Get to Know Your Hesitation: Overcoming Fear on Your First Bicycle Tour - Alissa
Alissa pressed “Pause” on her tech career to pursue international adventures. She’s logged some serious mileage in foreign countries as a solo female traveler, including Africa, Southeast Asia, and Patagonia. Many of those miles were covered by bicycle.
“I’m especially excited to share my story with women, because we’re such a minority in this area.”
After being inspired by the stories and travels of others, Alissa’s ready to give back to the adventure community: in the form of her own website, exploringwild.com. Alissa offers advice for getting yourself on the road-less-traveled, and how you, too, can craft a life of meaning and adventure.
Alissa, what was your inspiration for creating your website, exploringwild.com?
I surprised myself when I started my website! I’m generally a private person, and happy just doing my thing and maybe sharing a few pictures afterward with my husband and parents. But at some point I realized my own adventures would not have happened without the inspiration and courage I drew from others’ stories. I knew there must be so many people like me out there, with so much to gain from taking a leap, and they’re looking for something to tip them over the edge. I’ve gained so much, and now I want to pay it forward and be part of that process for them.
I’m especially excited to share my story with women, because we’re such a minority in this area and we usually have bigger mental hurdles to overcome. But I think sometimes we discount the experiences of men and other groups who also overcome risk and fear during adventurous travel but don’t get to talk about it as much. I want to create resources for everyone who feels drawn by that spark of exploration and adventure.
“I’m generally a private person… [but] my own adventures would not have happened without the inspiration and courage I drew from others’ stories… I want to pay it forward.”
Has your comfort level with solo travel changed over time?
In the beginning, traveling alone by bike triggered this weird uneasy feeling: “I’m not supposed to be here, I’m not supposed to be doing this.” But over time I came to own the fact that I WAS there and I WAS doing this, and I had a right to be. Now I feel more comfortable taking up space anywhere in the world, including at home. I felt this really strongly while pedaling solo through remote, beautiful, empty backroads of Patagonia. Unexpectedly I felt 100% like I belonged there, and it was such a peaceful happy feeling.
Did family/friends express concern for your safety? How did you respond to them?
Yes, especially my mom. My own concern about her concern was one of the hardest parts of deciding to travel alone. To her credit she’s worked through it really well, but I know it’s hard for her.
I try to patiently explain my views on rational risk assessment, which comes naturally to me but sometimes surprises people who take a more emotion-driven approach (if they can imagine it happening and it’s really, really horrible, they think it’s worth worrying a lot about).
I also try to focus on the rewards I’ve found by stepping outside the boundaries of what most people think is “safe.” I think safety is never guaranteed, whether we’re off bicycling in a faraway land or sitting at home on the couch. Life is fragile, even if most people don’t like to think about it that way.
“I think safety is never guaranteed, whether we’re off bicycling in a faraway land or sitting at home on the couch.”
When people expressed concern/fear for what you were doing, how did that affect you?
Sometimes I get defensive and feel determined to prove them wrong. I’m not actually a risk seeker; I’ve done my research and wouldn’t be doing these things if I thought the risk was unacceptably high, so it’s frustrating when people question my carefully-made decisions. I also get frustrated when people feel more concern and fear on behalf of women, which unfairly holds us back from so many great experiences, despite being well-meaning.
Even though I think my decisions are sound, other people’s concern still creeps into my own head sometimes. If I’m alone and anxious for whatever reason, I start to wonder if all the concerned people are actually right. I don’t like like this negativity but it’s hard to block out.
The one positive side: I admit part of me feels proud when people express worry and fear, because it confirms that I’ve succeeded (at least somewhat) in facing my own fears.
“I admit part of me feels proud when people express worry and fear, because it confirms that I’ve succeeded (at least somewhat) in facing my own fears.”
And, in contrast, what was it like when people were encouraging and supportive?
It’s great! I’ve found that my trips are like a magnet for others who are quietly nursing their own bold dreams, and that these people are usually the most encouraging and supportive. It’s led to wonderful conversations and helped me get to know some people in a totally new light.
In fact, this was how my friendship started with the woman I recently cycled with in Patagonia. We used to work together but were never that close until I left my job and we started talking about traveling. She turned out to be a kindred spirit and jumped at the opportunity to share an adventure together.
What advice would you offer to a woman who wants to try bike touring, but is hesitant to do so?
Get to know your hesitation. What are you really afraid of, and is it coming from true risk or just emotion? Can you notice any patterns that might help you step outside your hesitation and see it more clearly? For example, early morning is when I’m most easily intimidated. Afternoon-and-evening-me is excited about cool new adventure ideas, but morning-me is scared and just wants to stay home. By noticing this, I’ve learned to pay less attention to morning-me’s irrational fears. She just needs a cup of coffee and she’ll come around.
If you really want to try something, read other peoples’ stories and coax yourself toward the “point of no return.” For me this is the point when I know I’m going to make an idea into reality, despite lingering fears, because it’s gotten under my skin so deeply. I get to that point by letting ideas sit, fade away and return, researching them, envisioning the days one at a time. A long trip might seem overwhelming, but could you just pedal your bike down a road for a while? Yes, yes you could. And then you could do it again, and again, and again…
Some people say to start small, just an overnight from your house for example, and that might be helpful. But I also think it’s important to choose something that inspires you so much that you’re willing to work through fear because you’re just so darn stoked. Don’t be afraid to take on something a little bigger than what you think you’re ready for. You’d be amazed at how quickly you get used to things - even things that seemed like big challenges - once you’ve been on the road for a few days.
Finally, don’t be surprised if it’s not all rainbows and endorphin-soaked bliss when you start. Riding a bike all day in unfamiliar places is not always comfortable or easy (shocking right?). But once you ease into the rhythm, you might find there’s a special something that transcends saddle soreness, uphill slogs, and the occasional nervous night and keeps you coming back for more.