Amongst my circle of friends and acquaintances, I personally know of very few older woman, who cycle long distances or hike and camp alone. Any others I come across appear to be sprinkled through social media sites, few and far between. In television, film and books, there also seems to be minimal representation of mature women who are out solo-adventuring.
According to on-line statistics, more and more women are venturing out alone. It does appear though, that most of these women, are from twenty to fifty years old. There is also a huge positive, that the numbers of women ‘adventuring’ in the outdoors are increasing yearly. Unfortunately it seems, that once women are over the age of fifty, their participation in any type of outdoor activity seems to drop dramatically. For which, there are undoubtedly numerous personal pressures and other reasons. Along with some narrow social expectations of how an older woman ought to conduct herself in the 21st century, despite eons of feminist influences.
To travel or not to travel alone by foot, bicycle or even by boat, is a tough question to think about or contemplate carrying out. It’s a scary prospect, but those who do will often become somewhat addicted to the experiences and adventures, that can only be had by being without a companion.
It’s the departing for unknown places alone…accompanied only by a bicycle and a tent, that to myself often feels like a small personal rebellion. An obstinate rebellion, against the perfect hair, the painted nails, the pressure to dress tidily, iron everything and go on an organised holiday…. and oh yes, it feels so wonderful to avoid those cultural expectations, even just for a short while!
I can promise that heading out alone, becomes far easier, later in life!
Firstly, older women have plenty of hard-earned and well-practiced common sense….gained over many years!
Secondly, with age comes the tendency to have more of your ‘wits about you’ I have a three-second rule. Which is the time it takes to sum up, whether a person is of good character and unlikely to be a threat to me. Any strangers particularly men, either pass or fail. If they fail, I make my excuses (or be rude)….and leave.
Thirdly, like it or not as we women become older, we become more invisible. Our society at the moment, is obsessed with youthful beauty and anti-aging, whatever the cost! Most men will choose to give their unwanted attention to a younger women. Which is actually a blessing in disguise, for us older women going anywhere alone.
Fourthly, I find much safety in travelling by bicycle in remote or quiet areas. As one often can by hiking through remote mountains or sailing on the sea. People populated places are usually the ones where most threats lie.
Breaking the daily patterns and sometimes dulling routines that are habitually carried out, day in and day out, is truly life affirming. Cycling alone, one becomes a different creature. Shedding an old dingy skin-self and growing a sparkling, brightness that vibrates with vitality. Eyes become sharper, brighter, clearer…smiling becomes first habit….even wet, cold, snowy days are not off-putting. Quite simply the beautiful, the ordinary, the mundane become wonderful, when viewed from the seat of a bicycle.
In particular when cycling slowly, one becomes focused into the moment, seeing only what is around and in front….pink asphalt embedded with shiny quartz, a fat bumblebee with golden legs, a woodpecker hammering like the blacksmiths iron, the echoing sky-sirens of whooper swans….and so it goes on. Never-ending bicycling joy.
As Goethe put it, ‘The highest goal humans can achieve is amazement’
Riding a bike one can also becme completely focused in another way, a mindful and sometimes meditative manner. The swish, swish of wheels and the quiet, rhythmical thump of pedals can lull one into a light trance, during which the miles disappear in a flash.
Meditation, mindfulness and cycling have a lot in common.
Here is a story I found on the internet. It’s rather tongue-in-cheek, but ends on a thought-provoking note…..
”A Zen teacher saw five of his students return from the market, riding their bicycles. When they had dismounted, the teacher asked the students, “Why are you riding your bicycles?”
The first student replied, “The bicycle is carrying this sack of potatoes. I am glad that I do not have to carry them on my back!” The teacher praised the student, saying, “You are a smart boy. When you grow old, you will not walk hunched over, as I do.”
The second student replied, “I love to watch the trees and fields pass by as I roll down the path.” The teacher commended the student, “Your eyes are open and you see the world.”
The third student replied, “When I ride my bicycle, I am content to chant, nam myoho renge kyo.” The teacher gave praise to the third student, “Your mind will roll with the ease of a newly trued wheel.”
The fourth student answered, “Riding my bicycle, I live in harmony with all beings.” The teacher was pleased and said, “You are riding on the golden path of non-harming.”
The fifth student replied, “I ride my bicycle to ride my bicycle.” The teacher went and sat at the feet of the fifth student, and said, “I am your disciple.”
Some of my greatest cycling pleasure is derived from coming home, with nothing in my mind but stories. Being able to share these tales through public talks, gives me a greater cycling purpose. Knowing that others are interested in hearing about the struggles, the good times and will take pleasure in the photos and videos.
I would be delighted to have any contact or hear comments, from any other women over 50+ who are out there, enjoying and discovering new places with just their own company!
My hope is perhaps in another decade it will have become more the norm, for women in their later years to make the freedom to go exploring, and find joy in solitude.
Here is a favourite quote from a famous woman explorer….
”Solitude, I reflected, is the one deep necessity of the human spirit to which adequate recognition is never given in our codes……..Modern education ignores the need for solitude…..a disease to be doing something always, as if one could never sit quietly and let the puppet show unravel itself before one: an inability to lose oneself in mystery and wonder while, like a wave lifting us into new seas, the history of the world develops around us.”
*The Valley of the Asssassins (1934). Freya Stark.
Finally….I send thanks to all my readers and followers it’s heartening to know you like to read my eclectic thoughts!
Wishing you all a happy and wonderful Christmas with your family and friends. Along with lots of blessings and good tidings for a peaceful and fruitful 2019!