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For most of July I was riding my bike on and off road around Wales. A good number of the people I met said "You're very brave to be doing this on your own."
This puzzled me. First, it's not like I had any real choice. No one would do it with me. Not very many people have a month spare to just hop on a bike and go. Furthermore, I like both on and off-road riding, as well as riding for transportation. So my trip involved all of this: I started from Cambridge, hauling all my stuff in a BOB trailer. When I got to a good MTBing area I checked into a youth hostel or B&B, unhooked the trailer, put on knobblies, and spent a few days on the trails. No way could I find someone to do this with me. It was do it on my own, or not do it at all.
Second, what's the problem with riding alone? That I would get lonely? I admit that on previous solo tours I have got pretty lonely, but this time I had a mobile phone and tiny computer (Psion 5) with me. The phone allowed me to keep in touch with my boyfriend, and the computer allowed me to send and receive emails (with the help of the phone). Also, I was camping previously, and people seem to keep to their patch of ground; but in B&Bs and youth hostels there's always someone to talk to.
Was it that I was a lone woman, often traveling on deserted roads out in the middle of nowhere, and I was vulnerable to attack? Theoretically, yes, I suppose I was. But come on, this is Britain, not Serbia, and not Philadelpia (where I spent 7 tense years while people I knew got their purses snatched, got beaten up, and, for one fellow, got killed). My chances of coming to harm through violence are miniscule, drastically lower than my chances of getting run over by a car.
Was that it then? I could get hit by a car and badly hurt while riding on those lonely roads? I suppose there was some risk of this, but I minimized it by wearing brightly-coloured shirts, and practicing all the defensive cycling skills that I've picked up over a couple decades of riding in traffic. Anyway, there's no more risk than if I were doing a day ride from Cambridge. Perhaps less, since the bright yellow BOB bag attracts attention.
Or was the risk that I would be MTBing by myself in some quite remote places, nowhere near roads, and if I crashed it might be a very long time before anyone came along? Well, I've never crashed badly on a mountain bike. I haven't had anything worse than scrapes and bruises from an off-road crash. I'm naturally somewhat conservative, and I like to keep the bike under control when going downhill. But even so, I was extra-cautious, and I found that the difficulty of things I would try varied inversely with the distance from people. On major trails I'd try just about everything, but in lonely valleys where all I could see were a few sheep, I'd walk over a simple dropoff of the kind I've done a hundred times before. So that wasn't a real risk either.
So what is it, really? Is it that so many people spend all their evenings in front of TVs, where they hear about all the death and destruction in the world, and they begin to think that everyone and everything is out to get them? They hear of one murdered student, and they think that all women are in danger? They hear of a rafting accident, and they think that all outdoor activities are dangerous? Or they're so used to riding around in their cars that they think that putting in any distance without a big metal cage around you is inviting disaster? And so they figure that a woman riding around on her own, for long distance, both on and off road, is just inviting trouble?
I think people need to get out more and to stop being so suspicious of the world and its inhabitants.