Horsepower Vs. The Horse

Fleeing from Bandits on a 1922 Harley-Davidson Model J
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Media Name: around_pampas.jpg
The heat was stifling; although we were sitting on a moving vehicle, we felt like we were riding through a sauna. I was driving; Gyuszi Bartha sat in the sidecar, and Mimmy opted for her favorite place: the passenger seat. The oppressive silence was broken only by the puffing of the engine. Occasional cacti, twisted in fantastic shapes and white with desert dust, peppered the otherwise monotonous landscape. There wasn’t a single tree in sight except for a sorry looking withered palm, whose dried fronds waved in silent reproach to the Creator.
Our conversation was just about as dull as the landscape around us. A violent bump shook Bartha up, and he exclaimed: “This road must have been built around the time of Christ!” He was overly critical, however. We were making decent progress at forty kilometers an hour, despite the occasional bumps. In any case, the road was much better than your random sandy caravan route.
We took a short stop at a bridge spanning the Jordan River. A few green bushes lined the narrow ribbon of water on both sides and were a refreshing sight in the gray and yellow landscape. We continued on. “I see people,” Bartha cried suddenly. We all looked back. “Arabs on horseback!” one of us cried, “Bedouins!” Suddenly, we called to mind the warnings, the tales of desert robbers and of sheiks who were skilled in much more than love.
“Faster! Let’s go!” cried Mimmy from the passenger seat. I had a feeling she was right but tried to reassure her by saying, “Be sensible. What could they possibly want from us?” Nevertheless, I upped our speed to 50 kilometers an hour.
The sidecar was literally leaping over potholes. We spent more time looking behind our shoulders than forward in the direction we were going. The horsemen seemed to be getting closer and closer. The magnificent horses and those riding them became visible in more and more detail; soon we could make out the weapons the riders were waving and heard their shouts. It didn’t take us long to realize that they did, indeed, want something from us and were pursuing us at top speed. “Faster! Faster!” Gyuszi and Mimmy cried. I took a moment to think things through. If they were determined to catch up with us, we had no chance of escape because of the poor quality of the road.
Maybe it would be better to stop and try to negotiate? After all, there were at least ten of them, and our two guns and one revolver were no match for their weapons. We also knew that our life wasn’t in danger if we didn’t resist; they wouldn't kill without reason.
My reverie was broken by the sound of gunshots. We were still far enough away that their chances of hitting us were small; I conjectured these were warning shots to get us to stop. I gave Mimmy the revolver, saying “Hold on to it, but don’t use it just yet.”
I didn’t stop the motorcycle. I didn’t think of the loaded guns but speeded on, come what may. We had too much to lose: weapons, packages, and supplies, but first and foremost, Mimmy, who would have been a prize for these pirates of the desert.
Seconds passed like minutes. I couldn’t get the speed past 50 kilometers per hour; we all leaned forward excitedly, Gyuszi climbing out of the sidecar and onto the bike to speed our progress. We couldn’t convince Mimmy to hide in the sidecar. We sat in line on the bike, and it came to me how a single bullet, if aimed well, could kill the three of us.
Our pursuers were still hot on our track; Damas was 50 kilometers away, and we knew the bike wouldn’t last an hour at this speed. Then again, neither would their horses! All we could do was hope the roads would get better…
The roads did not improve, but the cries of the approaching horsemen got louder and louder. I even had to put on the brakes as we encountered a series of ditches. Our hearts were pounding almost audibly, and we started to give up all hope as the grim, bearded faces came into view. Then, I made one last attempt.
“Hold on tight!” I screamed, giving the engine full throttle. The hand on the speedometer showed sixty, seventy, then eighty! We were gaining on them, but the bike could have broken down at any moment. The whole contraption was shaking; occasionally, we found ourselves a full half a meter above ground, clinging to the seats for dear life.
The distance between us and our pursuers grew, and soon after, we reached a smooth stretch of road, where we were able to speed along at a hundred kilometers per hour. By then, the horsemen were a full kilometer behind, out of both ear- and gunshot, and soon, out of sight.
Horsepower had defeated the horse. On good roads, this would have been no miracle, but the four or five minutes of pursuit had exhausted us more than a whole day’s journey in the desert.
Upon our arrival in Damas, we made our way to the French officials and explained, excitedly and with flushed faces, what had happened to us on the way. They made a note of the incident, which was just one of many, without showing the least bit of surprise.

This was an excerpt from "Around the World on a Motorcycle", the true and unknown story of the most successful circumnavigation of the globe by motorcycle, spanning 68 countries and every inhabited continent, available now from Octane Press.