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Old 31 Jan 2010
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Unhappy Paul Pratt, 1926-2010

Paul Pratt passed away January 10, 2010, at the age of 84. Paul was still riding his bikes last year, and entertaining audiences at the HU UK meeting with tales of his 13 years travelling by motorcycle in the 60s and 70s. We interviewed him in 2008 for the DVD series, and he features in a couple of them. Paul, like Simon Gandolfi and Ted Simon, is an inspiration to anyone who thinks 'I'm too old to do that'.

He'll be missed by many who took his words to heart and was inspired by them.

There will be a ride for him, the family will keep us informed of the date - sometime when the weather gets better. A friend will ride his RTW Triumph with his ashes for dispersal at the seaside.

Grant
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Old 31 Jan 2010
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Excerpts from a video interview with Paul in 2008

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Old 31 Jan 2010
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Paul Pratt Interview with Sam Manicom

Paul Pratt was both the author of the interestingly named book, ‘World Understanding on Two Wheels', and a man who should have been in the limelight more than he has. To understand what I mean I must explain more about the man himself, and the convoluted life he has led.

I first met Paul several years ago up at the Horizons Unlimited rally in Derbyshire. I'd known about him for some time; on many occasions when long distance travel popped up in conversation, so would his name. One of my favourite quotes of Paul's is, ‘What you see on TV is not the world you see from the road'.

Paul told me that he is in fact a Yorkshireman though he has spent a rather large chunk of his life far away from the county. He explained, "When I was a child in the days of the Second World War I was evacuated to the States along with other children; I suppose that this early start opened my eyes to the world of travel". When he completed his schooling he joined the merchant navy as a radio officer and amongst other things he worked for a University in Gothenburgh as an electronic development engineer. During these years he graduated from a bicycle to a pair of wheels with an engine, and the taste for biking was set. "Over the next years I rode around the British Isles on various bikes, including a Norton Dominator. I got fairly heavily into trials at this time and rode at competition level. In the 1950's I also did some touring across Europe and though these trips made me aware of the possibilities they were incredibly frustrating; there just wasn't the time in holiday breaks to really explore the countries I was travelling through. I guess at that time I was just stuck with dreaming."

The dreams became a reality in due course, and Paul had his first big bite at long distance travel from 1961 to 1964 with a trip on a Triumph TR6 Trophy through Canada, the USA, Mexico and Central America; but the dreamer in him needed more. At the tail end of 1966 he set off for another bite at distance touring, but didn't arrive home with a recognised end to the trip until 1979. Even my simple mathematical ability can work out that the trip took him 12 and a half years; a record broken by few. The bizarre aspect of this mega trip was that Paul hadn't quite intended it to happen; he set off with only $600 in his pocket!

We'd discussed this issue a while and Paul had said, "In current times the emphasis seems to be on making it round as quickly as possible; that's an anathema to me. I also think that with speed and ease being so much an issue nowadays, it's too easy to pay too much money to explore the world. In the end speed travellers just don't give enough of themselves back; they have no time. They are missing out because one of the main thrills about long distance travel comes from the relationships you form with the people you meet out there". Paul was passionate about the subject and would have talked on enthusiastically if I'd let him, but I'd wanted him to rewind back to the start of his long distance travelling.

It's no easy thing to leave your home, your job, your friends and your family to set off on your own into what in the late ‘60s was fairly uncharted territory from a bike-touring point of view. I asked Paul what had changed in his life to make the trips suddenly become possible. "It was a collection of factors including the fact that my father died. That made me take another look at my life and what I was doing with it; events made it time to move on. I realised that you have to make dreams come true for yourself and that sooner is better than later."

Paul's route started in Liverpool where he and his Triumph Thunderbird 650cc set sail for New Orleans. From there he travelled on through Mexico and Central America to Panama. With no road across the Darien Gap he flew to Medellin in Colombia. "The customs officers didn't know what to do with me; they said I was the first person to fly a bike in!" "All well and good", Paul told me, "but it took four days to clear the bike. That wasn't so bad; it was an experience, but my pocket was $150 lighter and that was a lot of my travel money."

