Alissa is the outdoor loving bikepacker behind Exploring Wild. She is the author of the Bikepacker ’s Pocket Companion, a digital guide offering confidence and problem-solving help to new bikepackers out on the road. She is also the creator of bikesleepbike.com, a community directory of bike travel blogs where hundreds of cyclists share their stories and routes. After her 2018 solo trip to Africa, Alissa felt the need to share her adventures and challenges she has encountered with the online community. Now, she continues to share more stories and learnings from her travels; may it be from her personal experiences, curious conversations, and careful research.
“When we learn to feel at home in nature, we become interested in protecting our planet. When we experience other cultures up close, we become more thoughtful and open-minded. When we feel our own strength, we grow into more skillful and satisfied humans. “
1. Where and how was your first bikepacking experience?
There have been several types of firsts, each significant in their own way. My very earliest experience of multi-day bike riding was in New Zealand many years ago. My husband and I rented bicycles, carried camping gear in backpacks and pedaled for four days across the south island, stopping at campgrounds each night. I didn’t even know there was a name for this activity, but I loved the feeling of freedom and independence it offered.
Years later I learned that “bicycle touring” had a name, and some people do it for long periods of time, sometimes all the way around the world. I thought this was the most adventurous and exciting thing I’d ever heard of! After a period of working up my courage by reading stories from other bike travelers, particularly other solo women, I took off to Southeast Asia for a three month solo ride. It was a big adventure, sometimes fun and sometimes difficult, and I loved it.
My first real experience of bikepacking, in the way I now understand it as off-pavement riding in remote areas, was a 400 mile race through the mountains of Idaho. I was tired of feeling unsafe cycling on roads in America, but I still longed to adventure on my bike, so I redirected my focus to dirt roads and trails with less motor vehicle traffic. Over the last few years I have been bikepacking all around the western US, and I hope to do more bikepacking abroad soon.
2. What was the most life-changing place or activity you have experienced while traveling and why?
Before my first bike tour in Asia, I spent five months backpacking through eastern and western Africa, trying my best to travel mindfully and independently. West Africa in particular, including places like Liberia and Sierra Leone where travelers rarely go - was life-changing for me in several ways. I learned about my own strength as I faced challenging situations on my own, and I met so many kind and generous people who defied the negative stereotypes I’d been told about this part of the world.
I also came to understand that my home culture in America is very unique. I experienced a taste of cultures that value sharing, extended social and family networks, and adaptability more than saving, personal achievement, and planning. Regardless of money - yes, it was also eye-opening to see people living in poor economic conditions - I learned that there are many ways to approach life and all have their advantages and disadvantages. I still live as an American in my home culture, but I hold my values a little more lightly now and try to be open to new ideas.
3. As an introvert, how do you meet people while traveling, especially when you're bikepacking outside of the country?
Actually it’s very easy! Showing up on a bicycle always seems to attract curiosity and friendliness. When I travel, I enjoy pretending to be extroverted for a little while. It’s fun and heartwarming to meet so many kind people and to learn from them, especially when traveling in other countries. Of course I’m still an introvert at heart, so sometimes I just need to hide alone in a motel room for a couple days to get my energy back after so much interaction.
4. What's the best advice you can give someone who wants to try bikepacking but is intimidated by it?
You just have to start. That’s the hardest part, and even now I usually feel intimidated in the days leading up to a trip. But I know that once I’m on the road I’ll feel better. So throw some things in a backpack and pedal to a campsite, or book your plane ticket for a big trip, and just go. Read books and blogs, or watch videos, by other people who are out there bikepacking too. You’ll see that we are normal people not so different from you, and we are figuring everything out as we go along. If we can do it, so can you!
5. What's in store for Alissa of Exploring Wild this 2022?
I’m riding a couple shorter bikepacking races in California and Arizona during the Spring, then backpacking the Long Trail in Vermont. I’m excited because that will be my first time hiking on the eastern side of the US. Then the big one… I’m hoping to go bikepacking in Kyrgyzstan with my husband. We are really looking forward to a return to international travel and a big adventure in a beautiful country. I hope it works out!