Out there

Grace Jennings

I guess it all started with a Google search. Early into quarantine, I became interested in reading more female adventure stories because, like many things, men really take the stage when it comes to outdoor exploration, and I got a little fed up with that. I knew that there were plenty of women out there doing amazing things - it just seemed like many of those stories were buried under volumes of macho-man survival books. So, I went to Google with “best female adventure books” and was intrigued by the title and cover of Kate Harris’s Lands of Lost Borders.

Kate Harris grew up in Ontario with a serious bug for adventure. Obsessed with the idea of exploration from a very young age, she decided early on that her final destination would be Mars. As an avid reader and exceptional student, she rode this dream through college, to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, and even to MIT where she ultimately realized that Mars might not be the kind of exploration she really wanted. With a sudden loss of direction and a gaping hole that needed to be filled in her life, Kate called up her childhood friend Mel and set off for one of the greatest adventures I had ever heard of. They were going to bike the entire Silk Road. 

Over the course of ten months, the two women petaled through ten different countries, relying only on each other and the hospitality of strangers. Between language/cultural barriers, unpredictable weather, and many logistical travel issues, they overcame some incredibly grueling moments and pushed themselves, both physically and emotionally, to unimaginable limits. I can’t say it sounded super fun, but it was inspiring as hell. 

Sitting in quarantine feeling rather rudderless myself, I took a page out of Kate Harris’s book and called up one of my best friends from high school, Caroline. “Hey! Do you want to bike to Canada?” “Sure!”. To be clear, we were far from experienced cyclists at the time, in fact, Caroline doesn’t even own a bike, but after a few training rides (on her mom’s bike, shoutout Mrs. Stevenson), and mapping out what we thought to be the safest route, we felt ready to hit the road. The plan was to ride from the north shore of Massachusetts, up along the coast of Maine, and eventually finish in Calais, Maine. Since we weren’t actually allowed to cross the border due to covid, we picked Calais rather arbitrarily because it made our route much easier logistically (trust me, Calais is far from a bucket list item, but it borders Canada so it worked for us). 

We spent the month leading up to takeoff collecting essential items and getting more comfortable riding long distances. This included a grueling training ride that we highly miscalculated which led us to the top of a local ski mountain 35 miles away. Once we had acquired all the necessary tools and equipment, we finally set off on our journey carrying a tent, our sleeping bags, some bike gear, close to 80 power bars, and more Knorr Rice Sides than a person should ever eat. We rode all day in our very reflective, neon shirts and stayed the night in campgrounds, some much more trustworthy than others. Covid-wise, biking through Maine was probably one of the safer things we could have done considering we interacted with approximately 10 people and didn’t go inside a single time. 

There were still plenty of moments when, like Kate and Mel, we seriously questioned what the hell we were thinking when we decided to do this thing. One such moment was the night we spent at a “campground” which ended up being the backyard of a local goat farm. Don’t recommend. But after seven days, 400 miles, and far too many close encounters with Mac trucks, Caroline and I rolled into the glorious Calais, Maine feeling incredibly accomplished and incredibly sweaty. While it was a rather anticlimactic finish, we celebrated by drinking cold lemonade as we gazed longingly across the Saint Croix River into Canada.  

Perhaps our naivety outweighed our perception of the many potential risks that came along with this trip, and we were incredibly lucky that nothing seriously bad happened, but there’s a common narrative that women shouldn’t partake in such adventures because of the inherent risks of being female. I’m not stupid, I know that two young women riding alone in the middle of nowhere raises many concerns, but I couldn’t help but keep coming back to the fact that that Kate and Mel did this across 10 different foreign countries and turned out okay! There’s a lot of privilege that comes along with being able to tune out the voice of danger, and sometimes it really is stupid to ignore it, but had we given up because we let those fears take over, we wouldn’t have had the amazing experience we did or the confidence to dream of bigger things. 

Kate and Mel’s story was far louder than the voice of fear that never stops rattling around in my head. The stories of women doing unbelievable, jaw dropping things are what push other women to do the next unbelievable, jaw dropping thing. It’s this perpetual cycle of confidence and inspiration that we don’t see enough of in modern media. Lands of Lost Borders spoke to me in a very specific way and set off a whole chain reaction of emotions and actions that let me believe some crazy feat was actually possible. Our trip was a fraction of the distance and extravagance of Kate and Mel’s, but it definitely planted the seed for bigger adventures and gave me, and hopefully many others, the confidence to consider even more “out-there” ideas. 

Watch a video of the journey here: