A MOTORCYCLE BOOK REVIEW...
I wanted to title this review 'man on the run' hopefully my reason for this will become clear as you read on. 'Uneasy Rider' is not a new book, it won the Oldie magazine 'Travel Book of the Year' in 2008, but it's one I'd been meaning to read for some time, and I picked it up at a winter bike show.
As the cold season loosens its grip and the days become lighter, it's hopefully time to begin thinking about books (or an e reader) that can be stuffed into panniers for when you get to that warm camp site or beach in southern Europe or beyond.
Mike Carter was a newspaper man when he decided to go a-travelling; something he had in common with that most erudite writer of motorcycle travels, Ted Simon. The other common factor between the two was the fact that having decided to use a motorcycle as his conveyance; he couldn't ride one, unless you counted a three month affair with a Lambretta as a teenager. This also involved four crashes and an eighteen month ban for drink driving...the vicissitudes of youth.
Carter is an 'in at the deep end person': the bike he chose for his six month ride across and around Europe and to the eastern reaches of Turkey was the BMW R1200GS. Not only heavy on the bank balance, but also in terms of weight and handling for a novice rider: so he took himself off to South Wales and placed himself in the hands of Kevin Sanders, the long distance motorcycle record holder who was running the (also expensive) Direct Access BMW residential training school. There via a 125 Honda and 650 BMW he passed his full motorcycle test.
The philosophy and reasons behind this episode in Mike Carters life resulted from a mix of reading The Long Way Round; dissatisfaction with his current mode of living; reaching the age of forty two; telling people when pissed that he was going to do it; and the travel editor of the Observer agreeing to publish a weekly column of his on-the-road exploits.
Fortunately, as far as the last reason was concerned, there were plenty of exploits, and an assortment of humanity, enough to fill a book as it turned out. From the outset Mike Carter went with the flow, with little in the way of planned directions. As it says on the cover 'he's left his map behind'; but when he met a group of homegoing Brit riders on mainland Europe, they gave him one.
For the solo traveller life on the road, on the sea, on a mountain, across the desert, through the jungle, can be a lonely place where thoughts, welcome and unwelcome, invade. Mike Carter writes about these moments, especially when contemplating the end of a seven year relationship, another contributing factor for the journey, as was an audit of other forty plus male mates contemplating their general dissatisfaction with this period of life in general...age rage.
As well as motorcycle travel there are two other running themes, alcohol and women. This is not a blokey book though, as the writer is able to put experiences and dilemmas encountered into a sensitive context and with wit, observation, and self deprecating humour that feels like he is telling himself not to be so ridiculous and just get on with it.
Fortunately he's a gregarious bloke who develops a pragmatic attitude to all the people he meets 'on the road'; from Swedish hells angels, to an English bloke living in the backwoods of Estonia, to wild Boris in Zagreb and Mrs Chrysanthi the Greek matriarc who adopted him.
When this many different sections of humanity cross your path there will come forth many and diverse opinions, ideas, utterances, prejudices; all of which people will assume you agree with. Mike Carter deals with these with a down to earth mix of neutrality, humour, agreement or cautious respect: because in some cases they were offering hospitality and friendship.
He 'discovered' the Horizons Unlimited web site. The international information and advice network which can put motorcycle travellers in touch with each other www.horizonsunlimited.com. Thus he linked up with Sue and Joe, a lively couple of Aussies making their way round on their Yamaha Super Tenere. They rode together and Mike Carter was 'looked after' for a while with practical tips on underwear changing intervals and the acquisition of a Polish sheepskin cover for the BMW saddle.
His goal was to reach Mount Ararat in Eastern Turkey before turning west towards home. The mountain is where Noahs Ark was supposed to have come to rest after the flood, and it has great symbolic significance to the Armenian people, who have suffered grievance harm and genocide from being next to the Turkish state.
Back across Turkey and into Greece where sitting disconsolately by the roadside in Athens where he had expected to find a BMW dealership, he was befriended by a young bloke who offered him accommodation with his family, which Mike Carter cautiously accepted. To then find himself treated like an adopted son to the point where he was given the 'honour' of being the guardian of Cousin Althea when out socialising in bars and clubs; a constant throughout the whole escapade - a verdict on how and whether his liver survived will probably have to wait for later years.
Unless you camp, being on the road on a bike is an expensive business. Mike Carter is not a camper even though he carried the equipment and managed to erect the tent on a couple of occasions. His hotel bill would have been something approaching enormous for the six months he was away. He does divulge that he spent 3,000 Euros on fuel across the 27 countries he visited. But his journey was serialised in the Observer newspaper, which would allay the costs.
This book will make you smile, laugh, want to see what his next destination would bring, have empathy with his thoughts and experiences and most importantly want to jump on the bike and travel.
(When Ted Simon set off on Jupiter his Triumph all those years ago, he didn't consider himself to be a 'motorcyclist'. But now, even in advanced years, is firmly part of the travel and riding scene. I was curious to know if Mike Carter continued to ride, and a Google search revealed that he had undertaken a 5000 mile cycle journey round the edge of Britain. Had then been in Sudan with the war photographer Don McCullin, and was looking for a boat to live in on the Thames. No motorcycles though.
Uneasy Rider is published by Ebury Press £8.99 ISBN 978-0-09-192326-6
Anyone else read this book? If so did you enjoy it? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
SIGN UP FOR OUR NEWSLETTER
Sign up to receive updates and new posts straight to your in-box.