Fingers crossed, the next post I write will be a summary of the 1300 or so miles I logged between Banff and Jackson Hole on the ACA Great Parks and TransAm routes last month. It was a life changing trip in more than one way, and it’s going to be an exercise in futility to try to summarize and adequately express just how incredible an experience it was.
However, before I get to all of the good stuff… I couldn’t help but notice a recurring theme in many of my interactions and passing conversations on this trip, from cyclists and non-cyclists alike. These comments and questions nagged at me more than the mosquitos (which is saying a lot):
“Are you scared of being alone? Like, as a chick?”
“Do you carry a gun? How do you protect yourself?”
“You’re so brave.”
The last one I heard I think almost every day of the trip in some form or another. Usually said politely, as if attempting a compliment.
Maybe I’m way off base here, but I don’t think the guys I met along the way doing their own solo tours heard these or similar comments half as much as I did. Especially being called “brave”. So what exactly makes me brave? I wonder if I heard this comment so much because there aren’t as many female solo cyclists out there, or if our culture/society gives the impression that it’s not safe. Either way, I think these interactions stemmed from genuine curiosity, surprise, and/or admiration. It just strikes me that as a culture we treat solo female travel as something inherently dangerous or unusual when statistically speaking, women are more at risk in their own homes.
Obviously, there are risks to bike travel, and to traveling alone. I could have been mauled by a bear (yes, I carried bear spray). I could have been stalked, abducted, raped and killed (that’s the reality of women on any day and in any place). I could have been hit by a car, slid off a cliff, gotten trampled by a moose, or drowned in a lake. Aside from taking appropriate precautions to reasonably mitigate these and other risks, I wasn’t thinking about all the horrible things that could happen; I was having the time of my life, and the risks were 100% worth it. In a sense this is just being ‘pragmatic’, rather than ‘brave’. Every day that we spend on this earth holds inherent risks, and sometimes the risk itself is not taking it, but playing it safe. Since none of us are getting out of here alive, we owe it to ourselves to ask the really hard questions in order to make the most of what we have left. Are we going to risk staying in a job that doesn’t satisfy us, a relationship that isn’t working, or remaining in a town that is making us miserable? Taking a hard look at how we are spending our very finite amount of time here is, to me, the bravest thing we can do.
So I argue, if we want to encourage others in pursuing what makes them feel most alive and free, and build an environment that encourages more people to do so, we should avoid calling adventurous people “brave”. We should stop shouting out “BE SAFE!” as a farewell. We should trust that they are armed to the degree that they feel comfortable, and that they are wearing enough sunscreen. I promise you, we hear all these admonitions enough, and we will hear them plenty more times again. We don’t need more reminders of what a scary and hostile place the world can be; what we need is encouragement to go and discover the absolute magic the world has to offer. So give us a smile and a high five, tell us to “HAVE FUN”, and ask if we have everything we need. And then ask yourself the same, and go carpe that diem ✌️