When we camped that night, as well as the utter perfection of a desert starscape, we were joyous, ebullient and wishing it could last forever. We were at large in the Sahara. None of our friends, bosses, wives or creditors knew where we were. A wild-track wilderness seemingly at the end of the earth and devoid of human agency, silent, save for the terror of waking up in the night to the minor tremors of an earthquake!! The tectonic rumblings stirred even the most sluggish Mondo Man. We cowered and questioned then Eric Sowle posited that the shaking and groaning was in fact an Iron Ore train rumbling by. Obvious maybe? No dear reader, we were two miles from the railway!

It doesn't get better than this!

We were woken by the dawn and in a trice Los Angeles Angel Joe McManus
had a brew on the go. We were being serviced by French military rations. As well as duck au gratin, Thai green curry and Cassoulet, these boxes were bulging with a high-class grade A powder that served as potent coffee brew and a catch-all cure for erectile dysfunction. It doesn’t get better than this! This section of ‘piste’ although easier to navigate by ‘hand-railing’ the railway, was woven with irritating flumps of soft talcum powder sand. Not simply a few yards long, but seeming to be in stretches of 5 miles or so. Some of the team were competent dirt-riders but I wasn’t. I found the white knuckle balls-out full-throttle strategy required to nail these tranches of vagueness incredibly stressful. However with every mile came increased confidence and an inevitable ‘raising of ones game’. And of course, the pressure of coping in unfamiliar conditions is surely at the very heart of ‘adventure motorcycling’…

The Smelt-o-polis of Zouerate

As the railway pushed north to the actual Bartertown styled Iron Ore Smelt-o-polis of Zouerate, we peeled south. Leaving the railway behind and heading across raw, open desert, flanked by black basalt extrusions and boiling boiling November hot heat haze (note: If anyone ever does this in july, contact me, I am your slave for life…).
We skirted past the last human outpost of ATAR and pushed on ever eastwards. As the days rolled by it was surprising to all of us how quickly we got into the ‘groove’. None of us were Chris Scott style desert legends but just like skiing, it’s joyous when you find your feet once you’ve been immersed for a few days…

Beware of Vipers

Trailfinder Richard Kemplay had us headin’ out to the south of the legendary ‘Gwelb’. A prehistoric Jules Verne cum Indiana Jones style mad crater thirty miles wide. Bursting with concentric circles of raw igneous cliff-edge harshness. Our task was a push up the desolate and seemingly forgotten valley of something or other. A place so unvisited that all my mouse-pointing on Google maps couldn’t find out if this place even had a name. With 400 miles under our belts we were headin’ for Richard’s 6th cache. Dropping into a Neolithic canyon, dry for millennia but gouged by fluvial erosion, his notes urged us to ‘beware of vipers!!’. We thought this was typical Yorkshire bravado discouraging us from taking out payday loans but soon realised it was a warning laced with the deadly seriousness that accompanies actual snakes!

This canyon was 100% the most difficult route I had ridden in all my days period. Only about a mile, but a deadly mile… A diabolical fusion of soft sand interspersed with gnarkly boulders that simply couldn’t be ignored. The true adventure expert would have had the maturity to simply push their bike through.

However, we were four days in, buoyed up with a boyish headboy bullishness and we thought we could just about handle it. We were wrong, we fell apart, separated, excommunicated and ultimately, with Joe taking a spastic sideways spill that saw his bashplate smash down onto his ankle, bending it back in a way that our dear Lord, when he fashioned Adam from clay, had never intended.
Thankfully, young James Duveen had suffered many a bruised ankle and he deftly strapped up Joe’s with gaffer tape. Not without first, delicately shaving away the wispy ankle hair. A BIC disposable diorama of desert depilatory dreams come true!

Diggin' and Drivin'

After nine days of driving and digging, with Joe’s ankle slowly on the mend and our group rhythms fully ‘in sync’, we were heading back to tarmac, 1200 lonely miles behind us and grinning like fools. We all had real life to be getting back to, wives, mortgages and overdue library books, the quotidian of our existence in the USA and the UK. We hooked up with Richard Kemplay at a remote spot at the end of a tentacle of black top. He escorted us back to the capital, Nouakchott, loaded our bikes onto his trailer and started the long drive home. It was only day 29 but within 7 hrs we were all back at Heathrow waving goodbye to the yanks as they flew onwards across the Atlantic back to home of the brave and the land of the free.  We were tired but drenched in a post Honda afterglow of balmy contentment. We weren’t Dakar racers, we weren’t explorers and we were neither tough nor brave but definitely, most assuredly, we were alive, like never before! Our helmets and bikes, caked in Saharan dust called out, beckoning the next set of riders heading out on a motorcycle adventure. Because remember, Mondo Sahara isn’t about us, it’s about you…

A world class motorcycle adventure

I’d been super tight on my filming and had only shot 12 hrs over the whole trip. We’d picked up a couple of hours of GoPro stuff but that was just ‘herbs’n’spices’ alongside the ‘meat’ of this footage. The next project was to make an inspirational film that encouraged yer’ average biker to realise that with a £1500 ten-year old trail bike, a tarp and a set of overalls, they could have a world class motorcycle adventure. Was I successful? Amigo, you’d better believe it…

So there you have it - an inspirational tale from Austin Vince and crew livin' it large in the Sahara in the hope that other rider-adventurers will be tempted to get out there, take a few risks and see the world how it really is from the seat of a motorcycle. And if you want to share the thrills and spills of their trip, the film of Austin's adventure Mondo Sahara is out now available from Wemoto.

Posted by Austin Vince
for Wemoto News on 17 December 2013 in General News

Edited By: Lucy England



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