Austin Vince at the Georgetown Stables…

I watched Mondo Enduro a couple of years ago and was of course immediately won over by that ragtag group of men who rode their motorcycles around the world back in 1995. So when I heard that both Lois Pryce and Austin Vince were going to speak at two separate locations in Seattle in the space of a week, I had the distinct sensation that Christmas had arrived early.

Austin’s talk was on a weekday, making that a slightly more difficult commitment, but I ended up going after all with Kris, my rider in crime. The talk was held at the Georgetown Stables, a little south of Seattle. I arrived there about 15 minutes before the talk began, thinking I’d just buy tickets at the venue. Kris informed me that they had a waitlist because the turnout was so huge. Who would have known? I guess Vince has quite a following in Seattle. We put our names on it and waited around until we got in.

The venue was tiny and crammed full, so we squeezed into some seats against the wall to the left of the podium area, which had a projector screen set up and the man himself in his trademark red jumpsuit.

Now it had been a while since I saw the movie and I had no recollection of him or what kind of a person he was. All I knew was that he was Lois Pryce’ husband and I secretly hoped that it wouldn’t be a stodgy, dull talk. I needn’t have worried though, because for the next three hours, I proceeded to laugh my head off. Austin’s talk was replete with witty stories interspersed with hilarious imagery and jokes that had me splitting my sides. It wasn’t a traditional slideshow with chronological images of a ride with commentary on the side. That would have been a bit dull seeing that I had already seen the movie. Instead he focused on the kinds of bikes they rode, the gear they carried, chance encounters on the road.

To my surprise and astonishment , and well… delight, his narrative was peppered with snarky references to what “adventure riding” has turned into today –  buying a big, expensive motorcycle – preferably a GS or KTM Adventure, outfitting it with expensive Touratech accessories, and then riding forever on tarmac and rarely going on dirt. Okay, he said it a lot more crudely than I’ve put it, and I wonder how much of the audience cringed inwardly at those remarks. He flat out said that if your riding has been only within North America and West Europe, you shouldn’t dare to call yourself an adventure rider.

He especially seemed to have a big bone to pick with Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman about Long Way Round. I could understand where he was coming from. Him and his Mondo Enduro friends  and riders like Lois Pryce and Ted Simon – have proved that it is possible to travel the world on cheap bikes, minimal gear and nothing more than your wits and an open mind. While I loved Long Way Round for a number of things, the things that bothered me about it were the same things that Vince vehemently spoke out against the fact that they had ridiculously expensive, heavily overloaded bikes, a ton of gear they didn’t need, a team of people who managed all the trip logistics for them, a support crew, and an obvious attitude of suspicion and at times mockery of the foods and customs of the people they encountered during their journey. While the movie was inspiring to quite a few of us, it also seemed to have given the idea that you needed to have a lot of money and privilege to be able to go have an adventure. It is saddening that people like Lois and Vince do not get recognition and acclaim for their remarkable achievements outside of the niche of motorcyclists who recognize their names.

During the intermission, I bought a copy of the book Mondo Enduro and got it signed by Vince and got my picture taken with him.

He spent most of the rest of his talk speaking about the Zilov Gap in Siberia – the Russian equivalent of the Darien Gap in South America. This was a 400 mile section of road between Khabarovsk and Chita that they had attempted to ride and given up on, finally hopping the train, only to discover that the rest of the train journey paralleled a neat little dirt track which they could have been on, if only they had known. During Terra Circa, they made it their mission to find that road and ride the entire length of the gap without taking recourse to the train. He ended that story with a photograph of a dirt road leading to a river, with a bridge above it. He said that he had one thing in common with Ewan McGregor in that they had both been at that exact same location, except that he had ridden all the way to the end, and Ewan and Charlie had taken the train on that bridge.

From here, the talk went on to going towards North America and LA. By now it was well after 10PM though, and Kris and I decided to leave because we had to be up early the next day to get to work. I wish I could have stayed for the whole thing, especially the Q&A. Maybe next time. Although judging by how acutely uncomfortable he must have made Touratech his sponsors with his incessant lampooning of their products, I’d be surprised if he ever got a return invitation. ;)

In conclusion, I’m glad I attended the talk. Austin Vince is a funny, funny man who you wish was in your close knit circle of buddies because you know there would never be a dull moment with him around. I cannot wait to watch Terra Circa and read the Mondo Enduro book.

An evening with Lois Pryce

Two Saturdays ago, Shubbu, Mark and I drove down to Southsound BMW in Fife to go see Lois Pryce talk. The one and only Lois Pryce who rode her motorcycle across the Americas alone! I was super stoked and excited about it, but I managed to curb my enthusiasm enough to get us there in one piece. On the way, Shubbu couldn’t stop talking about how guilty she felt about not riding to the show. Me, not so much. It’s about 30 minutes on I-5 to get to Tacoma and I wasn’t particularly interested in riding the XT on a bunch of boring freeway miles going 65 on roads where the speed limit was 70.

