Emily, a bit more than a month ago you have finished your first cycling solo trip. How did you come up with the idea of cycling?
It was actually my dad’s idea. I have just graduated from the high school, decided for the gap year and then my dad came and said: „Oh, you should go cycling”. I thought it was a good idea, becasue I have a problem with my hip, so I cannot do a lot walking and biking seemed a really good option for me to get around the places.
I didn’t think I was going to go that far. My first idea was to start in Austria and cycle through Italy and France. But then I found out there will be too much mountains that way, so I I turned the other direction. I cycled from Salzburg to Lake Garda and didn’t really know what I was going to do next. I’ve heard from dad again that Croatia is really beautiful, so I decided to check that out. After Croatia came Slovania, Croatia again, and then Bosnia, Albania and Greece.
How did your parents react to the gap year idea?
They were pretty supportive. My dad was really excited for me. This trip was kind of one of his dreams and he was very passionate about it. My mum was a little worried that I wouldn’t come back home, that I will get lost or something (laugh). She wanted to make sure that everything was going to be ok.
I did the first cycling part – from Salzburg to Lake Garda, together with a friend. She was from home and we started the trip together but then we separated in Croatia. She wasn’t interested in going more on, so I started thinking about doing that by myself. It was so much fun with her together but at the same time it was such a learning experience doing it on my own.
Do you remember this first moment when you stayed on your own?
Oh yes, definitely! (laugh). I felt a little bit.. abandoned? No, that’s not the right word.. I kind of felt very.. alone. Even going to the grocery store and deciding what I wanted to eat was a big thing because I had to decide about it on my own. It was all my just my own decisions. No second opinion for anything. That was a little bit scary but also kind of cool. It felt really good to know that I can do it all on my own.
What expectations did you have before you started cycling?
I didn’t really know what to expect. I thought I was going to do a lot of camping first. I thought I was going to meet much more people on the road and maybe cycle with them for a week or something. I met people on the road but.. they were either cycling a couple already or heading different direction. It was never exactly the same path the same time. That was a little bit of disappointment.
Maybe that has been a little bit of naive but I didn’t really think about what the cultural side would be like. I was thinking lots more about the cycling itself. I didn’t do whole lot of planning, so I wasn’t sure what to expect in regards of how to navigate or how to find a place to stay. I expected to learn a lot about myself and to an extend I did.
I was a little bit afraid of typical travelling things like having my stuff stolen, losing a passport or not having a place to stay. I felt really, actually surprisingly, confident in society or humanity that if I have a problem there will be someone to help me. That actually surprised me that I felt so secured.
Especially about Albania, everybody told me „Oh, you have to be careful there, Albania is dangerous”. From my experience Albania was the country where I felt the most looked after and the most safe. Everyone was waving on the streets, saying „Hi!”. I had an issue with a shoe once, it got stuck in my pedal and I couldn’t get it out. This guy from across the street came to me and helped me out. He run to the block and got me tools, but they didn’t work, so he run back and got me another tools. After that he took my shoe and went to his workstation. I stayed there thinking „Oh no, I’m in one shoe now, what am I going to do?”. But then he came back after five minutes with my shoe fixed. He didn’t want anything for that, just said „Have a good day!”. It was such a selfless action. That made me feel that if I will ever be on the road, between cities, I’m sure there would be someone to stop and put my bike on the car. I felt looked after by the strangers.
Special moments from the road?
At the one time I crashed in a tunnel in Montenegro. I remember it was really dark inside and I couldn’t see anything. I remember thinking „Oh my god, oh my god, I don’t know what to do, I’m gonna die..” – freaking out and at the same time „Ok, ok, I’m ok” – talking to myself and repeating that it was gonna be ok to myself. I have eventually found the way out on the other side and I remember the change in thinking from „Gosh, this is the worst, I’m gonna die” to actually figuring out my situation and fixing it. It made me feel much more confident that if that happens ever again I can deal with it
I think my mindset is much more open now. I always thought that I was worldly, that I have traveled the world. But it was completely different experience. Especially that I was on my own and I just experienced a lot of new cultures that I wasn’t exposed to before. It definitely made me think of the world a lot more that I have figured out before and that there is much more out there than only my hometown where I grew up.
I was talking to my friends back home. The things that I used to talk about with them all strated to seem sort of unimportant. People in the countries I have cycled were through so much, a lot bigger problems. I met someone in a hostel in Bosnia who was a little bit older and has been there through the war. He told me about his background as both Bosnian and Serbian and explained how difficult for him it was throughout the war. It opens your eyes into how privilege we are and that our problems are not that incredible as they seemed.
Where there any moments of doubts when you felt like: „Enough, I’m going to give up now and go back?”
In Montenegro I got sick for a week. It was rainy and cold, not much fun really. I didn’t have anywhere to go. All the hostels were closed and the hotels were way too expensive. I just needed to have one spot to stay for while to recover, but it wasn’t there, so I ended up cycling in the cold for a while.
What did you learn from that?
I’ve learnt that your experiences are just what you make of them. I remember thiking „I’m in Montenegro, I should be happy, this is ridiculous” and I felt sorry for myself. But later on I have realized that doubts are part of this experience. You just have to get through tough times as well. And it’s not always sunshine and lollipops.
How about yourself before and after?
It’s difficult to describe how I feel differently, because I still feel „me”. I am more confident that I can take care of myself or get through the problem. The things I was kind of scared before, like having a flat tyre or finding a place to stay – after everything went well I felt much more confident in figuring this out myself. Also in meeting new people and finding who you are, how you describe yourself to the others. I found a lot about myself by introducing myself to the people I have never met before. It amazed me how you get to know someone so quickly when you are on the road. People are very open when they are travelling. I miss it a lot.
You miss it?
Yes. I noticed that being back to sort of normal lifestyle, I wouldn’t just say „Hi” to someone in a cafe, but when travelling that wouldn’t be weird for me at all. I noticed this difference in myself when I’m in a travelling mindset. Other people who you meet are so much more open to share their stories. I guess it’s because everyone is in the same boat out there, eveyrone is travelling, doesn’t know anybody. Yeah, I miss that.
* Emily Suchy – 18-years old high school graduate of a German-Canadian origin who has just finished her first 3,5-months long cycling solo trip across the Balkans. Enjoys music, plays violin and a little piano. Currently in Germany getting ready for her language test, looking forward to her next bike adventure to come soon in Spring.
More about Emily’s bike adventures on her blog.