Inception and Deception
Today, The internet is awash with motorcycle ‘adventures’. Some, aggrandised yet lame. Others, barely spoken of, yet stupefyingly impressive. Yes indeed, it’s all out there nowadays, the whole spectrum. So why did I feel there was anything more to say?
Well, it’s generally considered that after the Man with No Name westerns with Clint Eastwood and then 1969’s Once Upon A Time in The West, Sergio Leone only came of age with Giu La Testa! His 1971 western known in the UK as Duck You Sucker and in the USA as a Fistful of Dynamite. They say it was his first ‘political’ movie and although not a genius like Leone, I had arrived at the same conclusion too.
My first films were shot entirely on super 8 back in the early nineties. The school mountain leadership expeditions (in Spain) that I organised were my first ‘subjects’. I had kids jumping off crags into lakes, abseiling down cliffs and doing silly dances 24/7 in my bid to shoot my own Sierra Nevada version of The Monkees. My first feature length documentary was Mondo Enduro, which despite being made by a bunch of talentless goons, was a world first – nobody had seen adventure motorcycling on TV before. Hurrah for the discovery channel! In 2001 we were back in Siberia and tackling the 400 mile roadless Zilov Gap. That resulted in a 6 x 30min series for Men and Motors called Terra Circa. That wasn’t bad going for a mish mash of school teachers and couriers; On Mondo we were the first Europeans ever, to ride the so-called Road Of Bones to Magadan and on Terra we were the first people to ride all the way across Russia without using the train. It was of course, a little weird, when three years later, the phone rang and a voice uttered the unexpected words: “Hello, I work for Ewan MacGregor. We’ve seen your films and would like to talk to you about helping him motorcycle across Siberia…”.
In 1998 I got picked up by Discovery (leaving maths teaching for two years) and was allowed to make my own shows in the new genre of ‘history travel’. We had almost zero budget but by being so miserly, the channel surrendered almost all editorial control and had to accept that they had let me loose on such subjects as: The Settle to Carlisle Railway, Hitler’s Atlantic Wall and even a history of the Isle of Man TT Circuit!
In the noughties I made a load of other short motorcycle films and was lucky enough to be invited to shoot/direct a 2hr ‘how to’ guide designed to get women into adventure motorcycling called ‘Ladies On The Loose’. It was written and presented by my wife, Lois Pryce, so production meetings were always interrupted by cuddling and heavy petting.
In 2009 I was invited to film an attempt by a group of British bikers who were trying to get to the abandoned medieval salt mines of Taoudenni in northern Mali, some 600 miles north of Timbuktu. This was to be a world first and had been masterminded by Adventure Spec and Richard Kemplay at logistics legends, Beast of Burden. The trip involved some 2000 miles of pretty extreme desert motorcycling and was an eye opener to what is known as the ‘Empty Quarter’ of the Sahara.
Meanwhile, 9/11 had happened and just when it looked like the Cold War was over and we could all learn to live together, a new cultural conflict broke out. In the period 2004 to 2012 I found myself increasingly being booked to do presentations in North America. So whilst the British and Americans oversaw the almost complete destruction of Iraq and the chaotic hornets nest they’d stirred up in Afgahnistan, I was standing on stages across the USA telling everyone that the world was safe and that Johnny Foreigner wouldn’t kidnap when you broke down, he was more likely to put you on his moped and actually escort you to a 6204 bearing personally!
Which takes us back to the Leone thing; I wanted to make a political film. I wanted to challenge the bigotries and pre-conceptions that seemed, rather than to be melting away, were hardening. And I’ll say it; the anti-Muslim and anti-Arab paranoia that was sweeping the Christian West in a bush fire of suspicion. I realised I had to take a load of Brits and Yanks to an Arab nation that was on the Foreign Office Al-Qaeda watchlist. CNN seems to suggest that the only way our two great nations get to meet ordinary Arabs is for us to put on a flak-jacket, join a counter-insurgency task force and ask them for their papers. However, aside from the noble cause of world understanding, I also wanted to answer the question: “What’s the most fun you can have in just four weeks assuming that you ride your first miles out of London?” So I came up with Mondo Sahara.
Mondo Sahara Facts & Figures
Austin Vince – 47 – London UK – Maths Teacher
Gabriel Bolton – 30 - Wells UK – Engineer
Paul Castle – 40 – Exeter UK – The IT guy
James Duveen – 33 – London UK – Graphic Illustrator
Joe McManus – 47 – Los Angeles USA – Vintage lighting restorer
Eric Sowle – 44 – Portland USA – Van conversions
Pablo Gustafson – 51 – Portland USA – House Construction
Machines – Honda XR 400s. All sourced second-hand, all about ten years old
Camping – Thermarest air mattresses, sleeping bags & British military nylon tarps.
Tyres and inner tubes – Michelin Deserts
Luggage – Kriega
Specialist Eqpt – Adventure Spec
Helmets & Goggles – Davida
Trail tools – Motion Pro
Lube – Rock Oil
M/cycle spares – Wemoto
Waterproof oversuits – Weise
GPS – Garmin
GPS mounts – Touratech USA
Camera – Sony A1 miniDV and a 1970 Bolex ‘Macrozoom’ super 8 film camera
Desert supplies buried by – Beast Of Burden
Dep 04 Dec 2012
Day 4 Richard Kemplay (Beast of Burden) leaves UK on the drive out to Mauritania.
Day 1 London to Portsmouth
Day 2,3 Ferry to Bilbao
Day 4,5,6,7 Bilbao to Almeria – ferry to Melilla
Day 8,9,10,11,12,13, Morocco – Melilla to Zagora
Team Splits – Sowle and Vince stay in Zagora repairing a bike, remainder head for Western Sahara.
Day 18 – Team reunites at ‘Hotel Barbas’, Western Sahara
Day 19 – Cross into Mauritania, RV at the border with Richard Kemplay of Beast of Burden. Team downloads the GPS waypoints for the buried supply caches.
Day 20 – 29 The Lunge into the ‘Empty Quarter’ ie eastern Mauritania.
Day 30 return to Nouackchott, fly back to UK.
Day 31 – 41 Richard Kemplay hauls all bikes back to UK on his Landrover & trailer.