Ex­treme travel

How dan­ger­ous is ad­ven­ture rid­ing? And what can you do to make sure you’re not ac­tu­ally adding to the risks?

RiDE (UK) - - Contents - Words and pic­tures: Chris Scott

IS RID­ING OVERLAND sig­nif­i­cantly more dan­ger­ous than do­mes­tic tour­ing? Many as­sume it is and it’s not hard to see why. The me­dia bom­bards us with bad news, much of it from Africa, Asia and Latin Amer­ica what I call the Ad­ven­ture Mo­tor­cy­cling Zone or AMZ - and this can seem more threat­en­ing be­cause our reg­u­lar lives are gen­er­ally safe, com­fort­able and or­dered.

Sure, it’s stress­ful to be sep­a­rated from the fa­mil­iar and this can be nervewrack­ing in the early days of any trip. But just like your first day at school or a new job, once you’re in it, ner­vous­ness soon evap­o­rates and on the road, senses tin­gle with the thrilling new­ness of it all.

As bik­ers, we’re used to rough­ing it. What most of us fear is hos­til­ity or even ag­gres­sion from strangers; lo­cals who are very much in their com­fort zone when we may be out of ours. Way­far­ing strangers were once fig­ures of sus­pi­cion or prey to ex­ploita­tion, but now that we’re no longer wear­ing pith hel­mets and boss­ing the lo­cals around, part of this fear can be based on the guilt of be­ing a rich west­erner swan­ning around the poverty-stricken AMZ on a shiny mo­tor­bike. Take heart: right around the world, lo­cals un­der­stand the pleasures and pit­falls of mo­tor­cy­cle travel and one of the big les­sons long-haul trav­el­ers learn is that most strangers will treat you fairly. In over 1000 on­line trip re­ports I col­lected for my web­site, by far the most com­mon re­sponse to the ques­tion “Big­gest sur­prise?” was “Friend­li­ness of the peo­ple.”

This is a salient point be­cause what sep­a­rates the AMZ from reg­u­lar over­seas tour­ing is the way fa­mil­iar things be­come un­fa­mil­iar. Di­al­ing an 0800 num­ber won’t get you re­cov­ery by a bloke in pris­tine over­alls.

The other thing you can only learn when you throw your­self out there is your in­nate in­ge­nu­ity and abil­ity to solve prob­lems, be they me­chan­i­cal, fi­nan­cial, bu­reau­cratic or even, po­ten­tially lethal. It’s not some­thing you can ever know un­til you’re faced with a steam­ing ra­di­a­tor on the Pamir High­way, a griz­zly paw­ing at your tent or a con­script high as a kite wav­ing an AK in your face.

Our lit­tle-used sur­vival in­stinct is as deep-rooted as our fear of the un­known, but with ex­pe­ri­ence comes the con­fi­dence to deal with the chal­lenges. Watch­ing your­self be­come a canny, ob­ser­vant trav­eller as your street wis­dom grows is a hugely gratifying as­pect of ad­ven­ture travel. Anx­i­eties be­come sub­sumed by mun­dane needs: petrol, visas and lodg­ings.

Lisa Mor­ris of twowheeled­no­mad.com

has been on the road in the Amer­i­cas with Ja­son Spaf­ford for more than two years. Be­fore she left, her con­cerns cen­tered on get­ting kid­napped by a drug car­tel, fall­ing prey to road­side scams from fake or bent cops, and get­ting robbed. In re­al­ity, it’s the Patag­o­nian winds and fa­tal­is­tic driv­ing styles that have kept the pair on their toes.

So what are the real dan­gers out in the AMZ? Just like at home, rid­ing too fast for the con­di­tions will get you ev­ery time. And those ‘con­di­tions’ can ini­tially seem quite alarm­ing. But the fact that you’re not on your reg­u­lar com­mute will au­to­mat­i­cally heighten your senses and re­flexes. The trick is to avoid busy trunk roads. Per­son­ally, I’d go fur­ther and say that where you have the op­tion, you should avoid sealed roads; it’s off th­ese routes that the best dis­cov­er­ies lie. Main­tain­ing full alert­ness with­out burn­ing out is best achieved by slow­ing down, es­pe­cially in the early days when you’re much more vul­ner­a­ble. Re­duce dis­tances and avoid dawn-to-dusk epics.

