Bicycle Network: Women's Cycling
Fright or flight?
Fear is no excuse for inertia, especially when your bike is loaded and ready to go. Eleanor Meecham learns that action is the best antidote to apprehension
There’s no shame in being scared. It’s perfectly natural, before setting off on a solo cycle tour into an unknown land, to be full of worries. How far can I pedal each day? What will the roads be like? Where will I camp? How much water should I carry? Will the locals try to shoot me? Will wild animals try to eat me? Will the blokes try to grope me? Fear, presumably, is an evolutionary function designed to stop us from bumbling blindly into situations that might kill us, and a healthy dose of it is no bad thing. There’s a distinct difference, however, between accepting your apprehension as an ordinary response to new stimulus and using it as an excuse to stay home on the couch.
Feeling the fear and doing it anyway
The overwhelmingly negative slant of the news media teaches us to fear the world ‘out there’. We buy into that all too readily, at times perversely pleased to have what seems to be a legitimate excuse for not following our dreams. I’ve lost count of the number of times other female cyclists have gazed wistfully at my loaded bike and said, ‘I’d love to go off on an adventure, but I couldn’t – I’d be too scared’. The assumption seems to be that action can only happen in the absence of fear, when in fact we all know that it is largely through experience that fears are overcome. The longer you sit around worrying about the bad things that might happen, the less likely you will ever be of realising your goals.
I’m always nervous when I set off on my bike in a country I’ve never been to before. I can never help but be affected by other people’s prophesies of doom, and my own internal voice of caution tells me constantly that my good luck won’t hold forever. But I go anyway, aware that my worries are born mainly of my own ignorance and certain that they will dissipate in time, as they always do. Fear, I have come to realise, is no more than an emotional malady, often entirely illogical and irrational, and experience always proves to be the best remedy.
The perks of solo riding
People often suggest that it would be safer to cycle with a male companion. I’m not so sure. Superior physical strength can be useful in certain situations, it’s true, but even the burliest bloke will be redundant if he’s up the hill and round the corner when a lecherous local leaps from the bushes. Believing that a cycling bodyguard will guarantee your protection is illusion.
I enjoy being alone on the road because it makes me approachable. Travelling in the cosy bubble of friendship can be wonderful, but strangers are often reluctant to intrude. Rolling into a town unaccompanied, on the other hand, can lead to all sorts of quirky conversations and offers of advice, assistance and hospitality. Not once have I felt that my gender has made me vulnerable; in fact, it tends to work to my advantage. People seem far more inclined to want to protect me than to hurt me.
There’s no sure-fire way to ensure your safety while cycle touring, but exactly the same applies on a quick trip to your local milk bar. In either case, you’re far less likely to ride off a cliff, get bitten by a poisonous animal, be maimed in a drive-by shooting or hijacked for your dirty cycle shorts than you are of simply coming home safely. With that in mind, is it not better to pack your bike and go than to live with the regret of letting your fear stop you?
This article first appeared in Bicycle Network Victoria's Ride On magazine, June-July 2008