A guest post by Melissa Adams.
I met Melissa Adams at the Southern California Writers Association and knew I had to interview this Gutsy Lady. She’s doing what many of us hope to do: following her dreams. If you’ve never heard of a cycling Safari, you’re in for a treat.
Getting Lost to Find Yourself
You traded Southern California for Amsterdam. Why?
I grew up in L.A., earned a degree in English from UCLA and became a professional travel writer right out of college. I married, moved to Newport Beach and pursued a career as a corporate communicator, newspaper columnist, advertising copywriter and freelance journalist. While raising two children, my husband and I traveled frequently. But the rift in our values grew with the years. I wanted fun, risk and adventure. He was content pursuing a materialistic American dream.
Our 1999 divorce ended a 23-year marriage that lasted 22 years too long. After a lifetime in California, I felt bored, empty and restless as a mid-life single in an upscale beach town—land of eternal sun and sometimes eternal sadness. Glorious Newport Beach had become a cultural vacuum for me; I’d lost my sense of childlike wonder and was plodding along on auto-pilot.
What was the catalyst for change?
In 2007, I took a trip that changed my life. After a week of cycling on the Italian Adriatic with my bike club, I visited my son studying in Florence, then flew to Amsterdam. The minute I landed in Holland’s laid-back capital, I had an epiphany: I was living in a three-bedroom home in a town I’d become jaded about with my cat! My parents were gone, my kids had flown the coop. My possessions owned me, rather than the other way around. Starved for new experiences, I needed a change and was prepared to make one. “I’m moving to Amsterdam,” I announced. And so began My ‘Dam Affair.
Is that the title of a book you’re writing?
It’s an unpublished memoir about my 2008 European adventure. It will be rewritten into My ‘Dam Betrayal, An Expat’s Tale of Scents and Sensibility, a true story about friendship, betrayal and my 2010 entanglement with a Dutch aroma jockey, Dr. Stinky and his Ministry of Nonsense. Stay tuned!
Since 2007, I’ve been intoxicated by The Netherlands’ beauty, culture, history and quirky residents. Even the weather fascinates me, as I’ve never lived with seasons before. Here, I feel authentic in a way I never did in California. I’m entranced by A’dam’s bohemian vibe, Old World charm and non-snooty attitude toward alternative lifestyles. Dutchies are direct, casual and open-minded, with an egalitarian outlook that eschews authority and welcomes debate. Which makes for interesting discussions. Everyone under 50 speaks English, but you hear many languages on the grachts and straats—evidence of a multicultural population and A’dam’s draw as a world-class tourist destination.
My new hometown is a village where I’m not anonymous as I was back home. Local merchants know me. I meet friends on the street. It’s easy to get around via foot, bike and public transport, so no need for a car. A’dam is also a good base for foreign travel; a 20-minute bus ride gets me to Schipol, gateway to the world. But the best thing about the town is its connectedness. In all my travels, I’ve never found another city where it’s perfectly normal to chat up perfect strangers.
I’d like to know about your cycling.
I’ve been an avid recreational cyclist and member of the Bicycle Club of Irvine since 1994. The group offers something for everyone, from casual weekend riders to elite athletes. Cycling dovetailed with my freelance writing; I’ve ridden and written about bike-barge tours in Italy, Holland, Turkey and the Greek Islands and Egypt.
In May 2011, Beyond Boundaries Travel invited me to scout two South Africa cycling itineraries on the Western Cape and “glamping” (luxury camping) on The Savannah Game Preserve near Johannesburg. Outside stunning Hout Bay, we sang with an African gospel choir, climbed Chapman’s Peak Drive (one of the most spectacular coastal stretches in the world) and visited Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, Constantia Valley Winelands and Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years. We pedaled mountain bikes through tunnels hewn of sheer rock, past foraging baboons and a Jackass (African) Penguin colony at Boulders Beach.
Our adventure continued on the Savannah Game Preserve, a 2,500-acre spread on the Vaal River where more than 25 mammal species roam freely. In luxury tents with electricity and full baths, we roughed it like royalty overlooking the watering hole of rhinos, kudus, buffaloes, zebras, jackals, elands, nyalas and duikers.
Here we journeyed “into Africa” with Earth’s fastest endangered cat. Established in 2001 to breed and reintroduce cheetahs to the wild, Savannah Cheetah Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting Africa’s indigenous wildlife and ecosystems.
Beyond game drives and relaxed meals on the preserve, we rode through Tumahole Township, stark contrast to mansions perched on cliffs with to-die-for sea views in Clifton and Camps Bay. We bid our hosts and fellow travelers farewell at a South African braai (BBQ) and roaring bonfire that illuminated Zulu dancers.
Who’s a good candidate for a cycling safari?
Like people, bike-barge tours and cycling safaris come in all shapes and sizes. There are tours in flat countries like Holland and hilly ones like Greece and Italy, where most monuments are on hill summits. Options include guided, self-guided, themed, family and special interest tours. Many are available through Bike Tours Direct and Beyond Boundaries Travel.
Anyone with moderate fitness and desire for immersion in a foreign culture will enjoy cycle-touring. On two wheels you see, smell, hear, taste and experience more than you do in a bus or car in an up-close-and-personal way. Plus, you enjoy the exhilaration of riding a vehicle associated with childhood freedom through exotic destinations.
Do you consider yourself a risk-taker? If so, why?
I consider myself someone who lives life to the fullest, leaving no space for regrets. I re-invented myself after a mid-life divorce with a move that shocked, surprised and puzzled people. For me, the alternative was emotional suicide. I never bloomed where I was planted. But I’ve bloomed on the flip side, in the final quarter of my life. Every day I wake up in Amsterdam is a gift. My only regret is not having 48 hours a day to relish each one.
Melissa Adams is a freelance travel writer based in Amsterdam, NL. She welcomes questions about cycle touring and adventure travel at email@example.com.