With close to three months of isolation and aeons of hopelessness about future travel, those of us with the explorer's gene inside us have been ardently hoping for newer avenues to emerge #PostLockDown. Solo motorcycling and biking could be an effective way to travel in the coming era — Che Guevara did it, so did TE, Lawrence of Arabia, and Hunter Thompson. It not only helps travel in isolation but provides a much more immersive experience for travellers.
We spoke with Lois Pryce, British adventurer, travel writer and founder of the Adventure Travel Film Festival. Pryce, who has motorcycled from Alaska to Argentina, through the Sahara and Congo and Angola in Africa, and journeyed from Britain to Iran twice, is still recovering from COVID-19.
1. A solo woman biking to Iran all the way from Britain... how do you hope to go back to being the intrepid explorer of earlier — after the state the coronavirus has left the world in, and after getting infected yourself?
There is nothing to do but be patient. The world will still be out there when I have recovered, and when this pandemic is over. Meanwhile, many of the things I enjoy about travelling are available to me in my home country of Britain — being outdoors, communing with nature, exploring places I haven't been before. This is an opportunity to take notice of the detail and appreciate the small things around us.
2. Your travels to the furthest corners of the world have been raw, rustic, and adventurous... or at least so by appearance. Is there an aesthetic of travel that needs us all to be fearless of the unknown and uncharted like in the old world... or, 'vulnerable travel', as you like to call it?
I prefer to travel without tech gadgets so I use paper maps rather than a SatNav/GPS and never take a laptop or tablet on the road. I did take a smartphone to Iran with me for the camera — but I couldn't use it as a phone or to connect to the internet anyway, due to Iran's restrictions. I like travelling in a lo-fi way because it forces you to connect with people and places more — for example, if you get lost you have to ask someone the way, and that can lead to unexpected encounters and experiences. To me, there is no appeal in booking a hotel on your phone then following a GPS route to that hotel. That all seems too predictable and unexciting! I like being ready for plans to change and for unexpected turns of events...
3. What does the motorcycle mean to you? In our context, we see an increasing number of men who fashion themselves as lumberjacks getting Royal Enfields and riding up to Leh and the northeast. How does the motorcycle become an instrument of access for women travellers?
The motorcycle is the most autonomous and independent form of transport. Small and light enough to explore almost anywhere and fast enough to get away from a situation if you need to. For women, especially, it is a truly liberating mode of transport — you do whatever the hell you like!
4. What are the routes you would like to explore if you ever make up your mind to come to India?
I have actually been to India twice — but not a motorcycle trip, although I did I hire an Enfield in Goa for a while which was great fun! As well as Goa, I have also visited Mumbai, Bangalore, and Mysore and travelled around Karnataka. I loved my travels in India and would like to visit Kerala in the future.
5. With its size and routes — not to forget a willing demographic, India has more potential for motorcycling than is being done at the moment. In the post-COVID era, how important do you think will solo trips, as opposed to public transport travel, fare? Travel undertaken via one's own vehicle incurs higher costs, too…
For British riders, India has always been a popular destination — travelling overland from the UK on what used to be called the Hippie Trail — through Europe, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan etc. Obviously this is not so easy now but I think people will always be drawn towards India. Now there are increasing numbers of rental companies and tours in the Himalayas that are proving very popular, and of course it's easier than bringing your own bike from Europe — although not as much as an adventure! Motorcycle travel is growing in popularity all over the world so I envisage riding in India to be part of the boom. And with the fears surrounding the novel coronavirus, overland travel, especially solo might be more appealing to people than travelling on crowded buses and trains.
Read: The Art of Riding
6. What are you working on next?
I am currently writing another book, but not a travel book this time. It is a novel set in 1950s Iran. As for future travels, it is hard to make any plans now but I would like to return to Iran and also visit Japan. It will happen one day!