In 1989, at the age of 51, Gunther Holtorf quit his job as an airline executive, packed up his 1988 Mercedes Benz 300GD he lovingly named “Otto”, and took off to see the world. A year later he was joined by Christine, 34, who later became his wife. The original plan was explore Africa for 18 months. After 5 years and about 100,00 km – 62,000 miles – exploring Africa, they decided to keep on driving.
Otto completed the journey with few modifications, retaining it’s original 3-litre 88-horsepower diesel engine. The original gearbox and transfer case have never been touched. It also the original axles and differentials. The journey was completed without electronics and little technology. They, for example, didn’t have a GPS, and only near the end of the journey did Gunther acquire a basic mobile phone.
Christine’s journey came to an end in 2010 when she passed away from cancer. Gunther continued on with her son, Martin, to honour Christine and to fulfill a promise he made to her.
In 2014, at the age of 77 Gunther returned home to Germany after being on the road for 26 years and having travelled 897,000 kilometres – approximately 560,000 miles – through 215 countries.
Gunther stated the best part of travelling independently overland is having the freedom to decide where and when to go.
Steph Jeavons is the first British woman to ride a motorcycle on all seven continents. And she did it solo, all on one trip, aboard a small Honda CRF250L. Her adventure took her to 54 countries over 4 years.
… Twenty years later, and armed only with a stern tone of voice she reserves for naughty dogs, drunk Turks, Iranian taxi drivers, semi-conscious British soldiers and Saudi truckers, she rides her trusty steed Rhonda the Honda solo around the world, to the highest, driest, wettest, hottest and coldest corners of the earth. She gets caught up in a Himalayan landslide on the highest road on the planet, sails her motorcycle across the Drake Passage to Antarctica, crashes it in Colombia, and claims an unwished-for title as the first person to fall off a motorcycle on all seven continents, as she heads for home up the length of Africa.
This is a powerful and honest memoir written from the perspective of a liberated single woman taking on the world with a dogged determination to complete her mission at all costs.
This is a journey of self-discovery born from a need to shed some light on the darkest crevices of the soul. An inner drive that propelled Steph forward into the unknown and forced her to find her strengths, while exposing her weaknesses.
This passion took on a new life when I was diagnosed with a benign tumor in my abdomen five years ago. After a painful surgery and treatment, I made the decision—while still recovering in a hospital bed—to apply to run the Marathon de Sables, a 155.5-mile ultramarathon through the Sahara Desert, starting in Ouarzazate, Morocco. I moved to Morocco to train and live in a tent among other female athletes from around the world, and ended up being the 16th female to cross the finish line after five days.
Adventure to me is about being idle. That doesn’t mean you have to go on a huge expensive expedition—you can simply just set up camp in the wild close to home for the weekend. It’s about getting outdoors and disconnecting from the pressures of mundane life.
But I wasn’t going to give up. In November 2019, I strapped on my skis and made my second attempt. This time around, for the first 500 miles, I was skiing at world-record pace. Then an injury, one they call polar thigh, set in. (The motion of skiing into a headwind or tailwind can compress your legwear, and if there you don’t have enough insulation or any cold air gets trapped, you can suffer from polar thigh.) For me, it started as these small clusters of ulcers on my leg, which continued to get bigger and bigger over time.
In a span of seven years, he paddled a series of 15-foot kayaks more than 30,000 miles from the Danube River in Europe to the tropical shores of far northern Australia. Even better, when he first set out, he was “merely” planning to paddle to Cyprus for work, with no intention of traveling by kayak to the other side of the world. But the paddling proved irresistible and Speck did not stop once he reached Cyprus.
Speck was 25 years old when he set out on his incredible journey. He was an unemployed electrician living in Hamburg. Work was scarce and prospects were dim after the 1929 stock market crash ripped through Germany, so Speck decided to seek work in the copper mines of Cyprus. With no other means to get there, and as a proud member of a kayaking club since his youth, Speck decided to paddle his way to, hopefully, a job.
In May, 1932, Speck shoved off from banks of the Danube in a collapsible and very much not seaworthy 15-foot kayak, and began paddling south. He arrived in the Balkans several weeks later and, lulled to boredom by the languid waters of the Danube, Speck made for the Vardar River, where soon fierce rapids dashed his boat nearly to splinters. While awaiting repairs, winter set in and the Vardar froze over, locking Speck in place for months.
In 1982, at the age of 23, halfway through her architecture studies, Elspeth Beard left her family and friends in London and set off on a 35,000-mile solo adventure around the world on her 1974 BMW R60/6. She returned 2 years later to become the first British woman to ride around the world.
‘I first rode a motorbike when I was sixteen; a friend was taking his Husqvarna down to Salisbury Plain and asked me along. I can’t say I was instantly hooked but in 1979 I bought a second hand 1974 BMW R60/6 with about 30,000 miles on the clock. It gave me an immense sense of freedom and over the next couple of years I gradually travelled further afield. My first trip was a tour of Scotland, then Ireland, finally progressing to a two-month trip around Europe in the summer of 1980.
‘The following summer I persuaded my brother, who had been picking apples in New Zealand, to meet me in Los Angeles where we bought an old BMW R75/5 and rode together across to Detroit. All these trips gradually built up my confidence, so when I got back, I bought a Haynes manual and set about stripping down parts of the engine to get my bike ready for a bigger trip across the globe. It was already eight years old and had done 45,000 miles so I replaced all the cables, bought a new battery, changed all the oils and put new tires on. I also took the cylinder heads off to fit an extra base gasket in order to lower the compression. I didn’t really know what I was doing but I had been told by a friendly mechanic at the BMW shop that this would be a good idea!
‘Travel helps us to understand other cultures and not just rely on what the media tells us. It’s easy to be afraid of things you don’t understand – that’s why it’s really important that people go and find out for themselves. Those two years on the road completely changed my life and made me the person I am today. They gave me the confidence to take on anything life throws at me without any fear. The truth is, you will always be able to come up with reasons why the time isn’t right. Put aside your fears and just go.’
The decision to travel is your choice and you are responsible for your personal safety. With that said, the vast majority of people are good. Recognize the fear mongers. Be properly informed. Be aware of your surroundings. Be respectful — you are a guest in their country. Don’t attract unnecessary attention — you probably already stand out enough.
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