Day 22 of Advent – Around the World With Motorcycle and Camera

“Something had to be done. It was not to be stood any longer. There was no thrill in our work. Murder, reports of mental hospitals, Miss Leg, Miss Stocking, Miss Universe, and so on. It just couldn’t be borne any longer.

“That’s the reason for the wish to get out of it. There is more beauty than badness on this earth, in spite of sensational news, conferences, fears, atomic bombs!”

Not the snappiest of titles but an accurate summary of the book! Now this is another little bit of a cheat because I actually haven’t got very far into this one yet – it’s my Christmas present to myself because it’s quite rare and so was quite a lot of money, and our intrepid travellers have only made it to Persia at the point of writing (though I did skip ahead a bit for review purposes!)

It’s another time-travel special – Eitel and Rolf Lange set out from Germany in 1953, just eight years after the end of World War 2, on their “Green Elephant” – a 600cc Zundapp and sidecar.

Eitel was a press photographer before the war and though with peace came a return to his profession – “Rebuilding, Siamese twins, weddings of princes, jails and so on” – he had a long-held dream to make a world trip once in his life, and announced one morning to his son and his wife that it was time to make it reality, to go and see the world for themselves.

Eitel has a dry sense of humour and a deadpan writing style. He doesn’t shy away from the possible challenge faced by two Germans travelling through post-war Europe – on the need to hurry through Italy and Greece, he writes “for Germans [these countries] meant a memory of the travelling agency ‘Adolf Hitler’ which had forced thousands to die here.”

The trip takes Eitel and Rolf to Japan where they visit Hiroshima and talk to survivors of the atomic bomb. That part of the book is truly extraordinary and very moving. Eitel describes their meeting with the mayor of Hiroshima who tells them: “World politics should be made from here. From a big hall with a big window, so all the big people could see what our age of science can bring upon us, if we do not understand how to live together.”

For me this book is a glimpse at a time that is glossed over in our histories. We like to celebrate the end of the war, and maybe we’ll think of the Japanese civilians who were killed in a new and horrible way, and we nod to agree with the argument that this was necessary to prevent further bloodshed. Rolf and Eitel are travelling through a world trying to rebuild itself and trying to find better ways of living together. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the book and I know it will give me lots to think about.

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Day 21 of Advent – Bullet up the Grand Trunk Road

“In India I hadn’t worried too much about the bike being stolen. The Bullet has the reputation of being a ‘hard man’s bike’ – the kind of person who wouldn’t just report its theft to the police but would use his underworld connections to trace the culprit and carry out a little private retribution.”

Slightly delayed by over-enthusiastic eggnog consumption yesterday, but hey – that’s a very festive excuse!

My theory of overland adventure books is that we like some because we like the writer and the sense they create that we’re one of their gang, on the road with them for every twist and turn, sinking into the fesh-fresh or being swooped up into the care of friendly locals. And others are worth reading because of the story they tell or the experience of having eyes opened to another culture.

I’m putting Bullet up the Grand Trunk Road in the second group. Jonathan Gregson is a “proper” travel writer – it’s his day job and was before he started this trip. He was sufficiently well-connected that he could phone the MD of Royal Enfield in India and blag a bike for the journey. It’s not so easy to warm to him, though in his first few days with the bike he manages to drop it and to run out of fuel at his grand departure, which I certainly do relate to…

As well as a ride up the Grand Trunk Road from Calcutta to the Khyber Pass, the book is an exploration of the history of Partition and all the violence that political decision has led to – violence which is back in the news now. So it’s not the most cheerful of reads, but I think an important one. It also fulfils Ted Simon’s first rule of motorcycle travel – go somewhere and tell the rest of us what it is like.

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Day 20 of Advent – it’s all gone a bit pear

“If there’s hot water I’ll start with a shower and get something to eat in the hotel’s restaurant. If not, I’ll load up the bike, set off and pick something up at a roadside cafe. Stomach problems, usually.”

I’ve come to the countryside to drink beer with the MZ Riders Club but they’ve already left for the pub and it’s too dark to go and chase them. In other problems I forgot to pick up my clothes bag so I don’t have any clean underpants. Weirdly this has been one of the scenarios envisaged by Scots Gaelic Duolingo, which I have now been studying for 15 days – Chan eil drathais orm. Who knew it would come in so handy already!

