Encounter: Sam Manicom

“Confront your prejudices and you’ll see that’s exactly what they are.”

Sam Manicom is the archetypal adventurer, blessed with the good fortune that accompanies those who believe helping other people is the most important thing we can do with our lives.

Sam was born in the Belgian Congo (before it became Zaire and then the DRC), where his parents were teaching, and he spent his formative years in Central Africa, only returning to the UK when he was ten. But 1970s Britain was where he began questioning things, like racism. Until then most of his friends had been black, and the stories he was now hearing about black people just didn’t ring true. It was the beginning of what would become a desire to find everything out for himself, to challenge stereotype and to see the world first hand.

Before he ended up selling shoes in Jersey, he’d cycled, sailed and hitch-hiked much of the world, but then he met Libby. Libby was his first, and remains his only moto-love; a BMW R80GS.

With a total of three months riding experience on an island with a 40mph speed limit, Sam set off ‘Into Africa’. That became the title of his first book and the start of a 265,000 mile global relationship with Libby, even though it was only meant to be a year-long adventure. He just couldn’t stop exploring and although regularly ran completely and absolutely out of money, he would always find fruit to pick, or a construction site on which to labour.

That first motorcycle trip became eight years long, touched all the inhabited continents and led to him meeting Birgit; soulmate and fellow traveller with whom he spent four years on the road and now lives with in Exeter. Just as he accidentally kept travelling, so he accidentally became an author when occasional articles posted to UK bike magazines led to continued calls from readers for a book. And then another… and another, the trip finally spawning four titles, one of which has now become an audio-book, perfect for those who drive for a living or use an ipod on the daily commute.

Today Sam is a stalwart of the burgeoning Overland community. He gives presentations to inspire others to travel and still works to challenge myths that can be so very socially damaging. He is now co-organiser of the Horizons Unlimited or HUBB UK event, which this year will be in Donington Park at the end of May, and he’s an advisor to the Ted Simon Foundation, offering advice to travellers who would like to turn their own experiences into something that can be shared with the world.

“What I love about the Overland community is that it’s full of positive thinkers; people who realise how damaging and counter-productive whingeing and negativity can be. It’s always a joy to meet those with plans and aspirations and if I can help or inspire any of them to achieve their own dream, I couldn’t be happier.”

In the last few years he hasn’t done much travelling. The huge physical ordeal of kidney failure temporarily grounded him and it’s best you read his fourth book, ‘Tortillas to Totems’ to find out the background, but suffice to say as a community, we only have the pleasure of Sam’s continued company and enthusiasm because some people have chosen to register for organ donation.

Not everyone can commit Sam’s energy to, or is blessed with the desire to continually help others, but we can all register to donate our organs when we don’t need them anymore. As Sam says of life and of travel “My biggest lessons were attitude and priorities.” And who can argue with that?

Words by Paddy Tyson


This article was first published in Issue 5 of Overland magazine.