Q&A: for the #solofemaletouringcyclist

Morgan Curtis asked:

Hi Devi!

I’m currently in the midst of planning a solo climate storytelling bike trip from New England to Paris for COP21 this December – through Atlantic Canada, Greenland, Iceland and Scandinavia. I’m also soon to be #solofemaletouringcyclist on a climate storytelling journey… Too excited to be reading about yours!

I’m about to get lost in your beautiful words for a few days. Thank you.

If you have a moment to share any words of wisdom I’d be ever, ever so grateful. Crowdfunding, gear, touring alone as a female, logistics, media… the responsibilities of a storyteller, interviews, writing while on the road, use of social media to share story… any thoughts you may have for me, large or small, I’d be so appreciative.

While it doesn’t look like we might get to cross paths any time soon, I hope it might happen eventually.

Love & luck for all that you are doing,



Climate Journey: Storytelling for Climate Justice

10,000km to the 2015 United Nations Climate Conference

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Hi Morgan,

I’m so, so glad to connect, and WOW what a journey you are about to begin! You have my support, 110%. Here’s to #solofemaletouringcyclists and #climateactivists and all things good.

Re: advice – I free-formed (see below). Hope this is helpful. Please toss any follow-up questions my way.

Crowdfunding: is nerve-wracking.

Gear: waterproof panniers are a must. I have Ortliebs. Not sure what size, etc. but I love them. Get fitted for a bike at your local shop and try it out. Invest in disc breaks. They are well worth it for the load you will be carrying + ease of use + cycling in wet conditions.

Touring alone as a female: trust your instincts. Use the three second rule: if someone gives you weird energy within the first three seconds, gracefully go away.

Do you know about the Women on Wheels Wall? Check it out. There’s heaps of stories and good advice in the #solofemaletouringcyclist blogs you’ll find links to on this page: http://www.skalatitude.com/p/wow-women-on-wheels.html

Logistics: have a rough route plan, but don’t be afraid to deviate from it. Go with the flow. Buy an appropriate sleeping bag for the weather you will be cycling in.

Media: I haven’t sought out any journalists / radio folks, etc. — they find me. Once people know about your project, they will tell other people about your project. Your main focus should be on doing the thing. Let other people talk about you doing the thing. Don’t get so caught up in others’ perceptions / words about you doing the thing that you forget to fully do the thing. That said, if someone asks you to talk about your trip for a media outlet, say yes.

The responsibilities of a storyteller: are to listen fully. And to always have documentation-equipment (my audio recorder, field notebook, and a pen, in my case) on hand. Give yourself permission to lose yourself to the rhythm of a storyteller’s speech.

I *highly* recommend reading Anna Deavere Smith’s Letters to a Young Artist and Talk to Me: Listening Between the Lines.

Listen with the whole of your being to what people have to tell you.

Everyone has a story to share.

Interviews: Don’t talk over people. Give folks permission to speak their truth. I try not to speak at all in the audio recordings I make with storytellers (though sometimes people ask me to ask them questions on the recording, in which case I will).

Writing while on the road: take notes. Have a notebook or two in your handlebar bag. They’re going to get beat up. That’s okay. In New Zealand they sell 20 cent red notebooks at stationary shops and post offices that I’m a HUGE fan of. You don’t need a fancy notebook, just something practical and the right size to fit in a pocket.

Sometimes my brain gets so full when I’m cycling (movement tends to loosen things that are lodged deep within me) that I have to pull over and write it out.

Obviously only do this in a safe place.

Use of social media to share story: Don’t feel pressured to share everything immediately on the internet. Some days (most days) the last thing you will want to do after a full day of cycling is to stare at a computer screen. This is okay. Get some sleep. Cycle. Take hand-written notes.

