Cycling Europe Day 47: On Traveling Alone

I am so excited I can barely contain myself!

Just for a second, when I saw this, I thought I was cycling near Benha, Egypt, in the Nile Delta region. It's an area on our route when we go to visit my father's village.

Just for a second, when I saw this, I thought I was cycling near Benha, Egypt, in the Nile Delta region. It’s an area on our route when we go to visit my father’s village.

I am so excited that I cycled more than 50km farther than I intended today so I could be that much closer to tomorrow’s revised destination.

I wasn’t going to say anything until it actually happened. I wanted to keep away the evil eye. But I’m too excited to hold it in any longer!

So…Cursed be any who gives my family the evil eye.

There! Now I can tell you!

Guess what?

My husband Colin is coming tomorrow!

And he’s not coming for a short fling of a weekend like he did while I was in France. He’s coming to cycle with me till I reach my final destination or until I get too tired to cycle any longer!

Someone gather up all the excitement that’s spilling all over the place and making an absolute mess!

This was my ultimate strategy while planning the trip.

Colin could not take endless time off of work to join me for the whole thing. But he wanted to join me for part of it. He wanted to come with me at the start. He had two reasons. He wanted to get me off on my way and make sure I would be all right on my own. He also felt that he’d enjoy cycling in that part of Europe more.

I insisted that if he could only join me for part of the trip that he leave it till the end. If he started out with me then left me on my own, I’d hate him. I’d feel abandoned. It would take me much longer to build my confidence to be on my own. But if I knew he was coming near the end, I had that to cycle towards. I knew the trip would be hard on me. I knew that as I got tired and lonely I’d need something extra to keep me going as far as I could. And that something extra was my darling husband.

Colin conceded. I’m not sure he was totally convinced. But I was adamant. I knew how both situations would affect me. And I needed him at the end.

Colin is flying very early tomorrow to Warsaw with his bike and panniers and will catch a train to where I’ll be tomorrow afternoon. I revised my planned destination for tomorrow so that I could be in a town that has a train station. It’s further away than the town I originally planned on going to tomorrow. So I just kept cycling today for as long as I could so I can hopefully arrive tomorrow before Colin does.

I am so excited! I’ll finally be with my husband again! And no more cycling alone!

The whole experience of cycling completely on my own has been both challenging and rewarding. When I started planning this trip, and when I realized I would not find anyone who would be able to join me, I wondered if I had what it takes to motivate myself to keep going every single day. I have a tendency to lose faith in myself sometimes. I don’t believe I’ve ever given up on something. But would I be able to push myself without the external support I so often fall back on? Not that I did not have support. Every evening my husband supported me. So did all of you. But when I’m on the road, it’s only me, my legs, and the asphalt. I am so proud of myself for being able to keep myself cycling through the hills, the mountains, the heat, the cold, the gusty wind, and the miserable rain. So proud.

I also wondered whether I’d be able to deal with the loneliness. It was never really an issue on the road. I have had wonderful conversations with myself, as you have all been made aware. In the evenings, I usually had an Internet connection that kept me in touch with family, friends, and all of you. But there were times, like walking around in towns trying to do some tourism or at bed time, when I felt terribly lonely. You know what I think has kept me sane? My excessive anxiety about routes for the following day and keeping safe. My mind has always been so busy with that, that I don’t have much time to dwell on the loneliness.

Keeping safe while on my own has always been my number one priority. My GPS allows me to connect via my phone to the Internet so that my husband can follow my progress live. I actually only used it once so far. I decided I’d rather save the cost of connecting to a roaming Internet connection, even though I got a really good deal on it. I told Colin that I was feeling safe and that if at any point I wasn’t feeling safe I’d turn it on immediately. Nevertheless, Colin has all my route plans for every single day. I don’t always end up following the route exactly, but he has a good idea of my direction and knows my destination. Today was the only day I’ve changed my planned destination while en-route. When I made that decision, I sent Colin an SMS informing him, as an added safety measure.

