by Des Molloy
Two travellers take a Panther 120 and a Norton Model 19 on a 10,000 mile trek along the old silk road. Did we find the book more enjoyable than the DVD?...
The preamble suggests that The Last Hurrah is an epic tale of an heroic adventure, undertaken by two chaps of a certain (pensionable!) age who should've known better. Des and Dick decide to ride two classic singles, a 1965 Panther 120 and a 1954 Norton 19S, from Beijing to Arnhem.
They plotted a route along the old Silk Road, through mountains and snow in China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Pakistan, then across the burning deserts in Iran and Turkey, onto Greece, Italy, Germany and finally to Holland. They clocked up over 10,000 miles in total and travelled the last 3000 miles in a frantic dash of little over a week, riding up to 12 hours a day.
Our travellers were accompanied by Des' son Steve, and along the way the trio encountered all the mechanical mishaps, bureaucratic entanglements and ill health that one could ever hope to avoid in a normal lifetime. They certainly didn't escape unscathed - not all of the participants finished the ride to Arnhem and all experienced physical and philosophical woes along the way. Even so it was a massive achievement to accomplish a ride of this magnitude, in this timescale, at a time of life when a pipe and slippers and a quiet doze would seem more appropriate.
So the book should have been a great read, and I allowed myself two full days of uninterrupted leisure time to enjoy it. It should have inspired me to drag out an old bike and go on an epic adventure of my own. It should have motivated me to travel to that part of the world, to meet those same sorts of people and see those same sorts of sights. It should have stirred some of the slumbering spirit of adventure from within me - isn't that what adventure motorcycling is supposed to do?
Oh well. Instead, this book passed several hours on a train harmlessly enough.
Part of the problem is the style of writing. Author Des is by profession a technical writer and thus his story is told in admirably accessible, plain and accurate English. It's just not particularly thrilling or visceral - not even at moments of high drama when the reader should be cringing and gasping along with the protagonists.
The style would be less of an issue if Des came over as a more engaging kind of chap. I'm sure he really is a nice man when you meet him in person, but the character expressed in the book doesn't have you rooting for him. In fact, much of the time he seems less worried about the journey, the bikes, the health of his travelling companion and so on than he is concerned about how it will look to the folks back home and the people reading his blog. It became obvious to me that the ride was being done for the glory of the participants - not for the glory of the ride in itself.
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So if Ewan McGregor's journey was about a celebrity looking for adventure, then the Last Hurrah comes over as an adventurer looking for celebrity...
(Mind you, I shouldn't grumble too loudly I suppose. At least Des and Dick didn't call it a 'sponsored ride' and then expect other folks to pay for their holiday!)
There is plenty of useful advice for other prospective travellers, however, not least about the tangle of red tape one has to overcome to ride through China, the 'Stans and Iran. You'll also learn more than you'd ever want to about proctology departments in hospitals across the globe!
It would be impossible not to be impressed with the ride which Des and Dick accomplished - and especially with how well their old motorcycle coped. Even a broken fork leg could be repaired en route; these guys were seriously determined! Perhaps it was the enforced (artificial) deadline which spoiled the feel of the adventure somewhat; at times the ride had to be abandoned in favour of transport by van just to make the next border at the right moment. No journey across so many international borders is ever going to be straightforward - Des and Dick's experiences suggest that any traveller should allow double the expected journey time to accomplish any leg.
So this might be a book which you'd enjoy. It didn't set me alight - I wouldn't want to watch the DVD of the journey after reading it, nor would I want to attend one of Des' lectures on the subject.
I want to be swept away by a travelogue, captivated by the people and the places, enthralled by the landscapes and motivated to go and do it myself. For that I can always turn back to The Rugged Road or Jupiter's Travels or Full Circle or One Man Caravan.
But I can see that other readers may well enjoy The Last Hurrah. Perhaps particularly if you are a chap of a similar age to Des and Dick then this adventure may strike more of a chord with you than it did with me.
Reviewed By Rowena Hoseason
The Last Hurrah! by Des Molloy from Panther Publishing, ISBN 09547912 5 8, costs £10.95
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