"Don't Let Fear Run the Show"- Anna, Part 2
As we learned in Part One of her interview, Anna's no stranger to adventure. This young woman has ridden her bike across the United States, through foreign countries, and has even explored the lonely highways of Alaska. I wanted to ask her more questions about being a woman on the road, and dealing with scary situations.
What’s your story of overcoming fear in order to lead an adventurous life?
My story of overcoming fear is remembering not to let fear run the show. I grew up in the South, but my heart has always longed for the West, maybe even the North, since I have lived on and off in Alaska. After university and living in Spain for a year, I came back to the U.S. to be closer to family, which was great, but got stuck in a corporate job that was not me. My coworkers, whom I loved and were amazing people, would sometimes ask, “why are you still working here? You’re good at the job, but this doesn’t seem to fit you.”
I was stuck for a couple of years. I enjoyed the present, but my mind would go to: “Surely, there is more to this life experience, and I am so UNHAPPY at my job.” (I know this sounds like a “first world problem”, but I am a person who wants to maximize my time, and attempt to live life to the fullest.)
"I was stuck for a couple of years... this sounds like a 'first world problem', but I am a person who wants to live life to the fullest."
I had college debt, wasn’t raking in tons of money, and had to figure out how to find some happiness. One of my best friends, Holly Bracher, pulled me out of my stagnant position and suggested I go to Southeast Alaska to run bike tours at Sockeye Cycle. I basically said, “why not?” So I sold all my stuff, gave my two week’s notice in May, and headed to the North.
That summer season in Alaska changed my life in so many ways, and opened my eyes to a world of other possibilities that I hadn’t dreamed of.
What’s one of your favorite bike tours you’ve lead?
I’ve been working for WomanTours as a guide, and enjoying the travel and the women I meet along the way. I love the job! In 2017, I led 26 women across the USA, and it was one of the most gratifying and growing experiences I had in my 20s.
"In 2017, I led 26 women across the USA, and it was one of the most gratifying and growing experiences."
Men far outnumber women when it comes to bicycle riders in the United States. This isn't true in other countries, such as Amsterdam and Germany. Why do you think there are fewer women riding bicycles here?
For starters, those countries are really set up to ride bicycles and maybe people, but even more so women, feel safer to ride because there are no cars allowed on the bike paths. I mean, Amsterdam is insane: take a high traffic road that you see in the U.S. with cars, and imagine it with bicycles, that’s what Amsterdam looks like.
Also, in the United States, companies don’t make it easier to bike to work. There are no showers to use when you arrive. I think some women fear getting sweaty and not looking perfect for work. And I wish companies would be more considerate and create these atmospheres so you can bike to work, shower, and start your day.
"I think some women fear getting sweaty and not looking perfect for work."
Don’t get me wrong, there is a balance: it’s good to look nice at work and appropriate, but we are heavily materialistic and a narcissistic culture. When we were living in New Orleans, I was a hostess for a five star restaurant, and the humidity is tough! I would literally ride my bike at a slow, consistent pace to work, just so I would barely sweat. Haha, it was a challenge!
Can you tell me about a time when someone has expressed fear for your safety?
Part 1: Haha...too many to count! From strangers to friends/families, there is always a comment about the safety. And sometimes, I appreciate the thought/care, but I just go back to the mantra, don’t let fear run the show (be smart about it) and yes, I am nervous about drivers that text and drive, too... especially these days. But anything can happen in this life, and I don’t think you are necessarily safer if you don’t ride your bike. Walking out your front door is a risk every day.
"I just go back to the mantra, 'don’t let fear run the show'... Walking out your front door is a risk every day."
Part 2: When biking through small towns in the US, every town you hit, the people from that particular small town will warn you about the next small town. It was this “commentary trickle effect”, everywhere my partner Paul and I went.
Does your family express fear when you travel abroad, as well as at home?
In 2015, Paul and I decided to do a three-month bike tour in Southeast Asia. We started in Bangkok, Thailand, biked to Laos, down Vietnam’s coast, then Cambodia, and then back to Bangkok. It was an unforgettable trip, but a lot of our friends and family were worried. They were nervous because we were riding our bicycles all around these different countries and cultures. We would also be in remote areas and not always reachable by phone.
"Paul and I decided to do a three-month bike tour in Southeast Asia... It was an unforgettable trip, but a lot of our friends and family were worried."
How do you respond to people when they're worried for you?
My natural mode is to be defensive, since I am the youngest of four in my family. But I try to just explain to the person, or people, that we take all the necessary precautions we can. We wear bright clothing, don’t ride in the dark, and just use our common sense. When I am riding solo, I ride with a mirror and bright colors and take the road less traveled if I can.
How does this fear expressed by others affect you?
The fear of others can affect me sometimes, and what they say will get in my head. For example, when you're watching a scary thriller and you never thought of that kind of freak accident or whatever the scene is... Those scenes can stick in my brain! So I have to be careful when it comes to other people's fear. Honestly, I listen to what they say and go back, do some more research on my particular bike tour, talk to others who have done similar trips, and then just go with my gut. I would say 9 times out of 10, people (no matter who they are) just project their fears onto you. Take it with a grain of salt.
"I would say 9 times out of 10, people project their fears onto you. Take it with a grain of salt."
How does the support of others affect you?
The support of others is HUGE! When we biked the Southeast Asia trip, I was committed to writing a blog. I must say, I like to disconnect when I travel, but I wanted to remember all our stories so I wrote the blog. When people would email me or tell me in person how much they loved our stories and pictures, it just made my heart feel so loved and supported. It was awesome to know people were staying in the loop with our travels and checking us out!
What's one of your favorite cycling/travel memories?
The Southeast Asia trip was epic. We met so many cool people from the locals to bike tour travelers, people who we still keep in touch with today. Some of those roads we biked on are still a fresh memory. It also was a good learning experience to travel with your partner abroad and in a bike touring setting. If you can bike tour with your partner in life on a daily basis, especially on a trip, that’s a good sign for your ship.
"If you can bike tour with your partner on a daily basis, that’s a good sign for your ship."
What advice would you offer to a woman who wants to bike/travel more, but is afraid to do so?
Don’t hesitate! Be smart and aware of your surroundings. Embrace it. It’s hard to be alone, and sit in that aloneness, but the more you do it, the more you get comfortable and less scared. It’s also such a good confidence booster for women- you have to get around, ask locals for directions, meet new people, get out of your comfort zone.
Any books/resources you’d recommend to inspire your fellow cyclists?
Into the North Wind by Jill Homer, I Never Intended to Be Brave by Heather Andersen, Tegan Phillips blog "Unclipped Adventure" (she biked through Africa with her family), and those are just a few recommendations. Also, SheBeest: I love their cycling clothes, especially if on sale!
Follow Anna Online
Guided Tours: Womantours https://www.womantours.com/staff/anna-barton