Gary recently bought me this book because he thought it might be of interest to me. Well, I loved it, we both loved it so here is our (joint) review and why we think many of you might like this book.
Elspeth Beard, a university student in late 70’s London, discovers motorbikes. She falls in love with motorcycling because it gives her the freedom that craves. She then, in 1982, decides to embark on an epic voyage, riding her BMW around the world via the US, Australia, South East Asia, India, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and then across Europe and back home to London in just over 2 years. She writes about the journey, the highs and the lows and the emotions she experienced during the trip.
There are some amazing pictures of her trip here.
This is about someone who motorbikes around the world, repairing her bike as she goes, bodging repairs when no spares are available and deals with the most difficult terrain and road conditions you can imagine. The places she gets to with her bike and the experiences she has just because she is travelling on her bike help us realise what a special club we are part of.
She does an amazing job of nursing her BMW R60/6 through the trip. She became a mobile mechanic and it feels like she pulls the bike apart down to the last nut and bolt and rebuilds it multiple times during the trip. She shows remarkable skills and patience.
Elspeth visits some extraordinary places. She is a real traveller and a good writer so her descriptions of the amazing sites she visits (temples, churches, mosques, mountains, palaces and ruins) are very evocative and atmospheric. Also, with her own transport and no timetable she is able to get to some wonderful places that many tourists might not see, places like the Himalayas, New Mexico, the Nullabor, Western Pakistan and the Golden Triangle.
Elspeth travels on the cheap, she set off with only 2,000 pounds sterling or so and only earned a bit more than that again during a work stint in Sydney. Accordingly, she camped a lot in the USA and Australia and stayed in cheap hostels through Asia and Europe. The book gives a taste of what is out there to see in the world, even if you don’t fancy sleeping on floors or in cockroach ridden rooms like poor Elspeth does more than a few times.
I (Joanne) have backpacked (and I expect many reading this have backpacked too) so I can really relate to aspects of her trip. I stuck to the relatively easy countries of South East Asia and Australia, and I recognised a lot of Elspeth’s experiences there. I have not backpacked in India, but I have heard nightmare stories (including from my sister who backpacked there) of how challenging it can be for a tourist. Sure enough, it proves to be the hardest part of her trip, probably made even harder than most would experience due to being on a motorbike.
After India, she experiences Pakistan, passing through the relatively prosperous East before venturing into the barren and desolate west, skirting the Afgan border (back when it was the Russians fighting a war there, not the Americans). She crosses the isolated border into an Iran that was still adjusting to life after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which presented a whole host of new problems. Even Eastern Turkey proved to be a very foreign place to Elspeth, before she reaches the friendlier and more familiar West of the country. Things are still challenging as she passes through the Balkans before reaching Austria and the familiarity of Western Europe.
Even though Elspeth made this trip during my lifetime, she is describing a world that has already ceased to exist. As soon as she left the USA and Australia, she travelled through an Asia that was yet to see the economic revolutions that have transformed that region since the 1980s. She sees a world that was very underprivileged and where people often lived in squalor. She even has a story of hitting an animal in Thailand which turns out to make a tasty meal for the Thai locals outside whose home the incident occurred.
She also had to negotiate the bureaucratic nightmare that is India before the internet and mobile phones. Even the simplest tasks like getting a stamp in a passport sometimes take weeks to achieve.
This is not to say that there is not still poverty and hardship in many places but in 2019 mobile phones are everywhere and millions of people are being lifted out of absolute poverty every year, which is a wonderful thing.
Because it provides some interesting insights into what it is like being a woman, the things we have to think about and how we need to be alert to dangers in this world that don’t necessarily impact you.
Elspeth does most of the trip by herself, she fends off unwanted attention and draws on her resilience to prove that woman are fully capable, fully functioning human beings. She is quite the modern woman and cuts an iconic feminist figure, saying a big “stuff you” to the many people (mostly men but women too) who expect she doesn’t know one end of her motorbike from the other and that her trip will end in failure and very quickly.
She also shares the stories of her loves before, during and after the trip. Her main reason for starting the adventure was to get over a man who dumped her. She has a boyfriend back in England but meets more than one interesting men during the trip and is very honest about the feelings that are stirred for her. She has an emotional journey that parallels her motorcycle journey.
Elspeth is amazingly frank and honest in her storytelling, even to the point of putting her less likeable qualities on the page. This gives the book a feeling of real authenticity.
Both Gary and I read this book and we both give it 5 out of five stars. It is utterly engaging and we both read it in record time as we were so keen to find out how this amazing adventure works out. The conclusion is bittersweet but very satisfying. And there are even more rewards because Elspeth went on to be an award-winning architect and it is possible to follow her right up to the present day. (At the end of the book she briefly tells the story of her most challenging project – conversion of a water tower into a house, which she made into her own home – which is also an incredible achievement.)
More than anything else, readers will admire her incredible resourcefulness and resilience. She is a true inspiration.
Highly recommended, especially to motorbiker readers.