This is one of our contributions to EPOCH, a magazine produced by a team of local designers here in Calgary. EPOCH aims to showcase the moments that shape us.
Showing off some original content, photography and graphics, here's a piece on my recent bicycle tour through Europe.
Click through the spreads, or read over the full text below.
Of all the strength it took to complete the near 3,000 km bike tour through Europe, the muscles in my legs were the least of it.
Story and design by Alyssa Kelle
“Strong woman,” he said, as he waived the camping cost. Tired and still filthy from the night before, I had just described to the him how I ended up sneaking into his campground after hours.
“I hope so,” I said back to him with a weathered smile – wiping the sleep from my eyes.
A few hours before, I was in the dark and rain – peeing in a bush at the top of a long, steep hill somewhere between Münster and Düsseldorf, Germany. I had just fallen from my bike in the dark, and I had been rained on. I had no idea where I was going. The sky filled with lightning.
I felt vulnerable.
Throughout this adventure, from idea through to completion, people have used words like “brave,” “courageous” and, not least of all, “crazy” to describe my pursuit. Lost in that moment, I couldn’t decide which description fit best. I was talking to myself.
In hindsight, it was a big bike ride. From Amsterdam to Budapest, I rolled along the Rhine and Danube river valleys, finally making my way back over the south-eastern Alps and into Styria –– the “green heart” of Austria. For 32 days I carried everything I needed to camp, cook, and cycle. It was great.
On the night of the eighth day, however, Austria still felt like a long way away.
The day started easy. I took a tour of Münster, the self-proclaimed “bike capital” of Germany. Experiencing the city from the tree-lined bike promenade, my heart was full – and fully inspired – by the apparent culture. There were bikes, activity and people everywhere. There was a gay pride parade. I enjoyed a croissant.
The morning slipped away unnoticed.
“I finally crossed the Rhine today but not until around 9 p.m.,” I later wrote in my journal. “The sky was vibrant and dramatic, and the ever-growing cloud ahead of me was laced with all the colours of the sunset. It was brilliant, really, but by this point I was hauling ass. I needed to keep moving.”
When I’m temporarily afraid or uncomfortable, I try to remind myself that’s all that it is – temporary. This mantra, among others, became the pep talk I needed to keep myself together.
At the peak of the hill, and my vulnerability, voices came at me from an open car window – two German women were offering directions. In that moment, way past my bedtime, I was reminded of the advice of a friend. “There’s always a woman nearby, and that woman is keeping an eye on things.” Whether or not that’s true, and part of me hopes it isn’t, it certainly felt so then.
Are we trained to be afraid – guided from birth toward security and creature comforts? Am I supposed to feel vulnerable for being female – or are these just ideological constructs we allow ourselves to internalize?
In my experience, I’ve learned that perspective exists beyond the comfort zone – and that to find it, one must first embrace humility, grace and, above all else, thankfulness. The memory of this bicycle tour can’t exist without the people who helped me along the way – and these women weren’t the last to do so.
I found the campground, but not without the kindness of a stranger. I weathered the storm, but not without the shelter of my tent. I cycled along the Rhine the next morning, but not without a blue sky.
Through such defining moments I’ve learned that the more I want, the less I have. As I stood there telling this story in that office, grateful for the comforts of camp, I realized that everything I could ever want or be, I already have and am.
And then I had a hot shower.