By Lois Pryce
St. Martin's. 294 pp. $23.95.
nolead ends nolead begins
Reviewed by Jen A. Miller
Lois Pryce didn't have a bad life. She just had a boring one. Her job at the BBC was beyond tedious, her workspace was dubbed the "Pigpen," and her administrative superior made
's Michael Scott look like a shoo-in for boss of the year.
So she did what many of us dream of doing while staring at our cubicle walls - she quit. But she didn't try to find a new job, or run off to an island where every drink comes with a paper umbrella, or try to write a novel, or loaf around her apartment. Instead, she flew to Alaska and motorcycled from there to Argentina on an old, beat-up and, at times, barely breathing Yamaha XT225 Serow.
Pryce recounts that 20,000-mile, 10-month trek in Lois on the Loose. The book is like her journey: light and loose, with dash of danger. Even if the story is sometimes weighed down by the monotony of a transcontinental trip - how many times can we read about the joys of the open road? Or foreign-food-related illness? - what makes the book a joy is Pryce's adventures along the way, such her negotiations with "fixers" (men who take bribes to help you through customs) and a wild night at Norton Rat's Tavern, a motorcycle bar in Peru.
In one very colorful passage, she flips off a cadre of screeching Guatemalan women who try to bilk her because she bumped into their car's driver-side mirror. It's not that Pryce is a mean woman, or a rude traveler. But when a woman has the guts to ride mostly solo through South America, she knows how to stand up for herself, and her flashes of temper in the name of self-preservation are laugh-out-loud funny.
She picks up companions along the way, and the results are mixed. Rachel, who turns out to be Pryce's biking soul mate, read about the trip on Pryce's blog and joined in, and their shared companionship thankfully breaks up the "lone traveler" narrative. But it's Pryce's time with Amelia, an acquaintance from home who meets up with Pryce in Peru, that, like the incident with the Guatemalan women, is priceless. It's open season for snark. Amelia shows up "looking immaculate in a coordinated outfit, hair accessories and makeup," and their time together goes downhill from there. Amelia's bike is brand-new, overpacked and under-geared, and her expectations for her trip are more along the lines of those drinks-with-paper-umbrellas than the dirt, grime, roadblocks, red tape, waiting, bad food, stomach ailments and catcalling that makes up most of Pryce's trip.
After a gaggle of schoolchildren stop to stare, point, and ask questions of the two ladies on motorcycles, Amelia utters this lovely story: "When I was at art college . . . I made this sculpture of an enormous fat woman covered in insects and children, crawling all over her, eating her flesh. It was a statement about how motherhood is like having a load of parasites feeding off you." Nice lady. She didn't last much longer.
That didn't stop Pryce, though. It's not giving too much away to say that she got back to England in one piece. "Adventure is just a personal thing, I decided," writes Pryce. "It means whatever you want it to. To me it just means having a go at something that might be exciting or difficult, just to see if I can." Lois on the Loose might not have you hopping on the first flight to Alaska, but it's worth picking up if only for the vicarious thrill of reading about Pryce's personal adventure.
Proof that she thought the trip was worth it? After going back to England and getting married, she took a Yamaha TTR250 from Tangiers to the Cape of Good Hope. Sure beats the boss at the BBC.