4 out of 5 stars
Most 23-year-olds these days have just emerged from university with a mountain of debt and not much in the way of prospects. Way back in 1982 when Elspeth Beard was 23, she was halfway through her architecture degree and feeling miserable after a relationship had failed. She needed something to distract her so decided to embark on an around the world trip on her trusty 1974 BMW R60/6. She approached various bike manufacturers and press for support and possible sponsorship, but no one was interested, in fact, they were quite scathing of her attempt. This made her even more determined to do it.
She serviced her bike and packed it up in a crate and sent it on it’s way to New York. She would be following by jet and a month later in October to begin her first leg across America. Riding out of New York was quite special, but she realised that she may have an issue being on a bike when she stopped for fuel and the attendants ignored her. It was only by taking her helmet off that they saw she wasn’t a troublesome biker and would serve her. Her route took her to Detroit and then south to New Orleans before heading west to Los Angeles. There were a few heart-stopping moments one in particular when four Hells Angels pull up alongside her, pure speed and excellent cornering ability of her bike meant she could get away.
Trying to get a visa into Australia was proving problematic, they wouldn’t let her have a working visa nor a tourist visa. Even flying to Hawaii to see if she could get a visa from there was to prove fruitless. Her bike went there and she ended up in New Zealand for a brief break and to meet up with a boyfriend from London called, Mark. A sympathetic official, who was a biker too, finally gave her the visa she wanted. Australia beckoned.
Please to be reunited with her bike, she needed to earn some money to fund the next stage of her trip. She had a contact with an architectural practise from London, so went to see them and they gave her a job; sadly they were much less bothered about paying her, so she ended up working in a bar in the evenings. She left the first place and they didn’t even notice, the second practice was much better and it gave her lots of experience and she saw some of her plans turn into real buildings. Six months had passed, she had built a custom set of aluminium panniers and it was time to hit the road again.
Her route around Australia would take her north to Townsville, before turning west and then south to pass Alice Springs and Ayres Rock and then west again to Perth. She was expecting to ride along dusty roads in the outback, but the time she was travelling through they had had tremendous storms and the road was flooded. She cadges a lift with a road train driver at one point as her bike can’t cope with the weather.
South-East Asia was next, her bike was shipped to Bali and she got on a plane to Singapore and this time was actually looking forward to seeing Mark. As much as she loved the place, this was the start of a small run of bad luck that caused little setbacks and delays, but she did make it to Bangkok safely. India beckoned.
As Madras emerged through the mist, it was exactly as she anticipated it would be, crumbling, chaotic, colourful and yet charming. Riding in this country would be a challenge and she had to reach Nepal so she could meet up with her parents for the first time in a long time, so had made the decision to take the train from Madras to Calcutta. It was a wise decision as it saved her at least two days travelling. Heading north from Calcutta, she realised how challenging it would be on the roads just to stay alive. Every time she stopped, especially in what seemed to be an empty part of the country, she was immediately surrounded by Indian men wanting to touch the bike. It was hard going, but she made it into Nepal. Mark arrived and they decided to take one of the organised treks up into the mountains.
Beard had now reached the final leg of her mammoth 35,000-mile journey, riding from Kathmandu all the way back to the UK. She was reluctant to head back to India but knew it had to be done, but before that, she had to carry out some urgent and necessary repairs on her bike. It was while doing this that she met another rider on a BMW. His name was Robert and he was Dutch. He had also been in Australia and was riding back home. Everywhere he went in Australia, he had heard about this lady riding a BMW around the world and had always hoped to meet her. They helped each other repair their bike and agreed to meet up in two weeks time at Agra.
Travelling through India was the toughest part of the trip, but having some company made things a little bit easier. There were a few delays in getting through the Punjab and into Pakistan, but they managed it in the end, but she was dreading crossing into Iran as she hadn’t ever got the correct paperwork because of the cost; she would have to try and blag her way in somehow. They made it, but she was wary of travelling through a country that had just had an Islamic Revolution and was at war with its neighbour. Before long they were in Turkey.
It was here that they suffered their first police hassle. They suspected them of carrying drugs, but a full search revealed nothing. This part of the trip felt like a small holiday, especially along the coast, where they spent time eating and swimming. They survived the road of death between Zagreb and Belgrade and they were finally into mainland Europe and then onto the terrifying system that is the German Autobahns. There was a brief detour to the Netherlands to meet Robert’s mother and then for the first time in 799 days, she was home.
For anyone to undertake a journey of this magnitude takes some doing, but to do it mostly alone in the age before modern and instant communication seems unreal now. Beard had to put up with hassle from men in most places she visited, but she was determined that this sort of behaviour would not be tolerated. Her tenacity meant that she kept going in what occasionally seemed to be overwhelming odds. She is one brave lady and this is a book that is well worth reading.