by Sev Pearman
What would inspire a mild-mannered motorcycle dealer from Iowa to ride across Africa? Like Nebraskan Danny Liska before him, author Jerry Smith was inspired by a book. While Liska found his drive in a description of the Pan-American Highway, Mr. Smith found motivation in J. Russell Smith’s “Human Geography,” the relationship between earth and the life that lives upon it.
We learn that Smith has a Mexican wife and that the two of them have ridden extensively throughout Central America. He is afraid of neither hard travel nor new experiences. He joins a core of five riders that will make the entire 8,756 mile Trans-Africa journey in late 1974 and early 1975. Other riders join them for the first or second halves of the journey.
In the days before GPS and satellite telephones, the group navigates by compass, sextant outdated Michelin maps and common sense. All individuals, they prefer to ride alone. Riders frequently get separated and are left to their own wits as to find their way back to safety. Mr. Smith, after leaving his Belstaff on the support truck, finds himself out of fuel in the setting Saharan sands. Not wishing to attract the Taureg nearby, he places his body between his bike and their camp. Huddling over only a flashing blinker for warmth(!) he patiently waits for one in his party to find the beacon and lead him home.
After another separation, the author sees the dust plume of a fellow rider and plots an intercept course at a 45 degree angle. Would you, off the top of your head, be able to estimate the speed of the rider, remember the calculation for a 45 degree right-triangle (1.4) include a correction factor and successfully reunite? It sounded easy enough while reading it, but you have to wonder at your own resources. These guys had serious stones.
The only tse-tse fly in the book is the photography. While they are acceptable, in comparison to photos in other moto-adventures they don’t stack up. This simply illustrates how excellent most moto-photography today really is. In fairness to Mr. Smith, the photos were taken almost thirty years ago with a 35mm Pentax.
Into the Heart of Africa is an exciting glimpse into a now-closed window of an Africa that still had room for the touring American motorcyclist. Don’t let the photographs turn you away. It is an excellent tale, one that will have you respecting the author and his adventure.
Three and a half out of four cylinders.
Another travelogue?- Descriptions of 1974 Africa well worth the read.
Adventurer – Tales of volcanoes, robbery, the Sahara , arrest and more.
Eco-tourist – Smith respects the people and terrain he encounters.