Getting lost in France: Cycling abroad alone

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Having fun on the bike often means chatting to friends, challenging someone on a climb and sitting together for the post-ride coffee. I love how social the sport is, but then in a departure from my normal riding style, I started hatching a plan that meant abandoning all camaraderie.

That plan was to cycle in France for two weeks, on a journey that included some of the incredible climbs that we are now watching the riders of the Tour de France take on. Though, I was doing it alone with nothing but my bike and a tiny bag that barely held more than a toothbrush and some laundry soap. The bevy of reasons why the trip might be too daunting to make it on to most people’s travel agenda flashed through my mind – I don’t know the language, don’t know the traffic laws and what about the safety aspect of travelling as a lone female?

But, I did it anyway, experiencing the remote outdoors, independence, unknown terrain and an uncertain destination. My bikepacking trip was an incredible journey through the French Alps, that took me up brutal climbs with incredible views and an intimate connection with the French culture and people. It was the most rewarding, liberating trip and it was also rich with self-discovery. I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again.

And here are some of the reasons why:

gorgeous mountains

Alone but not lonely. I am a very social cyclist and love being around people while riding. Riding solo was my biggest concern. Would it be lonely? Boring? There was none of that, in fact it was quite the opposite. There was a level of comfort with being by myself. There was no one who gave or took away the responsibility – it was all mine. I didn’t have to make decisions, but if I did I could change them in a second. There were no compromises, no worries.  It felt liberating. I learned more about who I am  –  all the minor details that usually get overlooked because I am focused on others. And don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the company of others, but I realised that sometimes that can mean missing out on myself.

Top of Mt Ventoux
Top of Mt Ventoux

Respect on the road. Worried about the traffic, particularly when riding in an unfamiliar country with different road rules? Any concern I had about riding in the country where the biggest bike race in the world takes place quickly disappeared when I realised that car drivers give you the entire lane when passing. Cycling is extremely popular in France and drivers are used to having cyclists on the road and respect them.

Col de Vaes

What language barrier? Speaking no French is not a big problem. A lot of people speak English and if you have a basic dictionary with you, you will get around just fine.

No one made me feel vulnerable. Travelling as a solo female definitely made some people wonder, but no one approached me in a bad way. People are curious and they usually love it that you are game to do the trip on your own.

Don’t worry about getting lost, plan on it. If you are not majorly concerned about riding certain roads, let the roads just come to you. I had a physical map (no GPS) and planned over breakfast a route which might change five minutes into my ride when I got lost. It didn’t matter. I found another awesome road and enjoyed the beauty of the country. When it was time to get off the bike, all I had to do was look for the next supermarket and place to stay so I could call it a day.

Getting directions from a French farmer
Getting directions from a French farmer

The unrestricted spirit, the fresh air and the infinite possibilities made the horizon truly the destination. Some look for this kind of rejuvenation in yoga retreats and mindfulness classes, but for me it’s found on the bike.

If you are cyclist, no matter what level, it’s so easy to find joy in getting lost in France. And if you need a rest day, there’s always the French vineyards.

Monika is a German ultra-endurance racer based in Melbourne and one of our Ella ambassadors. She is a gravel grinder, exercise physiologist and mental toughness coach that loves cycling challenges which push her beyond her perceived physical limits. You can find more of her writing here.

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