One woman, a motorcycle and all that goes with hitting the road solo.
No one ever really talks about the emotional upheaval we feel around solo travel. Although I knew it was going to be challenging, I had no capacity for understanding the fear I was about to undertake—which was underpinned by such a drastic change of lifestyle.
When I left New York last year, I wasn’t planning on coming back until I had ridden my motorcycle around the world. I was five months in and had reached Santiago, Chile, when COVID-19 forced me to come home. In these past few months of quarantine, I have had time to reflect on what I learned and experienced.
Riding around the world is an enormous undertaking, but I wasn’t entirely sure I grasped how hard it was going to be. Needless to say, it was a huge learning curve and a myriad of emotions. I felt a deep excavation into understanding who I am, resulting in profound realizations.
Overlanding solo as a woman is, generally speaking, quite a radical, unique means of engaging with the world. I inquisitively assessed my behavior throughout my trip with curiosity and marvel at suddenly being very alone, and how comfortable I was in this solidarity.
The answer always was whether or not I felt afraid. Fear was the barometer of how much enjoyment I was experiencing. Typically, I find that the emotional side of embarking on such a journey is often overlooked. The anxieties, daily stress and hardships of consistently being in a new place, meeting new people, being a stranger and not having a home or comfort zone to which to retreat to is challenging just as much as it is rewarding.
I gladly left New York with two renowned adventure travelers who cushioned my anxieties about leaving my home. We went separate ways in New Orleans and, truth be told, I gritted my teeth through the fear and exhilaration as I rode towards the Mexican border. I was suddenly solely dependent on myself—an unusual feeling as a modern city dweller. I felt deeply lost and even though I knew the transition was going to be hard it was almost like going cold turkey from having everything at your fingertips to nothing apart from the provisions I was carrying.
Although deciding to travel alone as a woman on a motorcycle may sound drastic and frightening; and despite the crippling fear, there were equal amounts of boundless vivification, and I’ve always been told to move towards the things that scare you—so you can conquer the fear rather than be ruled by it. There was also an inexplicable desire within me that kept pushing me forward: into the unknown.
After crossing into Mexico, I distinctly remember the roads from Monterrey to Real de Catorce. This was the first time I really experienced the disconnect from the digital world because my phone went completely out of service for long periods of time. Of course, I knew this was going to happen but the reality of being completely detached made my heart sink, triggering me to monitor my cell service addictively as I rode along, having small panic attacks when I saw I had no way of calling anyone for help.
The digital separation triggered an uncomfortable awareness within me, and I was forcibly pushed into the present moment, to feel feelings of complete abandon.
Fear continued to haunt me.
I was so terrified that I could barely stop or speak to anyone, leaving me feeling like a fugitive. The fearful thoughts whirled around in my head: My bike was going to get stolen; someone was going to point a gun to my head and just tell me to hand it over; I was going to get lost and never find my way to safety. As these morbid ponderings coursed through my brain, the chatter would get so loud I could barely enjoy what I was experiencing, which was the pure joy of having the freedom to explore this planet. The fear was quite ridiculous, quite upsetting.
I was getting in the way of my experience of a lifetime.
Nothing was physically happening to me but my mind was hijacking my reality. If this is what the trip was going to be like, I honestly didn’t think I was going to make it very far.
It wasn’t until I got to Guatemala that this began to lift a little. By then, I’d spent about six weeks on the road and been through a number of dodgy experiences that, of course, I had figured out how to navigate and survive unscathed. I took someone on an adventure training and began to control the bike on dirt roads, something previously even the idea of which would panic me. This helped enormously: I believe a lot of fear stems from not knowing how to do something.
As a part of my training, I got to see some of the most beautiful dirt roads in Guatemala, some of which I most definitely would not have traveled on alone. I had such an incredible teacher and who helped breathe some joy back into my adventure. We rode through rivers, sand, up bouldered tracks and lots of gravel road. I began to start really enjoying myself. This was a huge turning point for me and I set off into the next part of my trip with a renewed sense of confidence.
Traveling alone doesn’t always mean you have to be alone. It means that you set off on your own and then whoever you meet along the way becomes a part of your journey and experience. Traveling solo simply means you aren’t tied to anyone. I used to think that if you traveled with other people then it was as if you were somehow cheating, but now I realize this is as much a part of the journey. The question also raises: What am I cheating against? The only rules that have been out in place for my trip have been set by myself. I am equally able to break at any given moment. This is another lesson in flexibility and acceptance—two lessons that are required for adventuring.
Solo travel as a woman really is a double-edged sword. The collective mind projects all kinds of stereotypes onto you. To assume the worst, it’s that people will prey on your vulnerability. But in reality, it’s quite the opposite. Most people want to protect you; they invite you in, ensure you are okay, ask if you need help.
Being a solo female traveler suddenly makes you incredibly respected and powerful.
Even though I was a long way from conquering my trip and my fears and COVID-19 has left me cooped up in quarantined New York City, it has just enticed a more acute craving for adventure. The biggest fears are nowhere near big enough to stop me from getting back out on the road, experiencing life in the present moment and adapting to change—there and then is life performing in its pure magnificence.
Granted, I still have a long way to travel and multiple ways in which I can grow as a person to feel more comfortable in my own skin.
The freedom of uncertainty is what propels us. The wilderness calls our soul to challenge ourselves and to experience things we never thought we would be capable of.