Another strategy I’ve had to keep safe has been using my invisibility superpower. I’ve made a point not to draw attention to myself. My city clothing is drab. I generally behave confidently, as if I belong wherever it is I am, without appearing arrogant. I’ve always believed that combination is important for a woman traveling alone. I love watching people, but I do it without being obvious about it. I try to completely avoid looking at people in their eyes. I’ve always felt that can draw the wrong kind of attention. I have some food restrictions that I’ve written about before. I don’t eat pork or pork products and I don’t eat food cooked in alcohol. When I travel on normal trips, I’ll have conversations with the waiters and make sure whatever it is I eat is along my acceptable lines. On this trip, I’ve been in very small towns with small restaurants and cafes with waiters who don’t speak a word of English. I have not wanted to be the picky customer who makes a fuss and is thus deemed not invisible. So I’ve done my best to choose food I think is safe without the fuss. I am almost certain now that some food I’ve eaten had some pork or alcohol in it. But I have no regrets. I’d rather risk that than risk being noticed and remembered. I’ll go back to fussy customer when my husband arrives tomorrow. Tomorrow the whole world can notice and remember me for all I care!

I haven’t made friends on this trip for the same reason. I gave my email to only one person: a wonderful Spanish lady I met at a camp near the beginning of this trip. She inspired me. I hope we keep in touch. I’ve generally had few and limited conversations with people. I’ve rarely told anyone where I’m headed except when asking directions from hotel receptionists or passers-by on the road.

Traveling alone on this sort of trip, especially as a woman, limits your actions and experiences. No doubt. But I’d rather have those limitations and experience the rest of it than not endeavor on this sort of adventure at all because I couldn’t find anyone who could join me.

Today while cycling I was thinking what an amazing feat it is to be able to balance oneself and 15kg of stuff on two narrow wheels. It made me remember back a long time ago when my beautiful Baba, may he rest in peace, taught me how to cycle. I have glimpses of memory that came back to me today. I remember the red tricycle I had as a toddler. I remember I had a bike with training wheels. I kept those training wheels on for quite some time. My Baba then removed them to teach me how to cycle without them. I remember him pushing me down a tree-lined road, and me telling him to promise not to let go. He promised and then let go. And I fell. I was terribly upset with him for breaking his promise. He laughed that happy, belly laugh of his and got me back on my bike and we tried again and again until I cycled on my own. I remember feeling proud. Even more so, I remember my father cheering me on, completely elated that his eldest daughter just learned to ride a bike.

Today I got perfect cycling weather. The sun was out for most of the day. There were

The view outside my window this evening.

The view outside my window this evening.

clouds in the sky. There was a cold breeze. I really enjoyed the Polish countryside. It felt familiar to me in a very comforting way. At one point, I looked across fields at a village in the distance. I could have been in the Nile Delta region in Egypt. And those church steeples could have been minarets. Other times the landscape reminded me of the American midwest, where I grew up. And yet others it reminded me of other places I’ve cycled in Europe.

The Poles give me the impression that they are a content people who are very comfortable in their own skin, so unlike my impression of the Czechs.

I really like Poland. It might be in part because this is the country that will reunite me with my husband.

Only one more day of solo-cycling inshallah (God willing). I absolutely can’t wait to share the rest of this experience with my husband.

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8 comments

  1. Hi Nadia! What an incredible adventure. I did not know you were on this journey. My eight year old son has made me promise to take him on a cycle tour from Egypt to South Africa when he is older. We make plans every few weeks. We must speak about your journey one day.

    1. I’ll be back in the UK soon enough, Owen. Would love to meet up and tell you all about it! Egypt to South Africa has also been on my list. That one cannot be done alone, though 🙂

  2. Dear Nadia AND Colin (and I’m SO happy to say that! ), How wonderful that you’ll be sharing the ‘Great Nadia Adventure’ together, although I fear that you may need some earplugs Colin. I like to travel alone as well as in company (the right company! ) and I have never felt alone because I find it easy to engage with people. BUT I’m not a woman on my own and I can and do eat and drink pretty much anything. My admiration for what Nadia has done so far is boundless and I am so, so pleased that Colin will be riding shotgun with her for the remainder of the adventure. I’m going to miss this so much when it’s all over. God Speed for a safe completion to you both.

  3. Just think how proud your father would be right now. I wonder if he ever thought at that moment he was teaching you that you would take your bike across Europe, and all because he taught you to love bikes. May he rest in peace. You made me tear up.

    I’m so happy that Colin will finally be there with you, but don’t get too busy to write your blog posts! 🙂 Have fun.

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