We chat to adventure motorcyclist Lois Pryce about her 'Revolutionary Ride' across Iran
She's travelled the world, conquering Africa, the Americas and innumerous countries in between on everything from a Yamaha trail bike to a classic sidecar unit.
But it was Lois Pryce's most recent journey that proved the real eye-opener to her.
In 2013 she embarked on a 3,000-mile ride through Iran, after a stranger left a note on her motorcycle inviting her to see the other side of the troubled country, a side rarely reported on by the media.
Her account of the trip, and her third book, Revolutionary Ride, was published last week, and AOL Cars managed to catch up with Lois for a chat, among her busy schedule.
AOL Cars: Congratulations on your latest book, Lois! How do you feel?
Lois Pryce: I'm really excited. It's been a long project. Three years ago I was actually in Iran for the first time and I've spent a lot of time working on the book and getting it right, so it's very gratifying to see it launched at last.
AOL: And the launch has come at a busy time for you?
Lois: Yes, next week I will be at the Adventure Travel Show, teaching motorcycling seminars and hosting the Adventure Travel Film Festival, which my husband, Austin Vince, and I set up a few years ago. We hold the show in England and Australia every year and it's great fun.
AOL: Awesome! So obviously you've done a lot of motorcycle touring, but what made you want to go to Iran?
Lois: The trip was inspired by a guy who left a note on my bike, which encouraged me to go and visit Iran because it had such bad press.
I was quite nervous about going, because even though I've travelled a lot and I know that what's on the news isn't necessarily what you get in real life, some of it does get into your head without you realising. But when I arrived it was completely the opposite of what I was worried about and it was just the most incredibly friendly, welcoming country I've ever known.
I couldn't walk down the street without people offering to take me in and give me a cup of tea. They were just really fun and intelligent and interested people who wanted to connect with the world.
AOL: What was the reception towards the motorcycling aspect of your trip?
Lois: Being on the bike was quite interesting because women in Iran aren't allowed to ride motorcycles, so I was a bit of a novelty.
It was good in a way because it made me stand out a lot. If I was feeling a bit quiet or shy then it wasn't very good because you can't go anywhere without having someone talk to you or look at you. I mean, people would just be driving past me on the road filming me because they were so amazed to see a foreign bike and then when they realised it was a woman riding it even more so.
It's always a talking point, people want to come up and chat to you if you're on a bike. If you travel in a car or public transport it doesn't really have the same effect. You have to be prepared to be stared at a lot, but you get to talk to a lot of people, which for me is the reason for going anywhere.
AOL: So you spent a month in Iran in total?
Lois: You could only get a month's visa at a time, so I went for a month and then I realised very quickly that I really wanted to go back because there just wasn't enough time to do everything.
So I left my bike there over the winter and went back the following spring and did another month out there.
AOL: How did you find getting a visa?
Lois: Getting a visa was really difficult. I'm very fortunate in that it's actually impossible now since they changed the rules in 2014 and British people can't get visas unless they have a proper guide or they're part of a tour. So, no British passport-holder can travel independently in Iran now.
But luckily, in 2013 and even when I went in 2014, I was able to get a visa to travel independently. But it was tricky – they wouldn't let me in because I had the motorbike to start with, they'd only let me have the visa if I went on public transport. So I had to lie and put my bike on the train to sneak it into the country.
AOL: How did you manage that?
Lois: I was given the visa provided I didn't travel on my own transport and only used public transport. I don't know why, it may have been because women aren't allowed to ride motorbikes in Iran or it might have been because they like to monitor movement of foreigners.
They didn't give reasons, but the person who got my visa for me said 'don't worry about it, just go for it, just put your bike on the train'.
So, I put my bike on the train in Turkey and went over the border and then when I got to Iran, I took the bike off the train and they checked it all out, processed the paperwork and didn't question it. So, I just rode off.
AOL: You mentioned you were worried before the trip. What was your biggest concern?
Lois: I didn't really have any sorts of worries about what the ride would be like because I know what it's like to be on my own on a bike and how to get things fixed.
I think it was a different set of worries for this trip than my previous rides because it was the reputation that Iran has as being a very strict Islamic country. I expected to be confronted by a lot of ideological issues that I hadn't encountered in South America or even in Africa.
I've travelled in other Muslim countries in North Africa, but Iran has this intimidating reputation and I was expecting to maybe be disapproved of, because obviously I'm a British woman on a motorcycle.
But that's the government and the government is completely different to the people, and the people of Iran stick together.
AOL: How did the people of Iran react to you?
Lois: They were so delighted to see me, it was amazing. Drivers would be running me off the road and I'd be thinking are they angry, but they'd just be trying to stop me to give me food and water. It made me rethink everything that I believed about that part of the world and also the way that we are fed information. It really is a classic case of seeing the reality. There's only one way to find out and that is to get out there yourself.
AOL: With these new travel restrictions, you're one of very few Britons to have ridden through Iran recently?
Lois: Certainly in the last three years, yes. It used to be a very popular destination in the hippie trail days in the 70s, and in the 80s overlanders used to go there a lot. Up until a few years ago it was quite common for people to go through Iran on the Mongol Rally.
But I'm probably one of the last British people to have gone through because they changed the rules when I was there in 2014. I got the news about it while I was in Tehran. I thought they were going to throw me out!
People do want to ride Iran, though. I get emails every week from people saying they want to go to Iran, but unfortunately they can't.
AOL: What was your inspiration for writing Revolutionary Ride?
Lois: After my first two books I didn't really have a burning desire to write anything else until I went to Iran. When I was there I realised it was the most interesting place I've ever been in my life and the stories of the people and their lives under that regime was just fascinating. I couldn't get enough of it and I suddenly felt the urge to write a book about it.
I realised there probably aren't any books of this nature about Iran. There are a lot of books about Iran and the political situation, but they're quite highbrow, quite academic books. But there were no books on what it's like to go out there and what real life is like in Iran for normal Iranians, so I was inspired to write that kind of book really and try and tell the world what Iran is really like.
AOL: Thanks for your time, Lois. And best of luck for the show this weekend!
Lois: You're welcome. I'm looking forward to it!
You can see Lois in action at this weekend's Adventure Travel Show, held at London Olympia. For more information visit www.adventuretravelfilmfestival.com.