How it all started
On one of my regular trips to the library, I chanced upon a book called Miles from Nowhere by Barbara Savage, describing how she and her husband cycled around the world for 2 years. This intrigued me enough to borrow more books about cycle touring, including One Man and His Bike by Mike Carter describing his 5 month ride around the coast of Britain. That’s when I thought “Hey, the world sounds a little ambitious but I can manage an island!”
I shortlisted Jeju in Korea, Tasmania in Australia, and Taiwan. Jeju was too cold during my January window for travelling. Australia was having school holidays with heavy tourist traffic. That left Taiwan, which was also the only country my mother didn’t completely freak out upon hearing that I wanted to cycle solo. I’m 43 years old and didn’t exactly need permission, but neither did I want to cause undue distress with my selfish dream.
Why go solo
I’ve been on several cycling trips in Europe and Asia. All were with friends, and supported by vehicles. While I enjoyed these very much, I wondered what it would be like to be completely free: to start and stop whenever I felt like it, to choose my route as I went along, to detour or have coffee breaks upon a whim, and to cycle at my own pace without trying to keep up with or wait for others.
Part of me also needed to know if I could make it on my own. Since my first days of road cycling 4 years ago, I’d been dependent on others to help me with mechanical issues, route finding, even diet and refuelling. I was independent in many other areas of life, and thought it about time I learnt to cycle independently too.
Big dreams happen in small steps. I’d started preparing over a year ago with the fun and easy part – online shopping. I stocked up on merino wool clothing, which are great for travelling as they stay warm when wet and don’t smell. Then I researched luggage bags and decided on old-school Carradice canvas bags that were small enough not to need bike racks. Next I readied my bike by (a) changing to a Brooks saddle both for the comfort and the bag loops, and (b) ditching my SPD-SL cleats for SPD pedals and shoes which were easier to walk around in, and (c) removing the quick release skewers from my wheels and buying a decent bike lock to keep my bike safe during lunch and toilet stops.
The final not-so-baby step of booking the flight to Taiwan was taken only one week before the trip. I’d procrastinated all day as I was terrified of committing to this crazy dream. But it was on my to-do list for the day, and I hate leaving unchecked items on my list. I have this mild form of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) to thank for making the whole thing actually happen. Even then, I bought a budget Jetstar flight instead of my preferred Singapore Airlines. This was so that if I chickened out at the last minute, I wouldn’t have wasted too much money.
Protecting the dream
Very few people knew about my trip beforehand. My family needed to know, of course, and my office. Besides these, I could count on one hand the number of friends I told. These were close friends who would notice my sudden absence, and whom I knew would support me unconditionally rather than strike fear into my already fearful heart. The last thing I needed was advice about arming myself against assaults and other gory CSI/Criminal Minds-induced imaginings. I mean, I like those TV shows too but they are seriously poor preparation for a solo trip or real life in general.
Only when I was already in Taiwan and practically riding off on my bike did I post on Facebook what I was about to do. By that time I was committed and fear had been replaced by action. The amount of support that flowed in then and over the next week was astounding. So many people commented and messaged that they were inspired to chase their own dreams. I hope they do. I hope you do. And then I hope you tell others about it too.
“Remember: whatever is burrowed deep in one hungry soul is bound to be tethered to the hearts of many, many more.”
– Hannah Brencher