Society of Queer Adventurers Prepare for Europe: The Interview, Part Two

Remember yesterday when I wrote that after getting off the Pacific Crest Trail I cooked up a pretty fantastic Plan B for the summer? Now I want to tell you more about that!

I’m going to Europe for three months with my girlfriend Alley, and we’ll be hiking, biking, WWOOFing, and exploring all over the place!

We decided to interview each other (with both of us acting as interviewer and interviewee, which makes for a cute and weird format that I hope y’all enjoy as much as I do) to provide some details to our friends / families / strangers on the internet who want to follow along with our adventures!

The first part of the interview published this morning over at Alley’s blog, Out and About (get it?!), and the second part is right here, right now! If you want to get up to date on the nitty gritty details of our plans, make sure to read Part 1 – you’ll learn all about Alley’s bike route through France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, my plans to WWOOF on some farms in Southern France, and our collective plan to hike the Camino de Santiago. Then come back over here and let’s get into my favorite thing: FEELINGS.

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Alley and Vanessa, adventuring in Glacier National Park, August 2016

We went over the logistics of the trip in the first part of the interview. Now let’s talk about some feelings. What are you most excited about?

Alley: I’m excited to see how I do on a bike for many days at a time. I am excited to meet new people from all over Europe and all around the world, but especially locals. I’m excited to see my good friends Sarah and Scott after so many years and to spend time with a newer friend in Amsterdam. I’ve been to both Paris and Amsterdam before but haven’t really spent any time in rural France so I am intrigued to find hidden treasures there as I pedal through. That said, I’ve never been to Belgium at all so I’m excited about experiencing cities there too. If I can go enough miles in a day I think I might be going through Antwerp just as they are having their annual Pride celebration. It would be a hilarious coincidence to be there then and I really hope to meet other queers.

Because our trip is in sort of two or three parts I feel like I haven’t even had as much time to think about the later portions, although there is so much to anticipate then too. I am anxious to lay on a beach with my bae, which we will hopefully do near Bordeaux, a stop we hope to make pre-Camino. Of course everything about the Camino is something I am excited to experience (though nervous as well, which I will get to in the next question). Crossing into Spain on day one will be my very first time setting foot in that country so everything is going to be so fresh and so new. Hopefully my bad Latin American Spanish will be of some use.

Another huge draw, can’t lie, is the food and wine. France and Spain are both known for wine and cheese and I will not be holding back from trying all of it. The fresh baked items and produce are just as enticing. Being active plus eating everything in sight seems like the way to do it to me. The fam has requested cases and while we definitely can’t carry them with us while we are walking perhaps a particularly awesome vineyard will ship some home. Otherwise I’ll just keep drinking for you all at home. And Binky, we’ll try to remember the names and textures of all the cheeses we eat for you. Babe, maybe a wine and cheese count needs to go into each blog post?

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Portrait of a “casual cheese plate” I made in July 2017 – we are nothing if not dedicated to consuming cheese

Vanessa: I’m excited about everything! The last time I was in France and Spain I was 19 and thought I was an indoor kid and a straight girl. Last time I was in France and Spain I had bangs. So much has changed in nine years! I’m a different version of myself and I’m really stoked to see what this Vanessa is going to find on this adventure.

I’m also really excited about having this blog to document our travels in. I’ve grown extremely fond of this little community and this writing practice but I’ll admit, when I got off the Pacific Crest Trail I had a hard time figuring out how to keep writing in this blog while dealing with the sadness and confusion of no longer being on the trail. Now that I’ve got a new adventure I feel like I have something tangible to write about and even if that’s cheating, I’m grateful for it.

I’m also very, very excited about all the cheese. Yes, I am absolutely down to include a wine and cheese count in every blog post – but with an emphasis on the cheese.

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For reference: this is what I looked like last time I visited Spain (Madrid, 2009)

And what are you most nervous about?

A: As excited as I am I’m also crazy nervous. What if I don’t like biking for more than 5 days at a time? What if I am pressed for time and can’t find a way to take my bike on a train? What if I am lost and no one speaks English?

