hen I was little I used to pack up a little backpack with a first-aid kit (a few band aids and some Pepto-Bismol), extra clothes, and other essentials like my pillow, and stuffed animal. I would head off in the rain and explore the woods behind my house, believing I was living the life of a vagabond. I loved the idea of a life on the road, self-sufficient, rugged, and free.
The spirit and itch to travel has been with me since I was little, and it felt a little like those days when, a little over a month ago, I left the dry heat and paved sprawl of the Los Angeles area and began to bike up the pacific coast. I had everything I needed for the ride in my panniers, though this time the essentials looked a bit different. It was a mini-banjo and digital camera instead of my stuffed animal, a one-person tent and sleeping bag, and, I should add, a real first-aid kit, among other things. My route was unplanned, and, without the company of a traveling companion, entirely up to me. The only factor to structure my travels was an objective to document different spiritual traditions and ritual with digital photography—the founding premise of a project that I was able to fund with a grant through my school.
Since leaving Los Angeles, I have learned some valuable things. About one in ten bikers on the coast heads north, by nature of the southbound winds that blow strongly beginning in the late spring; even fewer of these bikers are solo, and most are men. The combination of biking northbound as a young, solo woman attracts a lot of attention. I have met handfuls of wonderful and lovely people through random encounters, but needless to say, dealing with and thwarting unwanted attention has been a major challenge of the trip. I have only felt unsafe a few times, but have learned to be vigilantly aware of my surroundings. I try to feel people out before our conversation even begins, and am careful about how much information I give. I don’t carry pepper-spray or mace (though I have met some cyclists who do), and so far I have only used my knife to slice my tomatoes and cheese. For safety, I rely above all on projecting a strong, confidant and calm energy. When I need to be, I am curt and aloof. When I need one, I have an imaginary boyfriend who is waiting for me down the road.*
On the whole, though, I have had far more experiences with kind strangers than creepy ones, and found that the glory of a trip all to myself has outweighed the draw of riding with a companion. In each day I find a delicious intensity. Highs are ecstatic, manic almost, and the lows can be overwhelming. I have few opportunities to process my feelings with others and I have no one with whom to share the sights that I see or the thoughts that run through my head. It is this necessity of working through my feelings on my own, however, that has forced me to confront parts of myself I would otherwise avoid. I have gotten to know myself in ways I would never have been able to had I not ridden alone, and because of this I feel stronger and more secure than before. In travel we necessarily cross over a threshold of comfort into the new and unfamiliar. We connect with our immediate needs (emotional, physical, spiritual, etc.) and learn to breathe through the present moment, whatever that moment brings. These lessons have been a blessing; if you are considering a trip and thinking of doing it alone, I strongly suggest you do!
*Of note: I firmly believe that I shouldn’t need to fabricate a male-bodied partner for someone to stop hitting on me and respect my lack-of-interest. That said, I do believe in doing what I need to in order to feel safe.
Elicia is currently catching rides from Oregon back to New England. When she is not travelling, Elicia studies Studio Art and Media Studies at Pomona College. Follow her work at lilisara.tumblr.com, or eliciaepstein.com. Email her with thoughts, a place to stay, or just say hi at firstname.lastname@example.org.