Well, it is a bit difficult to know where to start really... This book was an inspiration for me.
It gives you an insight into a level of remote area exploration and adventure, that very few will ever experience. I would like to think it would be engaging for anyone to read, however if you already have an interest in this kind of thing, this book talks your language and certainly opens your eyes to what is possible.
So, first up. This is a nice book, as in, in a physical sense. It is printed on good paper and has a genuine quality feel about it. I’ve ordered many of these short run, speciality books over the years, most have a slight cheap feel. This one is as good a quality as any other book I own. This is the first insight you get into the authors character (as he is the publisher too), meticulous and careful, with an eye and appreciation for quality.
The book follows Tom’s 2006 expedition, to Algeria in North Africa. To say Tom is a veteran Sahara explorer, is to underplay the man’s experience and dedication to exploring this part of the world. Suffice to say all this experience and skills are tested when his rare French maps and satellite images are confiscated, leaving him with only a GPS and a ‘tourist’ map.
To be honest, at the start of the book I could completely understand how the Algerians could come to the conclusion that Tom’s explanation (just for the love of it) for his being in their country, and wanting to explore some very remote regions unaided, could cause suspicion. Especially as a country rich in natural oil and gas reserves, of which one plant Tom, an ex military man had visited.
Undaunted, using his considerable experience, memories of maps that had been studied so many times that the memory could be relied upon enough, plus a GPS unit with waypoints logged from many previous trips. Tom launches into what he knows might be his last chance to connect with the Sahara. It should be noted that some of these waypoints are well over 100 miles apart, with no maps of the terrain in between.
The tale is interwoven with previous experiences in this region, some places he is visiting again, some just interesting side notes. Tom takes his craft as a writer and photographer seriously. Whole written worlds are built around a single plant in the desert, solo travel definitely intensifies certain experiences in my book, and this come through in Tom’s writings and his train of thought of things he comes across. The photographs are just exceptional, helped by the fact he fleshes out many photographs with words of what went into achieving the shot.
As an explorer, this book shows what a lifetime of experience in a particular region can add up to. I revelled in the detail, while acknowledging that each environment and situation demands it’s own peculiarities. You have to respect the standard that is set here. If you want to explore on your own or as a single vehicle, or just want to be well prepared for whatever Mother Nature may throw at you, you will learn from reading this book.
On a personal note, originating from the UK, I connected with Tom’s frustrations of his homeland. Also genuinely laughing out loud on multiple occasions while reading, the humour is dry and self-depreciating, as Englishmen in foreign lands tend to be.
The last part of the book is dedicated to his drive north through many towns, especially focussing on the hotels of Fernand Pouillon (achievements criminally undersold in that wikipedia page). I enjoyed this part just as much as the remote ‘first man on the moon’ stuff, the same way I enjoy a good country town after emerging from the Australian Outback. Honestly, Tom could make a decent living as merely a travel writer in countries properly off the normal travel trail.
Unfortunately, it would seem the diplomatic issues on this trip have restricted Tom from successfully completing any other trips in this country. By the end of the book you realise that his love of the region is genuine and absolute, if only the Algerians (or the Libyans) could see that, then they would realise he is a great advertisement for their country, not a threat. I feel if his publicity had been wider than our rather specialised community, then it might have been a different story, a documentary with his old mate Michael Palin maybe? However that is not Tom’s style, and for that we should be thankful. Remote exploration is a personal and almost selfish endeavour, I’m just glad Tom put his experiences out there so we could share them.
While being aware of Tom beforehand, as you might of guessed I learnt more about him researching the G-Wagen article.
Here is a bit more about him from an article by the simply fabulous explorer Lois Pryce, first published in Overland Journal.