Language is one of those things that some days doesn’t feel like a big deal and other days freaks me out. My French is pretty much nil and I will be alone for the bulk of, or all of, my ride through the French countryside. I’ve been trying to get at least some on Duolingo lessons but I can’t decide if it’s better to try and improve my already existing Spanish or spend the time getting more French basics. I’m sure my mixture of the two has proved ineffective for either. Forget about my Dutch/Flemish-Dutch. I just don’t see that happening and I have absolutely zero knowledge of it beyond seeing a lot of Js and Ks. I think most Dutch speakers also speak English though? You can do a lot of communicating without language though too, so I probably just need to calm down.

In some ways it’s a small thing, at least in the grand scheme, but I’m also nervous about unpacking my bike at Charles de Gaulle. The nice folks at Gladys packed it up all good but that means I haven’t even ever seen what it looks like packed up and the box is pretty big and heavy so we’re going to carry it as little as possible. It makes the most sense to reassemble immediately upon arriving in Paris as it will be easier to take the built bike on public transport than trying to take the box there or even in an expensive cab. But we will have traveled for 18 hours overnight with a nine hour time change and I’m sure will be both exhausted and cranky. So I hope my tools are right and I can put everything back together without having a breakdown in arrivals.

I’m also just a bit nervous about missing home. I love travel but this is the longest I have been away from home (not counting studying abroad in college). I am also a Cancer who loves to nest and feeling comfortable in my home environment is very important to me. I have spent a long time cultivating the right environment and people I have around me and my present situation is in an apartment I love, in a neighborhood I love, with a person and a cat I love. And I am sure I will have days that I will wish I were there instead of a random campsite, albergue, floor. But that is what adventure is about, being a little scared, a little out of your comfort zone, and doing it anyway…then being rewarded with a unique experience.

V: I don’t know why Al is nervous about assembling her bike at the airport – I plan to be fresh as a daisy and not at all tired or cranky upon arrival! Just kidding, I’m an awful version of myself at airports; I’m sure Alley’s nerves about reassembling her bike are spot on – but we’ll do it and then it will be done and then we’ll be in Paris! So all will be well.

I think that attitude is generally how I feel about nerves when it comes to this trip. Perhaps it’s because going to Europe is not what I was planning to do with my summer – I was “supposed” to be on the Pacific Crest Trail from April through September/October, so I haven’t had much time to stress about this new adventure. Whereas it feels as though I spent months and months and months preparing for the PCT, I barely had time to think about this trip. In order to make it happen we had to make some decisions pretty quickly, and I’ve felt both kind of depressed and also very busy since getting off trail.

(I know, I know – poor me, I’m going to Europe for three months to frolic with my cute girlfriend on fun adventures instead of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. I know I sound like a jerk! I just don’t know how else to truthfully examine the fact that I was really sad to get off the PCT, an adventure I’d been dreaming about for years, and that even though this new adventure is SO EXCITING, there was a level of sadness for me when accepting I wasn’t sticking with my original thru-hiking plan. I dunno. Just trying to be real and honest for forever.)

Anyway, the point is, while I’m usually a pretty anxious person, my mind has been too distracted to feel properly nervous about this trip.

That said, if I let myself think about it, I can definitely come up with some anxieties! What if the airline loses my bag? What if I can’t figure out how to get from Paris to my first farm? What if I get lost? What if my knee – which gave me trouble on the PCT – starts hurting on the Camino? What if Alley and I get on each others’ nerves? It’s interesting because while I had some very specific concerns going into the PCT – most specific, the snow conditions in the Sierra – my nerves about this trip are mostly focused on how much of it is unknown. I don’t know what will happen, and so I could imagine infinite things to be nervous about. I could get really into this brain loop, but I’m choosing not to – I want to focus on being calm and excited instead.

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Feeling nervous on a hike in Mexico, Spring 2015

Going to Europe for three months sounds really expensive. How are you able to afford this trip?

A: I’ve been saving for a down payment for a house since just before I was laid off from my job as Web Producer at OregonLive in 2009. It’s always been just beyond my grasp and while that’s sad it means that I have a pretty good chunk of savings that I can delve into. If I don’t get to have a permanent home I at least get to make traveling the world my home. In general, I am a good saver and don’t really live much more extravagantly than I did when I was a low-income kid getting free school lunches, nor when I was a struggling college student or young adult. But I have gotten a couple raises as I have become a better Software Developer over the past couple years. It’s weird to not be living from paycheck to paycheck like I and my family have our whole lives and I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to it. But maybe that’s good. I’m lucky enough to get to have many adventures, but I am still always amazingly grateful for the opportunities and privileges I enjoy.

