People travel for different reasons. For Simon, a few years out of college, the dream is to drive from Windsor to Cape Town and back. That will prove something to himself and most likely impress the folks back home. Simon had little experience of off-road driving and I dare to say little interest in Africa. What was important was the challenge. He has confidence, determination, stamina and a map which shows there are roads all the way, so why not give it a go? For two years he studied routes and make preparations. In the months before, he bought equipment and food supplies. Unfortunately his intended travelling companion dropped out. Simon decided to go it alone.
With a few weeks to go he bought a Land Cruiser and paid the RAC an extortionate bond for an any-country temporary-import vehicle pass. In Madrid the car got broken into and he lost a lot of useful gear including a GPS. In Mauritania the cooling system blew up and he needed a new radiator. By the time he got to the east end of Niger three months has passed. Simon has gained considerable experience, but his enthusiasm was beginning to wane. He finds comfort in the tapes and tinned food he’s brought with him; he prefers to camp on the roadside in the middle of nowhere rather than taking his chances running into the wrong type in towns. His achievement is significant. Even more so when I realise he's yet to unwrap his sand-ladders and his wheels are permanently stuck in two-wheel-drive.
As we leave the final police post in Niger, Simon turns up the music and gently accelerates into the desert. At last we're passed all those bribe hungry officials and any potential delays. At last he can put his foot down and drive unencumbered. It feels good. Within minutes we're stuck in the Sahara sand. We unpack the sand ladders and collapsible shovel, all good "boys’ own" stuff. Perhaps he’d been a bit hasty, but hey, this is fun.
Land Cruisers are heavy, loaded ones more so. Being stuck in two-wheel-drive mode plus having an automatic gearbox makes driving in sand a lot more difficult than it needs to be and even once Simon gets the "feel" for when to accelerate and when to brake we still get stuck more often than we should. It seems clear to me that getting the vehicle across this dustbowl is at least a two-man job.
If the worst comes to the worst I can always hop onto the next lorry, I only have to get myself across this desert. Simon, on the other hand, has a major investment in this two tonne tortoise, he cannot walk away. Believe me, when it has dug itself into the sand and the two of us with the assistance of eight hardy nomads can't push or pull it free, this is a burden.
Simon is the master of his ship, which is fine; he has to be. He has to keep the vehicle fuelled, watered, oiled and tyres inflated, and we have to stop when the engine gets too hot. But I find him fussy too. We have to keep the windows at exactly the right height, not too up, not too down, something to do with the dust, and I'm not allowed to wash my feet at the end of the day, despite us carrying 40 litres of untreated water.
When it comes to music and food however, Simon is not one for taking chances. We feast on tins of Heinz soup and Heinz baked beans, and we listen to tapes of Oasis and Robbie, U2 and Coldplay. Thankfully we reach N'Djaména before we get to spaghetti hoops or David Gray.