Elspeth Beard - One of the Early Globetrotters

Elspeth Beard is one of a select band of bold women to ride a motorcycle around the world, and she was the first Englishwoman to do so. She achieved this feat a quarter of a century ago, in the days before sat-nav, internet, email and mobile phones, and sh

With the overland route to India (via Burma) out of bounds she headed back south to load the bike onto a boat from Penang to Madras. On the way she had her second and final big crash when a dog ran under her wheels from behind a truck, on the dangerous main road south. The bike hit a tree and Elspeth was once again battered and bruised but miraculously unbroken. She spent two weeks recuperating in the care of the impoverished Thai family into whose garden she had crashed! "They didn't speak a word of English and I didn't speak a word of Thai, but we communicated with sign language," she said.

The Thais were fascinated by the rivet gun with which she repaired her battered panniers and Elspeth was surprised to find half the remains of the dog she'd hit in the family kitchen, having already unknowingly eaten the other half! "I understood why they were happy to look after me - I'd provided them with food for a fortnight!" Elspeth also repaired the R 60's damaged engine herself: "I took the cylinder off, straightened the bent studs as best I could and packed the cylinder base with gaskets and goo to get enough compression back". The accident meant she missed the boat to Madras she'd been hoping to catch but she simply caught the next one.

Once in India, she rode up to Calcutta then on to Kathmandu where her parents flew out from England to see her for the first time in nearly two years. They were shocked by how skinny she looked, but she was to get a whole lot skinnier as she fell victim to both hepatitis and dysentery. It was in Kathmandu that Elspeth met a Dutchman on another Boxer BMW with whom she eventually rode back to Europe, but before that she did a trek in the Himalayas and explored much of India on her bike alone.

Getting out of India proved to be a nightmare. The storming of the Sikhs' Golden Temple in Amritsar (close to the border with Pakistan) had recently taken place, followed by the assassination of Mrs Gandhi (the Indian Prime Minister) by her own Sikh bodyguard. In the aftermath, the whole of the Punjab region was sealed off and a special permit was required to get into it. The only open overland route west, via Pakistan, was through the Punjab but the Indian bureaucrats in New Delhi had not got around to actually organising the necessary permits which the politicians had decreed were now necessary. A growing band of frustrated westerners found themselves in a Kafka-esque situation whereby they spent weeks on end trying to obtain a permit which did not yet exist! In the end, Elspeth got completely fed up and simply forged herself the necessary permit. Since no official permit even existed yet, the border guards did not know what a `proper' permit was meant to look like, and she finally made it across the border into Pakistan with a great sigh of relief.

Having safely crossed Pakistan, (mostly on dirt roads) Elspeth and Robert arrived in post-revolution Iran with just seven days to cross the country from one end to the other. This was helped by the superbly maintained tarmac on the main roads, but hindered by the fact that Elspeth was so ill with hepatitis that she could barely stand, let alone ride. Her rear (drum) brake was rendered ineffective due to a leaking oil seal and her clutch had also stopped working, for want of a spring that would have cost just a few pence to replace, if only she could get one. Elspeth's battered Bell helmet acted as an unofficial `burkha' which she kept on most of the time, even when off the bike ("most people just assumed I was a man") and she and the Dutchman made it to the Turkish frontier with just hours to spare before their Iranian visas ran out.

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