Your responsibility is to bear witness and to document. But don’t let the need to share immediately (UGH culture of speed — fuck that, go slowly when you need to) take away from you living this amazing experience. The trip will become your life. It IS your life. You can live it at the rhythm that works best for you. Go gently. Be okay with the fact that what you share online will likely be less than 1% of the whole experience. Give yourself permission to let stories and thoughts percolate and ferment and do all those wonderful things that thoughts do when you let them stew for a hot minute. Slow down. Slow down. Really — slow down. Let things unravel as they will. Cycling is a great cure for writer’s block.

I believe in you and I believe in your project. Don’t feel like you have to have everything figured out before you hit the road. You will learn as you go.

Morgan wrote back:

I am really moved – this truly made my day! Thank you SO much for all of your words, thoughts & encouragement. So generous of you to write all this for me from the road. 

One thing I was wondering is what types of technology you have with you – phone, iPad, laptop, audio recorder, camera, bike computer etc? I’m torn between all sorts of options on that front.

Another wondering – ships, boats. I have five crossings to make on my journey – Nova Scotia to Newfoundland, Newfoundland to Greenland, Greenland to Iceland, Iceland to Denmark, Finland to Estonia. The first a new friend has agreed to sail me, the last two have ferries, the middle two are significant & still unknown to me. I told myself when I started dreaming of this that I wouldn’t allow possibly having to fly to stop me from pursuing the dream at all. Any advice, though, on contacting shipping companies etc? I would so deeply love not to fly.

Hey rockstar! SO — let me do my best:

Phone: I bought a brick phone my first day in Fiji and use it still. Sometimes it gets temperamental and I’m not a tech wizard by any stretch of the imagination, but it was cheap and I hardly use it. Also, the battery will last for days. Most of my communication happens through the internet. The phone is good in emergencies and to text / call local contacts. When I got to NZ I bought a new SIM card for the phone. I top it up when I need to.

I have an iPhone 4s that worked in the states but is un-unlockable internationally (pain in the butt, I know). That said, it works great to take photos for instagram, for quick things on the internet if there’s a Wifi connection available and I don’t want to get my laptop out, and, perhaps most importantly, for music! I like to play music while I ride, especially in the afternoons (obviously without headphones, because that would be dangerous––your ears are some of your most important tools on the road!). I set my playlist on max volume and set the iPhone to balance in the top flap of my handlebar bag. Presto, personal stereo/dance party mix. It works wonders. I also like to listen to music this way when I am solo camping / cooking / packing up. It makes life that much more danceable.

(I think that iPods nowadays would serve this same function of internet / music but I already had this device and there was no sense in getting something new. Gosh, the tech industry is good at producing waste, eh? Sigh.)

To call home I use Viber. It’s free to download on your desktop or smartphone and free to use when the person you’re calling also has Viber. You can also top up with Viber Out and call to any phone number in the world––the rates are super-reasonable, too. Check it out. When you call a non-Viber number using Viber Out, it will show up as Unlisted on the other person’s caller ID, just FYI. And it doesn’t cost them anything extra or exorbitant, which is pretty darn awesome. Thank you, internet!

Kindle: is a must. You asked about an iPad, but personally I don’t have a use for one. I need a laptop to do my audio editing and writing (more on that later) but OH GOSH. Reading is life. I can’t write if I’m not reading. I hope you’ll find the same.

Obviously I prefer real, hold-in-your-hand / words-on-the-paper kind of books, but when you’re bike touring, it’s just not practical. And books on the road are expensive, too. I opted for the older kindle 4 because I hate reading with a backlight, especially at night. I have a nice ritual going on of reading before bed now, and I love it. If you need any book recommendations, just holler. Get some Dervla Murphy, for sure. Reading about her mishaps makes me feel so much better when I, too, have mishaps.

Laptop: I’m writing on a used / refurbished 11-inch MacBook air with 8GB memory. I have two external hard drives that I use to back-up my files. One of them is presently in Auckland with a friend, awaiting my return. Be mindful of keeping your electronics in dry-bags / not storing water anywhere near them. I bought a keyboard cover that protects against spills, too––just in case. I love water, but my electronics do not.

Audio recorder: Sony M-10.

