The Scooter Diaries

An adventure romance through Latin America

In 1959, Ron Bowman 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, nobody had ever attempted such a journey, but he was going to try.

Three weeks before the trip, he met a beautiful young woman named Tove Pedersen on a blind date. It was love at first sight and they began to see each other almost every day. As his trip approached, he began to have serious misgivings about leaving on what could be a year-long adventure. Plans were too far in motion to cancel, though. He had already quit his job, his family and friends had thrown a going away party for him and a buddy had asked to accompany him as far as Mexico. So on the bitterly cold morning of November 3rd, he began his journey.

It didn’t take long to realize that he had made a horrible mistake. He was on the adventure of a lifetime but all he could think of was how he had just left the woman of his dreams behind. He wrote her postcards and letters, each one more heartfelt than the last, until finally after two weeks, 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 reply was waiting for him at the American Express office 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 her letter.

The answer was yes. It was going to be a scooter honeymoon.

My brothers and I grew up listening to tales of our parents’ epic adventure. Driving hundreds of miles through volcanic dust. Encounters with banditos. Almost getting shot by a border guard in the dead of night. A standoff with an angry bull amid a herd of bulls. Losing their scooter for ten days. Nearly plummeting off a cliff when the frame suddenly fractured, due to the angry pounding of thousands of miles of dirt roads, leaving them unable to steer. I remember telling my Dad often that he should write all these stories down. He would always just smile and say, “Someday.”

On November 3, 2004, 45 years to the very day that he began his scooter journey, my Dad passed away. At his wake, we were telling the stories of the famous scooter adventure, lamenting that they were never written down, when my Mom placed a large envelope in my hands. Its contents revealed a typewritten manuscript, yellowed with age, chronicling their journey. My father had apparently written it shortly after the trip and then put it away in a closet.

For me, it was like finding a buried treasure that I had never even known existed. In the days that followed, I eagerly read it and soon typed it into my laptop. I had dreams of finishing my father’s story and perhaps turning it into a book, a fitting tribute to both my parents. I soon realized, though, that what I had was a first draft. It needed a lot of work. It wasn’t just the usual editing required of any draft — a lot of details were missing from some of the stories, while other stories were missing altogether. Had my father still been alive, I would have loved to help him get it into shape. But how could I change his words now after he was gone, especially since the book was told in the first person? I really struggled with this, so much that I put the manuscript aside myself for years.

Finally, several years ago, I made a decision. I simply could not leave this manuscript in its unfinished state. I needed to finish this story for my Dad. I needed to tell the world his story. And the only way to do it properly was to keep it in the first person, telling the stories as if I were him, exactly as I remember him telling the stories to me as a child.

I spent years editing my father’s draft, adding extra details and missing stories and bringing it to life while keeping it as true to his vision and writing style as I could. I scanned in and restored hundreds of 35mm color slides, wonderful snapshots of a bygone era. I even managed to track down some people my parents met during their adventure, or in some cases their children, sometimes discovering previously unknown photographs in the process. I learned how to use professional layout software and after a lot of hard work, I finally completed my father’s work — a beautiful color book chronicling my parents’ adventure romance through Latin America in 1959–1960, on a little scooter that had never been intended for such a crazy undertaking.

This book just begged to be called The Scooter Diaries.

Now came the really hard part, actually publishing the book. Anyone who’s tried will tell you it isn’t easy. It can take years of rejection letters and you might never succeed. After a few attempts, I quickly decided to go another path. I already had a book, which I thought was well edited and well laid out. All I needed was the money to print it, and Kickstarter had just launched in Canada. The timing was perfect and before long the Kickstarter campaign to crowd fund the book’s printing was launched.

So began my crazy 30-day campaign to convince the world that my book was worth their time and their pledge. Creating Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest identities for The Scooter Diaries. Contacting every scooter, motorcycle, or adventure travel club, magazine and blog that I could find. Contacting influential bloggers, journalists, newspapers, radio stations, and television stations. I’ve made new friends all over the world, been invited to scooter rallies and motorcycle rallies (I ride a motorcycle myself), been invited to book signing parties, and received well wishes from a lot of people who are genuinely excited about this book and can’t wait to get it in their hands.

It’s been a hard-fought battle. With one week left in the campaign and only 38% funded so far, I honestly don’t know how this will end. I only know that I have given it my all and whatever happens, I will get this book published somehow or other.

This is a story that I think the world should know about. Nowadays, long distance adventure travel by motorcycle is still courageous, but tales of it have become more common. But back in 1959, it was almost unheard of — and certainly not on a 150cc scooter on dirt roads when the Pan American Highway wasn’t even fully built. It was utter madness, yet they didn’t think anything of it. They were just two crazy Canadians in love having the greatest adventure of their lives.

UPDATE: On October 20, 2013, after a wild final nail-biting weekend, the Kickstarter campaign completed a miraculous comeback with just minutes to spare to successfully reach its funding goal! It was an incredible and humbling experience to have so many people all over the world helping me to spread the word and make this book possible. My parents’ story, The Scooter Diaries, was printed in a beautiful colour book and has been read by many scooter and adventure enthusiasts everywhere. You can learn more about the book, as well as viewing pictures and videos, at www.thescooterdiaries.com.