With all the disasters compounded by the Wingman trying to jump out of the van and face planting on the wet grass because it’s too high for him, I’m very glad to have something else to focus on!

So with just 5 days to go until Christmas, behind the door today we have Simon Roberts, who, like Neal Peart, set off on his big trip to find some peace after the horribly early death of his wife.

Simon tells the highs and lows of his journey not only in self-deprecating prose but also in a series of comic-book-style panels, which really help this book stand out from the crowd.

Because this is modern times and overlanding is no longer the preserve of the courier looking for new adventures or the odd journalist testing himself against the world Simon meets and re-meets a large number of fellow motorcyclists as he journeys towards Kathmandu, and also his mother for a coach trip to the Taj Mahal. I know it’s a big world but I hope overlanding doesn’t become the equivalent of queue of people roped together and heading for the top of Everest. Not before I’ve had a go, anyway.

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Day 19 of Advent – it looks just like Scotland

“I headed off to a map shop in Primrose Hill with Clara, my eldest daughter. I bought a very basic world map, spread it out on a pool table in my basement, and indulged in a bit of daydreaming.”

It’s time to talk about Long Way Round, and its sequel Long Way Down.

It seems to have become fashionable to scoff at Ewan and Charlie, tarring them as spoilt rich boys fulfilling their dreams on someone else’s dollar and with a support crew and a security detail. Real overlanders eat Supernoodles for a year and moonlight down the docks to fatten up their bank accounts sufficiently to afford a third-class ticket to Siberia, don’t you know?


If you’ve got the status and connections to get top-class support for your round-the-world adventure, why wouldn’t you? As Ewan explains in the Long Way Round book, he had to get the maximum miles in the minimum time so it made sense to get help with the planning and the paperwork. They still had to ride every mile (more or less.) They used the trip to raise the profile of Unicef, the charity looking out for many of the world’s most vulnerable children.

And they put a different face of motorcycling on prime-time British TV.

What bikers were on telly before 2003? American Chopper. Teams of greasy genuises building machines out of carefully seeded parts on Scrapheap Challenge. Boon’s mate. The Two Fat Ladies. John Noakes doing some trials riding. Endless bloody road safety adverts with bikers ending up mashed into windscreens or under trucks. As far as the public were concerned, we were a fatal disease.

Then that nice chap from Star Wars and his mate with the famous dad took us with them on a tour of the world.

They fell off, they got petrol in their eyes, they were shown up every now and again by Claudio on his Mongolian scooter but overall they had a whale of a time, and they inspired a lot of new riders and adventurers – including the fantastic Billy @biketruck.

The Long Way Up is under way at the moment and has all been kept fairly hush-hush, but I’m lookig forward to watching it (as long as it’s on council telly) and dusting off my Long Way Round bingo card, the rules of which in 2007 included “every time Ewan declares the landscape to look “just like Scotland;” any time Charley declares something to be “brilliant” or “amazing;” and of course, any time Ewan drops his bike because his legs are too short.”

Ted Simon may be the godfather of round-the-world riding but these guys brought the gospel to a new generation.


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Advent Day 18 – “But madam, who rides the motorcycle?”

Lots of people will say Ted Simon, or Sam Manicom or Austin Vince, first gave them the inspiration to do a Big Trip.

Now, some tyre tracks to follow in might well be the first step – but what comes next? What do you actually need to do to get your bike rolling onto a ferry pointed towards Tangier?

These days there’s a whole industry devoted to turning travel dreams into reality. You can go to an Overland Event, you can go to a HUBB weekend, you can subscribe to Adventure Bike Rider magazine or head to a million and one online forums.

It was more difficult in the 90s, when my edition of The Adventure Motorbiking Handbook was published. Facebook wasn’t even a twinkle in Mark Zuckerberg’s eye, not least because he was 13 when I bought this book. In 1997 it will be at least another 12 months before anyone can Google anything.

As a result “The Internet” is in 10th place in Chris’s list of places to get information behind “Travel Clubs and Organisations” and “Newspapers and Periodicals” (and two places ahead of “Germany” which makes me laugh.)

He advises:-

“….it’s hoped to set up an Adventure Motorbiking Website in conjunction with this book which might develop into a forum specialising in the interests of adventurous biker heading overland. Dial up the address on the back cover to see if it worked out.”