And then there’s all the stuff that goes with it: Rycote Extension Handle with Foam Hand GripManfrotto 015 Female 3/8 to Male 1/4-20 AdapterSony MDR-7502 Headphone, two 32GB microSDHC memory cards, and a windscreen.

A word of caution about the M-10: it is super sensitive to handling noise and takes some getting used to. Make sure that you make several practice recordings with your equipment (you can try out on family / friends) before you go out into the field. If you haven’t done much audio recording before, it might be best to start with something simpler. Before the M-10 I was the proud owner of an Olympus LS-14. I still travel with the Olympus as a back-up.

I am using the student version of ProTools 11 to edit the audio files (fading in and out, adjusting the volume level, etc.) but the non-student version is pretty darn expensive (~$700) and also can be a pain in the butt to learn. ProTools is the industry standard for editing music and I think that many radio shows use it––there’s a whole lot that it can do that I don’t even fully understand, but it’s a work in progress! I took a class that introduced me to ProTools in my last semester at Harvard called “Sonic Ethnography.” One main takeaway from the class is that if you can record well (eliminate handling noise, have the levels set properly, monitor with headphones) then editing becomes a lot simpler.

Are you anywhere near NYC at the moment? If so I highly recommend a trip to B&H to sort out what you’ll need. They’re absolutely wonderful with customer service on the phone, too––if you have any questions about which pieces of equipment are best suited to your project, there is someone knowledgable on the other end who can help you make the best choice. I think they also have free shipping on orders over $50.

If you can make it to the NYC store, be sure to visit the 3D printer display. It’s mesmerizing. I watched it run for so long that the guy operating it gave me a mini blue teapot that he had printed out a few hours before. I held it in my pocket all day and gave it to my host.

Camera: I also bought my camera at B&H, a used / refurbished Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100. It was super-duper-on sale because there’s some kind of scratches all over the back side, but the way I see it: it’s going to get really scratched up on the trip! The folks at the counter were super helpful in finding something that suited my needs and price point. I genuinely dislike shopping, but B&H might be the exception to that rule… there’s always a lot of people in the store, but the customer service is on point.

Bike computer: I have to be honest here––I don’t have one. I’m not a numbers person. A physical, fold out, paper map will be your best friend. At one point on the Mississippi River Trip I had a bike computer, but I ended up hating it because I was spending so much time focusing on my average speed and total miles covered and time spent in the saddle that day that I forgot, sometimes, to open up to the world around me. So, you know, you do you. Choose what kind of motivation you need. I feel more alive / free when I am looking up at the road ahead and the hills and the wildflowers and the sun tracking its way across the sky. Lately I haven’t even been wearing a wristwatch…

Boats: Yes, this is a tricky bit. I’m still figuring it out myself! Cargo ships are expensive (upwards of US$100/day) and have to be organized through a cargo ship travel agent in your country of departure. I’m not familiar with the routes you’re taking over sea, and I’m only just starting to learn the ropes myself. That said, my advice is to do some serious googling, telephoning, and talking around before you leave. And possibly a bit along the way. If you’re hoping to hitch, the main factor in catching a ride on a sailboat will be the seasons / wind patterns––I’m guessing that a call ahead to a marina in your port of call will help to answer heaps of these questions about whether or not the route you are hoping for is feasible in the time frame you are looking at. Let’s figure out these ropes together? I have so much to learn.

This is part of an ongoing Q&A series at One Bike, One Year. If you have a question of any kind, feel free to drop me a line!

Also, go forth and check out Morgan’s project. She’s just getting started and could use all the love, support, spare $, and positive energy you have to spare. 

Subscribe & learn more at climatejourney.org

Follow on Twitter

Like on Facebook

Support the journey with a donation

Help fundraise for 350.org via Climate Ride

love from the road,


2 thoughts on “Q&A: for the #solofemaletouringcyclist

  1. Some worthwhile trips, not only for female touring cyclists, but for all cyclists. Thanks a million for sharing this conversation, and have a safe journey full of stories. 🙂

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