“Do you feel safe?”

As I’m getting closer to departure for Round America with a Duck, here’s another question I’m getting pretty regularly (the answer to which I just added to the FAQ page):

Do you feel safe? 

What a complicated question. I thought about this yesterday as I got a mammogram. My mom has already survived two different breast cancers. We know that in addition to family history, so many environmental factors can cause cancer. Breathing, eating, being is dangerous. A healthy diet and regular exercise seems to help. So I do that. And then there’s COVID. I still mask in public indoors. I try to avoid crowds.

I had BikeNoodle with me yesterday. It serves as a traveling bike lane in places that are dangerous-by-design, such as where I live, and works miraculously. Except that one time. But it’s not coming with me. So that presents challenges.

My local police blotter is packed daily with motor vehicle driver charges, and I expect many communities around the USA are similar. I have dangerous encounters every single day just trying to get to the supermarket or park. A hero ain’t nothin’ but a sandwich. A hero ain’t nothin’ but a sandwich I chant to myself like a mantra, to remind me to make conservative choices with the only goal of making it home alive.

Whether in a parking lot or on mass transit, I do the twenty or more things every girl and woman learns to do when we walk out out the door. It’s so routine at this point it’s almost subconscious:

  • The keys between the fingers
  • The Birdie alarm dangling from our bags, which are worn cross-chest
  • 911 at our fingertips ready to push
  • Looking over our shoulders constantly
  • Not reading a book on a park bench
  • Memorizing license plates
  • Locking our doors the very second we get in cars and while outside pumping gas
  • Clipping up our ponytails so we can’t be yanked into alleyways or cars
  • Sitting near the bus driver, another woman or family, or the call button or phone when riding trains
  • Eye contact if face-to-face with someone who seems threatening so we can identify them in a lineup, but no eye contact with drivers because that’s when harassment is most likely to happen (despite what general biking classes tell you — this is why I created my own classes specifically for women and girls — you can access them for free globally here)
  • Pretending to ignore people who seem “off” for some reason (while sizing up the situation and having five escape strategies in mind)
  • Knowing our bikes can be used as getaway vehicles, barriers (including from dogs) and self-defense weapons
  • Holding our u-lock in our hands
  • Limiting time outside at night, even when it gets dark at 5:30 pm
  • Choosing routes extremely carefully, including avoiding multiuse paths that are isolated and don’t have frequent escape routes
  • Pivoting and making different choices based on a continual feedback loop of trusting our guts
  • And, importantly, balancing these reality-based actions with reminders of our personal and collective power by connecting with other women, such as the astounding Nikki Vargas, who show traveling alone is not only possible and desirable but contagiously life-changing. Nikki is the co-founder of the most gorgeous magazine of all time, Unearth Women, and author — along with Unearth Women co-founder Elise Fitzsimmons — of the excellent solo-woman travel advice book Wanderess. She is the sole author of her soon-to-be-released memoir Call You When I Land. (My article titled Bicycle Safety Tips for Female Travelers was published in Unearth Women.)


My #TinyHome for the next 2 weeks! Am road-testing for #RoundAmericaWithADuck while #wwoofing at an #organic #farm that donates everything it grows to those in need! Tomorrow I learn animal care!

♬ Wanderer – Mogli
during my pilot test of Round America with a Duck, inspired by Wanderess

I additionally know it is statistically more dangerous for me to stay home and sit on the couch (obesity, heart disease, diabetes and depression are far bigger killers of women). I know that women are reclaiming our right to exist in public space all over the world, and that as a mother of two daughters, and now as a “woman of a certain age,” I want to help create, through my mere presence, a more-welcoming and wellness-enhancing public sphere for them for generations to come. The future safety of all women and girls depends on our normalization of us alone in public now. You may appreciate this aspirational media release I wrote titled Teenage Girl Saves Herself from Attacker about a real incident that happened right here in my city.

As always, I know my Higher Power is my co-pilot, and that I feel a calling. And I’ve discovered, oddly, that oranges seem to help. Here’s how.

I’m also afraid of snakes and scorpions and horses that kick and goats with horns and bison in general and the heat of the desert and tornados and guns and maybe even the possibility of joining a cult, plus a whole bunch of other things that I expect I’ll encounter on this journey. So, there’s that.

In case you haven’t heard this story yet (I may tell it in the book — it’s another funny one — you can read Chapter 1: Tiny House, Big Idea for free here), you’re talkin’ to the person who was scared of Honey Bunny. I got a long way to go, team.

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