Teapot One: Close Call with Disaster

Bruce Smart promised his mum he'd sell all his possessions and embark on a once-in-a-lifetime round the world motorcycle ride. But would a few near-death experiences and African imprisonment put him off for good?


A Promise Made is a Promise Kept

The real point of no return was making a promise to my mum before she passed away. She had been fighting cancer for almost a decade, and in her last year she came to stay with me in my London flat. We'd spend a lot of time just chatting away. When I was off work we'd sit on the couch and chat; put the world to rights. One day on the couch, a repeat of Long Way Round came on the telly and I started to moan like everyone else: “It's easy for Ewan McGregor to head off and do this, him being an A-list celeb. He's got all the money.” Blah, blah, blah. My mum turned round to me and said, “You've always wanted to do a trip like this. Don't get to my stage in life and regret what you've not accomplished. We only get once chance that we know of, so live your life.”

I promised her then and there that I was going to do it. I would ride around the world.

After that, I had to go. There was no way out! The one change from the Ewan and Charlie formula I wanted to make was to ditch the BMW GS. At that time, every man and his dog was disappearing on a BMW to conquer the world. My inspiration came more from the Sjaak Lucassens and Nick Sanders of the world: long distance on a superbike. That sounded like a challenge. I already owned a Suzuki GSX-R1000, so I didn't even need to buy a new ride.


It took three years to prepare for the ride, keeping my head down at work and selling everything I could to scrape the money together. I was very lucky to get a sponsorship deal with Bridgestone where they would fly me tyres out to pre-designated spots around the world to keep the Suzuki wheels spinning on good rubber. I spent a little time placating my girlfriend – she was a keeper, so I tried to stay in her good books. Plus, I needed to get my son used to the idea I was going to head off. The years ticked by surprisingly quickly, and then it was time for me to leave. I didn't know then that just 42 days later disaster would strike.



Mauritania: The African Wild West


My plan was to go down the west side of Africa. Everyone seemed like they were heading down the east side, so I thought I'd be a bit different. Morocco and Western Sahara were amazing places to visit, beautiful landscapes and incredibly friendly people. But I can't say the same for Mauritania.


Remember that Boko Haram lot? You know, the Islamic extremist group that seized the girls in Nigeria? They'd pretty much exploded out of central Africa, travelling north into Nigeria, taking over Mali, and were intent on hacking their way into Mauritania right when I was travelling through. There are only two roads in Mauritania, and the government flooded them both with police. I ended up getting robbed by these so-called officials every day.

The first near-death experience I had in Mauritania happened straight out of the gate. As I crossed over the Western Sahara border, the guard in his immaculate tunic took me by the hand, said, “Bon chance,” and gave me this piercing look. I remember thinking, “What does he know that I don't?” He slid this big metal gate back, and the tarmac stopped right then and there. A dirt track wandered away into desert, flanked on either side by ruined concrete shelters.


I took a wrong turning a few miles into Mauritania. Actually, I'd found a South African named Robert and we took the wrong turning together. We toddled along this track, with steadily fewer and fewer people around. I remember thinking that there was a lot of... stuff... at the side of the road, but I was concentrating. Riding on sand, you see. I was dimly aware of old, rusted vehicles lying all around us. And this stuff by the side of the road. It looked like goo. Then, on the wind, I could hear this noise. It seemed to be getting louder. I stopped, turned round to Robert, and saw four or five local pedlars tip-toeing their way across to us, yelling and waving their hands. When I took my lid off, I could hear what they were shouting. “Mines! Mines!” We were in a minefield. All this stuff around us, the rusted vehicles, the goo... I remember thinking, “Ah, shit!

We were aiming to get to Nouakchott that night, but it was too late in the day to manage the trip. Police were telling us not to ride into the night because of the Boko Haram danger. We also couldn't camp by the side of the road due to mines. Nouadhibou ended up being our choice for accommodation. On the way there, we had a run-in with three big pick-ups driven by a Boko Haram gang. They tried to ram us off the road, but we managed to outrun them on our bikes and enter the Nouadhibou.


