"THE busy Cheltenham street was crisp and sunny in early April as I gazed through the back-packing shop window but my thoughts were elsewhere, on another imminent adventure: a return visit to South America. "Would you really take me?" asked Laura tremulously. The question took me completely by surprise and snapped me back to the present. What a request! Full of delightful possibilities - but none of them the slightest bit practicable. I wondered had I sounded too serious? I'd jokingly said that I didn't think her lone plan to ride in Turkey sounded wise and as I was about to embark on a tour beginning in Peru, why not join me?
She was one of a small group gathered in that shop, where I'd come to rig the Sahara-kitted bicycle for display, not to gain a female companion, but being a man...Dark-haired, vivacious and so pretty, enthusiasm burned out of her hazel eyes. She was difficult to resist but there didn't seem any immediate reason to retract my jocular offer. She couldn't possibly be ready in a month anyway, and a few remarks appertaining to the vaccinations required- and the grimmer aspects of long-distance touring would soon dissuade her.
One hectic month later we sat together on a DC-IO and with all engines thrusting with the compliments of Sir Freddy Laker, lifted off the tarmac at Gatwick, bound for New York. As the ‘fasten your seat belts’ warning dulled on the panel, I glanced at my improbable but determined companion and realized we'd been so busy I still hardly knew her - her grit vouched for by people I didn't even know, her endurance untested and her five-feet-two-and-a-half-inches of energy and humour untried. She faced a six-month tour from Lima over the Andes into Bolivia, a possible dug-out voyage along a crocodile-crawling and insect infested river (I knew, having travelled along that river before) And a final slog through the Matto Grosso via the trans-Amazonia Highway to Belem, a miserable Brazilian town at the mouth of the greatest river on earth. Some aspects daunting for me - for a relative beginner? I wondered if she really appreciated the dangers and obvious hardships we would face?
The object of the tour was threefold. I still like visiting unworldly places; I wanted to test prototype front and rear luggage racks I’d designed for Carradice of Nelson, Lancs, and I wanted another chance to photograph Peru with less shyness, I hoped, when approaching those multi-skirted, bowler-hatted women I'd been so terrified of before. In addition, I was about to discover what I had missed or gained by never having previously been encumbered by a rather pretty woman. How would I respond to her wiles, likely nagging, attempts to civilize me? As I mulled over the un-known I glanced again at Laura who seemed very preoccupied. Was she having second thoughts, too?", Ian Hibell.
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All text and photographs © Ian Hibell - used by permission