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.

9 comments to Austin Vince at the Georgetown Stables…

  • Kris R

    I love that photo more than 99% of the photos I’ve taken with my personal camera in the past year or so. Such a happy Rashmi!

  • redbaroness

    Awww… thanks, Kris! :) And thanks again for being my +1.

  • So, I attended his Portland talk, which was two days later, and he was still lampooning Touratech and BMW and such (which I enjoyed). But he did do one thing at the beginning which was to say that his talk was filthy and “adult content” and that he would pay anyone who might be offended by this $20 just so he didn’t have to hear about complaints later. Apparently there were a few emails and phone calls about his Puget Sound talk, and he really had no intention of filtering his talk so just was up-front about the crude jokes. No one budged, but I think the bible-thumping index in the Portland area is pretty damned low.

    I don’t think he appreciates a few things in his criticisms: (1) Ewan probably had a bunch of lawyers and insurance men breathing down his neck (to which the right response would have been: “produce it, don’t be the dork on the bike”), (2) oceans are still oceans, (3) the 500-600cc range of bikes are still reasonable and have long legs, even if I would pick a DR-350 or the like, and (4) US healthcare doesn’t respect the “long leave of absence”, typically.

    But it made me strongly consider a long trip this summer, depending on the job market (since I just quit with a bunch of savings). Or soon if I keep the money and get some more work done and plan more. I think I was more convinced by a guy I met on the road named Shigeru Sato who had a 600cc bike with all his stuff strapped to it doing a “reverse Terra Circa” on his own. But he barely spoke English. :)

  • redbaroness

    Hey Brian, he did the filthy content disclaimer thing at the beginning of the Seattle talk too. Where did you hear about people here complaining? I saw a complaint on the riders dl at work, which frankly surprised me a little. Maybe I’m the one with the gutter mind here – I didn’t find anything he said remotely offensive. :)

    I have a lot of thoughts about the Ewan and Charlie thing. Vince said that that they never went out of their comfort zone to do the hard bits, but I think that Ewan at least, did just that. He had never ridden dirt before and he still rode some tough roads and stuck through it. You could tell that he was miserable and hated every minute of it, but he didn’t quit. And if he was smart enough to forgo the Zilov Gap where he knew he would be in over his head, I don’t really judge him for that. As someone who has just started riding off-road and know first-hand how difficult it is when you’ve never done it before, I completely identified with Ewan McGregor and the route he chose. It doesn’t make him any less of an adventurer.

    About the lawyers and insurance people thing, well they *chose* to get sponsored bikes and creating a tv show on their ride. They could have just taken off on their own and done their own thing and not have to deal with that.

    About US Healthcare, I think you can just get a catastrophic insurance type thing, and hope for the best.

    Shigeru Sato looks cool from the few pictures I saw on that link!

    Where do you think your big trip will be?

    Also – did you stay until the end of the talk? How long was it? And what did he talk about after the Zilov Gap thing and coming to LA to hang out with the showgirls thing?

    I’m going to do a Mondo Enduro/Terra Circa movie night at my place sometime. If it’s on a weekend and you’re in town, you should come.

  • Whatever sniping Vince says, the LWR and LWD series have not harmed BMW GS sales!

    And Charley B’s “solo” career on TV was certainly given a leg up by Ewan (have you seen the “By Any Means” series?)

    I did go to a Charley Boorman presentation some years ago and 80% of the audience were his young female fan club.

    I also went to a Ted Simon “do” where the average age was 70!

  • redbaroness

    “I did go to a Charley Boorman presentation some years ago and 80% of the audience were his young female fan club.”
    This surprises me. I figured the lads were more of a fan than the ladies.

    I’d love to see Ted Simon speak some day!

    The average age of the Vince audience was about 60 as well. Kris and I were among the youngest people there.

  • redbaroness

    No US tour though.

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