PHOTO | BRAD COLES
If you’re unfamiliar with Elspeth Beard then please, sit down young padawan and brace yourself for that nasty sinking feeling when you realise that your life up until this point has been utterly dull. Then brace yourself further for being so completely inspired that you find yourself frantically scribbling out lists between chapters of all the incredible adventures you’re about to turn your life upside down for.
In 1981, at the barely run-in age of 23, Beard took her savings from a summer job at the pub and her freshly broken heart, shipped her bike to New York and kicked off a two-and-a-bit year solo sojourn around the globe, stopping only briefly for a stint in Sydney to work for acclaimed architect Harry Seidler (spoiler alert: he was a bit of a dick) and braapping around the Eastern Suburbs while grafting on the North Shore.
Imagine my delight when I discovered the author lived in my suburb of Paddington while in Australia and, yes, fan-girl over here has already gone to find the garage she lived in - it's totally around the corner and leaves me in awe every time I walk past. If this was England, I’d petition the council to give it a blue plaque.
Beard crossed ‘Murica, hit NZ, nipped over to Sydney for a couple months, up to Brissy, then Townsville, Mt Isa, down through Alice, then Port Augusta, across to Coolgardie, then Perth, up to Bali and Jakarta, Penang, Bangkok, through Thailand, up to Chang Mai and Chang Rai, back down to Penang, crossing the Indian to Madras, up the east coast of India to Calcutta, through Nepal, back into India, via Pakistan, into Iran, through Turkey, followed by Yugoslavia, Austria, Germany, Belgium, Holland, then got the ferry from Calais to Dover, did the final run to London then pulled up out the front of her parents home on Upper Wimpole Street in London three hours before dawn, two and a half years later. What have you done lately?
Beard's account does not end with the worldwide ride; she takes you through the years that follow. I love this. So many books dump you at the end of the main story and leave you yelling at the book “WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?!”
This is a book you can’t put down. I cranked through half the book in a single dedicated evening. I actually had to curb my enthusiasm as I had the bittersweet realisation that by reading so much so quickly that it would be over too soon. I became acutely aware of experiencing loss and sadness at completing such a book with an author whose writing was starting to make me feel like a close friend and a travel companion.
The volume includes maps of her journey, colour photos from before, during and after the trip, and (appealing to my data driven nerdiness) the appendix includes the bike maintenance schedule (in miles) of her BMW R60/6, a log of her fuel purchases in local currencies per litre and her original packing list.
Beard writes openly and discusses hard subjects (like, seriously, hard subjects) with the same ease as she can change a throttle cable. She doesn’t speak down to the reader. You are practically riding pillion on her journey and, if she’s thinking it, you are reading it. Beard’s book is part memoir, part coming-of-age story. There is no bullshit. Beard is an open book herself.
Read this if you love bikes, travel and love. Or just need a good kick up the arse to go do something outside of your comfort zone, because really, nothing grows in a comfort zone.
Frankly cannot wait to read it again.
You can acquire this glorious text from this place on the interwebs.
Kel has the face of a siren and the mouth of a drunken sailor. She enjoys dancing up a storm to Slayer and 1930s jazz, whispering sweet nothings to her CM250 ‘Bronson’ and delicately adjusting her carburettors, but can also tell you the genus of Magnoliophyta. Kel is our Associate Editor and Project Manager, and has the organisational prowess of a circus ringmaster, using it to crack the IVV team into shape with colour coded calendars and to-do lists.