Book Review: The Road Gets Better from Here

[This review of The Road Gets Better from Here” was originally published in the March 2009 issue of Rider magazine]

Reassembling his Kawasaki KLR650 on the tarmac of the airport at Magadan, Russia, after flying it in on the mail plane from Vladivostok, Australian Adrian Scott began the journey of a lifetime.

The two locals who watched him work and drove him into town for gas and oil were the first of many who were happy to help him as he forged his way across a continent, riding thousands of miles of marginal roads with only his perseverance to keep him going.

During his planning, a motorcycle made the most sense for the rough trek across Siberia and points west, but he had precious little motorcycle experience. Scott took basic rider training before leaving Australia, but had to finish the course en route in the Siberian wastelands. And so his ride starts with a bang—the sound of Scott’s helmeted head hitting the gravel on the Road of Bones just outside of Magadan. But a fuzzy head, wrenched ankle and broken pannier mount don’t stop him from motoring to the next village, where more Russian hospitality awaits—a Ural rider leads him to Vasily, who repairs his pannier, then invites him home for a steam bath, dinner and sleep.
Scott packs the book with details of life on the road and the people who reach out to him along the way. You feel as if you’ve met the people and tasted the food by the time he’s finished describing an encounter, good or bad. Facing adversity with a combination of good humor and determination, Scott reports the difficult times with a sense of wonder instead of bravado. Our narrator is a humble tourist with no greater agenda than to connect the same dots that travelers have been connecting for centuries.

Scott’s goal was to trace the ancient Silk Roads across Asia, visiting as many historical sites as he could. After surviving Siberia—which included having his bike plucked from a bog by a bulldozer—he crossed into Kazakhstan and rode south for a long-anticipated visit to China, the only country that required him to have an official “guide.” He got his fill of noodles and sand following the guide and his driver across the Taklimakan Desert, but was happy to have their company when his KLR’s clutch failed in a remote outpost. Scott’s favorite person of the trip may be the amazing Mr. Shu, who conjured a clutch for him out of a few bits of metal in his shop. After China, Scott’s route crossed the Pamir Plateau in Tajikistan, then through Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. He caught up with the modern world again in Iran, finishing his ride in Turkey.

As a traveler first, then a motorcyclist, Scott’s journal is slim on the technical details that some Rider readers may crave. His KLR was largely stock, he had no GPS, and he’s not mechanically inclined so even his breakdown details are sketchy, though his reactions are well documented and often hilarious. But if you want to feel the excitement of riding through foreign lands where the locals might not blink if Marco Polo rolled into their village with a wagonload of trade goods, and relish stories of pluck, courage and resolve, then this book belongs on your nightstand. It’s a book that made the world feel larger to me, rather than smaller —and that’s a good thing.

A map and more background information about why he made the trip would round out the book, but by journey’s end you know that Adrian Scott is resourceful and resilient, and able to bring his journey to life to encourage those of us who dream of the Big Ride.

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