This, of course, is one of the first questions people ask when they find out that a defenceless woman like me is trying to ride her bicycle around the world.
And no, it’s not. Not at all.
I don’t know exactly what’s running through people’s minds when they ask me this. Maybe they’re under the impression that the rest of the world is full of thieves, murderers and rapists, or that I’ll be lynched by an anti-British mob as soon as I set foot out of Europe. None of this is true. Since I left the UK the few traumatic experiences I’ve had have been entirely self-inflicted (getting wet feet; accidentally stabbing myself with my multitool), and almost everyone I’ve met has welcomed me to their country, fed me, invited me into their home within minutes of meeting me, given me presents, put me in touch with friends and family further down the road, and generally looked after me to an extent that puts us cold-hearted Britons to shame. The world is, I have come to believe, a very good place.
But in case you’re still not convinced, or think that I’ve just got lucky so far, let me give you some more rational arguments.
According to this Telegraph article, I am more likely to be murdered, raped or robbed at home than I am abroad, and going by the statistics I’ve been able to find with a cursory google search (and echoing one of the safety talks at the RGS’s Explore event last year), of all the Britons who die abroad every year (and excluding those who die of natural causes), the great majority perished in road accidents (with drowning, and falling from balconies also featuring prominently).
But that’s no comfort, you may argue, when one considers that the majority of my waking hours are spent in close proximity to moving traffic. Sure, I’m unlikely to be be murdered in my tent at night, but the probability of my being run over by a car during the day is still worryingly high.
Well, perhaps. But you’re forgetting that for the past three years I’ve been working as a cycle courier, which is regularly recognized as being one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. And although I used to protest that it really wasn’t that bad, I did spend a great deal of my time quivering with either rage or fear after being cut up, knocked off, shouted at, rammed, threatened, stalked, and generally terrorized by drivers. I ended up in hospital several times, though thankfully I was lucky enough to avoid breaking any bones, unlike many of my colleagues. Several times a year, word goes out among the London couriers that there’s to be yet another fundraiser to help support one of our comrades who’s been injured on the job and needs help to pay his rent while he recovers. A couple of weeks after I left the UK, a chap I used to work with was hit by a lorry at Vauxhall Cross, and dragged underneath it for several metres. He survived, but only came out of hospital a couple of weeks ago, and probably won’t ride a bike again. There hasn’t been a death for seven years, but that’s no guarantee there won’t be another one tomorrow. Looking back, it was often a brutal and frightening way of life, much as I used to love it.
So far on this trip I’ve been hit by a car just once. That was in south London, on Day 7. (No damage done. The driver turned left in front of me, without indicating or checking his mirrors, knocked me over, and apologized profusely when he realized what had happened.)
I’ve decided that I will ride through Balochistan, by the way. It all fell into place as I was cycling through the rush hour traffic on the motorway leading into İstanbul the other week, with lorries swishing past me, far too close and far too fast, thinking about how worried my parents would be if they could see me now. The main danger on this trip is the traffic, make no mistake. There have been three abductions of Westerners in Balochistan in the last three years. Two of them were in 2009, which is now some time ago, but let’s call that an average of one per year. Between 2000 and 2010, the average number of cyclists killed on the roads of London every year was 15.9. For some reason that no one has been able to figure out, an unusually high proportion of these were women in their twenties and thirties – like me. And, given that I used to spend around 50 hours per week riding my bike in London, surely I was even more at risk than most.
I’m not trying to argue that I’m invincible. No no no.
Let’s be realistic – there’s certainly a chance that I’ll be hit by a vehicle at some point over the next few years. But there was a much higher risk of that happening when I was riding my bike around London all week. Perhaps, rather than worrying about how dangerous my trip is, we should all be breathing a sigh of relief that I’ve got myself out of the fire and back into the frying pan.