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18 Jan

The strength and the youth of France Powell

This is how France Powell introduced herself in May 2017. We met through the WarmShowers hospitality network, a specific network for cycle tourists. We arranged a meeting and exchanged some tips.

Because her story was so inspiring to me, I felt I had to write it; I had to share it with more people. For everyone to see that it is true and it is possible. It looks like a fairy tale story, or the beginning of a novel book. But no, it’s the story of France Powell.

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How did my love affair with biking start? Well one could say truthfully that it was anything but love at first sight! When my legs were long enough, I learned how to ride my mother’s bike. My parent held the saddle till I had momentum and let go. After painful misshaps, my young bike career promptly ended; little did I know biking would become an all consuming passion.

My name is France Powell. I am almost 71 and have lived to tour for the past six years. My preferred bike is an orange touring folder I name Betsy.  Since I travel solo, I speak to Betsy in good and not so good ways. If you have had a pedal kick you unexpectedly in the shin, you know what I mean!

Betsy has travelled rough Cuban highways and Canadian logging roads; she has crawled up steep routes in Sao Miguel, Azores, and Japan. Folding Betsy is child play and has allowed me to readily vary transport modes at will. I have as spontaneously boarded cruise ships in Norway or Quebec as as boarded a transCanada train, or flown to Europe; also boarding cabs, or hitching car and boat rides is easy when Betsy is bagged.

Betsy in Denmark

Betsy in Denmark

Because I have so much free time, I do tour leisurely and meet many interesting people. Often, my travel ideas come from various bike forums. There are many continents and countries I would like to explore, such as Africa, South America, new Zealand and India, but I do not know whether I will live long enough, well enough, to visit solo during my lifetime. So far this year, I have travelled three months in Europe (coastal Portugal, Spain and France) and coastal British Columbia. I like riding along coasts best.

Some people seem surprised I travel on my own; I am just as surprised myself because I used to be quite risk-averse. I liked to know where I would be each day and  would sleep each night. Touring has changed me. Now I use an app to build my routes on the fly. My digital maps show bike routes, elevation, and campgrounds. I rely on GPS for navigation. I used to be afraid about getting flats, getting lost, or being mistreated. But now, I trust my experience to solve problems. People say I am brave. I do not feel brave but I am determined to not let fears control me, and to trust that people are kind, generous and helpful. Above all, I accept that, ultimately, I do not decide my fate.

So you want to tour on your bike and perhaps wonder what it takes. For me, I think it takes more than being fit, having gear, time and money! To tour for 6-7 months a year, or longer, I need to be mentally and spiritually solid.  I need to make peace within myself and be thankful for the privilege to travel even when I am challenged. I need to accept my limits.  I am slow and make mistakes. I dream big but can achieve less.  I lfind it hard to ask others for help. Lastly, I learn that making connections with  people, experiencing their culture and exploring their countries is what travelling is all about.

France Powell in Cuba

France Powell in Cuba

Why not visit Sao Miguel, I thought impulsively! Why not indeed since it was on my way to Porto! Before long, I was on my route to Ponta Delgada, an exotic destination. I toured the island in the spring when British Columbia, my home province, was barely stiring away from under winter snows. While I often had to push my loaded bike around the island steep circular road, this prepared me well for the reminder of my journey on the Portuguese, Spanish and French coasts.

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