￼￼￼￼￼￼Bike touring. That, until this summer just gone was something that others did (writes Satu Vänskä-Westgarth, of her maternity leave adventure). I had seen those people on their bicycles, with pannier bags filled to the brim on Norwegian roads. I would swerve past them in my station wagon, simultaneously trying to avoid puddles that would soak the poor buggers, while keeping an eye out for the oncoming traffic.
Then I got pregnant for the second time.
I knew what the drill was.
I was about to get huge and the day would come when I would be waddling on resembling, involuntarily, a duck. But what I didn’t know was that this time it wasn’t going to be an easy ride with slow walks up the local mountains and light gym workouts just days before the delivery. So it was, instead of outdoors I spent most of my time indoors, reclined on an armchair for a rest, dreaming of adventures and fighting off frustration. Microadventures came momentarily to a rescue by giving meaning and status to my minuscule excursions with our toddler and later with the new-born too. But the yearning for something, a proper adventure of sorts and the need to hold on to some pieces of the old “I used to have a life before the kids too – me” kept burning.
It all started with an idea, a joke really. I thought about exploring the Wild Atlantic Way, new scenic route in Ireland, maybe with a camper van and the family. My friend suggested I’d bike it. With a giggle, I texted my husband about “the plan”, of me biking 2000+ kilometres, leaving him and the kids home.
What I intended as an entertaining joke, he took seriously.
And that was that, I thought I’d better take it and myself seriously too.
Hence, instead of doing something outdoorsy, something familiar to me for a week or two, I was now bound to end my maternity leave with a bang, to bike approximately a hundred kilometres a day, five days a week for five weeks in Ireland while my family followed the journey virtually from home.
“Are you really going to be away from your kids that long?” It’s a question that was inevitable but which I wasn’t prepared for when it first came my way. Yes. And no. After all, my family was joining me for a week in the middle of the trip. They’d be just fine. But this question kept on coming, in different forms, sometimes slyly in side comments, other times as the main topic of a conversation. Not so many people wondered how my main worry, the biking, would go. They wondered how I would survive without the kids. Or the kids without me.
Well. We all survived. In five weeks, I got reintroduced to the wonderful Irish hospitality, took in the changing scenery and relished the freshness of the local seafood, washed down with a pint of beer or two found all along this coastal route. I took pleasure in the ups and the downs, and the slow progress we made. And by taking in the wind, the rain and the sun, I felt more alive than I had for a while, away from the sleep-derived life of a young kids’ parent. I spent quality time with my friends, laughed, made plans, dreamt and enjoyed being me. Not the mom of so and so. Just me. And most mornings I would join my family at the breakfast table at home, virtually, via Skype. “Mom goes biking today?” my little girl would ask. Yes. Mom goes biking. And apparently she was going biking too.
It is busy days now, being back at home with some sleepless nights thrown in the mix with the kids, but it is clear that the playing field is more even now. The urgent cries for “mom mom mom” are still there, but they are frequently replaced by calls for “papa” too. And that just highlights, for me, how important this adventure was and the adventures to come will be.
To be a good parent or a mom, I don’t have to be with the family 24-7 every day of the year.
The kids need security, love and an example of how life could be lived. The best example I can give them is the one of the true me, the one who dreams of adventures, and goes after her dreams. The one who comes back excited with stories to tell and then takes the whole family on microadventures. Will I go for five weeks of adventure, on my own anytime soon? Maybe not, but it could be just a week or two, or even a long weekend. Doing something I never thought about doing before definitely opened up new horizons, and by joining the league of “others” made me realise that being a mother, thirty-something at that, or having a certain full-time job or not having the confidence to kayak the rivers I once used to run are not factors that define me.
What defines me doesn’t have to be definite.
I can be or become whatever I choose to be. Be it mother today, maybe an adventurer tomorrow.
My new book, Grand Adventures, is out now.
It’s designed to help you dream big, plan quick, then go explore.
The book contains interviews and expertise from around 100 adventurers, plus masses of great photos to get you excited.
I would be extremely grateful if you bought a copy here today!
Thank you so much!