Men explain things to Rebecca Solnit, but in Austria and Germany, they talk to me outside supermarkets. One huge man in Bavaria comes out of the supermarket as I’m eating something and his jaw drops. ‘What are you doing?’ he asks. I’m cycling. ‘Where from?’ England. I’m going to Turkey. ‘What!?’ He’s incredulous. I wonder what he’ll say next. He says, ‘but… you know it’s going to rain tonight!?’ Yeah I heard that. Thanks. He stares at me open-mouthed for an uncomfortable amount of time and I am too absorbed with whatever I’m eating to ask him a question back. He says, ‘but where do you sleep?’ I point at my tent. ‘But… But what if it rains?’ If it rains, either I get wet or I go somewhere dry. Like my tent. I wonder what happens to him when it rains. Poor bloke. Maybe something really bad happened to him in the rain once.
Another man another day, outside a supermarket, points out that I’m drinking an energy drink. Yep, energy drink. ‘Where are you going?’ he asks. Vienna. (Vienna’s 300km away at this point). ‘No, where is your next stop?’ Um, I don’t know. He asks again, ‘but how far are you going now? Where will you sleep?’ I don’t know. Somewhere down there? I point at the river. He’s not happy with that. ‘How many kilometres will you cycle now?’ I pick a number. Thirty? He’s not sure about that. Dreizig, I say. He’s not confident I know my numbers so he makes out thirty with his hands to be sure I mean three lots of ten and not thirteen. Once that’s agreed he looks at me and looks at my bike and puffs out his cheeks and says ‘that’s too far.’
Just outside Graz a man stops to talk to me outside a supermarket. He looks like he belongs in a 1930s jazz bar saying, ‘well whadda ya know kid?’ He asks the usual questions and I brace myself for the too fars. And he says ‘well, did you go to Munich?’ No I didn’t, I’ve never been to Munich. ‘You really have to go to Munich! I used to live there, and now I live here but it’s a great city and you should really go some time. Wonderful opera!’ Ok great, maybe I will go one day! I’ve never thought a lot about going Munich but I’m so happy he hasn’t told me what I can’t do that I tell him I will.
But women don’t talk to me outside supermarkets and I wonder why that is? I camped last night at a campsite on a sort of half island by Trogir, which has a lovely old town. I arrived in the rain but then it stops raining and I have a swim in the sea at dusk and it’s nice and warm. Then there’s an amazing thunderstorm and I watch the lightening at sea when I’m cooking my dinner under some shelter. This morning I’m thankful that I have inherited my mother’s ability to sleep through the loudest thunderstorms because I feel refreshed and looking forward to the day’s cycling along the beautiful coast. And I’m happy because the clothes I left out to dry are actually dry despite the storm because it must have been windy afterwards. Great! I sit and eat my breakfast and drink my coffee. And guy comes up and says ‘brr! Aren’t you cold?’
Today the roads were pretty hairy around Split. There was no choice but the main road around the town and towards Dubrovnik, and there were many lorries and all that. It’s quite busy. And then in a layby a man with a van flags me down and so I stop. I’m worried he’s going to shout at me for getting in his way. He says, ‘hello, I’m Damir. Excuse me, but… aren’t you scared?’ I say, what of? (I want to know what he thinks I should be scared of – the lorries? Sea urchins? Does he have some local knowledge that I would benefit from?) He says, ‘er, I don’t know.’ Oh right, you flagged me down on a busy road to tell me about general fear. Thanks, but I already know about that!
He goes on. ‘Well, I have a daughter and she’s 23, and, how old are you?’ 31. ‘Um, and do you know that the weather has broken and now we have the bura wind, and tonight it will be very cold?’ Oh right, how cold? (Because if it will be -10 I may have to buy some trousers.) ‘It will be 5 degrees tonight’. I tell him I think that’s ok, but thank you for telling me. He then rolls his eyes and says ‘right!’ and walks off. I carry on past Split and the road quietens down and the sun comes out and I go and find a beach and make myself a cup of coffee.
I read this by long-distance cyclist Lael Wilcox and the men who are scared about the cold or the wind or the too far distance or whatever make total sense: “I am starting to think that seeing a woman riding alone can ignite a sense of fear in others. When they are telling me I can’t do something, they’re actually projecting their own fears onto me. If they feel that they can’t do something, then surely I can’t do it either—because I’m a woman and I’m small and I’m alone.” [My favourite bit about this article actually is when she buys a bottle of rum after doing the ‘Highway of Tears’ and swigs it like a total badass then goes on with her ride]. To some of these guys I’m their daughter, and all of their fears about the world. To them maybe the next town is too far, the rain is too rainy, the cold too cold and the world too scary for their daughters. But, guys, how about I stop being your daughter and you stop being the patriarchy? Because, as you are not actually the patriarchy embodied, mostly you are just concerned, I am not all women, I am just a person on a bike ride. If you stop to talk to me can you at least give me some helpful tips like how to fix things with cable ties? Or alternatively, just tell me about your favourite jazz bar in Munich like Daddy-cool.