Anna-Luisa Becke, blogging on her website Radmaedchen, set off in May 2016 and roughly headed south from Vancouver via the USA, Mexico and now Central America. She was very willing to share her thoughts and ideas in an interview, so we made it happen :). Read on for some great insights and how it is to travel by bicycle…
All photos: Anna-Luisa Becke
To read all interviews of amazing cycling women visit the overview of our Women.
Where are you now in the world and could you tell us a little bit more how you arrived at this place?
I’m in San Pedro on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. I’m taking for 4 weeks a language course for Spanish while living with a Mayan family. And at the same time it’s my first long break since 10 months on the road, which I’m really enjoying. After many times of getting sick my body enjoys some time off.
Where have you cycled and which place made the largest impression on you and why?
I started in Vancouver and came down the Pacific Coast Trail in the US, crossed Mexico, made a nice big curve on Yucatan and came to Guatemala through Belize. The most intense impression was definitely the Baja California (Mexico) in August! We had nearly over 50°C every day, started cycling at 5 or 6 am and stopped between 12 or 1 pm and were completely wet from our own sweat. When the desert wind hit you it felt like sitting in the sauna.
We concentrated on cycling with a closed mouth, so we would not dry out so fast. But we got to see the desert life and how that can change overnight after rain, slept under the stars, saw the sun rise every day and met wonderful people. I don’t know if I would do it again this time of the year – but it is the experience I remember the most, because it was so intense.
You started cycling in May 2016. How did you get the idea? Did you have any experience in bicycle travel before? Who was your inspiration?
I went on a seven week trip to Chile four years ago. My boyfriend to that time and me cycled the Carretera Austral, which is probably not a beginners route. We had the problem of different speeds: He always wanted to cycle faster and longer – I was constantly exhausted. But I still started loving that kind of traveling so I decided by the end of 2015 to plan a trip. I started googling blogs from other female cycle tourers, read some and also found your Facebook group, which gave me a lot of confident. Thanks for that!
Were the people around you surprised you made this decision? Were they supportive of your plans?
My family and friends were not super surprised, because I always traveled a lot, but for example some of the clients from the company I worked for didn’t wanted to believe it. One client looked at my painted nails and said: “You are not the kind of person who can do that. You are wearing nail colour!” That person was obviously wrong: Here I am – cycling since more than 10 000 with colour on my nails.
Beforehand, how did you think it would be to travel by bicycle? Reflecting on your expectations, what is the reality of bicycle travel like?
I thought it would be more exhausting. But it’s totally on you if you go fast and ride long or if you take it slowly. Finding your own rhythm and speed is the most important thing. So you can choose every day between exhausting yourself, pushing yourself or taking it slow. I know I could never and never wanted to be one of the super strong ones.
I’m doing this because I want to travel, see different places, meet people, get to know the culture. I don’t want to sit on my bike the whole day for every day. I don’t want to compete.
You cycled through Canada, the US, Mexico and are now in Central America. Have the different countries given you different experiences? Have you had different routines in the countries or similar? What do you appreciate most about the cultures?
Yeah, of course there are different experiences. That’s why I’m traveling 😉 I totally love the mentality of the Latin people here. They are so open, helpful and always smiling. They shared everything with me, even if they don’t have much. I was nearly before crying sometimes.
The routines changed as well a bit. We camped more in the US while we took some hotels in Mexico. Its cheaper here and you also kinda need a shower here and there after the heat all day. Same goes for the food.
But in general traveling by bicycle allows you a unique and probably deeper insight into culture than a normal average traveler. That’s why I’m loving traveling like this so much.
How does a typical day in your bicycle travelling life look like? How do you make decisions and what is important for you to keep your balance during a day?
Most important is FOOD. If I’m not getting a good lunch break I’m turning into a bitch ;D No seriously, that is very important for me to know and plan: Having enough food. I only started once without breakfast and I didn’t enjoyed riding at all. So a typical day starts with breakfast and coffee out of my Bialetti. Followed by riding, lunchbreak, riding again and looking for a place to sleep in the afternoon or evening. A stop here or there for stuff to see, chatting or whatever.
