Desert Travels and Desert Biking

A Guide to Independent Motorcycling in the Sahara

Desert Travels
By Chris Scott
Whitehorse Press

What would possess a man to venture into the perils of the vast Sahara desert?

"There are no modern-day adventurers," whined the young, grunge-clothed college student, looking up from his textbook and leaning back in the coffee shop's simple wooden chair. "No Christopher Columbus, no Marco Polos."

"No Indiana Jones'," his identically-dressed companion added while reaching for his iced-mocha.

This short snippet of overheard conversation was textbook irony, as I sat nearby reading Chris Scott's "Desert Travels," a story of his journeys through the Sahara and West Africa by motorcycle. One man, alone with only his wits and his bike to see him across the dreaded piste, the ocean of sand and rocks that is the Saharan traveler's constant companion.

What would possess a man to venture into the perils of the vast Sahara desert? Scott, a 21 year-old dispatch rider from England, describes his motive as being no more than a desire to "explore one small part of the world." There are plenty of interesting locations and historic sites within Europe. Why travel to a place where the miserable dunes at the beginning of a day's ride are identical to the ones you see at day's end? Why journey across an area where a simple mechanical failure can be potentially life-threatening? Despite his claim of merely wanting to explore, Scott clearly revels in the challenge of man vs. nature. "I unpacked my gear for my first night alone in the Sahara," Scott writes. "As I watched the sun sink into the void from the crest of an escarpment, a mesmerizing quality overcame me, like that fatal magnetism experienced at a cliff edge. The emptiness to either side of the road seemed to represent insanity, oblivion, the darkness beyond reason. To stray away from this lifeline would lead ultimately to death." "The emptiness to either side of the road seemed to represent insanity, oblivion, the darkness beyond reason."

His half-dozen trips into the searing heat of a vast Saharan desert are more than just a man on vacation. They are a test of his fortitude, cunning and resourcefulness. And through his excellent writing we are able to ride along with him, sharing the fear of moments such as when his tank split 100 miles from the nearest assistance, as well as the triumph of each successful return home.

During his frequent visits to the dark continent, Scott learned a great deal about the culture, customs and history of each region he passed through. He is both a knowledgeable and entertaining tour guide. Clearly, he doesn't merely travel through a region without first learning about its inhabitants.

My only complaint of Scott's Desert Travels is the fact that he often transcribed his conversations with locals in their native French. I don't speak French. It isn't a major hurdle, but it is frustrating at times. Beyond that minor annoyance, Desert Travels is an entertaining tale of a modern-day adventurer, a man who sees a personal challenge and rises to it, again and again. Its pages are full of the kinds of stories that keep you reading far past your normal bedtime. Damn the cliche, but I really couldn't put it down.

Motorcycle Online Rating: **** Desert BikingFor those who read Scott's Desert Travels and decide that the Sahara is calling them, Desert Biking: A Guide to Independent Motorcycling in the Sahara is a must-have. Scott calls upon his experience gained from half a dozen trips into the Sahara oven to assist those daring enough to follow in his footsteps. Every detail, from the analysis of each current dual-purpose motorcycle and its desert-traveling potential, to how to weld racks, what to bring, where to cross into Africa, ferry times, documents needed, health concerns, gear, navigation and local customs is covered. Clearly, this is the guide for anyone considering such a journey.

As you might presume, such a how-to manual doesn't make for particularly exciting reading if you're not planning a Saharan holiday, although many of his tips can also be useful for less adventurous treks. All touring riders could benefit from his knowledge of traveling by motorcycle.

Motorcycle Online Rating:
If you're Sahara-bound: ***** If you're not: **1/2 Desert Travels and Desert Biking are available from Whitehorse Press for $14.95 and $19.95, respectively. To order, contact Whitehorse Press, PO Box 60, North Conway, NH 03860. Telephone toll-free at 1-800-531-1133 in the United States or Canada

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