(Yes, Young People – we used to “Dial up” websites. Watch Matthew Broderick hacking the Pentagon in War Games for an illustration!)

So all the information that these days comes through the airwaves onto your phone screen was instead printed out onto mashed up trees in a handy pocket-sized volume that you could read in the bath or on the underground.

It’s one of the two books Lois Pryce buys in the run-up to her first adventure and it’s also famously the bible Ewan and Charley relied on when planning Long Way Round.

My favourite two things about it?

On page 5 there’s a large box that says “DON’T GO.” (Advice I sadly seem to have taken to heart)

And page 117 kicks off a chapter by Nicki McCormick looking at some of the particular challenges women overlanders can face, with some advice that applies to everyday life just as much as travelling:

“your perception of yourself affects other people’s perception of you.”

There’ll be an 8th edition published in 2020, which I might have to buy to find out whether Germany has cracked the top 10. And I also recommend Chris’s book about his years despatch riding in 1980s London. There’s a clear connection between despatch riding and successful adventure travel but I’m more puzzled about why so many couriers turn out to be brilliant writers.



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Advent Day 17 – Lois on the Loose

“Rolling off a boat on a motorcycle into a foreign land is one of the most exciting experiences I know. No matter where it is in the world: freewheeling down the ramp, the metallic clank that marks your arrival, and your first glimpse of a strange land.”

As with Dan Walsh, I’ve been putting off writing today’s post. Not for fear of embarassing fangirl gushing, but because when I reveal the true depths of my jealousy you will all think far less of me.

I’ve met Mr Lois Pryce, otherwise known as Austin Vince, and he has been kind, and witty, and even managed not to take umbrage at the Wingman hecking his talk at the Overland Winter Warmer.

I haven’t met Lois, and that’s probably a good thing as I’m likely to fall to my knees weeping, rending my garments, and crying “that was supposed to be my life.”

Let’s examine the evidence:-

striking hair colour – ✓

tedious office job – ✓

plays unusual musical instrument – ✓

enrolled in Spanish classes to help with travelling – ✓

When, in preparation for her trip, Lois goes to the bookshop to buy Jupiter’s Travels and the Adventure Motorcycle Handbook, she asks if there are any equivalent books by female travellers. No, they say.

Now there are many. But Lois was first. Not me. Because although we have lots of things in common, she had the courage to go and I didn’t.

Lois on the Loose is a brilliant, fun read with a gobsmacking moment of ingratitude towards the end (from someone else, not from our author!) and it ends on a high note. And just as Lois predicts in her final thoughts, things did indeed “work out just fine” for her.

I’m still jealous though.



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Advent Day 16 – Ghost Rider

“I had tried the Hermit mode, now it was time to try the Gypsy mode. I tried not to think of what I would do if that didn’t work.”

Yesterday I quoted Dan Walsh – “Anyone can, but not everyone needs to.”

Neil Peart absolutely needed to.  If the start of this story was made into a film you’d think it well over the top. That a man can lose his daughter, his wife and finally his dog and keep breathing is an achievement in itself. Peart decides that merely existing is not enough and he needs to take to the road in search of a reason to live.

I like Rush, mainly because one of the better student bands when I was at uni did a mean cover of Spirit of Radio, but I wouldn’t call myself a fan. In the spirit of journalistic inquiry I checked in with the biggest Rush fan I know to ask whether fandom added any further layers of appreciation to the book.

He said “the book is more about grief, and terrible loss, than either Rush or biking. But he does capture a lot of the solitary peace that biking brings me.

“By detaching you, riding somehow gives your brain space to work things out in the background. And I think that was what it did for him. It took him 55,000 miles.”

It’s a long time since I read this and it’s not a book I come back to often in the same way that I come back to Zen or to Che. I think it’s partly the point made by @keepof4worlds above –  it’s a book about grief and sometimes it feels just so very intrusive, to be peering into a soul bereft, even if you have been invited to.

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Third Sunday of Advent – These are the days that must happen to you

“It’s not an endurance test, it’s going on holiday on a bike…. Anyone can, but not everyone needs to.”

I’ve been putting this one off because I’m worried this post is going to come over a little ’embarrasing fan girl.’

But it’s Christmas, which means that it’s important to tell the truth* so I thought fuck it, tell it like it is.

Dan Walsh is the best motorcycle writer of the modern age.