Sometimes there are long days, sometimes there are short days, because I want to relax, visit places or whatever. I need to keep my balance more during a week: If I had two or three really long and intense days, I need rest days earlier; when I cycle less and have short days I can go for more days without rest days.
Have you always cycled by yourself or have you also cycled together with other cyclists? What do you prefer and why?
I haven’t cycled alone yet. I started with another German woman, who I met before the trip and since she left in Mexico City it always worked out that I traveled with somebody. And I do really enjoy that. I like company and sharing. I also enjoy that I have someone to talk with. But I also think, that there will be a time coming where I’m alone and I’m looking forward to that as well, because it will be a complete different experience.
Has safety been on your mind during your journey until now? If yes, can you tell us a bit more about your thoughts about this topic.
Till now it hasn’t been. Mainly because I travel not alone. One part in Mexico they warned us about robbing, but it turned out fine. But when I will travel alone my thoughts might change. It will be a different feeling, I’m sure. But I always talk to myself: There were other (female) people who did that as well. So I can do that as well. Why should I be the one of all people who can’t?
How do you organise your time? During your journey did your perception of time change? What is you favourite time of day when bicycle touring?
The beginning of the day is my favourite part, my coffee and enjoying the quiet morning hour. And then the ride before noon. I’m usually having the most energy to that time.
How do you manage to deal with uncertainties such as finding a place to sleep every day, finding food/water and communicating with people?
I traveled a lot before and I always worked in jobs where I had to be very open. So talking to strangers is no problem at all. In fact I’m enjoying it. Even if it’s just communication with hand and feet. The same goes for places to sleep. I traveled with the age of 18 to New Zealand and lived more or less in my car. Since then I’m used to look for sleeping spots or whatever. But I’m an organised person when it comes to food and water. I rather carry food and water for one day more than not having enough. Having not enough food with me is one of my nightmares.
Practically: what are the essentials you really appreciate of the things you have in your panniers?
A dry sack for doing laundry in it. A dress, which I really like. A blanket for doing lunch break on, yoga or just sitting on it when it’s wet.
Do you step out of your comfort zone? When are you outside of your comfort zone?
Traveling on a bike for a long trip is about stepping out of your comfort zone and actually about finding your boundary for this zone. I’m outside of my comfort zone after too many days of not showering or at least washing yourself in some rivers. But then the shower after that feels even better.
What does your perfect day look like? And do you have one that comes to mind? What makes this day so perfect?
Cycling through beautiful and remote landscape, sweating in the sun while going uphill, enjoying the breathtaking downhill, finding a wild camp spot with a beautiful view and a river next to. Taking a short dip in the cold water and sitting in front of the tent with a warm bowl full of good food in my hands. And in the morning I would take another short dip into the river, I love that for waking up.
Ahh and I forgot the chocolate as dessert.
Has being a woman provided you with unique insights? Have you been invited into unique occasions because you are a women?
Hmm not really. But when I travelled with the other woman we got more invited to people’s houses. I guess two woman look even more vulnerable than couples. But I’m just guessing. Maybe that is a coincidence.
How do you deal with female hygiene and menstruation? Besides that, do you do anything different because you are a woman?
I always struggled with my menstruation. Im having strong cramps and my stomach is sore. So I can’t really think of cycling during my first day of the menstruation. And if that would not be enough it’s also the mind which works with just 70 % of the normal energy. Everything seems grey and I’m questioning myself from time to time: Anna, what are you doing?
When something goes not super perfect the bad feeling comes a lot sooner than usual. But I’m trying to tell myself that this feeling will get over soon.
And of course I’m doing things differently when it comes to safety. I would usually not go out alone after dark in some countries or areas. And in some situations where it’s hard to find a camp spot I would probably sooner take a hotel if I would be alone.
Do you believe your experiences have had a positive effect on you? Would you encourage others to a embark on a similar journey to your own?
Absolutely! It is in so many ways a life changing experience. And even if something goes wrong, you will learn from that. And then something negative turns positive. I’m thankful for all my experiences so far.
What would you tell other women who are thinking about the idea of heading out on travel by bicycle? Do you have practical advice for them? What would you have wanted to know before setting off on your journey?
Do it!!! Start with an easy and safe route. That gives yourself time to get used to everything. From there you can decide how and if you want to go on.