Practical guidebooks for the more adventurous traveller.
— The Herald
Prepare. That’s still the first word of the first chapter of this edition. The motorcycle adventure you’re about to take on is going to be expensive, demanding and maybe even dangerous. Preparation doesn’t mean running the most expensive bike adorned with all the latest adventure motorcycling accessories; it means having as good an understanding as possible of what you’re taking on and being appropriately equipped to deal with it.
The decision to set off on a long motorcycle journey can germinate from a moment’s inspiration, a decision to take on the ’Big Trip’ after a succession of easier rides, or just the plain old desire to cut loose from the rat race and have a big adventure.
You may not think so yet, but within a few pages you’ll appreciate the mushroom effect of taking on such a venture. Choosing and preparing your bike might take up the lion’s share of your time and the budget, but realigning your initial itinerary with the reality of visa acquisition, open borders and a realistic and safe route also takes a huge amount of research. The situation will have changed since this was written and that won’t end once you’re on the road, so the planning is never really over until you stop.
The more you learn the more there is to consider, until you get to a magical point where, however briefly, you’re ahead of the game. If you’re very lucky, that moment of overlanding nirvana will coincide with your departure.
The extent of preparation varies greatly between individuals. Some will want booked accommodation linked by a string of GPS waypoints. Others will be satisfied with a good map and a loose schedule for any visa applications that must be made en route. You want to try reach a level of preparation that gives you enough confidence in a venture that’ll always be largely unpredictable.
Acquiring the correct paperwork and visas and sorting out your money arrangements is tedious but essential. It’s common to worry about carrying half a year’s cash with you, acquiring visas on the road and motor insurance at each new border, as well as trying to get by without a carnet (see p23). Without just one of the several documents listed in this section, your trip could grind to a halt, but the two key items are and always will be: a passport and the vehicle ownership document.
Spontaneity is a wonderful thing but it’s best saved for short-range route deviations once on the road. There’ll be enough unexpected dramas to handle without adding to them with inadequate planning. Do yourself a favour and set off knowing that, whatever happens, you’ve done all the preparation you intended to do. The more effort you put into planning, the smoother your trip is likely to be. But don’t worry, it’ll still be an adventure – you can count on that. No one’s ever set off to ride around the world but given up because it just got too darn boring.
Before the preparation comes a plan, an outline of the regions and destinations you’d like to visit. It’s not uncommon to initially come up with a certain romantic flow or theme: following the Silk Road to Beijing or following the Mediterranean coast counterclockwise from Casablanca to Istanbul. Or setting off on an old AJS like your parents did before you came along. Then you discover there’s no single ’Silk Road’, that North Africa is having a bad time at the moment, and that these days an old AJS is better pampered than ridden for months on end.
This is just the start. If you make it past p25 your expertise in the whole business will have multiplied exponentially. A few edges may have been knocked off your starry-eyed dream too, but you’ll be in much better shape to take on what lies ahead.
Once you’ve got over that possible disappointment there comes another shock that can be paraphrased from the Prussian military strategist Helmuth von Moltke’s famous quote: ’no plan survives contact with the road’. It’s hard to imagine not having some sort of outline before you leave, if only to avoid undesirable interruptions and expenses. But soon enough that schedule becomes derailed, in some cases before you even leave. Your big adventure is like a major civil engineering project: it will be late and over budget. It’s rare to leave on your original departure date, so don’t set this or what follows in stone. Without necessarily adorning yourself with a headband and sandals like Peter Fonda in Easy Rider, once on the road be ready to be adaptable and ’go with the flow’. Compared to the life you’ve probably been leading up to now, life on the road will be unpredictable and requires flexibility.
Be wary of over-ambitious goals, especially something like trying to get to a certain border thousands of miles away in a fortnight. Even in the right season (see p12) most first-time overland riders greatly underestimate the time it takes to cover ground in parts of Asia and Africa, let alone the desirability of simply slowing down.
To want to try and see it all is understandable when you consider the cost and effort you’re investing in the project, but once you’re inching out of a Far Eastern container depot into the chaos of the city, or rolling off the end of a sealed highway onto a remote desert track, reality bites. The good thing is: you’re there and there’s nowhere to go but forward.
Assuming that most of us come from the rich nations of the developed West – North America, Europe, Southern Africa and Australasia – certain classic overland routes present themselves. They’re illustrated and described in more detail in each of the Route Outline maps for Africa (pp246-7 & p259), Asia (pp192-3, p204, p221 & p233) and Latin America (pp272-3 & p281), with an overview map at the front of the book (pages ii-iii). I
t’s worth comparing these three big continents in terms of difficulty. Assuming you live there, European departures offer the most overland options, with both Asia and Africa accessible without getting bogged down in shipping and air freight (Africa only by the Straits of Gibraltar at the moment). From Europe, the northern route across Asia goes as far as Far Eastern Russia. The southern route runs via India and now continues overland via Myanmar (with escorts) to Southeast Asia. China remains a special case – see p229. The southern route to India can be comfortably done on a road bike with as few as four visas.
Alternatively, departing from Europe you can head down the length of Africa, typically ending at the Cape of Good Hope. With the situations in Libya and Syria blocking overland access to Egypt, Africa still represents a challenge, a real adventure both in terms of riding conditions, visa acquisition, security and even expense.
Many riders not from North America choose to start their transit of Latin America above the Arctic Circle in Alaska to end it some 25,000km (15,000 miles) later in Tierra del Fuego, just 1000km (600 miles) from the Antarctic mainland. Assuming you follow the line of least resistance, Latin America is the least challenging of the three big continental routes in terms of paperwork, riding conditions and language, while offering as impressive scenic and cultural attractions as anywhere, particularly in the Andean countries.
If you’re intent on ringing the globe, shipping across the oceans that separate these continents is easily done from certain key ports described on p188.
- Contents list
- AMH history
- Choosing a motorcycle
- Life on the road
- Sample route outline (Peru and Bolivia)
- Tales from the Saddle (sample)
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