V: My financial scenario is different from Al’s, but over the past few years I’ve become really committed to talking about money in relation to “travel” and “adventure,” because I think it’s disingenuous to pretend that “anyone can travel!” or that if we all just work hard and save up we can go on big trips. In the same way I don’t think it’s “bad” to accept help from family members when putting a down payment on a house or co-signing a loan, but I do think it’s “bad” to pretend you don’t receive this help because it gives other folks unrealistic expectations of what we all can/cannot afford and makes people feel bad about themselves and their abilities (when we should all be mad at capitalism and classism) I think it would be dishonest and unhelpful to pretend my ability to travel is simply a result of “hard work” or “good saving.”

I do work hard, and I am a good saver, but I’ve also had help. I don’t have any student loan debt because my parents were able to pay for my college education, and I don’t have any credit card debt or other kinds of debt, either. As such I’ve been able to live frugally for the past few years and save as much as possible, and I don’t have to worry about dealing with debts when my paychecks come in. My jobs as a nanny (which pay me a lot) and as a writer (which pay me a little) combined with cheap rent and living expenses and very little desire to ever go shopping or drink a ton of alcohol allowed me to save $5,000 for my Pacific Crest Trail adventure. I obviously spent a portion of that money during the time I spent on the trail (40 days), but as soon as I hopped off the trail I got back to work (again, both nannying and writing) and a combination of the money I saved for the PCT and the money I earned in June and July are funding this trip to Europe. In total I’ve got about $4,000 for the endeavor.

I am subletting my room while I am away and I am storing my belongings in the basement of my house. When I return from Europe I have a part-time job lined up as community editor of Autostraddle, and I feel confident that I will be able to find nanny work again, too, so while I know I will come home with very little (if any!) money in my bank account, I do not feel too worried about earning money again quickly. That said, having a safety net in the form of supportive and financially comfortable parents definitely allows me the feeling of security to travel no matter what happens, which I do not think can be discounted when we think about who can and cannot “afford” to travel.

Vanessa and Alley, Thailand Spring 2016

Everyone is probably dying to know how to follow along with our adventures while we’re gone. Where can they do that?

A: The main way, of course, is to follow our blogs at vanessapamela.com and outandabout.space but I will also be recording my bike rides on Ride with GPS. As of now I think I am going to use that even though I have used Strava in the past but we’ll see what ends up working the best for me. Both will be linked in the sidebar of my blog either way.

V: People can also follow us on Instagram! I’m @vanessatakesphotos and Alley is @alleyhector. We haven’t quite become That Lesbian Couple Who Has A Shared Instagram Account yet, but I’m not ruling anything out for the future! @TwoDykesAHikeAndABike, anyone? Very short and catchy, I know. [Insert Alley rolling her eyes here.]

A: Oh yeah, and Twitter, I’m on there too @qpdx.

V: Ugh, Alley and I just had an intense discussion about if we should include our Twitter accounts or not and I said I probably wouldn’t because my Twitter is more “queer media shit” and I feel like people checking out my blog are more here for my “queer nature shit” but now I feel like I should also include my Twitter handle SO if you want to find me there you can, I’m @vanessapamela. And now Alley is laughing at me. SO OKAY I HOPE EVERYONE IS HAPPY.

A: I am.

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Vanessa and Alley in Glacier National Park, August 2016

Three months sounds like forever, but we are eventually going to come home again. When will we be back and what do we plan to do when we’re home?

A: To be honest probably take a breath. Three months sounds like a long time in some ways but I know it will fly by and we will be walking or cycling or working almost the entire time we are away so I am guessing we’ll be pretty damn tired. I’m hoping to return to my job at TransitScreen at least part time but that is not assured. I also want to make sure I continue to write and if I was good about it during the trip I will have a lot of material to draw from already. I’m sure we’ll want to do a recap post after a week or two home acclimating back to real life as well.

V: Taking a breath sounds nice. We are home right before Halloween – October 26 to be exact – so we’d very much like to be invited to your Halloween house party, please and thank you!

I’m actually a crazy person though, and enjoy setting goals for myself that are destined to make me feel super stressed and really overwhelmed, so I’ve decided to apply for grad school when we get home! I’ve wanted to get an MFA in Creative Writing for years, and it just feels like Now Is The Time To Go For It. Most application deadlines fall sometime between December 1 and January 1, and like I said, we get home right before Halloween, so I am going to have a Very Fun Not At All Stressful month of November!

