Ladies We Love is a monthly interview series with women from around the world that provide us with inspiration through their travels and personal stories. This week we got to know traveller, cycler and journalist Melanie Chambers of The Spoked Traveller.
Melanie Chambers is a traveller and cycler, who has travelled the world on cycling adventures. Melanie has been exploring the world for the last 20 years, documenting her cycling adventures on The Spoked Traveller now she is embarking on her biggest challenge yet.
1) For our readers who haven’t visited your blog or don’t know about your cycling, please introduce yourself? Where are you from? What do you do?
Since I first travelled overseas in 1996, I have always cycled when I travel. For the past 20 years, I often do mountain biking trips during my time away – but not touring like this trip. And, I also teach journalism at Western University. I travel and write in the summers, and teach in the winters. Originally, I’m from the East Coast of Canada: born in Newfoundland and grew up in Nova Scotia. I’m smack in the middle now, living in Toronto.
2) You have previously cycled 3,000 km through Europe, tell us more about that trip.
When I first went to Europe, I cycled from Amsterdam to Spain – without a GPS or phone. I was so green. I didn’t really have any help putting things together so I brought my entire Let’s Go guidebook (it was a monster!) and heavy gear. I didn’t even have the correct bike tools or bum blister cream! I learned a lot. Looking back, I loved not having an itinerary – something I always have now. Back then I just rode my bike and stopped at places I liked.
3) In the last 5 years, you have begun competing in cycling races, that sounds amazing, how have you found racing?
Racing is new to me – I took up racing mountain biking on an amateur level about five years ago – a new boyfriend inspired me to do it. As someone that never, ever, competed in high school or played sports, I found my competitive spirit later in life (well, I’m 46!). As a result of doing well in that arena, I have been asked to participate in events such as a 900 race across South Africa (Joberg2c), and then Taiwan’s KOM.
I love training for these events – it keeps the anticipation of the trip alive. In the case of the KOM (King of the Mountain), I only had three weeks to train for a 105 km race entirely uphill. I came in two minutes under the 6 and a half hour cut off. Finishing was exhilarating. I just love the challenge and surprising myself. Often, you’re stronger than you think. Also, I love seeing places that most travellers don’t visit. Racing is such an amazing way to see another country.
Traveling solo isn’t something I ever considered a ‘thing.’ Meaning, I just really like my own company and I never thought that being a solo female would ever hold me back from visiting a place. However, there are some places where it is a problem. You’re a target. I was mugged in Buenos Aires, and even punched. Don’t think that something bad can’t happen to you. Always be aware. And, prepare – read about the political climate and female equality where you’re visiting. Then, let your intuition kick in. Trust your gut if something doesn’t feel safe. And reach out to local groups before you go. As I prepare to cycle through Japan, I’m staying at some locals’ homes, as well as meeting local bike groups for rides.
Working as a freelance journalist for this long, the industry is at a huge turning point. Print is still around, but I’ve had to change my approach with making a living. Instead of my beloved long-form narratives, which I still write, I am now delving into some corporate work and learning more about social media. My advice is to create a business plan – what do you want to write about? What do you have to offer? Be more strategic about how to get where you want to be. Then, align yourself with those organizations that are similar.
6) You have traveled to over 40 countries, what are your top three destinations and why?
Oh, top three destinations! That’s a hard one because I love each place for something different. I have to say Peru is on the top – I travelled there for about six months and found so much to write about: the ruins, the food, history. And, the topography is so different in each region.
Next, Sardinia, Italy. Mountain biking along both coastlines, imagine abandoned mining towns, and secluded crescent beaches on dramatic rock cliffs. Then, the food. Sardinia is my favourite place to gain weight. Finally, Argentina. Tango dancing, Malbec wine, and tango – oh, a man named Enrique.
7) You are planning to cycle 3,000 km (the length of Japan), to support women and sports for the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020, could you tell our readers more about this?
I haven’t done a long bike tour since my first overseas trip in 1996, so this year, when I discovered that the Olympics are in Japan next year, I thought it would be a good platform to write about women and cycling, and solo travellers. The more I research, the more I am discovering that cycling and camping in Japan is the best plan. Every town and village has a natural hot spring and a park for camping. I can’t wait to ride all day, then soak in a natural spring. That sounds like heaven. I’ve been planning my route according to routes and plans of other travellers – there is a great network of cyclists that have helped me. And the best part is staying with local cyclists through an organization called Warm Showers.
8) On your journey across Japan, you are inviting people to join you, either in person or follow your adventures online, how can our readers get involved and follow along with you?
Readers can find me in two ways—on my site at The Spoked Traveller or Mountain Life Media. I’ll be blogging weekly about the trip, and on my Instagram, I’ll be posting some live videos. I’d love to hear from other women – it does get lonely on the road to reach out with questions, comments or encouragement.
9) What piece of advice would you give our readers who are thinking about taking on a challenge?
My advice for doing such a trip is to really plan. Not just the logistics of what you’re bringing, but also what you want to see. I find the best trips are the ones where you read books about the culture, watch movies, and immerse yourself in the country before you leave. But, for this kind of trip, I also suggest to reach out to as many organizations and people as possible. Don’t wing it. Their advice is invaluable. People have been so generous with their time and support.
10) Now for a fun question, 3 things you never travel without?
Three things I never travel without.
1) A brand-new fancy notebook and a new pen. I love writing on paper. I write out everything, then type it that night, but I have dozens of notebooks from every single trip—even the one in 1996. That notebook I bought from a paper maker in Barcelona. It’s glorious.
2) Energy bars. I am always hungry and you never know where you’ll find your next meal sometimes.
3) A scarf. Doubles as a skirt, headband, strap etc
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