Customer Review

15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Strong on flora and fauna, 1 April 2011
This review is from: Bearback: The World Overland (Hardcover)
Bearback, not to be confused with bearbacking which is entirely different, is a 519 page account of a 100,000 mile journey around the world two up on an ageing BMW - a 1991 R100GS with a 43.5 litre fuel tank (10L more that the current 1200GS). Its one of a pleasingly growing number of bike-travel books. They are all different. Some are undeniably well-written, like Ted Simon's first book which probably spawned the genre - as well as the activity. Some are banal, though with a certain humour and there are all points between. Low cost publishing standards seem to characterise some of this sub-genre with sometimes poor proof reading and low quality reproductions.
When this example arrived in the post I was daunted by its size, then annoyed by the cheesy photographs on the dust cover then irritated that the publishers need to tell us this is not just any Pat Garrod but Doctor Pat who is the author, as if this is a pseudo-medical self-help book written by a crank who happens to be a doctor and the publishers are looking for some spurious respectability. So you will see that I found myself negatively disposed towards this and starting to regret ordering it before I opened the cover.
Some of this type of book provide the reader with a back story so we quickly find out who the author is and something about why they tacked the journey. Others don't. With this one we get the author's personal philosophy and his urge to travel but the rest we gradually find out. For example its rather disconcerting, after our pulse is already racing in the early dramas recounted in Africa to read that the author and his partner had already ridden their `bear' across that continent some years before. Its also disorientating to learn, somewhere in the same continent, that this journey started in 1998 yet the book was published in 2010. Dr Pat is also not alone as are the authors of many of these books and in fact it's the solitude and openness to contact with people along the route that is often a strong part of these narratives. Pat (you see how friendly I am getting with him now) has his partner (female - I told you this book is not about bearbacking) riding pillion. Until we get used to this she is a rather ghostly presence, speaking sometimes (but not very often) though referred to constantly. However, once we've made these adjustments we can settle down to the gripping story. And gripping this account is. In the early stages in Africa they have their possessions stolen. Its easy to feel their panic and anger. Then their beloved machine breaks down in a variety of possibly catastrophic ways demanding ingenuity on the part of the author and some heavy handed efforts of some of the mechanics along the way. I lost count of the number of new drive shafts the skilful Pat fitted. There are also accounts of riding in incredibly tough terrains and in terrible weather.
This is a big book for a big journey and its separated into (in my mind at least) Africa, South America (North America is a blur), Australia, the Far East, the Indian subcontinent, then Europe. At the end of each section I expected the book to run out of steam - but it never did - which is an astonishing achievement.
Unlike my current favourite bike-travel book `The Road Gets Better from Here: A Novice Rides Solo From the Ring of Fire to the Cradle of Civilisation' (Perfect Paperback) by Adrian Scott, Pat seems more interested in flora and fauna than in the human cultures he's travelling through. That may not be true but there is a loving attention to describing the beauties of nature that is not turned, in my reading, onto the people that are met along the way. Or rather, we are given some very engaging sketches of people met but they are fleeting. In Scott's book I can't help but be very moved by his immense generosity of spirit as he recounts the way he's taken in and looked after by people in incredibly poor and harsh situations. There is something very uplifting about Scott's book that I don't find in Bearback. In fact there are frequent unattractive outbursts of smugness directed first toward regular tourists who are bussed to various tropical beauty spots in air conditioned vehicles, take some pictures at the behest of a guide, then pile back in and drive off. Then other overland bikers also get the smug treatment. He describes one couple's bike - which incidentally took this couple to Australia from the UK - as `pristine'. `There's travelling overland and there's travelling overland', he says. I think that the British excel at this square-jawed moral highground-taking and I found it a turn off whenever it appeared, as it did with a certain regularity. Also, while I am dishing out the criticism, we also get some heavily stereotypical views of Muslim countries (or some of them): the women all seem to be hidden at home (presumably unhappily) while the men grope and make innuendos toward the now Mrs Pat (they get married in mid-journey). Of course I can't deny that they witnessed this but as Wittgenstein said `there are no facts only interpretations'. (Or was that Groucho Marx? - it wouldn't have been Karl Marx. He would be more likely to say the opposite).
So, some aspects of this book I felt let it down, nevertheless it is a real achievement (I begin to understand why it was so long in the writing). It is impeccably written and highly engaging. The story is one of hugely impressive nerve and courage and there is plenty of talk about bits of the bike if you like that kind of thing. If you are in for the long haul (so to speak) I'd recommend this book, especially if you love Africa and its nature. But if you are more interested in human relationships and haven't read Adrian Scott, then read that first.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 5 Feb 2012 12:38:56 GMT
Michael P says:
great review - i will now be buying the Adrian Scott book as well as this one. I am quite addicted to both motorcycles and motorcycle travel books - some self published books are awful - i am running out of books..any further ideas..Please??

In reply to an earlier post on 5 Feb 2012 12:49:55 GMT
M. Traynor says:
I'm just re-reading Jupiter's Travels and it reminds me how good Ted Simon's writing was/is. I know there's no need to big him up by comparing him to other motorcycle writing but Ted actually has something interesting and intelligent to say about his travels, the people he meets, the countries he visits, his own reflections about his life etc. The celebrity books are incredibly banal by comparison, in my view little more than opportunities for merchandising (apart from some nice pictures).
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