When my Dad was a boy growing up in the 1930’s, he heard stories of the “Lost City of the Incas” that had been discovered deep in the Peruvian jungle. It must have made a lasting impression on him because in November 1959, he quit his job as a newspaper reporter, sold his car and bought a 150cc Lambretta scooter. He intended to ride it from his hometown of Thorold, in Ontario Canada, all the way down to Peru. As far as he knew, he would be the first person to ever attempt such a journey.
A Chance Encounter
As fate would have it, three weeks before the trip he met a beautiful young woman, originally from Denmark. It was love at first sight. They started seeing each other almost every day and as his trip approached, he began to have serious misgivings about leaving on what could be a 12-month trip. It was too late to cancel, though. Plans were already in motion. His buddy Jon was planning to go as far as Mexico with him and everyone was throwing a going-away party for him. So on the bitterly cold morning of November 3rd, he started his journey.
A Crazy Proposal and a Leap Of Faith
The farther south he rode, the more he began to feel that he had made a horrible mistake and had left the woman of his dreams behind. Would she still be available when he returned? He wrote her postcards and letters, each one more heartfelt than the last. Finally, two weeks into the trip, he professed his love and asked her to fly to Mexico City, marry him, and continue on to South America on the scooter for as long as their money would hold out.
Her letter was waiting for him when he arrived in Mexico City. Would she be willing to take a leap of faith and marry an irresponsible character like him? A man she had only known for 3 weeks? His stomach in knots, he opened the letter.
The answer was yes. It was going to be a scooter honeymoon.
My brothers and I grew up listening all to the stories of that trip. Fantastic, larger-than-life stories that I never grew tired of hearing. Driving hundreds of miles through volcanic dust. Encountering armed bandits. Almost getting shot by a border guard in the dead of night. A standoff with an angry bull. Taking on the Andes with their 150cc engine. An accident that nearly sent them hurling over a cliff. I remember telling my Dad often that he should write all the stories down. He would always just nod and smile.
The Discovered Manuscript
On November 3, 2004, 45 years to the very day that he began his scooter journey, my Dad passed away peacefully in his bed with Tove, his wife of almost 45 years, at his side. At his wake, we were retelling the stories of the famous scooter adventure and I was lamenting that the stories were never written down when my Mom came into the room carrying a large envelope, which she placed in my hands. Inside was an old, faded manuscript -- my Dad’s memoirs of the scooter trip, which he had apparently written almost immediately afterwards and then put away in a closet.
Why he never told me about it, I’ll never know. But I eagerly read it and retyped it into my laptop. I had a crazy notion that maybe I could turn it into a book, telling their story to the world as a fitting tribute to two wonderful parents.
I soon realized, though, that his manuscript was a rough first draft. Aside from requiring general editing, there were a lot of details missing plus some of the funniest, most colourful stories had been glossed over while others were missing entirely.
Had he still been alive, I would have helped him to edit the manuscript and really bring the stories to life, but now I had a dilemma. Would it be right for me to change his words posthumously? Should I instead try to add extra details and stories via footnotes? I really struggled with this, so much so that I simply put it aside for years.
In early 2012, I picked it up again and started editing the manuscript in earnest. I decided that footnotes would not be enough. The story had to be told properly. I had asked myself if I thought my Dad would mind me changing his manuscript, and I decided that no, I really don’t think he would mind at all. I can still vividly remember him telling the stories and I’ve retold the same stories countless times to my own daughters, so in a way it would still be my Dad who was telling this story in his own words. My Mom agreed with me and thought he would have been thrilled to see his manuscript turned into a book so their adventure could be shared with the world.
With the help of my Mom, who provided me with numerous corrections and extra details (and even a few stories I didn’t remember) over many emails and phone calls, I have tried my best to bring my Dad’s manuscript to life, to tell the tale as it deserves to be told, while keeping it as true to his voice and writing style as I could.
I have also scanned in the hundreds of old 35mm colour slides my parents took during their adventure. Most had unfortunately turned red and blotchy after sitting in a box for over 50 years, but I have done my best to digitally restore these wonderful snapshots of a bygone era.
I also managed to track down some of the people my parents met during their adventure, or in some cases their children, sometimes even resulting in photographs they had taken of Ron and Tove, which we had never known existed!
It’s taken me years to get this book ready, but it’s truly been a labour of love. I hope I have done it justice.
What’s the Money Going Towards?
