The company of strangers
Trip Start Jul 12, 2013
16Trip End Oct 01, 2014
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Where are you heading?...."Vancouver - wow you've got a long way to go"
Where did you start?...."Toronto - no way, gee that's mad"
Who are you cycling with....? "YOU'RE ON YOUR OWN?!!" And I'm not exaggerating the capitals.
When asked why, my usual quip is that no one was stupid enough to come with me, but in reality, it was totally my choice. I like travelling alone and have done it often, but the amount of horror/fear that is injected in to that last response is surprising and somewhat disconcerting
A quick, very unscientific straw poll conducted amongst fellow male cyclists seems to indicate that the general reaction to men travelling alone is one of adventurousness whereas the idea of a woman going solo is a dangerous one.
It has caused me to reflect on the potential riskiness of what I'm doing, afterall, there have been (occasional) times in the past when common sense has not been my companion in various escapades. However, examining the main threats to me as a cyclist, these come from traffic, primarily and from wildlife, followed by dehydration and exposure, all equally applicable to the male traveller.
Robbery I suppose is a possibility, but I would have to pity the perpetrator who stole my panniers full of sweaty, smelly laundry and half eaten bread rolls.
My conclusion, such that it is, is that the fear stems from a personal perception of risk, rather than any tangible danger, undoubtedly also influenced by media reporting and individual outlook.
If I thought hard about all the things that could potentially go wrong, I probably wouldn't set foot outside the front door. My small hope is that, by being out there on my bicycle, alone, I can quietly dispel the myth that travelling solo is a more dangerous (and therefore unacceptable) pursuit for women
I can also say that throughout the trip I have rarely felt truely alone. I have no problem with spending hours in my own company, a usual day will consist of 8-10 hours on the road, during which time I watch the world go by. I don't listen to music as I ride, and I honestly couldn't begin to tell you what I think about. Small distractions such as recalling the words to Christmas carols, making up anagrams and designing the world's ultimate rollercoaster have certainly all featured, usually interspersed with deep, profound thoughts such as, '"oh crap, that's a big hill" or "do I want chocolate or strawberry milk for lunch'.
For most of this stage too, I have not been alone as my erstwhile partner in crime Ben has continued to cycle with me. I would have found the prairies a much tougher place without someone with which to share the pain.....and of course then wonderful bits, of which there have been many. Highlights have included a ferry crossing of the Saskatchewan river, with a cooling swim afterwards. The majestic and (never ending) climbs towards Drumheller, picnic stops in cornfields and the welcome melting away of the prairies in Alberta into rolling, twisting countryside and the foothills of the Rockies
There are always advantages and disadvantages to riding solo or in company, having done both, neither one is better or worse, the experience is just a different one. The camaraderie of the road, having someone to dissect the day with and to make decisions with, i.e. where to camp, which route to take, is much easier with someone to bounce ideas off. On my own I'm also prone to not stopping for rest breaks and pushing on further, for longer than is sometimes wise.
In contrast, solo, you have the full freedom of decision making, no one to hear your tantrums when you are tired and grumpy. You are also able to set your own pace, not worrying that it is too fast/too slow for a companion and the impact of this.
I also wondered whether cycling with someone else would mean that people were less inclined to approach you and after so many good experiences I didn't want to lose that. I needn't have worried however. People here continue to astound me with their kindness and generosity. On hearing about our trip, the owner of a pub in Drumheller came over to shake hands and tell us our meal was on the house. Another kind cafe owner set us away with homemade cakes along with many good wishes.
Continuing to receive hospitality, both through the Warm Showers network and through friends and acquaintances I have found myself throughly enjoying meeting a diverse and fascinating number of people
But the wheels continue to roll and this stage of the trip has had more than it's fair share of tough days. The usual headwinds, heat and hills taking their toll day after day, combined with a string of flat tyres an increasingly buckled back wheel and deteriorating front one meant that I have truly limped and wobbled my way into Calgary.
The challenge is physical certainly, but equally, if not more so, a psychological one. How else can I convince tired muscles to get up day after day and cycle up to 85 miles/137km? It becomes incredibly disheartening when the horizon which stretches endlessly before you never appears to come closer, time slows and the pace seems to go at a mere crawl.
Faced with one monster hill and roaring winds I truly thought I would not be able to reach the top, my confidence and my energy was ebbing, how can I climb mountains if I can't make a hill on the prairies. So I started to think about an incentive to reach the top, who would I most like to see right now? I began imagining family, friends, loved ones waiting for me, the chance to talk, laugh, hug all those whom I miss dearly on a daily basis
On this stage of the trip, from Regina to Calgary I have cycled 502 miles (808 km) over 10 days with a day off in Moose Jaw to wallow in and enjoy the heavenly thermal spa.
A grand total distance now of 2402 miles (3866 km) and over 3/4 of the way. The Rocky Mountains are only 100 miles away, but I'll be taking my time over it, stopping in Canmore and Banff for a few days off to rest and recharge, but for now, both Claud and I are currently enjoying some much needed TLC in Calgary.
Thank you's continued and new to Glenda and Larry for a wonderful, relaxing break in Moose Jaw, I didn't want to leave. To fellow cyclists and adventurers Kendra, Emily and 'The Light Rider'. To Ron and Britney for the homegrown vegetables, Maria and her twin for the amusing confusion. Larry at Larry's Cafe in Hanna, thank you for the muffins and the advice on dinosaurs and to Wes, Joyce and Omar from the Vintage Bar and Grill in Drumheller, thank you for making us feel so welcome and for the delicious lunch. To Derreck and all at Bow Cycles for fixing Claud so well and to Jos and Maria for stopping at the roadside to help me make it that far. To Ben for the support, encouragement and humour in adversity.
My final thanks go to my current hosts, Vance and Mo and for a wonderful place to rest and relax in such fine company.