Gearing up to see the world on a motorcycle

Gearing up to see the world on a motorcycle

Thunder claps and thick raindrops make their way through the dense tree cover, turning soil into mud. A while ago, there were tire tracks of a two-wheeled vehicle, but mud isn’t cooperative in preserving those. Unable to trace her path back, 24-year-old Londoner Lois Pryce is lost in this Angolan forest. Lightning strikes, and her eyes fall upon a warning sign she’d missed. Pryce realizes she is standing on a minefield.
She has a thought, “No one in the world knows where I am, and there’s no way to trace me.” She either camps on the spot until her supplies run out or makes a blind run for it. Leaving her bike and bags, she runs.
That day, her life and bike were saved by a local boy. Today, 18 years and six continents later, she says, “I’ve met all kinds of people — from Arabian generals to Mexican artists, writers to nomads.” She has navigated through countries which “are not looked favourably upon and are considered very dangerous for women,” including El Salvador, Colombia and Iran.
In 2013, Pryce was parked outside the Iranian embassy in her hometown when she found a note, “Have you been to Iran? We are not terrorists. We are a friendly country full of beautiful things, people, flowers, roses and nightingales.” It turned out to be true. She says, “Iran’s famous hospitality is a genuine phenomenon and coming from London, it was an unusual experience. I couldn’t walk down the street or ride without someone pulling alongside me and passing food out, or I could be at a signal, and the boy next to me would say, ‘Come to our house. My mother will feed you.’ ”

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Above: Tiffany Coates, left, Lois Pryce, right, and Steph Jeavons, main photo, like to tour the world on their motorcycles.

Tiffany Coates, a travel biker and writer, agrees with Pryce. “That’s exactly what people do in Pakistan and yet go to London, and they will think you are crazy. In Latin America, it is very similar. There is always that acknowledgement of another human being. In Pakistan, it was the friendliness and hospitality that won us over. Ethiopia also got to us. I’m a big fan of Bolivia, and I also really enjoyed Kyrgyzstan. I hadn’t even heard of it until I started planning the trip.”
Pryce says that, “fear can be a product of ignorance.” Coates agrees, “We all need to feel safe, and the perception of safe would be different for some than for others. Some people won’t feel safe unless they are sleeping inside a house or a building. For me, I feel just as safe in my tent — unless there are bears around.”
Bikers like Coates, who set out decades ago, are primarily self-taught in technical, safety and planning aspects. But today, there are resources to guide people. For example, during an adventure travellers virtual boot camp held in February 2021, sessions were held on topics such as Safety in the Wildest Places, International Overlanding Tips and Tricks and Solo Adventures.
There is virtually no country in the world without cellular and internet coverage, so with easy access to mobile networks, GPS and offline route tracking software, help is now usually a phone call away. Today, you probably wouldn’t end up stranded in the middle of the Gobi desert like Coates did in 2013.

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Above: Jeavons met a lot of new friends during her motorcycle travels.

She recalls her misadventure. “There are no roads there, and the soft sand makes it a challenge to drive the bike.” On that trip, she “cracked the Holy Grail” of riding the sand smoothly: by standing on the footpegs and leaning forward, the bike glides on the sand like “skis glide on powder snow.”
“So I’m just on my own, gliding and thinking this is great, and then I realize I have gotten lost.” Her original path was straight north to the desert town but now which side of the desert is north? All 360 degrees around her look the same. She has no fuel indicator on the motorbike, her speedometer cable has snapped, and the odometer isn’t working either. Using some rough calculations, the sun and her compass, Coates figures, “I have gone too far east and need to ride northwest at a diagonal angle to get back.”
Riding in that direction, she comes across a shepherd who verifies she is headed the right way. “It was a real vote of confidence for me that my instinct was correct.”


Above: Coates relaxes under the desert sun.

But the story isn’t over. Just then, her engine starts fluttering. Fuel is low. “Shortly after that, I see a skeleton of a cow, and I think, “Oh my God if I don’t get myself out of this situation, it’s going to be my skeleton out here.”
Hours later, she sees something glimmer in the far distance. To her relief, it turns out to be the main line of electricity pylons that run through the Gobi desert and the vehicle track that runs close to them. Just at this point, her bike gives up. She knows to preserve the last of the fuel in the reserve tank and she could make a fire to attract attention if stuck here. Dragging her bike, Thelma, to the closest pylon, she sets up her tent.
“I have supplies to last a couple of weeks, so I’m not worried about that.  I wait for 14 hours before anything comes to pass. It’s a rusty old bus crammed to the full. They’re even hanging off the windows and the steps. I run towards it and squeeze on the last step.” When the bus reaches town, she gets the fuel and then hails another crammed bus to take her back to her belongings. “I explain to the driver you have to stay close to the pylons for about 30km to find my belongings. He doesn’t believe me, but I say, “No, keep going,” and then we come over a bit of a hill and there, spread below us in this big desert plain, there is a motorcycle and a red tent. He looks at me with such surprise on his face. Speaking to him in Russian, I say, “Yeah, that’s my home.”

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Above: Lois Pryce's motorcycle took her to some remote areas of the world.

“There are no labels in the desert. It doesn’t matter if you are a man, bush or beast. You have to obey its rules of survival, otherwise, it will swallow you,” says Steph Jeavons, an adventure biker, writer and journalist. It’s an important rule to have a bike you can pick up, she says. As Coates recalls,  “if I had not been able to pick up Thelma, I might never have made it to safety.”  It takes physical and mental strength to scale such terrain, so stopping and taking a breather is vital.
Jeavons says, “For those who are used to staying on the move for months or years, going back to a standard routine life is a difficult process. When I first got back, I felt like a rockstar,” being applauded, invited to parties and for drinks in appreciation. I was fine until one morning, I woke up in tears.” She was thinking, “What am I doing? I’ve got no map in front of me anymore. There are all these rules that didn’t apply to me on the road.”
Although not yet, Jeavons does dream of eventually settling down in Canada, her birth country. She says, “It’s like Wales but on steroids. I want the best of both worlds. To have a traditional home with a farm and several dogs in it and maybe a three-legged donkey that I would have rescued from somewhere and still be able to go see the world. I’d love to build myself an off-grid place. Just a nice, rustic place that I can call my home, but I can also shut up and go off and do my adventures, wherever they may be.”

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Above: Coates, left, adjusts her gear at the Tajikistan-Uzbekistan border and dons local garb while travelling through Iran, right.



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