Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Book Reviews: Geoff Hill's "Way to Go" and The Road to Gobblers Knob

I have stumbled upon the motorcycling adventure books I've read usually when they're referred to in motorcycling catalogs such as Aerostich's motorcycling catalog, or they're mentioned in a blog or website.

Such was the case with the works of Geoff Hill, an Irish travel writer for a couple of newspapers in Belfast, Ireland; he apparently has quite the following in the paper's clientele and is winner of several writing awards in Europe.

He's written two books, the first being "Way to Go" about two rides he did after hitting on the brilliant idea of writing his column while on the road, getting paid to do it and see the world. Now why didn't I think of that first? Yeah, I know, who'd want to read about me designing/supporting networks while riding a motorcycle?

The book is split into two journeys, the first is where he and his friend Patrick Minne (Isle of Man Racer) fly to New Delhi, India and pick up a couple of Royal Enfield 500 Bullet motorcycles. You might know these were a famed British marque which went out of business in Britain but their manufacturing facilities and licensing were bought at their factory in Madras, India and they continued to be produced in India.


Their motorcycles and ride are sponsored by the tea company called Nambarrie and the premise is they are flown to India to pick up the first tea leaves of the season and ride them back to Nambarrie in Great Britain via their "British" motorcycles.

Their adventures along the way, the mishaps, the countries and cultures they encounter and the manner in which the author vividly describes it all makes for a good reading. His descriptions of their Enfield motorcycle, made me glad I've chosen Beemers as my motorcycle of choice for touring. Although I am sure the author exaggerated a bit, the mechanical "issues" an Enfield owner must endure were quite amusing, especially when one is to imagine the riding they did on the motorcycles they used!

Note, the author admits knowing next to nothing about the mechanical workings of motorcycles and machinery in general, lucky for him Patrick Minne was a mechanic. As luck turns out though, Geoff Hill's Enfield makes it through relatively unscathed, while Patrick's Enfield would have a tougher ordeal; to include hitting a sheep!

The second portion of Hill's first book is of his riding the length and breadth of Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles while being sponsored by Miller Beer. I tell you, this guy was born under a lucky star to score these writing gigs that he did. I am certain of course that having the talent for describing a journey, and the ability to put a personal and acute spin on the things he saw and the people he met, helped him to be chosen for these riding adventures.

Geoff Hill's writing style strikes me a bit similar to Dave Barry's style of writing. Numbers and descriptions are wildly exaggerated, his humorous depictions of characters and locations are easy to follow; and there are plenty of funny nuggets interspersed in the travelogue. It's like you're there with him and he's telling you the story from across the table while you're both drinking a lot of beer.

Conversely, he has a knack for describing the scenery he sees in such a colorful manner that at times I could picture what he was describing. Some of his descriptions of the vast land expanses along Route 66 reminded me of the scenery I've encountered in my longer rides. His descriptions brought back some good memories for me.

He quotes or rather paraphrases artfully from the many guidebooks he schleps with him, giving you a bit of history and color about the places he rides to and spends some time exploring. It is this, I believe, what makes him a popular travelogue writer, for he makes even the most boring historical note interesting, if only fleetingly.

Throw in amongst all this his imaginary rabbit traveling companion, the search for the best pie and custard and riding through the whole of Route 66 on that most American of icons, a Harley Davidson motorcycle.

His second book, which I read first since the library had it available first, is called "The Road to Gobbler's Knob" where he rides a motorcycle from the tip of South America, on the Pan-American Highway, all the way to where it ends in Alaska.


The adventures he has, along with a Scottish friend of his, Clifford; are entertaining and move along nicely. Clifford is quite the character in his own right, chatting up the women they meet along the ride and snapping their photo for his "upcoming" book on beauties of the Pan-American Highway. The red tape of border crossings, the crash Geoff Hill is unfortunate to have in Columbia and his "carrying on" in spite of it; the people and places they see; all make for a pretty good read.

There is a great review of "The Road to Gobbler's Knob" at LINK

The only turn-off I had with the second book was his propensity for political commentary, some of which I took offense at. This offense, once taken, kind of ruined the rest of the book for me. I wish he'd just kept to writing about his travels and not used the book as a way to tell me his political views. It's a good reminder to me, to keep politics out of my riding blog.

Still, the book is worth picking up, I recommend via your local library, to have a short read over a couple of evenings. Neither of his books is very long, and you will most likely get a chuckle or two in each chapter at least.


Jack Riepe said...

Dear Charlie(6):

Since I won't be riding for the next 20 days, I ordered the first of Geoff Hill's books on your recommendation. Whether or not I order the second will depend on my reaching the same conclusion you didabout the author's writing style.

I'm assuming you've been spending time in airports as opposed to riding.

Fondest regards,
Twisted Roads

Charlie6 said...

Jack, if you like Dave Barry's stuff, I think you'll like this guy's stuff as well.

I like to read in the evenings in order to unwind, these are short books and I'm a pretty fast reader.

I'll be interested in your thoughts about the first book.

Dave Morrell said...

of course u know knob is slang for penis in the UK??

Charlie6 said...

Dave, now I do