A life-changing moment? Everyone has one sooner or later don’t they. I bet you’ll have had one, but when I set off to ride a bike the length of Africa, could I possibly have known what was going to happen as a result? Of course not, but that’s the best bit about such moments isn’t it?
Sometimes a huge gamble pays off in completely unexpected ways. I’ll never forget the fear that wound its way through me as I set off across Europe in the midst of a very cold February. If I’d not told my mates in the pub that I was going to spend a year riding the length of Africa then perhaps I might have turned around, realising the folly of what I was trying to do.
Folly? I’d passed my bike test by just a few weeks and I was on my own. In some ways the latter was a good thing; any mistakes I made wouldn’t be seen by anyone else. Or so I thought! To begin with though, I had to get over the feeling that I was simply some sort of motorcycling accessory hanging onto the back of my R80GS. I was on that bike by the way, because 2 blokes I’d met in the pub had recommended it. I’d no mates who were motorcyclists so their advice seemed as good as any. One of the guys told me that the R80 was bulletproof and his mate? Well, he told me they are idiot-proof! It seemed to be a perfect match.
Riding aboard the ferry, heading out from Piraeus to Alexandria in Egypt, it seemed as if I was heading out into the unknown. Dramatic? Perhaps but from that moment on I was leaving behind just about everything I understood. My thoughts weren’t far wrong. Over the next year I found that I’d headed into a very new world; one that was rammed with adventures. Mind you, some of them weren’t so funny. I was shot at, jailed and had a seventeen bone fracture accident riding the sandy tracks across the Namib desert. But those were just the off days. The rest of the ride was an eye-opening ball of fun and fascination. Of course, it helped when I learnt how not to fall off the bike all the time and the day I realised that I was no longer having to think to tell the bike what to do next, the adventures really began to roll.
This was the start of an 8-year ride through 55 countries around the world. I eventually made it home 8 years later. You could say that I got a bit carried away, but what fun and I learnt every day. In fact, every day was an adventure. It’s all rather addictive you know. My bike and I covered 200,000 miles over those 8 years and you know, my bike became rather like a third leg!
During the course of the ride across Asia I found myself stuck in Delhi trying to get a visa to ride across Iran. Now this was a country I’d wanted to visit since my school days and I’d have been gutted if I’d not been able to. The chase for a visa stretched into 3 months of visiting the Iranian Embassy every Tuesday and Friday, only to be told, ‘No news yet mister’.
At this point life took another dramatic change in direction, though I’d no idea it was doing so at the time. Whilst stuck on the Delhi campsite, another traveller, a girl as it happens, suggested that I should try to write some articles. ‘So many mad things happen to you, you should.’ She said.
Well, nothing ventured nothing gained, and new ways of stretching myself were all part of the trip weren’t they? I submitted 3 articles to every bike magazine in the UK hoping that one of them would accept the hook I was dangling. Not really expecting that anyone would of course, but to my delight Motorcycle Sport and Leisure took all three and said, ‘More please.’
As I rode Iran, back through Southern Africa and then across to head up through South and Central America, I submitted more tales of the road. Each time one was accepted I had a tingle that perhaps my huge good fortune would be turned to some use. Good fortune? Well, I had suddenly found myself free enough to be able to head out into the world on a bike. It’s not often that all the pieces of the freedom jigsaw puzzle fall into place is it? No debt, family all well, no responsibilities for children, and I could by selling just about everything I’d got, get the money together to head out.
I’ve always been really conscious of my good fortune and as the adventures continued to find me and I learned so much about the world, the chance to share the fun of the road felt as if it was yet another layer of value to the ride.
Returning home from final 18 months riding in North America, a surprise waited for me. The MSL editor called me to tell me that he’s been getting emails and letters from readers, saying that they liked my articles and asking, ‘When is Sam’s book coming out?’ Book? What book? It was another nothing ventured nothing gained moment. I’d nothing to lose and over the next 2 years I worked my way through my first book Into Africa. But how do you write a book if you’ve never done one before? Is it worth the time and effort? As I wrote I kept asking myself if this was simply yet another daft thing I’d done in my life!
The milestone came when I held my first copy of Into Africa in my hands. At that moment I was nervous, really nervous. I liked what I’d made, but would anyone else? The reviews came in and thankfully no one was shooting me down in flames, and then the readers’ comments started to flow in. To my relief, people were saying that they liked it and wanted to know what happened next on the journey. As Under Asian Skies came out, I had those same moments of fear… Then again with Distant Suns, and more recently with my book Tortillas to Totems. These links are to excerpts from my books – just a taste!
As each book has been published I’ve found myself living a life that never in a month of Sundays would I have ever imagined. I’m now writing articles from around the world, and bounce around the UK doing presentations for motorcycle and travel clubs. It’s sharing the fun. I hugely value what I am able to do and have never forgotten those who would love to set off on the long road, but can’t. Though I love it when people add the word ‘yet’ onto their ‘I can’t’ thoughts. Adventure is in the grasp of many of us, but it’s just the level to which it can be achieved at the time which is different. Some of my best adventures have been riding the Pyrenees, across Italy, through Bosnia and on my own doorstep in the UK too. Have bike, can travel!
Where can you find my books? Direct from me if you’d like a signed copy, or from Amazon (please be kind enough to go bock and leave a review if you enjoy), Waterstones, Stanford in Covent Garden and many other places around the world.
What sort of things do I write about in my books, e-books and also there’s the new Audio Book version of Into Africa. You’ll find snippets of history, geography, culture and lots about the people along the way. We all know that the people you meet on an adventure are what makes it special. Of course I also write about the drama, the time when things go wrong (often because I’ve stretched a boundary a little too far) and I write about the pure fun of being on the road on two wheels. There’s nothing better and for me, all these things are what make up a day on the road. Every day is an adventure. See what I mean about a life changing moment?