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Opinion: Brave, not Brave.
Jenny-Anne Dexter asks: Why is it still ‘brave’ for a woman to have a solo adventure?
I’m on a solo holiday, cycling along the banks of the Danube from Austria to Hungary. And by ‘solo’, I mean I haven’t come here with anyone else and I’m not part of an organised group trip. It’s just me, a rented bike, two overloaded panniers and a handful of GPS routes loaded onto my OS app.
Over the months leading up to my departure, friends, colleagues and, of course, my mother have all vociferously declared it very brave of me to go it alone for the week. I don’t understand at all. The first woman to climb Everest did so before I was even born, back in 1975. Jasmin Paris recently broke all existing records at the Montane Spine Race ultramarathon whilst breastfeeding her baby. And my own hero, Dervla Murphy, Irish cyclist and travel maniac, ventured alone to remote and dangerous parts as far back as the 1960s. So why is a woman still seen as heroic to go for an unaccompanied cycling holiday in Europe, less than 1,000 miles from her front door?
“I wish I could do that,” I’ve heard from several friends. They are all independent, single women in their thirties and each one keen to have their own personal adventure just like this one. I can’t understand what’s stopping them. Especially after we’ve all had to go through such an unprecedented term of curtailed opportunity, shouldn’t we be desperately trying to claw our way out of the box any way we can?
In summary, I’m traveling through western countries, sleeping in comfortable hotels (with the odd exception, it turns out) and foraging in local convenience stores for precious calories en route. It certainly doesn’t feel very brave to be sitting on a soft bed each night, enjoying some Netflix, reading a decent book or catching up with some online correspondence.
Army of One
So what is it about this innocuous trip that has made me seem so daring to all and sundry? Is it the lack of practical support? Someone to help change a tyre or help to carry the day’s rations? As far as I opine, if someone else can check a map, so can I. I don’t need anyone to work out the exchange rate or haggle over the price of a drink from a roadside stall. Anyone can do it, so why need there be more than one? It’s much easier to agree on something if you’re a party of one.
For me, the hours alone in the saddle are the best bit. Generally speaking, the fewer people you meet, the less likely you are to come across trouble along the way. Had I spent a weekend in Paris - where crime is rife - I doubt anyone would’ve been concerned for my welfare or impressed by my apparent courageousness. Now, I did get bitten by a snake yesterday morning, but that could happen to anyone, right? It was only a tiny snake, so no big deal. It was cute :)
Embracing the Unknown
To me, this is far from an intrepid adventure, though it’s an awesome enough experience, for sure. Each morning I fervently anticipate each pedal stroke and whatever excitement it may bring. I’ve done the basic research - so I know in which direction I’m heading - but not so much that I haven’t left room for surprises. Surely therein lies the key to a true adventure.
So far I’ve tracked a majestic Eastern Imperial Eagle for several miles across farmland, bathed naked in an iridescent lake and inadvertently joined a stage of the Giro d’Italia cycle race. I’ve made friends with a tiny kitten living under a bridge, been serenaded by accordion at a riverside café and later I’m off to explore a WW2-era bunker that’s now a fruit farm. I can’t say any of that was planned!
Going it Alone
I’m no hermit. In fact you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who knows me who’d describe me as an introvert. But like most people I also need my alone time, time to recharge and reflect. When I’ve taken short city breaks on my own I’ve often wished I had someone travelling with me, especially in the evenings, but this time it’s different. Right now I need my space. In fact, I’m craving it. That hasn’t stopped me sharing snaps of my routine mid-morning coffee stops or random insects I’ve found hitching a ride on my panniers - and wishing friends a happy birthday via WhatsApp. They’re right with me every bit of the way and that’s company enough this time around.
Soon I’ll be living alone for the first time in my life, so this is maybe just an introduction to that world of me, myself and I that lies ahead. But I already know that I’ll never really be alone and certainly not lonely. I’m sure you’ll agree that we’re all too connected these days for that to happen, unless we really want it to. The sound of silence doesn’t scare me, in fact I relish the clarity it brings. So why should solo female adventure only be for the brave? Let’s all take a bit of it for ourselves.
I’m not brave. I’m just not afraid.
Jenny-Anne Dexter is a perennial participant in all things running, cycling and swimming.
This is an opinion piece and we’d love to hear your thoughts on solo adventures and bravery in the comments too. It’s been a while since we last published an opinion piece, so please remember to read in full and comment thoughtfully. There is enough anger in the world, let’s not add to it here. Thanks :)
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