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“Aren’t you scared?” or: some fears, examined

“Are you alone?” It is the first question anybody asks, invariably followed by, “Aren’t you scared?”

The first matter is easily disposed of but the scope of the second enquiry is never clarified so I am left wondering… scared of what, exactly? Bear attacks, murder, rape, robbery, a traffic accident, illness, losing my way, of the dark, of being alone…

Extraordinary how quickly a list springs to mind; a host of fears can be called forth in an instant, rapidly becoming amorphous and abstract, but the simple answer is, no – I am not scared, or at least not as an underlying condition. Of course, if some of the things listed above were to actually occur I’m sure I’d be terrified but they are, on a daily basis, merely remote theoretical possibilities.

Let’s examine one of the items most discussed by many tourists here in North America – bears. One or two people are mauled by bears a year, perhaps on a bad year, even three or four. Now, that’s not really very many, considering how many bears there are and how many people are traipsing about in the woods and so why on earth would it be me? I don’t think I’m going to win lotto and I don’t think I’m going to be attacked by a bear. The chances are against it.

I presume, also, that the spectre of human violence lurks unspoken behind the question and it is true that if I did carry pepper spray it would be people – men, specifically – that I had in mind, rather than bears. However, the fact is, that random acts of violence are rare, probably rarer than bear attacks. They happen, but not often. Most violence and abuse – emotional, physical and sexual – occurs between people who know each other. This is a truth that deserves to be repeated often and broadcast far and wide; it is not the stranger that is the danger.

I have no reason to believe that my chance of being a victim of an act of violence, perpetrated by a complete stranger, is any greater while travelling abroad on my bicycle than it is while walking home from the bus stop in any of the cities – Sydney, Sao Paulo, London, for example – that I have lived. By way of illustration, a women I know was stabbed 37 times, in broad daylight, five minutes from where I used to live in the extremely respectable eastern suburbs of Sydney.

Of course, a degree of awareness, commonsense and research is essential to minimise risk where possible. It is important to understand where you are and the nature of the risks you are exposed to. In Australia, I generally sleep with my food in my tent; in North America, I be a fool to.

{ 9 } Comments

  1. Camilla | July 30, 2009 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    Hi there, dear one,

    With apologies for the long absence from your blog but not from our thoughts. Roly and Lorraine have gone back and we miss them, Lindis and my friend jenny have arrived and between the visitors is all the medical stuff and school shennanigans. It has been a hectic few weeks.

    How are you doing? Your reaction to ‘fear of this and that’ is right on the button. Why would you be at any greater risk in the middle of nowhere than in some huge conglomeration of every kind of people. Besides, you will be alert so won’t be caught on the hop, as one could be just as everything seems totally secure in your own backyard.

    Have you met people you like? Are you looking after yourself well? Sumptious little dinners? You are a bloody good cook providing you can carry the ingredients. Are you managing the load OK? Do you follow the Going South blog at all? I wonder how they are doing. They seemed well qualified to make a mighty mess of things.

    Out of sight but never out of mind. We are thinking of you.

    Heaps of love, sweetheart

    De Godmum x x x

  2. Kat | July 31, 2009 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

    My friend Marie in Brazil introduced me to your site – she suggested we maybe meet in Colombia – perhaps it might still happen?
    I’ve been popping in and reading bits, enjoying it – but this post struck such a chord! I cycled in East Africa for 4 months (not even on my own, but with an ex-) and that was the question that everyone asked. There were times where I was afraid, where I lay awake in my tent and every rustle made me start, but in hindsight there was no need for that fear. It was a wonderful trip and people were delighted with the thought of cyclists passing through their world at a pace where we could meet each other. And like you, we were met with incredible kindness and hospitality, unlike you, sometimes our fears made us turn it down. Still, I treasure the memories (and the lasting friends) from that time.
    Have a fantastic journey, i look forward to hearing more

  3. anna | July 31, 2009 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

    Hi Kat,

    Thanks for your comment and if I make it to Colombia I would love to meet up with you. Maybe I can persuade you to join me for a while on your bike in Colombia. I have a couple of friends who are touring there right now.


  4. Kat | August 1, 2009 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    well, if not Colombia then somewhere sometime for sure!

  5. anna | August 1, 2009 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    Definitely – maybe East Africa again? You can be my tour guide – I’d love to go to Africa!

  6. Nelden | August 2, 2009 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    Hi Anna,

    I’m a friend of Irfan’s, and I learnt about your cycling journey from him. I also cycle, but so far only within Jakarta and mostly it’s home – work – home. I really admire your strength and courage to make this trip; which looks very loooong and amazing to me!

    I’ll be following your blog. You go, girl!

  7. Irfan | August 3, 2009 at 2:26 am | Permalink

    Hey there Anna … check in on your blog most morning to see what you’re up to. It’s great. I really enjoy all the different angles and turns you take – a bit of direct observations about the places you are going through, but also the musings and memories about this and that. I was inspired to look up Yeats in Wikipedia after reading your remembered lines of his verse. Still not my type of poetry, but then, I wasn’t there at the time.

    As a matter of interest, do you still have any handycam or similar tools? Can you make little videos as you go?

  8. anna | August 3, 2009 at 2:50 am | Permalink

    Hey there Irfan,

    Thanks! I’m sorry I’m not so regular at posting as to keep you entertained each morning. My access to the internet is a bit patchy out in the woods.

    Yeats isn’t really my kind of poetry either – in fact I really don’t how or when that poem found it’s way into the dark recesses of my mind, but there it was and out it popped when confronted with an island and honeybees.

    I don’t have a video, only my DSLR – which on the whole I think suits me better.


    Oh, and hi to Nelden, too. Glad to meet your friends in cyberworld :-)

  9. julie | August 15, 2009 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Hi Anna, I suppose you get a bit blase about fears because they are rather nebulous and ever present and better not to waste precious energy over the unknown. I am more concerned that you are not getting enough to eat with only one little saucepan to cook out of and a dodgy spoon to eat with – glad you were given a replacement. It is great that you are meeting some generous, hospitable people – they will make the trip memorable, especially as you are recording your feelings and thoughts as you go. The photos are so wonderful – you really have an eye for it. Tons of love xx

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