Oh but also Alley is a dreamboat and is taking me to a Tegan and Sara concert in Seattle the day after we get home (the Portland show was sold out and she couldn’t handle how sad I was about it so she got us tickets in Seattle!) so actually neither of us will take any breaths right when we get home, we will be racing to Seattle to cry over The Con with a bunch of other queers. I really can’t wait.

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This is what we looked like last time we went to Seattle so like, make sure to come find us at the Tegan & Sara concert if you’re also going, is what I’m saying

So there you have it, folks! My game plan for the next three months. Alley and I will both be updating our blogs regularly while we’re gone, so be sure to check in for updates about her cycling trip, my farming adventures, our Camino de Santiago hike, and of course, our cheese and wine consumption.

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5 thoughts on “Society of Queer Adventurers Prepare for Europe: The Interview, Part Two

  1. Aer Parris says:

    Hey Vanessa,

    Thanks for sharing your story. I wanted to let you know that I hiked parts of the Camino (’14) the year before I set off for my thru-hike of the PCT (’15).

    I had a peaceful, kind, loving experience on the Camino and I, too, struggled with the sexist, competitive vibe of the PCT—in direct opposition with what I experience in Spain. I hope your Camino experience is much better than your experience on the PCT, and you find the experience you’re looking for.

    And if you ever want to hike with a body-positive, non-binary trans person in the PNW, I live in Seattle and still hike regularly!

    Aer Parris | Copywriter
    Recreational Equipment, Inc. | http://www.rei.com
    arparri@rei.com

    [cid:image003.png@01D1CAD5.CC8E7CF0]

    • Vanessa says:

      Hi Aer! Apologies for the belated response – I have been really behind on blog stuff these last few months. But I appreciate your perspective so much, and four days into the Camino am already having very similar feelings! Also – I would LOVE to hike with you when I’m home. Is email a good way to reach you? I’ll send you a note when I’m back in the PNW in November – maybe we can go on some rainy winter hikes together.

  2. Anne says:

    Hi Vanessa and Alley,

    To help you with some of your worries: the Dutch and Flemish do indeed tend to speak English very well. You might encounter some more translation issues in France/Wallon, but to be honest I’ve always managed to save myself with 4 words of French and lots of hand gestures.

    With regards to bikes on trains, I don’t know much about France, but in Belgium and The Netherlands you can take your bike on any train. In both cases you need to buy a special “train ticket” (stations, especially larger ones, tend to have information desks where you can ask for help, they will speak English) and at least in the Netherlands you’re only allowed to take your bike during non rush-hours (just ask at the info desks for details).

    Most of all though, enjoy cycling past the north sea coast, it really is beautiful (if indeed very windy)!

  3. maryannthomas says:

    You two are awesome! I’m a queer bike tourist, so hey! I’m going on a trip in India soon, and share a lot of Alleys anxieties. I will also have to assemble my bike at the airport, I’m worried about tools and wheels and damage. I’ve never done it fully myself before and I don’t know if this will help Alley, but the last time I assembled a bike, it was helpful to be told by someone more experienced than me that ASSEMBLING A BIKE IS THE WORST. It just is . It’s going to be annoying and stress inducing and frustrating and you’re going to wonder if you’re doing it right. Even if you’re really good at bike shit. So don’t be too hard on yourself if it doesn’t come easy 🙂

    Def gonna follow your adventures! Hope you both have the best times.


    mat

  4. Emily says:

    Hi Vanessa! I’ve never done the Camino but a close friend of mine has and he said it is definitely a relaxed and welcoming environment. People aren’t competitive and many of the hostels along the way won’t even charge for pilgrims or might ask for a donation. Because of the fact that it’s more of a “walk until you’ve had enough then stop in a town to eat good food and drink wine until bed” sort of atmosphere, you also don’t tend to get the gear nazis you do on thrus like the PCT. I’m actually a plus size gal thinking of doing my first thru hike, but I’m going with a significantly smaller hike, like the loyalsock trail or another week long thru. I’ve learned even with dayhiking that when I push myself past the point of enjoyment, well, there’s just no point. I think if I do tackle a longer hike it will be something like the Camino, where the journey is the point, not just the destination and miles covered. May you and Alley have a wonderful time! I’ll definitely follow your adventures.

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