For an ex­pe­ri­enced rider, the crazy driv­ing in the con­gested and pol­luted cap­i­tals of the AMZ isn’t the all-out demolition derby it ap­pears to be. There’s or­der in the chaos; it’s just a lit­tle more en­er­gised than back home. Once you tune in, it can ac­tu­ally be lib­er­at­ing to bin the High­way Code and get stuck in. Flex­i­bil­ity is key to suc­cess­ful over­land­ing, and that

can mean pulling unortho­dox moves in the name of self-preser­va­tion.

Kid­nap­ping is ex­ceed­ingly rare, rob­bery and mug­ging less so, es­pe­cially in a strange city af­ter dark. Just like at home, keep your wits about you, be wary of scams and don’t stag­ger home drunk at 3am with your money belt round your an­kles.

Of the com­monly feared trop­i­cal dis­eases, malaria is the big one. The pre­cau­tions are well known and it can be treated ef­fec­tively. But, yes, more gen­er­ally, you’ll have to take care of your health and that may in­clude avoid­ing the most tor­pid of trop­i­cal ar­eas. The runs are an oc­cu­pa­tional haz­ard but eas­ily treated with re­hy­dra­tion and rest.

Trav­ellers get ner­vous about de­vel­op­ing-world health­care sys­tems, fear­ing or­gan-steal­ing scams or un­ster­ile prac­tices. Bush clin­ics may not look like Holby City on the day of an in­spec­tion but what­ever you’ve got, they’ll have dealt with it be­fore, and you can be re­as­sured by your med­i­cal repa­tri­a­tion in­sur­ance. In my ex­pe­ri­ence, ac­ci­dents where you or the bike can’t carry on are all re­solv­able, of­ten by passers-by rather than for­mal emer­gency ser­vices.

Wild camp­ing in the real wilds can also raise pri­mal fears of haz­ardous wildlife or un­wel­come hu­man vis­i­tors. A Brit used to Lake­land camp­ing will need to up their game, and you’ll be sur­prised how your mo­bil­ity plus a bit of plan­ning can ren­der camp­ing (wild or oth­er­wise) a vi­able op­tion, even in the AMZ.

Han­dling bribery and cor­rup­tion is a much-ex­ag­ger­ated peril. The amounts paid to oil the wheels – some­thing that lo­cals are also obliged to do – are small and are of­ten for a small ser­vice or a toll rather than an ar­bi­trary ‘fine’. A canny trav­eller will soon learn the game and such in­cen­tives can just as of­ten get you out of trou­ble.

What’s much more com­mon is over­charg­ing a tourist, but that’s not unique to the AMZ. If any­thing, on the road you’re likely to ben­e­fit from ordinary peo­ple’s hos­pi­tal­ity in a way you’d never ex­pe­ri­ence at home. So rather than gnash­ing your teeth over pay­ing two quid for a Fanta, ac­cept that some you win and some you lose. One tip: keep cards for ATMS only, and pay ev­ery­where with cash.

Run­ning out of money is an un­der­stand­able stress. A round-the-world epic will cost at least ten grand, but you can have a great ad­ven­ture by sim­ply rent­ing a bike in some­where like Ladakh, Peru, Morocco or south­ern Africa for a few weeks with­out wait­ing ’til the kids have left home.

You need to make smart de­ci­sions and look af­ter your­self in the AMZ. Stress can be re­duced by not al­ways trav­el­ing alone – es­pe­cially in re­mote ar­eas. If you do, have back-ups such as a satel­lite phone or ed­itable mes­sag­ing de­vices.

In the end, of course, live long enough and some­thing will get you. It’s what you do up to then that counts.

Gen­er­ally, there’s far more to see off the beaten track than on it

Ad­ven­ture travel is a world away from daily com­mut­ing but that’s the whole point

Im­merse your­self in the en­vi­ron­ment and you will have a much more en­joy­able ex­pe­ri­ence

Self-re­liance be­comes an es­sen­tial skill. No break­down ser­vices out here

Reg­u­lar RIDE con­trib­u­tor Chris Scott is the au­thor of The Ad­ven­ture Mo­tor­cy­cling Hand­book,and leads Sa­ha­ran tours. See sa­hara-overland.com for more in­for­ma­tion.

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