I am itching to go to France, to Europe, again. Actually, I really want to do what I did as recently as 2001, just before 9/11: Buy the cheapest round-trip ticket to Paris I can find, bring my bike with me and decide where I’m going to ride once I get there.
The first time I did that, I didn’t come back for a long, long time. (Actually, I bought an open-ended round-trip ticket to London. Are such things still available?) I rode through the English countryside to Dover and took the ferry to Calais, from which I rode through Belgium, the Netherlands and back into France, where I stayed for as long as I could. Other times, I pedaled to Italy, Spain, Germany, Switzerland or the Netherlands and back.
When I took such trips—even the first, my first outside North America—I never felt like a tourist. Even though my French—or, for that matter, English-- wasn’t nearly as good as I thought it was after the classes I took, I felt (with much justification, I believe) I was experiencing the countries, the cultures and all of the architecture and art I’d seen in books and classrooms in ways that those who followed trails emblazoned with American Express signs never could.
On the other hand, when I went to Prague three years ago, I knew I was a tourist. It didn’t have anything to do with the way people treated me; for that matter, it didn’t even have to do with the fact that I knew nothing of the Czech language. Many residents of Prague speak German—of which I know a little-- nearly as well as they speak their own language, which is not a surprise when you consider that the area’s history. And I found it surprisingly easy to find people who spoke English, or even French. But I stayed in a hotel and rented a bike which while, enjoyable enough to ride, was nothing like the ones I brought with me on previous trips. In contrast, in all of my other trips, I usually stayed in hostels. Sometimes I’d camp, and once in a while I’d stay in a pension or inexpensive hotel if the other options weren’t available or I was too tired or lost to find them—or I simply wanted to treat myself.
During the first years of my gender transition, I wasn’t thinking about taking a trip like the ones I took every other year or so. Then, for a few years, I told myself I didn’t want to take such trips—or so I told myself—because I saw them as part of my life as a male being, which I was leaving in my past. I also figured that I couldn’t take such trips, which I usually did alone, because I believed that travelling solo as a woman would not be safe.
But I realize that other women have taken bike or other trips by themselves. More important, I think I still have the same ability to function on my own that I had when I was younger, and male. If anything, I can function better on my own, in part because I have a better sense of when I need to ask for help, or when I want to do things with other people.
Now I see two barriers to doing a trip like the ones I did in my youth. One is cost. The past few years have been more difficult for me, financially, than those years of my 20’s, 30’s and early 40’s. Even if my income were keeping pace with the kind of money I made in those days—or if I came upon the serendipities that sometimes came my way—it would be harder to take such a trip because it’s much more expensive. Back in the day, my biggest expense was the plane fare: Once I got to Europe, I could live cheaply and relatively well, even when exchange rates weren’t so favorable to the dollar. But, since the introduction of the Euro, everything has gotten much more expensive. Europeans I know say as much.
The other is that I wasn’t in the kind of physical condition I was in those days. Some people have told me it’s to be expected, simply because my age. Also, more than a decade of taking hormones and my surgery left me with less physical strength and endurance than I had in those days. Plus, as much as I love cycling, I don’t do as much of it as I did in those days. That, of course, may have something to do with my physical changes.
Still, I would love to take the sort of trip I used to take, and to experience it as the person I am now. Some might say that’s an unrealistic hope. But, until someone can show me that it’s empirically impossible, I’ll continue to hold out such a hope—and to do what I can to prepare for such a trip.