Finding a publisher is difficult. It can take years and you might never find one willing to take a chance on a project. And if you do, they will usually want a fair amount of creative control. This was such a personal project, though, that I was uneasy about giving up too much control. So I decided early on that I would probably self-publish. After spending a year writing and editing, I thought I was ready to lay it out. I got a copy of Adobe Indesign and started with enthusiasm. That’s when I realized all the 35mm slides that I had colour corrected were extremely blotchy upon closer inspection. So I spent another year fixing them while learning the finer points of professional book layout.
With the book finally completed, I was ready to upload it to a print-on-demand service that would list it on Amazon. But that just didn’t seem right anymore. I wanted to see this book in real brick-and-mortar bookstores, to see people hold it in their hands as they inspect the inside cover and flip through the pages. But publishers aren’t very interested in a finished product plus I didn't want to wait years. So I decided to print this book myself.
That’s where the Kickstarter community comes in. I’d like to get this book into your hands before Christmas, if at all possible. I have a printing company already lined up. $20,000 will allow me to order enough copies to get an affordable price.
So tell your friends about this story and its Kickstarter campaign. Send them the video link. Like the Facebook page. This is an incredible story -- people in real life don’t just meet, fall instantly in love, get married and travel to far away countries on two wheels. It’s the stuff of movies. And yet these two amazing people did it. And they lived happily ever after. If only we could all be so daring and willing to take such leaps of faith.
What Comes Next?
Just getting this book printed and then into stores is my primary goal. But I have to admit that another goal has been lurking in the back of my mind for years. I have always thought this story would make a fantastic film. It has romance, adventure, comedy, danger, plus it's a road movie set in an exotic locale in a bygone era. I've been picturing it in my head for years so I plan to start writing a screenplay adaptation soon. Who knows, maybe you’ll see a Kickstarter campaign for “The Scooter Diaries” indie film someday.
But first, let’s get this book printed and in your hands.
Previews of the Book
The book is all done and ready to print. Click on the image below to see a bunch of excerpts to tide you over until the book is in your hands. :)
For more information, vintage photographs and videos, visit:
During the course of this Kickstarter campaign, a lot of things have happened. The Facebook page has received over 800 Likes, showing that there's a LOT of interest in this project. Support from the scooter community has been extremely evident, but also from motorcyclists and adventurer travelers, who found this story simply crazy!
I posted a video of me interviewing my cousin Fred, talking about the ongoing restoration of the famous Lambretta scooter:
I was interviewed on the Larry Fedoruk show on News Talk 610 CKTB:
Jason Kottke, routinely listed as one of the world's top bloggers, posted a story about The Scooter Diaries, which gave our Kickstarter campaign a big two-day boost:
I had someone interview my Mom, adventuress Tove Bowman herself:
I was interviewed by Giacomo Panico on CBC Radio One's "In Town and Out". Click on the link below, scroll down a bit, and click on "Scooter Diaries - road trip from St. Catharines, Ontario to Peru in 1959".
You can also find the CBC interview here:
I published an article on Medium:
I interviewed my Mom myself while visiting last weekend:
A feature story about my Mom and me appeared on the front page of the St. Catharines Standard and The Welland Tribune (my Dad used to be a reporter for both of these newspapers):
And lastly, an excerpt from the Scooter Diaries was included in Maptia's second storytelling theme, entitled "On the Road to Somewhere". It features 20 storytellers who have driven, cycled and walked across six continents -- conveying themselves by car, motorbike, scooter, bicycle, rickshaw, and on foot. My Dad would have been so thrilled to be included in the company of these great adventurers. I know my Mom is.
Plus you can find two more excerpts from The Scooter Diaries on Maptia here:
And if you search for "The Scooter Diaries", you will find numerous other articles written about us by people who really want to see this book printed!
The last 27 days have been quite a ride. I wish we were closer to the goal, but I refuse to give up. There are still 3 more days and anything can happen. Help spread the word!
Risks and challenges
I'm really excited about this book. It's a fantastic story that will appeal not only to scooter/motorcycle enthusiasts and adventure travel enthusiasts, but also to fans of adventure romance and anyone who just wants to be reminded that love-at-first-sight and happily-ever-after endings can actually happen in this world. And honestly, this story should have been told 50 years ago -- to me, it feels like a buried treasure that nobody ever knew existed but I was lucky enough to stumble across. I'm hoping that's the same way people will feel when they stumble across it in a bookstore.
I’ve worked really hard the past two years on this book. On the writing, on restoring the 35mm slides, and on laying out the book to look totally professional. But it’s all done. The real challenge now is in making this Kickstarter campaign successful. I need your support, but I also need your help in spreading the word about this book and its campaign, whether it be by word of mouth or using social media and the website.
I am confident that with your help, we can make this book happen.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)