Non-fiction – hardcover; Little, Brown; 320 pages; 2006.
As I write, the 2007 Dakar Rally is in full swing. It is the world’s most gruelling and challenging off-road endurance race for motorised vehicles. One motorcyclist, South African Elmer Symons, has already died in this year’s race and last year’s claimed the life of Australian Andy Caldecott.
So when actor Charley Boorman finished the 20,000 mile road trip from London to New York (the long way round via Russia) with his best mate Ewan McGregor in 2004, the Dakar Rally seemed like the next logical challenge. But, as Charley was soon to realise, there’s a big difference between riding a route you’ve organised yourself to racing along one that has been designed to test your off-road navigational skills, your physical capabilities and your mental strength to their absolute limits. It has often been compared to climbing Everest or sailing around the world it is such a difficult feat to achieve.
This book charts Charley’s attempt to tackle the Lisbon to Dakar route, via the deserts of Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania, Mali, Guinea and Senegal, with mixed — and often heart-breaking — results. It is accompanied by a seven-part TV series, now on DVD, which looks at Charley’s pre-trip preparation and planning through to the actual two-week 10,000km race.
But this is no solo attempt. Charley is clever enough to form a race team comprising two accomplished enduro motorcyclists, the unflappable cool-headed Australian Simon Pavey and determined first-time Dakar Rally racer Englishman Matt Hall. He also has a brilliant race support crew headed by producer Russ Malkin (who also managed the Long Way Round ride).
I loved the book. It’s easy to read and highly entertaining and gives you a slightly different perspective to the TV series. It’s written in a very chatty style and conveys Charley’s fears and doubts quite clearly — there is little room for ego here!
However, as with Long Way Round, I’m not sure the book would make the grade as a stand alone read without the TV series — you really need to SEE the terrain and the riding conditions (all that dust, all those dunes and cars barrelling out of nowhere) to fully appreciate the difficulty of the challenge.
But this is a wonderfully inspiring read about pushing the human mind and body to its limits. And you don’t have to be a bike nut to appreciate it.