Wander Woman: Wanderlust & The Truth of a Female Cyclist

As women cyclists, we must not be afraid to take the bullhorns in our hands, and ride.  With or without a partner, with or without a goal, with or without a destination. 

When I worked as a social worker, I became close with a Native American client of mine, Paul.  We talked for hours about why so many Native people are homeless in Phoenix.  Paul explained to me that his culture was more open to a nomadic lifestyle and that, in fact, growing up on a Northern Arizona reservation, his family lived nomadically until he was in his teen years (the 1960s).  It was then that his family “settled” in one place within a community of their peers, mostly at the insistence of the US government. Schools and roads were built, a convince store opened near a state road, but the community never thrived, as is typical in many reservation communities. Homelessness, Paul explained to me, was not judged in Native communities as a failure, but simply as moving closer toward what your life asks of you at that time. If your community or camp is not serving you and your family, you must explore other lands. 

“Wanderlust” is depicted in pop culture as affluent, white twenty-somethings partying through a “gap year,” and 30-something doe-eyed, depressed divorcees devoted to “finding themselves.”  But these pop-culture portrayals trivialize the inherent human need to explore, wander, seek. 

My yoga teacher would correct me here, and say that there is no need to seek, it is all found within… but that is an oversimplification. For example, an onion underground is just a seedling plant. An onion pulled from the ground may now peel back, layer by layer, unveiling the intricacies of the plant. That is to say, one must intend to explore, must uproot to peel back. 

We travel, some of us forever, to seek other places, other lives, other souls -Anais Nin

Often, we are forced to dig deep to confront our own beliefs - ourselves- to gain perspective and grow. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, we must “dig deep into the ground until we reach the purest water. We look deeply into ourselves until insight arises and our love flows to the surface. Joy and happiness radiate from our eyes, and everyone around us benefits from our smile and our presence.”

The perspective that writes immersive travel off as diluted wanderlust pop culture, accessible only through white privilege, offers a view through an Instagram filter, devoid of the stories my girlfriends and I swap about travelers’ diarrhea in India and weird, rape-y situations in the alleyways of Rome.  When we tell the story of our journeys, we must not skip the prologue filled with sorrow and heartbreak that often precedes these trips of self discovery; we must not skip the stories about the fights we got in, or the times we got lost, or the times we got so mad we just threw our bike down on the side of the road.  

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Stories that explore both the picturesque and grotesque sides of touring are the ones that speak to me: stories like Ride the Divide (the documentary), Eat, Pray, Love (the book and the movie) and Wild (the book and the movie) speak my truth… the truth of a woman wanderer. 

The truth of how painful it is to know that the profound interactions you have with those you meet along the way are inherently fleeting. Every  moment is lived in a melancholic haze of nostalgia.

The truth of how each night, lying in bed, you recall the events, both painful and joyful (though mostly painful), that brought you to that place. 

The truth of how every person you meet along the way, whom you tell of your journey, is impressed and astounded that you could actually do it.  And yet each time you tell your story, it seems both mundane and unfathomable at the same time, knowing that it will be over soon and just part of a Facebook timeline. 

I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world -Mary Anne Radmacher

The truth of how for years certain songs, smells, and even words will remind of you a particular taxi cab in Costa Rica, sunburt road in Arizona, or cafe in Rishikesh… and the utter depression that come with acknowledging that you cannot quite remember that memory, but only the image of that memory. Maybe taken from one, candid photo. 

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The truth that hitting the road, boarding a plane, or mounting the saddle, is the temporary relief to what can only be described as an inherent discomfort in the milieu of traditional life.

The truth that traveling as a woman doesn't end in romance but in loving yourself more.

To awaken alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world - Freya Stark

The truth of how sometimes when you loose yourself in your own grief, you must find your own way out, viscerally - step by step, pedal stroke by pedal stroke.

The truth of how you don’t even know where you are going, what you are seeking until you are there. Or maybe home again.