He tackles motorcycle touring like Ayrton Senna drove F1 cars – without compromise, and with a moderate-to-high risk of death.

I count myself fortunate to have been reading Bike when Dan started working for them, first as willing stooge in a ‘learn to corner’ piece, later as Features Writer and finally sending columns back from Africa and South America.

I have some of them cut out from the magazines and carefully stashed in the Big File of Important Bike Stuff. (Told you we were in embarrasing fangirl territory).

If you like Hunter S Thompson you will like Dan Walsh, though whoever wrote the blurb on the book jacket thinks Ted Simon is the appropriate comparator for “angry, narcotic-fuelled bike treks.” I’m going to have to look at Jupiter’s Travels again but I don’t recall Ted Simon being particularly full of rage.  Or narcotics.

As far as I’m aware this is Dan’s only book, though it has been published under two different titles. Heed the warning of the Amazon reviewer and only buy it once.

*certain professions excepted

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Advent Day 14 – someone, somewhere is getting ready to ride

“People tell me I think too much but I don’t see how such a thing is possible, unless of course it is either in the middle of sex or at the apex of a high speed turn.”

With all the other excitement that’s been going on the last couple of days I have cheated slightly and re-used a couple of previous book reviews, but from here on in it should be new posts every day – assuming I can get logged in from the Yeti Hunt, that is!

Like Zen and Jupiter’s Travels, this is one of the books I bought right at the start of my riding life. It’s a mixture of commentary on issues like biker life and culture, riding technique and safety stats, lists and profiles, alongside stories from Melissa‘s own riding life and story.

As such, it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but it really spoke to me at a time when I needed some reassurance that there were other riders like me – late starters without very much confidence and no real family ties to riding:-

how odd, what an accidental gift, to grow up and one day walk through an unmarked door and find myself in the alternative universe of motorcycles and motorcyclists.”

Melissa gains her license, loses the boyfriend who encouraged her to ride, and starts her new life as a biker on board a 500cc Guzzi with the help of the Moto Guzzi National Owners Club and a friendly local mechanic. She heads to New Hampshire for the Laconia race week, rides the Blue Ridge Parkway, once with a partner and once on her own, and comes to Europe to ride in pilgrimage to the Guzzi factory at Mondello del Lario.

Coming back to this book after twenty-cough years, there’s even more in it that I relate to, from her doomed romance with a guy who’s great at fixing bikes but doesn’t see the point of reading books for fun, to this:-

“Not every biker is an angel, or a Hell’s Angel. Yet in only two social groups of my acquaintance have I found an abundance of people wh on the sole basis of a tenuous connection would, say, spend an entire day helping you out with some problem with no expectation of recompense.”

(the other is dog owners, if you’re wondering!)


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Advent Calendar Day 11 – are you a friend of Dorothy?

“I wonder if that is true of all our issues and fears, that they don’t really exist, instead they’re just figments of our imagination, something we invent or exaggerate in order to keep us busy and distracted from dealing with more important things in life, like having fun.”

Let’s come a bit more up-to-date after all these voyages in colonial times and Days of Yore!

Today’s Advent Calendar book is The Long Ride Home by the very lovely Nathan Millward.

Around ten years ago I was briefly obsessed by the Postie Bike. I had decided to do some riding in Australia and I thought that it would be a top plan to buy one of these tiny workhorses and tool gently around the bush.

My memory is failing me as to how I found Nathan –  it may have been on a forum somewhere – and I emailed him to ask if he had any tips. He was absolutely brilliant and put me in touch with the guys at One Ten Motorcycles and even let me have a sit on Dorothy at one of the Ace Cafe’s overland travel days.

The plan to buy a postie bike didn’t work out and you can read elsewhere on this blog about my Western Australia adventure – though I may yet get my wish to do some touring on one as Nathan has imported a small gaggle of posties to the UK for his Garbage Run customers.

There seems to be a bit of a macho undercurrent to some travellers’ accounts, full of derring-do, wrestling lions, staring down wild tribesmen and showing no fear. By contrast Nathan is quite open about the days that didn’t go well and the times that he was full of doubt about the trip, and to me, that makes it much more relateable.

It’s also really funny.

And it’s a bonus that in real life Nathan is one of the good guys, full of encouragement for people thinking about overland travel, and the king of laid-back affordable adventures.


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