From there he travelled on through Ecuador and across the Peruvian Andes, eventually ending up in the city of Santos in Brazil. This section sounds as if it was particularly hard. Paul told me that the roads were a grim mixture of sand, mud and gravel and that frequently he would be skirting ravines that were hundreds of meters deep. At one stage he came across road works high in the mountains. Because the fuel he had on board wouldn't be enough to retrace to ‘the other' road 120 miles away, he'd had to dig a route through the dismantled road. Then he had to ride right on the ravine edge. At the next village, everyone had come out to greet him and told him that his was the first vehicle to make it to their village for 3 months. To make the days just a little challenging, the altitude changes meant that he was constantly swapping from major heat to bitter cold; this could happen several times a day. Paul told me that these roads had given him one of the major high points of the trip, and he wasn't just talking about the altitude! The road up to Cuzco, though in a diabolical state, was through some of the most stunning mountain scenery he'd ever seen. By the time he eventually made it to the city he knew that he had just experienced a unique combination of effort and beauty. "I knew that I'd probably never see or do anything like this again and my mood was that of stunned relief, pride at making it and recognition of my good fortune. The scenery really was magnificent."

I asked Paul if there had been occasions when he had genuinely felt that his life was in danger. "There were of course times when I was in danger. I was mugged in the Colombian city of Medellin, and at one time in Guatemala, on a very remote road I was confronted by a machete waving local who was quite insistent that he wanted to know what was in my luggage. I was miles from anywhere with no chance of someone coming along to help me, so I just talked in as friendly a fashion as possible and I took his photograph; it seemed to work and I got away. I still don't know if he wanted to do me harm, or whether it was just my sense of vulnerability at the time. I certainly was scared. There's a balance though; sometimes here in the UK I don't feel safe walking down the road but there were times in South America when I pulled the bike to the side of the road and slept by it. I didn't even have a tent but I felt quite safe!"

In Santos, which is a major Brazilian port, he was fortunate enough to find a cargo ship that was heading north to the States. "My previous Merchant Navy experience meant that I had an easier task than most travellers do. Nowadays it's even harder to get a working passage on a ship, let alone get on one with your bike; it is still possible though". By the time he got to New York the seasons were putting him under pressure; winter was on its way but he still managed to fit in a coast-to-coast list of lecture bookings. It took him seven months to move on from San Francisco but once again he managed to snag a working passage on a cargo ship, this time to Japan where he was made very welcome.

He spent a year in Korea next and he says that this was one of his favourite countries. "I liked the people a lot. The land is stunningly beautiful and the culture is unique which made it a great place to explore; it was also my base to try and get permission to ride across Russia." Sadly that was not to be, so in true traveller style he took plan ‘B' and rode the Trans Siberian train instead. Paul says that the Trans Siberian was in a way a bonus; he's always been fascinated by trains and, "Where can you find a more fantastic train ride than this one"? By this time it was 1971 and after a check up of the bike at the Meriden factory he hit the road again, but by a ship hop back to Japan.

Paul was very much taken with this part of the world and that turned out to be a good thing. As he was touring such countries as Hong Kong, Laos, Thailand and Indonesia, the British motorcycling industry was failing fast and he suddenly found himself stranded in the Philippines without vital spares for the Triumph. However, it sounds as if he was having fun in the midst of frustration; obtaining work as an extra on Apocalypse Now can't be all bad. While he was trying to organise spares - with the collapse of Triumph Engineering his spares agreement hadn't been honoured - he was loaned a 125cc Kawasaki and racked up 12,500 miles on it. By the time he left the Philippines he'd been on the road for 11 years.

He then toured Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan and even up into Afghanistan. In fact this was a very hairy part of the world to be exploring in those times; Afghanistan had been in the throes of the 1978 coup and by the time he made it back to Iran, the revolution there was well under way.

