Doug Laird has been all over the world. Well, almost. His work as a Secret Service Agent had him travelling to many countries, as did his work as Security Director for Northwest Airlines and later as founder of an aviation consulting company. But his projects were in cities and he wanted to see countrysides, talk to people from different cultures, and see how they lived.
A road rider since 1965, he bought a GS in 2009, took the RawHyde Adventures course, and started playing in the gravel. There’s lots of that within easy access of his home in Reno and he’s become very comfortable on it over the years.
His wife Sara’s travel interests are in educational holidays, hiking, and backpacking, not motorcycling, although she’s done her fair share of it, joining Doug for legs of his epic travels. They enjoy sharing in the other’s interests. Twenty years ago, they even rode a recumbent tandem bike across the continental U.S.
In 2011-12, Doug road north to south through the Americas in 125 days. Sara wasn’t keen on riding through Mexico and Central America so met him in Bogotá, then rode 5,000 miles down the spine of the Andes to Santiago with him. The road to Ushuaia can have a very rough gravel surface compounded with high winds and Doug wasn’t comfortable taking her on the back through this section. Her sister flew down and while Doug rode, the girls hiked for a couple of weeks, before Sara rejoined him for a 17 day Antarctic cruise.
In 2014, when Doug rode Round the World (RTW) from East to West in 98 days, she wasn’t interested in riding through Siberia, choosing instead to meet him in St. Petersburg, then riding with him through Europe.
But outside of cities in Egypt and Ghana, they hadn’t been to Africa.
Somehow The University of Gravel Roads found its way into Doug’s hands and when he and Sara learned Rene was going to be at Sierra BMW, their local dealer, Sara suggested they go and listen.
Oddly enough, she’d just commented that perhaps it was time to stop traveling so much and settle down. After hearing Rene speak, she had a change of heart and suggested they go to Africa with Renedian. Not one to miss an opportunity, Doug signed up the next morning on the Victoria Falls to Cape Town tour. He then put the word out to his BMW club, looking for additional interest. Ten more riding friends signed up too.
There was another reason he wanted to go to the Dark Continent. He wanted to ride to the four ‘corners’ of the world. He’d been to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, and Ushuaia, Argentina. This trip would get him to Cape Town, South Africa, leaving only Nordkapp, Norway on the wish list.
After a long trip to Zimbabwe, including five planned days in Paris, Doug and Sara found time for hiking before the formal trip began. Together with two guides to help them navigate the very steep terrain, they left early in the morning to beat the heat. The path led them through lush vegetation, down the gorge, under the bridge and then back up again. While the hike itself was exhilarating, they were impressed with the guides’ knowledge of local botany and geography. The guides were concerned that the couple, both in their 70’s, would have trouble, but with a few rest stops, they did it!
Another highlight was the safari up into the Okavango Delta where they saw four of five big game animals—lions, a leopard, and Cape Buffalo. The pièce de résistance, however, was coming upon a herd of elephants with a newborn about six hours old, the umbilical cord still attached.
“It was relatively early in the trip and we all enjoyed the camaraderie of sitting around the fire, talking, getting to know each other,” says Doug. “Most of us had traveled together individually but not as an entire group. And no one knew the Canadians, who were a lot of fun. Getting to know each other at the onset set us up for a fantastic adventure.”
Although Doug was interested in learning more about the culture and the people, he really didn’t know what to expect. “It was such a pleasant experience,” he recalls. ”Everyone was genuinely happy, helpful, and friendly.”
Even with all his travels, Doug calls this the trip of a lifetime, made so by a great group of riders, spectacular scenery, wonderful riding and a heartwarming cultural experience.
Next summer he plans to complete riding to the four ‘corners’. He’ll ride from Reno to British Columbia and fly with the bike to Paris where Sara will meet him. Together, they’ll ride up to Nordkapp, Norway, then back to Amsterdam, where she’ll get on a place back to Reno.
After that? We’ll have to wait and see where the road takes them, but wherever it is, we know there’ll be an adventure to tell stories about.
Photo Credits: Doug and Sara Laird