Book review: A journey across the vast Southwest on a motorcycle

By Al Vinikour

(November 27, 2011) Truth-be-told I seldom read a book written in first-person. This is especially true when it’s a mystery novel. What’s the mystery? The narrator is obviously alive so it’s not HIM that’s going to get killed. But, I digress. The obvious exceptions to my non-first-person tomes would be autobiographies and narratives. The latter has been achieved in spades through a personal adventure by Tim Watson, former head of communications for Jaguar Cars North America and a 28-year veteran of the automotive industry.

He has written a narrative of a trek he made across the western portion of the United States to see the country as it really is — not Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Denver, etc., that he was more than familiar with at his previous life. And did I mention that he did his two journeys totaling over 8,000 miles on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle?

There’s a further portion of this equation. He did this odyssey with “Mrs. Watson,” his wife of four weeks, Anne (and still his wife, even after all of this). She turned out to be the better motorcycle rider (admitted by Watson) and accompanied her new husband as his official photographer.

The couple resides in Southern California’s Orange County and both had worked within the public relations field of major automobile manufacturers. In Anne’s case she didn’t have a choice; it was the family business. Her father, John Clinard, retired from the West Coast Public Affairs office of Ford Motor Company after a long and illustrious career.

One further item I forgot to mention is that Tim Watson is a transplanted Brit, with an understandable but heavy accent. He has this earnest face that belies a “sick mind” and adds a refreshing twist to experiences and thoughts he had on his drives.

Speaking of his drives, he and Anne started out from Orange County and when they were done with their first trip through the southern region of the West (going as far East as Silver City, New Mexico, Watson single-handedly decreased the insect population by fully a tenth. It’s like the old adage that you can always find a happy motorcyclist by counting the bugs in his teeth. Watson was at least astute enough to have a windscreen installed on his Harley and he wore a visor-equipped crash helmet.

What makes Watson’s narrative so endearing is that he analyzes his adventures through the eyes of an alien (pardon the pun) to this country and has the endearing “little boy awe” of all he sees — particularly in a land so immense it almost defies reality. He periodically reminds the reader that he was born and raised on an island that would fit nicely into some of the single states of the U.S.

As the average citizen flies over the areas Watson rode at ground level they seem to forget — or take for granted — how massive the United States is. The so-called “Fly-over country” was the fodder for Watson’s book and it should serve as a primer to all our citizens that for all the panache of touring Europe’s and Asia’s capitals there’s a lot more to see in their own country and they won’t be bumping into hundreds of thousands of tourists to do so.

(On a personal note as part of the high-number of driving programs I attend for my “day job” as an automotive journalist I have traveled many of these same roads…but the difference is I was doing it from the air-conditioned comfort of a new vehicle whereas Watson was at “Ground Zero,” sharing the terrain with four — and sometimes 100-legged inhabitants.)

Upon returning to the crowded climes of Orange County, Watson planned out the second part of his journey that would take him on the northern route through Wyoming, Oregon, Idaho, etc.

Reading Watson’s first-hand opinions of seeing rarely-researched sections of the United States are reminiscent of the old Lowell Thomas travelogues that were shown at the movies a lifetime ago. His native curiosity of all things American were satisfied on a daily basis as he discovered new locations and conversed with what President Nixon used to refer to as the “great unwashed,” a description Watson often uses to refer to himself after being on the back of a motorcycle for thousands of miles.

He doesn’t mince words about the inherent dangers of riding a motorcycle – especially for a relative novice like himself. Furthermore, he has written a great primer that the Department of Motor Vehicles might want to adopt about safe distances between four-wheeled vehicles and two-wheeled motorcycles.

To say that There & Back Again To See How Far It Is (the description of where this phrase comes from is identified early on in the book) is a fun read is to say that Mt. Everest is a big-assed hill. It’s evident there’s a lot more country in North America that Watson hasn’t explored, which tells me there’s a lot more books of this type waiting for him to write. I’m ready!

There & Back Again To See How Far It Is, authored by Tim Watson and published by Haynes Publishing, is available at most book stores and through for $29.95. For more information go to the publisher’s website at