I asked Paul if he'd had any trouble while he was in Afghanistan, hoping that an interesting tale would be forthcoming and I wasn't disappointed. "I always visited Head Offices of oil companies in the hope of getting some sponsorship. This time I was told that I needed a letter of introduction and was taken by the interpreter to the police station. What happened next wasn't fun; the scene at the police station was a combination of agony and pure Hollywood. I was dealt with by poker faces officers who paid no attention to the beat up prisoners who were being escorted to and fro by a scar faced, gun-toting soldier. I was locked up in a cold room with no bed, mattress or blanket, and the sounds of prisoners pleading as they were being tortured meant no sleep. I was detained for 24 hours in total, and made the decision to move on as rapidly as possible, without petrol sponsorship!"

"This was out of the frying pan into the fire though," he told me. "Iran was the place where I feared that my trip was going to come to an ignominious end. The mobs were out and fires were blazing; it was a really dangerous place to be and I was afraid that my bike would be seized and set on fire. I was very lucky though. A local man came up to me and in helped me to safety; as we went past the mobs he told me that whatever I did I must make sure I smiled. It worked and I then discovered why the mobs were finding it so easy to literally run riot; the police were sitting around behind their protective Chieftain tank, playing cards and drinking coffee. My next stroke of amazing human kindness was when the Tehran distributor of Castrol Oil, who had provided oil for the trip, got the bike and I out on one of the last trains to leave Tehran for Istanbul. I hadn't had a single chance to do anything to help him market his product, but he really put himself out to help and my trip survived as a direct result."

The way home from there is nowadays via Greece or the old Eastern block countries, but Paul chose the long way. From Turkey he swung south into Syria and the Lebanon before island hoping up to the Greek mainland. Even then he hadn't had enough and via Italy swung down into North Africa. He rode Tunisia and Algeria before heading for home via Spain, France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and Holland.

With a route like this spread out over so many years I wanted to know how the bike did, and why choose a Triumph anyway. "I'd actually chosen a Triumph because when I set off I was planning to spend the bulk of the tour in the States. In those days Triumphs were the only Brit bikes being sold there in any quantity, but there were times in other parts of the world when I was glad to be on a British bike. I landed up in Jakarta Indonesia when there were full blown anti Japanese product riots going on. Suddenly I was in the middle of it; 450 Japanese cars and over 150 motorcycles were destroyed!"

"I'd looked for a bike that had a good reliability reputation and it had to have an engine big enough to last for the hours of use it was going to get; the 650cc's of the Thunderbird looked about right. I also liked the point that the bike is relatively light. That was going to be an important factor as I knew that I wasn't going to stay on asphalt; little did I know. I also wanted to fly the flag for the British motorcycling industry."

"I didn't actually do very much to the bike before I set off and I suppose the biggest hassle came from the incredibly fine dust on the roads in Laos. The Triumph air filter just wasn't up to the job and by the time I got to Thailand, the pistons were pretty much wrecked. The whole business was a bit of a saga because when the new pistons arrived, I quickly realised that I'd been sent different types; the casting moulds had been different. I did some ‘roadside' engineering with the help of some German Peace Corps volunteers and that kept me going for a while longer, but this was the beginning of the saga that saw me stuck in the Philippines for so long. As for the bike as a whole, well, its still on the road now and that has to be a testimony in itself; the bike had clocked up 101,893 miles by journeys end. At the time I don't think I was really aware of any particular sort of relationship that was built up between the bike and I; it was just a machine. Looking back I recognise that there was a tremendous amount of respect. Nowadays the bike and I talk to each other. I know that sounds nuts but I know that it likes the attention I give it and when it's happy, or something is wrong, it lets me know." Paul kept his bike in regular use; he rode it to vintage and classic vehicle events for display.

