Available from Abe Books here.
This is probably the best motorcycle travel book I have read. It manages this impressive feat in a number of ways. First, the story it tells is one of incredible toughness – both physical and mental on the part of the author – in the face of a bad accident on day one of the trip. The worst start any biking traveller could imagine. Less than ten pages in and the narrator is sitting by the side of a remote road eating a mess of his mangled food, mixed with gravel, nursing a broken ankle on the easternmost tip of Russia.
What follows is three months of usually gruelling riding. Also moving is the sense of humanity we get at just about every turn of the journey. Scott is taken in by incredibly generous and hospitable folk throughout, people who have unimaginably tough lives, living on very little by Western standards, with almost unbearable occupations, but who share what they have with him – and with real pride and nobility (usually).
Adrian Scott’s writing is impeccable. He must have spent hours each day with his notebooks. He describes, for example, the nuances of changes in facial structure of the people he meets as he journeys westward across Asia. His accounts of architecture, particularly of his extended stay in Samarkand, are vivid and detailed. He is a traveller who has done extensive research before he left (or maybe he added it afterwards – I doubt it somehow) and his book gives us detailed but readable political and social histories of many of the newly independent countries he visits. He also seems to have taken the trouble to learn Russian in preparation. His intelligent but deeply-felt engagement with the cultures and individuals he comes across puts this writing in a different class to some other authors who seem to have gathered a few superficial impressions more for merchandising reasons than to do justice to where they have been.
But the book has some oddities. First, we are told nothing about the traveller/writer. Even by the end of the story, we don’t know why he undertook his journey, what he did before he left – was he a journalist, an academic, a traveller – or how he got home? We are given absolutely no information apart from the fact that he is unnaturally tall. (As evidence of this, a small cover photo appears to show his head wedged against a ceiling somewhere.) And for the biker reader, he assiduously avoids telling us the model or make of his bike though we get plenty of fascinating detail about his relationship with his much patched together vehicle. From one of the photographs you can make out it’s a Kawasaki. And the photographs, as well as the map of the journey (the Silk Road plus) are very low quality, though strangely this adds to the believability of his story. They are often very moving, showing people in pretty grim circumstances.
So what did he do next? I have no idea. Web searches turn up nothing and the book doesn’t seem to have nurtured a cult following though in my mind it deserves to, no less than Ted Simon’s first book (OK, Ted did it thirty years before). In fact this possibly cheaply produced book (it could have done with some editing – its full of typos) is refreshingly free of celebrity endorsements. For anyone interested in travelling, biking or Asia, this is an absolute must read.