National Geographic : 1934 Jan
THREE-WHEELING THROUGH AFRICA Two Adventurers Cross the So-called Dark Continent North of Lake Chad on Motorcycles with Side Cars BY JAMES C. WILSON SSHIPPING Board freighter was sail ing for West Africa. Francis Flood told the company that in exchange for our passage he and I would write glow ing reports of the opportunities in African commerce, and I would play the banjo. The offer was accepted. Our original plan was to vacation leisurely to the pleasant hotels of Capetown and Port Elizabeth and then across to India. But at Lagos, Nigeria, halfway down the coast, we heard of an Englishman, the Hon. Frank Gray, M. P., who, starting from Lagos, had made a lateral crossing of Africa by motorcar.* "Has anyone ever made the trip by motorcycle?" Flood asked Gray's Negro mechanic. "Oh, no, sah." "Do you think it could be done?" "No, SAH!!" "Well, then, we'll do it!" Flood didn't know how to ride a motor cycle, had never been on one in his life; but that, he said, didn't matter-there'd be plenty of room in Africa in which to learn. THE MOTORCYCLES ARE PURCHASED So we canceled what was left of our tickets, and bought the motorcycles, two little British one-lungers- with bathtubs (see page 38). We named them "Rough" and "Tumble," not realizing at the time how appropriate those names would be. While we were waiting for passports, Flood hunted for maps, and I collected all the spare motorcycle parts in Lagos and vicinity and stowed them in, on, and about * The vertical crossing of Africa by motor in 1924-5 by the Citroen Central African Expedition, under the leadership of the late Georges-Marie Haardt, is described in "Through the Deserts and Jungles of Africa by Motor," by Georges-Marie Haardt, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE for June, 1926. M. Haardt was also the leader of the recently completed Citroen-Haardt Expe dition across Asia by motor (see THE GEOGRAPHIC for June, 1931; October, 1931; March, 1932, and November, 1932). the two side cars. Extra chains, sprockets, roller bearings, spokes, four spare tires, even a spare cylinder and piston-every thing except those parts which actually did break later on! Then I loaded on a portable machine shop, and finally made two special luggage racks, each big enough to carry 16 imperial gallons of gasoline, a thousand miles' supply. After that well, one can always get home on a camel if he has to. THE EXPEDITION GETS UNDER WAY As we were about to embark an Amer ican missionary stepped forward from the crowd and shook his head sadly. "I'd have just one suggestion to make. When you get to Kano, if by the grace of God you ever do get that far, you'd better swap those overloaded, single-cylinder house boats for two good, healthy, long-legged camels, a stout, thorny stick, and 10,000 choice Arabic cuss words." Flood shoved the gear-shift lever into low and let out the clutch. His machine began to move forward; the Flood-Wilson Trans-African Motorcycle Expedition was under way! Off down the main street of town we roared, in the direction of Kano, Lake Chad, Khartoum, and points north and east, followed by half the black population of Lagos, all craning their necks to see what would be the first thing to happen to Flood. Nothing did-for a while-and soon we were popping along through the coastal jungle, with Lagos and the Gulf of Guinea behind us and 3,800 miles of we-knew-not what ahead (see map, pages 40, 41). Towering walls of tropic greenery pushed in on the narrow road from either side, clasped limbs and tendrils overhead, and dropped long, sinuous tentacles through the gloom. Southern Nigeria is thickly pop ulated, and as we jolted along over the trail we knew from the sounds that floated out from the jungle that back behind those seemingly impenetrable walls were hun dreds of little farmsteads and plantations.