Motorcycling scares Sara Laird. Yet last summer she joined her husband Doug Laird on the Victoria Falls to Cape Town motorcycle safari. A few years ago, she rode pillion for 5,000 miles down the spine of the Andes. “People are sometimes surprised to find out it’s not my thing,” she says. “I tell them I don’t love motorcycling. I love Doug and like to share things with him.” She really enjoys hiking and backpacking, activities Doug often shares with her.
Doug had read The University of Gravel Roads and when Sara heard Rene would be speaking at nearby Sierra BMW, she suggested they go. On the way home, it was she who suggested they sign up for a trip.
They do a lot together. The pair from Reno, NV are both in their 70’s, have been married 37 years, and are going strong. “We try and stay healthy and active,” says Sara. “Doug’s had cancer and surgery from a number of accidents. I’ve had a brain tumor and had my heart fixed but everything I’ve had they can fix. So here we are! We both like to learn new things, go to new places and meet new people. We both have a good attitude and are pretty optimistic. Most things you can overcome or work around.”
Sara’s love of learning new things has stayed with her after she retired from teaching. She’s been on a number of Roads Scholars trips but really enjoys when she can get out hiking and backpacking in remote areas. Or she’ll hike in terrain close to where Doug’s riding, fly to meet him, ride for a while, and then fly home.
That’s how they did South America. Doug rode from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, to Ushuaia, Argentina. She caught up with him in Bogatá, Colombia and rode all the way to Santiago, Chile. With gale force winds and rough roads, he preferred to do the last stretch to Ushuaia solo. While he rode, she and her sister hiked for a couple of weeks before she flew to meet him for a 17-day Antarctic cruise.
On the Vic Falls to Cape Town trip, she rode pillion approximately one-third of the time, usually in the morning when it was cool and when they were on paved roads. Otherwise, she road in the van with four other women. Affectionately known as the Bus Hussies, two rode the whole way in the van, while the others alternated between van and motorcycle.
She loved the flexibility and versatility on the trip. Like the wonderful side trip they took to the Big Tree, a gigantic Baobab tree where they witnessed flocks of vultures feasting on a dead elephant.
One of the things she was looking forward to was seeing African geography and how people make things work with what nature’s given them. “It’s like Utah on steroids,” she recalls. “I had no idea how beautiful it would be, yet it exceeded my expectations.”
With her love of learning, she appreciated being with people who were experts and could explain what they were seeing—like their guide Bob who knew much about local flora and fauna. Or the guides who took them on the Victoria Falls gorge hike, climbing steep stairs and ladders while pointing out unique plant life and rock formations.
Even though people were so friendly and welcoming, seeing the poverty and the way of life made her realize how lucky, and wasteful we are. She’d planned to leave behind her hiking boots, especially after being assured someone would get years of use from them.
One of her most poignant memories was seeing citrus grove workers, standing, packed into the back of an open-air truck, being taken to work, something that wouldn’t meet safety standards in Canada or the U.S. She mentioned it to the owner of their hotel after he’d taken them to a copper mine. He acknowledged that he too takes his workers home at the end of the night and although they’re crowded, they’re in an enclosed van. They’re happy to have the ride because there’s no other way for them to get back and forth to work. She left with renewed gratitude for what she has.
Next summer she’ll ride with Doug from Paris, France, to Nordkapp, Norway, as he completes riding to the four ‘corners’ of the world. (The others are Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, Ushuaia, Argentina, and Cape Town, South Africa.)
There’s also a new form of adventure to add to their repertoire. They’ve just taken delivery of a new motorhome. Where that takes them, remains to be seen.
Photo Credits: Doug and Sara Laird