I've read lots of books documenting epic journeys by motorcyclists (how else can you make it through a Wisconsin winter?), but recently I ran across one more I'd recommend any rider add to his or her reading list: Into the Heart of Africa by Jerry Smith.
Smith made an 87 day, 8,756 mile journey from Morocco to Mombassa in 1975 with a small group of riders faithfully followed by "Afro Arnie," a Dodge 4 x 4 support vehicle. With little introduction his account jumps headlong into the action with a chaotic escape from a mob of thieves and corrupt border guards before his quest has even begun. The story hardly stops for breath from there until the final page.
A good deal of the first part of the book describes Smith and his companions' trek through the Sahara, with each chapter capturing another adventure, including his watching his partner suddenly disappear into boulder strewn ravine (and the problems of getting him then to a hospital) and spending a lonely night out of gas and afraid to use his headlight as a rescue beacon since a group of bandits lurked nearby.
A thread established in this first section, then revisited throughout the book is Smith's thirst for discovery and his indomitable spirit in the face of physically punishing and frightening situations. He ventures miles into the jungle following pygmies to their hidden village, needing a miracle to find his way back. He sits in a hut made of dung with Masai tribesmen, obliged to drink a concoction of warm blood, milk, and cow urine for fear of offending the fierce, warrior tribe. African tribesmen threaten him with spears, corrupt officials confiscate his money, and soldiers prod him with bayonets.
Though Smith, a lifelong motorcycle tourer, racer, and dealer has always been a fan of BMW's, this trip was made with all riders (as hard as it may be to believe) on Honda XL250's. With what Smith and the other members of his group went through, it's a wonder there was anything left of their bikes or the riders when they finally reached Mombassa. At one point three of Smith's fellow riders are put through a kind of trial in a village in Zaire after simply salvaging a rusty bolt for one of their bikes from a burned out wreck at the roadside, and at another, duct tape and twigs are used to immobilize a rider with a crushed hip.
Smith's adventures are often contrasted with his reflections on the landscapes and cultures he finds himself traveling through. Though cold, hungry, and wind-beaten he is awed by the beauty of the desert at night, the color spectrum of jungle waterfalls, and Serengeti panoramas. Between dodging everything from water buffalos to bamboo swamps, he shares his compassion for the desperate decay of the villages he visits and the natives he meets, often suffering from lack of food, abysmal medical care, despotic rulers, and hideous, genocidal bloodshed in the vacuum left in mid-70's, post-colonization central Africa.
Smith constructs his 225-page tale through short, episodic chapters, each seemingly revealing an even more amazing incident. His writing style is plainspoken and conversational, and reveals not only an incredible journey, but a remarkable man as well.
When I first met Jerry Smith, he wrote on the inside cover of my copy, "Enjoy Africa with me." I did, and anyone who reads his book can, too,
Color photos and more information from Smith's journey can be seen at http://www.theheartofafrica.com. Copies of the book are available by mail from Jerry Smith, 102 West 5th Street, Hedrick, IA 52563 or by calling 641-653-4436. Copies cost $13.50