BOOK REVIEW by Stuart Jewkes, Editor of The Rider’s Digest
“All the gear and no idea” is usually meant as a pejorative term aimed at chequebook bikers. On the other hand, Michele Harrison inverts the phrase here to illustrate her refreshingly honest and upfront admission of her inexperience in relation to the magnitude of her undertaking – a massive road trip round India, all by herself, on a locally-procured Royal Enfield, with no backup or support of any kind. Unlike many of her “moto-travel-lit” peers, Michele uses the best policy of all, which is to adopt the value system of her host nation and leave everything to fate; a policy which eventually has a lasting impact on the rest of her life (in a good way – but I won’t give it away!). As a result, she makes Homeric road trips like this sound accessible and achievable to mere mortals, when so many others give the impression that lack of expertise is a barrier to entry.
It’s not all Pirsig-style mysticism either. Instead you variously get crashes, dynamite, harrassment and hospitality, charity and larceny, disease, enlightenment and a side-trip into the Himalayas. At the centre of all this is Michele and her motorcycle (“Big Thumper”), which is the perfect vehicle for the human interaction that is the cornerstone of all great travel stories, including this one.
Just because someone told her India was “really in your face”, Michèle Harrison quit her office job at the age of 33, bought herself an Enfield motorbike and set off for nearly a year in 1997 to tour the Indian subcontinent. Until then, she had only ridden scooters around London. With more gear than sense, her 17,000 miles journey took her through the mayhem of Delhi traffic, the mountains of Kashmir, the deserts of Rajasthan, the beaches of Goa, the southern tip of India, the remote tracks of Nepal and the eerie Himalayan barrenness of Ladakh. She wanted an adventure to spice up a boring life and fulfil her wanderlust. She got that, and more.