Apart from safely leading us out of the odd minefield for cash, the locals weren't particularly pleasant to me. I don't know if it was something to do with a bike covered in logos, or my obviously contrasting level of wealth, but they seemed to resent me. They threw shoes at me; they spat at me. They even refused to sell me anything, not even bread or water. As a consequence, I'd head off into the desert with no food or water in a leather suit and winging it. I got really bad heat stroke at one stage, fell off the bike at the side of the road, and simply lay in the sand thinking, “Well Bruce, this is it.” If it wasn't for the South African Robert, I'd probably have died then and there. He came along, kicked me in the arse, put me on the bike and forced me to keep going. He probably saved my life.

At that point, my girlfriend and my son popped into my head, and I decided that if I got through this, I was marrying her.



The Final Straw

I was heading to a border town called Rosso. Senegal seemed like a safe haven, and I couldn't wait to cross over and leave Mauritania behind. But first, I had to deal with Rosso, also known as the worst border crossing in Africa. About ten miles north of the border I was stopped at yet another police checkpoint. These guys might have been wearing official uniforms, but they were really working with a gang in Rosso. They set me up for a big fall. When I rode into Rosso, the gang was ready for me. They forced me into the town and held me in a concrete box while they took as much money out of me as they could get their hands on. Eventually I convinced them that they had all my worldly wealth, and they finally put me on a barge and sent me across to Senegal.


By this point, I was mentally fried. It was scarring to experience so much horror in such a short period of time. I reasoned with myself, “I've nearly died a few times now, so is this ride worth it?” The answer right then, was no. I needed a break. The money I had left got be back to the UK.



Back on my feet: Departure #2


This was the lowest point of my life. I returned a total failure, embarrassed with myself, begrudging the incredible support I got from friends and family. I had come back to the UK with absolutely nothing. No assets, nothing, apart from the stuff on my bike. Over the next few months my head became a mental wrestling ring. I couldn't hack a return to normal life only 42 days after I'd embarked on the ride. What of the promise I'd made my mum? What of the charities I was supporting? What about living my dream?

Enter a bike-mad CEO of an oil company. I picked Delta Energy up purely by chance – standing on the Bridgestone stand at a motorcycle expo. That's where Delta's Martin McDonald found me and offered sponsorship that could get me back out on the road again. This was my dream ticket! Three weeks later, I started again, promising myself I'd either finish the trip or get shipped home in a box.



From Epic Lows to Extreme Highs


I went on to complete an amazing, life-affirming round the world tour taking in 54 countries and clocking up over 74,000 miles on my Suzuki superbike. Norway really stood out as a stunning country to explore. The countryside is beautiful, the people are amazing, and I can't wait to go back again. Russia was a massive surprise for me: it's everything we're told it's not. The west paints it as an evil, suppressed place where people aren't friendly. Nothing could be further from the truth. Russians are some of the warmest people I have ever met.


Malaysia was a brilliant biking country. The roads are heaven on a bike and the weather's simply luxurious. Another country for good biking roads is South Korea, believe it or not! I also really enjoyed my time in Japan. There was more of it than I had planned, as I crashed on an incredibly bumpy uphill corner. But thanks to a local bike club and a few friendly ex-pats, the time was very well spent.


A big thanks to my girlfriend. She stayed by my side through the whole trip, and took me in again when I came back. Unknown to her, I'd actually asked her dad if I could marry his daughter when I was back in the UK after Mauritania. I took so long actually getting round to it that he'd started worrying it would never happen! He told me recently that he thought I'd changed my mind. I popped the question in New York, just before heading back to Britain. And yes, she's now my wife.



Ride With Bruce

Bruce now runs his own touring company, Chicken Strips, specialising in North Spain's adventure playground of fantastic motorcycling. Head to www.ChickenStrips.co.uk for more information.

Bruce also has his own youtube channel: Teapotonevids. He's now running a v-log show where you can catch up with the eventful goings-on of a biker in London traffic. But right now, check out this video of his Teapot One trip below:





Teapot One: The Name

When the British police force is responding to emergencies, its front-line officers need their share of sustenance. Tea, biscuits, refreshments, all the homely things that take their mind off the job in hand for a valuable ten minutes. It just so happens that there is a tea wagon that motors across London to provide just this service. Its official call-sign? Teapot One. I'm a police officer, and when I told my colleagues I was planning a “Long Way Round” – inspired motorcycle trip, they insisted I call the whole shebang Teapot One.

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