I chose to study abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland because of its rich history and my interest in the United Kingdom’s unique political landscape; but Scotland also has incredible mountain biking. Throughout my semester abroad, I rode world-class enduro trails while exploring much of the Scottish countryside. Grassy hills and sheep are neat, but I knew a larger adventure was in store for my time overseas. Fortunately, my dream became a reality when I received a travel grant from the Hollenbeck family to explore the French Alps in the only way it should be done, two wheels. I packed my bike up (again); and set off on a seven-day bike packing trip that started on the Italian/French border and weaved through the snowy peaks of L’Alpes Provence, ending in sunny Southern France.
This trip was one of the most rewarding but also eye-opening experiences I have had through SLU. I put what the Outdoor Program has taught me to the test throughout guide training as I navigated remote backcountry terrain with my orange bike, and everything I would need strapped to it. My French is limited, and my Italian is worse, so I learned to be concise in conversation. I needed to interact with many locals in the small towns to find my routes and to make sure I would have access to the necessary supplies along the way. There were a few moments I became uncomfortable as there was much more snow than expected and I was incredibly remote. I learned to find joy in smaller victories and step away from the frustrations of the larger grind.
For most students abroad, hitting the major European cities is high on the to-do list but I figured I could learn much more about France and myself by taking a slower means of transportation. Along the way, I was welcomed with open arms into people’s homes for meals during freezing nights, provided with crucial directions through mountain passes, and lead through local single tracks to make my final day even more special. I was able to make meaningful connections with locals despite many instances where only few words could be spoken. The most shocking interaction I had during my trip occurred while traveling north along the Italian border to begin riding. I met a UNICEF worker who lived in an Italian-free society called Cashinia. He opened my eyes to the stark differences in immigrant acceptance between France and Italy. I learned that Africans risked their lives while traveling across the ocean in hopes of getting picked up by UNICEF workers. Hearing from someone directly involved in one of the world’s most pressing issues was a learning experience that I would never have been exposed to in a classroom setting. This travel grant allowed me to immerse myself into a whole new world while challenging my skills as an outdoorsperson.