weren’t up to par?
HUSSEY: Driving skills are crucial. You need to train before you go out. There’s things you won’t know once you hit a tough spot, such as, what is too much throttle control, and what is too little. You don’t want to figure that out on the spot.
Remember…driving off road is 3D. There are things to consider that you don’t have to anywhere else: You have to prepare for what’s above you, beside you, beneath you and in front of you. If you have a boat overhead, will there be branches? Trees? Rocks beneath you can damage the underside of your vehicle.
Something else you should know is how to climb a hill and descend a hill. Know when and how to use a standard or transfer case, and when and how to use a differential lock. When’s the appropriate time to use 2WD? When should you use 4WD? Do you want standard, or automatic transmission?
TREAD: When did you start driving?
HUSSEY: When I was 8-years old, I was driving my mother’s Land Rover around. We had Land Rovers very young. In high school, I would drive the trails around our home in Vermont. We picked up what to do and what not to as time went on. It’s part of living and driving in a rural area.
TREAD: At what point did you feel you were ready to participate in an international competition like the Camel Trophy? And how did you hear of it?
HUSSEY: Very innocently. I had studied geology and was working for a marble company in Vermont. I saw advertisements for applications in fall of ’92, and I remembered reading about it; then my friend urged me to send my application, but I wasn’t as eager as he was.
However, I sent my application to Tom Collins, and was invited to “try out” for the American team. (I didn’t know this until much later, but my friend had supplied the photo of me that was required by the application, and he had submitted a crazy photo of me on the porch of his cabin at night holding an axe next to my face. I was told by the American team leaders later that—that was actually a determining factor in why they invited me to try out, so I guess my friend knew what he was doing.) Once we reached the try-out stage, they had us undergo various trials, and I did well: I was fit, knew map and compass, and had pretty good automotive know-how.
The American team ended up choosing me to participate, along with a young man named Tim Hensley. We had been paired early in the tryouts, and for some reason bonded really well; this allowed us to work exceptionally well together. Tim was much more of a mechanic than I was, and I was a Nordic ski racer, so Tim would be the driver and mechanic, and I would be the legs and lungs of the team.
TREAD: What was being in Sabah like?
HUSSEY: Training was good. I spent my life in the woods. The jungle was different. The heat would be uncomfortable for me. But, the rains would come in and cool things off like clockwork each afternoon, and it was a nice cycle. Each Camel Trophy is defined by the terrain.
TREAD: What made the Camel Trophy in Sabah unique from the others?
HUSSEY: We built a lot of bridges. We crossed a lot of rivers and had to lash huge rain forest logs together. That was certainly a big risk.
The event itself was three-weeks long and involved a lot of working with other people and building a community with the other teams. We had to learn how to work together, especially in instances when we used winches. Putting your safety in others hands can be dangerous so you have to trust your group.
TREAD: Did other teams ever try to work against you?
HUSSEY: No, they were great. We had to work together just so we could cross rivers at times. There were 15 teams and over 30 vehicles—including the staff, medical, and a mechanic’s vehicle carrying spare parts.
We all drove the Land Rover Discovery and had to build a raft that would be strong enough to get our vehicle, as well as 29 other vehicles to get across that stretch of river. Each team had to be great together for it all to work.
TREAD: How did your team win?
HUSSEY: There are special task sites. They test your driving skills and physical capabilities such as; balancing your vehicle on a teeter-totter, orienteering, and other events that test your mechanical skills, such as identifying parts and repairing a disabled vehicle that has rolled and re-righting it.
An example of one of the challenges—would be having a transmission on one side of the river, and having to figure out how you use what you have with you to get that transmission to your side with out it getting wet.
One of the main points of the challenges was—could you follow the directions of the event? Instructions were written in the Queen’s English, however, so we had to ask a lot of questions. Most of the tasks occurred in the first two days and last two days, but there were also a few in the middle. Tim and I thought we had beaten everyone else in the special tasks. At the award’s ceremony, we were pretty confident we had won the Special Task Trophy—one of three awarded. When the Camel Trophy announced France as the winner of the Special Task, Tim and I were a little shocked. We felt that we had excelled at the special tasks. We figured then we maybe had won the Team Spirit trophy, but when they announced the Canary Islands as the winner, we didn’t know what to think. But, when they called Tim Hensley and Mike Hussey of Team USA to claim the Overall awards, it made up for it.
TREAD: How did it feel?
HUSSEY: It was awesome. Total surprise. Tim and I were ecstatic. Things worked out nicely for Tim too. He had been a plumber, but he ended up doing a lot of work with Land Rover.
TREAD: How did winning the Camel Trophy affect your life?
HUSSEY: The Camel Trophy gave me the confidence to take on challenge and risk. I ended up doing manufacturing and sales for HKD Snow Makers. I worked there for 17 years.
TREAD: Have you stayed involved in the overlanding scene?
HUSSEY: Peter Vollers created the Vermont Overland, and he contacted me a few years ago and has got me somewhat involved, giving seminars on proper techniques and off road know-how. I don’t go out as much as I used to, but when the opportunities come, I will go.
TREAD: Do you have any favorite trails?
HUSSEY: There is some pretty nice driving in the backcountry hills of southern Vermont. The class 4 roads are town roads that have not been maintained, and they have plenty of foliage and are fun and tricky to navigate, but—they’re not incredibly difficult.