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The Road Gets Better from Here Paperback – 7 May 2008
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It's let down slightly by sloppy editing, and perhaps by his increasing sadness as the grand adventure comes to an end, but neither takes away from what is one of the best motorcycle adventure travel books anywhere.
And I should know, since I've written a few.
The Road to Gobblers Knob: From Chile to Alaska on a MotorbikeWay to Go: Two of the World's Great Motorcycle JourneysAnyway, Where Was I?: Geoff Hill's Alternative A-Z of the World
But this highlights my one niggle: there is almost no personal information here about him, his background or his everyday life. He starts the journey as a stranger to us and, to a great extent, ends the journey that way too, although the book really conveys the fears, discomfort, frustration and exhilaration of his very personal experience.
He attempts a very similar route across Asia as the Mondo boys but in reverse (natural for someone hailing from Australia I guess), learning how to fend for himself and cope with the demands of the journey at it's most confronting and physically arduous phase in the gulag region of Siberia.
He, like Ted Simon, learned to ride a motorbike as the preferred mode of travel for the trip, and his lack of riding skill, technical knowledge and mechanical sympathy are nearly his undoing on numerous occasions. He makes up for it with great receptiveness to his surroundings and openness to those that he meets, often at these critical moments, which see him rewarded with generosity and kindness by many people along the way. Great illustrations of how a crisis is often an opportunity for a life affirming encounter in these situations, and how 'western civilisation' might just have lost something important along the way.
So anyway, buy this book, make the man a few quid, and he might take another trip and write another book as good as this one. Not just a great motorcycle travel book but a great travel book. Period!
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 across 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 some 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, but 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.
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