Sunday, May 22, 2011

Book Review: "Old Man on a Bike" by Simon Gandolfi

When a 73 year old man sets off on his own from Mexico to Tierra del Fuego on a motorbike, you have to admire his courage, sense of adventure, and his madness. It is even more mad to think that he did this on a Honda 125cc motorbike and not on a big BMW tourer. Yes - I thought Simon Gandolfi was mad to undertake this trip. Surely neither he at his age, or such a tiny bike would survive the trip?

Image from CSC Blog.
There are lots of adventures along the way and Gandolfi entertains us with stories of the people he meets and places he passes through. He certainly didn't have it too easy - he crashed, got wet, got cold, lost his documents, and got lonely. Loneliness is not mentioned, but clearly there were (just a few) occasions when he wanted to be home instead of riding a small bike over dust roads in the wind and rain. I don't blame him.

While the book is an humerous and enjoyable read, but it is also quite boring in places. Gandolfi insists on telling us how much each hotel costs, what he has for dinner, and that he has to get up in the middle of the night. A more accurate title would be "Old Man eats, sleeps, and pees his way through America". The best bits for me were political comment - he describes himself (in his blog) as having "Leftists tendencies" and has many discussions with locals about politics. Despite some of the physical challenges facing him, Gandolfi never loses his sharp political comment nor his sense of humour. 

For me - most travel books end in anti-climax. The author arrives at his destination and goes home. Gandolfi's arrival at Ushuaia (in Tierra del Fuego) occurs in the fifth last paragraph of the book. No sense of relief, elation, or satisfaction of having completed an extraordinary journey and challenge. All he has to say is "My journey is done".

As long as I can ride my own bike, I will always be inspired by Simon Gandolfi that you are never too old to get in the saddle. I will be thinking of him on my more modest trip this summer as I travel across France and Spain on my Harley-Davidson  - I will be 22 years younger and will have an engine 12 times bigger that Gandolfi's Honda!

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