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.
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.