Looking back at my 8-year-old self wobbling on a bike around the sidewalk, I would never have guessed that I would be planning to ride one across Europe with all of my possessions in tow right after I turn 22. Since I was 14, I have been riding a bicycle as my main mode of transportation. I have never owned a car and never got a driver’s license. If I’m going to travel somewhere, it’s going to be on a bicycle. It’s cheaper and minimizes my carbon footprint, and it also changes the experience of going on an adventure.
When I moved to Tallahassee to study at FSU, I was introduced to a blossoming cycling community, some of the steepest hills I have ever ridden and a passion for pedaling on steel frames and two wheels. A big part of my appreciation for my college experience has come from riding my bike around campus and organizing events to get more people on their bikes. I became the coordinator of the reCycle Bike rental program at FSU where I managed a fleet of 70 used bicycles and rented them out to students. I enrolled in an urban and regional planning class during my last semester to see if I could involve myself in bike transportation. I have graduated with a high GPA, no student loan debt and a vision for a future that is socially and environmentally sustainable and equitable.
I started riding my bike a lot more after I discovered Strava from a friend who’d bought a carbon racing bike. I thought it looked awesome and I loved the idea of racing and competing with people around town, but what got me even more excited was challenging myself to beat a personal record or ride further than I ever have before. I became obsessed with recording my rides and seeing the numbers and accomplishments. I thought I wanted to race. I believed I could be the fastest woman in Tallahassee. Then in March of 2016, when I was borrowing a bike from a friend in New York City during my spring break week, I crashed and woke up in the hospital with a concussion. I had lacerations on the right side of my face, a swollen eye and gashes in my left knuckles. Thankfully, my friends who were hosting me at their apartment took care of me while I rested. I had a broken pair of glasses, fresh scars and a reality check from that experience. Most of what I remember when I woke up in the hospital bed was thinking, “I’m okay, I’m alive and I’m going to get through this”.
Again in October 2016, not 5 months later, I was struck by a car on my bike less than a mile from my house. It was a Sunday morning and I was on the way to a training ride when I looked back and waved the only person driving on the road with me to pass. When I turned around, the last thing I remember seeing was the pavement and a woman leaning over my face apologizing over and over again. I’m glad I’ve blocked out the impact and the ride to the hospital. The nurse told me I had a 3rd degree concussion, but that I would be able to go home the same day. My glasses didn’t break this time, luckily, and again I had friends who took care of me when I was released from the ER.
Following the crash in October, I promised myself that I would keep riding my bike and make a point to inform more people about my experience. I’ve been aware of texting and driving for a while and felt like it was only a matter of time before it affected me. If I don’t speak up about this issue, who else will? It seems like a no-brainer that we need to look out for each other, but if someone doesn’t empathize with an experience, how could they possibly care about someone else’s? If your perspective has always been from the seat of a car rather than a saddle on a steel frame, how could you know what it feels like to be passed by a chunk of metal going 50 miles per hour? It’s something you can best know from experiencing it yourself. I can tell you, though, it can be pretty scary and frustrating.
But these crashes didn’t stop me from riding a bike. If anything, they inspired me to ride more. I continued leading weekly cafe rides to local coffee shops from the Integration Statue at FSU. I organized and taught a bike commuting 101 class in collaboration with Erica from Joyride Bicycle Collective, a grassroots initiative to get more people on bikes in Tallahassee, Florida. I wanted to give students an opportunity to learn more about the resources available to choose sustainable modes of transportation, so I organized Getting Here, a resource fair that brought 10 organizations together to showcase their visions for a bicycle and pedestrian-friendly community. To be honest, most of my love for bicycling has been due to the people I have met through these organizations. Whether it was hanging out at Krank It Up, the local bike cooperative in the All Saints District or riding single-track through Munson Hills to watch the full moon with a group of Joyriders, I met most of my friends through biking. You can bond over the shared love for freedom on wheels and eat snacks together.
My plans for the next six months involve traveling solo across the European Union with just a bicycle, camping gear and basic necessities. Along the way, I will be journaling, updating a blog with photographs and writing essays of my experiences to share with friends, family and anyone interested in bike touring. I start in Stockholm, Sweden and my destination is set for Portugal and Spain. Following my adventures, I plan on continuing my education with a focus on leadership, organizing and planning. My interests gravitate towards mapping with GIS, documentary filmmaking, illustration and design as well as bicycle equity advocacy. Graduate school is a track I am considering, but I want to be certain of what I want to research before I decide on a Masters program.