‘You Must Be Brave!’

‘Oh Ratty!’ he cried. ‘I’ve been through such times since I saw you last, you can’t think! Such trials, such sufferings, and all so nobly born!’  (Kenneth Grahame)

Whilst delivering local talks about my cycle touring and wild camping exploits on Nordic soil, a member of the audience often declares, ”You must be brave!’

After the event, at least one woman and often men too will confess privately, that they don’t consider themselves ‘brave enough’ to cycle alone.

My usual response of; ”It really is easy, all you have to do is point the bike in the right direction and pedal hard!” may sound facetious but it is mostly the truth.

Of course, some route planning is needed, detailed equipment lists need to be drawn up and potential hazards considered. None of the latter though has anything to do with any self-possessed courage or bravery. I’ve discovered though that it really is difficult to convince others, particularly women, that they don’t need to be brave or fearless if they want to travel alone. Many who don’t cycle or exercise much or perhaps haven’t slept in a tent since childhood, appear to imagine that women who go it alone are a breed of fearless superwomen. They couldn’t be further from the truth.

Josie Dew, author and a long-distance solo cyclist is in agreement with my thoughts. In her book, ‘Travels in a Strange State’ Josie describes meeting a gang of U.S. Hells Angels. A bulky, hairy, bearded character sporting a black eyepatch, sidled over to her with an orange juice and admitted in dulcet tones, that he wouldn’t be brave enough to do what she was doing!

Mid-west Finland, summer of 2018.

In response to this Josie scoffs, ‘Brave? It doesn’t take courage to ride a bike in unfamiliar lands and no one dispels this misconception better than Dervla Murphy.’

This is what Irish woman Ms Murphy has to say with her typical directness, about bravery and cycling alone:

”Optimists don’t believe in disasters till they happen. Therefore they are not fearful and have no occasion to display courage. Nothing puts my hackles up faster than being told I’m brave. This is nonsense albeit significant nonsense. Where is our effortless civilisation at when physical exertion, enjoyed in remote places is mistaken for bravery”

‘Perhaps big cities are more dangerous than they used to be, but once you get out into the wide-open spaces, I think you are as safe as you have ever been’

Dervla Murphy began long-distance cycling after the death of her disabled mother, for whom she was the only carer. Her first book was Full Tilt. A journey by bicycle from Ireland to India in 1965. Now at the ripe old age of 88, she has written numerous fascinating cycling and travel books. Well worth reading by anyone who is an aspiring cyclist or roamer.

She has also declared:

”I thank God for my sanguine temperament, which refuses to allow me to believe in disaster until it is finally manifest”

It really is the truth for the majority who travel alone, we don’t feel brave at all but are occasionally scared. Feeling frightened of course is temporarily unnerving, but afterwards, the sense of satisfaction and relief at having faced up to and solved the problem is immense.

scan075The Old Dunstan Road, New Zealand…( Cycling days from hell!)…a film location for The Lord of The Rings Trilogy.

Former headmistress Anne Mustoe was also a ’round the world’ lone cyclist. She too has written several books about her cycling adventures.

When she gave talks during her solo travels, the women in the audience usually asked that perennial question, ‘Aren’t you scared?’ Anne Mustoe in answer to this went on to write a chapter in her book, ‘Lone Traveller’ about ‘Men and Other Animals’ An hilarious title!

She discusses travelling alone, maturity, worldly wisdom, hospitality, the unisex look and some of the funny mistakes she’s made concerning men and their various botched attempts to woo her. All of which makes useful reading and helpful advice for anyone who is considering striking out on a lone quest.

It appears to be the inner thoughts and deeply held belief systems we each adhere to that determine our views and decisions about solo travel. Some may head off on their adventure full of optimism, happiness and excitement. Without a single consideration or reflective thought that the aeroplane could crash, their bicycle or luggage may be lost, precious belongings stolen or an injury/disease could overtake them. Whereas others may have their minds full of such fears, and more imagined disasters that could overcome them on their holiday or journey.

Are the folk who avoid thinking of disaster and plunge in, the foolhardy, reckless type? Are the others with minds full of potential problems, classed as anxious, worried individuals? My guess is that most of us fall somewhere in between the two descriptions.

Perhaps the individuals who actually are devoted to solitary travel have quite simply given in, to the unknown, by learning to rely on their inner faith, resources and a strong belief in the goodness of humanity. Touring, trekking or wandering companionless in foreign or local places does require some commonsense, but bravery and fearlessness are not a necessity.

Finally, it never fails to surprise how many obvious challenges, for better or worse can be ignored by an overextended sanguine optimist such as myself! Luckily they’ve been happy endings so far.

DSCN9545Hossa National Park, Eastern Finland, Summer of 2019.

” Journeys are magic caskets, full of dreamlike promises” (Claude Levi-Strauss)

4 thoughts on “‘You Must Be Brave!’

  1. What a wonderful, thoughtful post. Thank you!
    Certainly, without thinking too deeply one can find plenty of external factors to be fearful about. Personally, as one who frequently treks or cycles alone, I believe the greatest fear and also courage comes from trust in oneself. Trust, not in fearless self confidence but in self acceptance. Acceptance of insecurities, inexperience, imperfection and willingness to understand. Acceptance to learn and adapt, and go forward with best laid plans, indeed with likelihood those plans will change.
    It takes courage to leave our perches. To fly out or swim alone. Naked only with our basic instinct and experience, our trusted fitness, accepted failure and forgiveness to guard and comfort. It’s all on us.
    Yes. It all takes courage. But I think not courage alone but courage bolstered on our greater desire to see and experience the natural beauty in the world and drink it in deeply, as never before.
    In my own experience, these opportunities to learn and to grow, to integrate and become part of something so much larger than myself, diminish my fears. My true sense of self not gone but heightened, more aware, changed. In the end I feel ironically not courageous, nor brave, but accomplished. Filled with new wonder. I dream about my return, ponder new possibilities, or plans, of the next unknown solo expedition and where in the world that will be.


    1. What a lovely interesting and thoughtful comment Peter! You make many points that I resonate with. There is nothing more fulfilling and completing than being anywhere in the nature world alone.
      Awe and wonder are two of my favourite words!
      Thank You 🙏


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