I asked Paul if he thought that there was anything special about himself that made him able to do a trip such as his, successfully. "There are real keys", he said. "But, there are plenty of people out there who have what it takes". He went on to tell me that age isn't an issue and that you don't have to be brave or insane, but that it's more to do with a state of mind. "You have to have a sense of humour, you've not got to be afraid of discomfort, and it helps if you are prepared to take a few calculated risks; as much as anything you have to be able to adapt to the environment you find yourself in. You need to be able to relate to people". After a moments thought, he want on to say, "I guess that one of the things about me is that I rather like to live on the edge, and travelling provides plenty of opportunity for that. In fact probably my most scary moment was long after I'd finished the trip when I was back out in SE Asia testing locally made bikes. I was in Sumatra on a Suzuki 125 and a monster King Cobra reared up at me in the strike position. It was one of those moments when life runs at a rapid rate of knots, and in slow motion at the same time. Luckily, I managed to get past it without getting struck. I don't know exactly how big it was, but it was well over 6'!"

When I've met with Paul in the past I've always noted that he is a man of calm and that he is a great observer. I asked if these abilities had helped him. "Absolutely", he replied. "A day on the road can throw so many things at you that you can get to the stage when you don't know if you are coming or going; if you are able to be calm and to carefully watch what is going on the surprises are always interesting, if not exciting. Without a doubt, the right state of mind means that each situation can be dealt with in its own right, one at a time". "And," he told me, "Your own perspective affects how other people see you; sometimes that can be vital but most of the time it simply remains important".

Many people dream of travel but few actually do it. It's a fact of life that some people really can't go out on the road for lengthy periods of time, but I wanted to know if Paul had a theory on why many more don't go out and live their dreams. Paul said, "You know, I think that the main reason is probably the fear of the unknown; making the first step". He went on to tell me that he has often wondered why he didn't get on the road 10 years earlier than he had, instead of making excuses. "Looking back," he said "This journey was without doubt the most rewarding experience of my life; that first step was the beginning of something amazing. One of the best things that has come out of my book was when a chap came up to me and said that he'd bought it, and had been inspired by it. He'd thought I sounded like a pretty ordinary bloke and that if I could do it then so could he. His first step was out of Europe into North Africa. I like the fact that I have been able to influence others in such a positive way."

Throughout Paul's trip he was running slide-illustrated lectures and they in themselves lead to adventures and kept on doing so until the end. He was a valued speaker at Horizons Unlimited and at many motorcycle clubs around the UK. This brave and insightful adventurer will be missed by many in the world of motorcycling.
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Old 1 Feb 2010
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Grant Johnson
This brave and insightful adventurer will be missed by many in the world of motorcycling.
Hear hear. RIP Paul.
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Old 1 Feb 2010
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Paul
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Old 1 Feb 2010
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Paul .... is an inspiration.
So sorry to hear this sad news. He is really an inspiration and what an inspirational quote.

‘What you see on TV is not the world you see from the road'.

Stephan
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Old 1 Feb 2010
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Such sad news, met Paul early 1980 when he gave a talk at the South London Triumph Owners club and again a few years back at Ripley, he even remembered the talk he had given at the Owners club in 1980, hopefully memorable for the right reasons!!
Always very pleasant, and always had time to chat. a man, missed for sure. RIP
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Old 1 Feb 2010
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Unhappy Sorrows

R.I.P. ... Ride In Peace Paul
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One word

Respect
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Old 2 Feb 2010
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Sad news , Remember a life well lived is an example to us all , and Paul certainly made the most of his time on this earth .
R.I.P Paul .
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Peter Forwood

I only got to meet Paul once, at 2009 HU Ripley.
From that one meeting he has been in my thoughts many times.
Another legend moves on and will sadly be missed.
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I never had a chance to meet Paul...but when I first heard about his travels from Eric and Gail Haws, he was one of the legends who blazed a trail for many of us...
Thanks for sharing...

RIP
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Ride in Peace Paul

I think he attended every one of UK meetings at Ripley.
Always had time for everyone.
Will be missed for sure.
An inspiration for many

Glynn
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I made a special point of seeing his talk at HU Ripley and have often thought of it since. I remember feeling that I had so many questions to ask but so little time and what do you ask a person who has truly lived? Maybe you don't have to - you already know the answer!
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Old 4 Feb 2010
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Angry Paul Pratt

Sorry to hear the sad news of Paul, i had the honour of meeting him in 2007/08 HU Meeting Ripley, a funny and interesting man..... R.I.P. Paul.

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