I had brought with me my hardbound copy of her first book Lois on the Loose – the one that had started it all, where she rode solo from Anchorage, Alaska to Tierra Del Fuego down south in Argentina, an epic journey covering 20000 miles in 8 months on a Yamaha XT225 (no co-incidence that this was the dual sport bike I eventually bought as well). I planned on getting her second book at the talk if they were selling it, and get them both signed by her.

We arrived there about twenty minutes before the talk started, giving us enough time to purchase tickets and get food. Kudos to SouthSound for having really good food available! I’d never been to this dealership before. It was huge – almost three times the size of the BMW dealership in Seattle. In the center, there was now a projector screen with a graphic of Lois astride a bike. The seats looked like they were filling up quickly.

Lois, an unmistakable redhead – was actually sitting in one of the seats in the audience signing books. I went and stood next to her for a little bit, quite possibly with a dazed expression on my face. Then I snapped out of it when my friends went to go look for seats to actually sit down in. We found some seats and I bought a copy of her new book Red Tape and White Knuckles which recounted her solo ride through Africa.

Armed with both books, I went over to her and waiting for a couple more people to get their books signed before finally sitting down next to her and handing over my books. She asked me whether I had any big rides planned, and I told her that I was trying to decide between South America and Australia next. I told her that my friend Sarah and I had wanted to contribute to her video Ladies on the Loose, recounting female adventure riders in the world, but we hadn’t because we didn’t have any HD quality footage. She was strongly encouraging of the fact that us women riders must film ourselves more, because  “When you look at what’s out there, it’s all blokes! Fair enough. I pondered out loud that this would be a toughie because it was all I could do to stop riding long enough to take pictures, never mind video. She empathized “I know, you just want to keep riding, not stop!” But maybe this is something I need to think about for future rides. She’s right in that I see a lot of men filming clips of their rides. It’s just not a medium that I’m particularly fond of due to my ultra-short attention span, but the videos do serve to make you more visible, and that’s something that most of us women bikers could use a lot more of. I asked her what her next big ride would be, and she mentioned a possible upcoming trip through Iran, Pakistan and India. How cool! Shubbu and I told her that she had to take us with her when she went. I mean, she’d need guides who spoke the language, right? ;)

We chatted in that vein for a little bit more before I reluctantly got up and let other people have their turn.

At around 7PM, they made an announcement asking for people to take their seats because the talk would be starting shortly. I wished there was some sort of podium that she could have stood on because I had a difficult time seeing her from the middle row seats we had. I was a little surprised to see that her slideshow was about her first book, and not the second. I had assumed that she was on a book tour of the latest book. Since I’ve read the Lois on the Loose a couple of times, I was quite familiar with the story she recounted. The pictures were new though, and her narration was peppered with lots of little jokes that had me laughing.

I remember at one point when she was talking about how people were horrified that she picked a small 225cc bike for her journey, and she responded with yes, it’s pretty slow but it was totally fine for a cross-continent journey. Shubbu whispered to me – “You didn’t even want to ride it to Tacoma. I choked back my laughter at that.

After the talk, there was Q&A where a bunch of people asked a bunch of daft questions, as is the nature of these things. One of them was – “You’re married to Austin Vince, right? Isn’t he too old for you?” (echoing my thoughts somewhat, I have to confess). She replied that they had 8 years between them but that he was a fantastic guy and they had a blast together.

I asked how many miles on average she rode during that trip and what her top speed was. Apparently she rode about 200 miles per day at a top speed of about 60mph. From my experience with the XT, this sounded about right, even downright excessive on dirt roads, but of course she’s a far better rider than I am.

Overall it was a great evening. Even though I had read the book, it was quite something to hear a firsthand account of her experiences and meet the woman herself. I loved how down-to-earth and charming she was. And yet, behind all the jokes and stories, there was no hiding the fact that she is also tough as nails. You’ve got to be, to have done the things she did and lived the life she leads.

If ever I needed encouragement for my next big ride, here it was! Now excuse me while I go recharge the battery of my XT, replace the starter cable, fill up gas and break this three month hiatus to go ride! :P

Bonehead Enduro 2009



Puget Sound Safety Adventure Camp

Someone mentioned that I was on the Puget Sound Safety Adventure Camp webpage and sure enough I am. Makes me feel all mushy looking at the photos and seeing the guys I hung out with there. I’m still in touch with a couple of them. :)

Wish I had taken the class on the snowy day though. O.O That looks like quite something.