You can buy Across African Sand at
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Phil Deutschle's other book, The Two Year Mountain: The Gripping Story of One Man's Spiritual and Physical Odyssey in the Mountains of Nepal, in which he describes his Peace Corps service is out of print but available from Amazon as well as other used/rare book sellers such as bibliofind and abebooks.

by Phil Deutschle (Nepal 1977–80)
Dimi Press, $19.95
330 pages

Reviewed by Joe Kovacs (Sri Lanka 1997–98)

INTRODUCING PHIL DEUTSCHLE, thirty-six year old traveler extraordinaire and A Man With A Purpose. Across African Sand, the self-explanatory title of his travel memoir, recounts a bike journey that begins in Mapoka, a village in eastern Botswana, heads west through the Kalahari Desert, into and across Namibia to the Atlantic Ocean, and back again by a northern route to Mapoka. It’s a mere three thousand miles, according to Deutschle’s bike odometer. This account of travel, travail, and close encounters with pissed-off elephants and cannibalistic toads, develops into an engaging narrative out of what at first glance seems like a lot of sand and hot air. Deutschle manages to do this largely through his ability to build suspense at every step along the journey.
     At the outset, as he prepares to leave Mapoka, the village soothsayer, Balozwi, warns him: “Don’t force it.”
     Not “forcing it” has been a pretty heavy issue for this guy.
     Deutschle remembers: “I’ve been struck at by rattlesnakes in the U.S., fallen off a volcano in Mexico, been rammed by a rhinoceros in Nepal, had machine guns aimed at me in Zaire and always — so far — I’ve managed to do the right things at the right moment to extricate myself.” Still, as far as wondering just when this guy’s going to end up buying his ticket to that Great Sand Dune in the Sky, it’s hard to ignore the fact that he’s put a lot of planning into his expedition. He rations his water, carries extra tire tubes and chains for his bike, and retrieves packages that he has sent out ahead of himself from Mapoka. When the soft desert sand makes it impossible to ride, he relies on instinct to drag his bike in the direction of what he hopes will be a firmer road.
     Things don’t always work out that way, though, and when the road doesn’t improve, he recalls Balozwi’s advice: Don’t force it. Deutschle doesn’t force it. He goes back. This guy has a real head on his shoulders — which might explain why he’s still breathing after all these years.
     Deutschle says that dragging his loaded bicycle through the Kalahari is a lot like moving a wheelbarrow filled with two fifty-pound bags of cement, across many miles of beach. This is one of the great things about Across African Sand — the reader’s presence is never taken for granted. If you ever wanted to know about bicycling in the Kalahari, this book has it all.
     And while knowing the reader is there might seem like a given for any piece of writing, the challenge here is made greater by the fact that this journey favors introspection. I’ve never been to the Kalahari, true, but I can’t imagine the breathtaking scenery would prove much of a distraction. Utilizing workmanlike prose, Deutschle discusses bike issues, water issues, wearing-the-same-set-of-clothes-every-day issues, fear-of-being-killed-by-black-mambas-and-lions issues, and a whole slew of issues that makes you feel sweaty, exhausted, and in need of a good long shower. But at thirty-six years old? I just couldn’t escape from the fact that Deutschle’s been doing this kind of thing for a long, long time. I’m certainly no slouch when it comes to traveling, but this guy kicks my ass. But this is where introspection helps bring the memoir to a wonderful close.
     During his journey, Deutschle provides reminiscences of his travels, of teaching English in Botswana, and of a confrontation with an envious school headmaster. The most engaging story though, is of his blossoming relationship with a Botswanan woman. As his involvement with Kopano deepens, Deutschle reflects that he has never liked being tied to one place. But he also acknowledges that “by following my quest for newness, I was actually repeating myself, going through the same grand experiences in one country after another.”
     A few days before reaching Mapoka again, Deutschle confesses that Kopano is pregnant and that he is about to become a father. He reflects back on his adventure and concludes that although he has come full circle on his bike, he has in fact, moved ahead in life. He looks forward to his new role, despite some initial hesitation, and despite the many years he has enjoyed traveling on his own. As Deutschle rides into Mapoka, Kopano steps forward. It is the first time they have seen each other in over three months.
     “You went well?” she asks him.
     “Ee. Nda yenda zubuyanana,” he replies. I went well.
     Endings don’t get more beautiful than this.
Joe Kovacs is currently working on his first novel, The Bronx Buddha.
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