I read Lois on the Loose a couple of months back so I put Red Tape and White Knuckles on Kindle for a read over the Christmas holidays. Lois’s ride through the Americas was a great read, so Red Tape had a lot to live up to.
If you enjoy well edited, lean writing that is almost pathological in its honesty you’ll love Lois’s writing style. She holds nothing back as she describes her long and arduous route from England to Cape Town. Her vulnerability riding a motorbike colours the entire trip, making this very much a motorcycle focused read.
Now that I’ve read both books I often find myself wondering how the people she ends up travelling with find her depictions of them. She is relentless in her assessment of how people deal with the challenges of adventure travel, and it isn’t always (usually?) flattering.
Lois is equally honest with her own fears and abilities while navigating Africa’s byzantine politics and sometime apocalyptic landscape. Her doubts creep in throughout this difficult ride, but she also explains how she recovers which is a wonderful insight into resiliency.
You’d think that the physical aspects of trying to cross Africa on a motorcycle would be what slows her down, but just when you think that the Sahara Desert will be the ultimate challenge you’re scared to death of what will happen next in the Congo. People are, by far, the most dangerous thing Lois encounters, though they are also often the saving grace.
Like Lois on the Loose before it, Red Tape & White Knuckles has some can’t-put-it-down moments (especially awkward when you’re supposed to be getting off a plane). And like her previous trip this one leaves you feeling like you’ve been on an epic journey where the beginning feels like a distant memory as you finish. Like the best journeys, this one feels like it changes you.
|It’s better if it’s a tiger…|
Toward the end of the novel Lois has an interesting talk with her husband Austin. Lois’s atheism comes up a number of times during her trip through religion soaked Africa, and her discussion at the end about Austin (also an atheist) praying for her safety was enlightening. It got me thinking about what being an atheist means.
I’d also describe myself as an atheist, but that doesn’t mean I’m lacking in imagination or meaning in my life. If Life of Pi teaches you anything, it’s that you shouldn’t miss the better story or the resiliency offered by an empowered emotional approach to challenging circumstances.
Lois contrasts the dead eyes and mercantile nature of the Congolese with the gentle kindness she finds elsewhere. There is such a thing as being too much of a realist, of allowing the world around you to dictate your reaction to it. We’re powerful creatures able to create our own responses to the circumstances we find ourselves in.
On our recent trip south I found myself putting on my lucky socks before I loaded up my son and all our gear to go for a ride in the Superstition Mountains (I know, right?). Do I really believe these socks are lucky? No, not if I dwell on it, but I like these socks, they make me feel like I’ve got my best kit on, they put my mind at ease, make me feel like I’m ready to do a difficult thing well. That confidence has real world value. Same with that lucky hockey stick, or my lovely motorcycle. Am I superstitious? No, I wouldn’t say I am because I spent most of my young adult life learning that things like fate or luck don’t exist, but I recognize the value of empowering myself with positive thinking.
If Austin found some peace in fraught times worrying about Lois in Africa then this isn’t a repudiation of atheism and reason, it’s an acceptance of the power of hope. These tentative forays into the psychology of adventure riding suggest an untapped opportunity. Lois’s honesty allows her unpack the complex psychology around dealing with fear, nurturing resiliency and developing an effective mental approach to the challenges of travelling off the beaten path. I get the sense that she shies away from this kind of philosophizing, but I hope she doesn’t in the future. If her purpose is to get more people out and about, this would aid in that.
Unfortunately this brings me to the end of Lois’s current works. Fortunately she’s working on another novel due out soon about her riding around Iran…