About Exploring Wild

Welcome to Exploring Wild, an experiment in sharing my love of outdoor adventure and travel with like-minded readers. If you’re a curious seeker, intentional wanderer, or thoughtful explorer, I hope you’ll feel at home here.

At first glance the hodgepodge of topics you’ll find – hiking near my California home, bicycling through far-off continents, independent travel in unusual corners of the world, endurance sports – might seem odd. But to me they are all driven by the same energy: a drive to discover new places and new parts of myself in them, to constantly expand my comfort zone and engage with my irrational fears, and to fully embrace the range of experiences available to me as a human on this planet.

Adventure and adventurers come in many forms. I happen to be a thirty-something lady named Alissa, happily married but often traveling solo; a mediocre endurance athlete and student of human-powered exploration; an introvert who gets more social on the road but also craves the solitude of a long backcountry trail.

Starting this website was an unusual move for me, someone with virtually no social media presence and a strong desire to experience my adventures fully in the moment. But people kept asking me how I first got into these activities that I’ve gained so much from, and eventually it dawned on me: I had read other people’s stories.

Without the inspiration from other brave souls, especially women who have overcome societal expectations to adventure solo, I might never have found my own way here. So I finally decided in early 2019 to start this website, with a focus on the places and activities I love, in hopes that my voice will inspire others as others have inspired me.

These days people call me things like “brave” and “adventurous,” but it’s more complicated than that. It’s a long story, as I suppose most peoples’ are. It all started with a trail run.

Running and Hiking: Gateway to Outdoor Adventure

I could barely run a couple miles when the world of ultra-endurance trail running captured my imagination. What a fascinating combination of mental and physical effort! It took years for my body to catch up with my enthusiasm, and along the way I battled pain, injuries, and a lot of impatience. Strength training and weight lifting eventually unlocked my ability to push harder on the trails, and I became a mediocre but dedicated ultra-distance trail runner.

Along the way, initially while sidelined by running injuries, I developed a love of hiking fast, far and light. The ultrarunning philosophy of efficiency, endurance, and love of wild spaces transferred well. My hiking adventures escalated to backpacking, fastpacking, peak bagging, and even some moderate alpine scrambling and climbing (my biggest challenge: I have a horrible head for heights). I backpacked the John Muir Trail and Tahoe Rim Trail, bagged a fair number of California 14ers, and explored a number of other trails mostly in the western US.

Hiker posing by trail sign on the John Muir Trail

Somewhere during all of these trail miles I developed a new kind of confidence. I learned to combine mental toughness with physical strength and to handle myself when things went sideways. Around the same time, not coincidentally, I started developing a massive itch for long-term travel. I didn’t fully realize it at the time, but I understand now that for me, adventurous travel, hiking and trail running are all just different outlets for a similar type of energy.

Solo Adventures Abroad & At Home

My husband and I had taken more than our fair share of typical American vacations crammed into minimal time off from work. We’d zip halfway around the world for ten meticulously scheduled days, then zip back and spend the next few weeks sitting at our office desks trying to readjust to “normal life.” I loved these trips but sensed something was missing. In my early thirties the itch grew so strong that I was becoming a grumpy, grouchy person. I was ready for a change.

I wanted to quit my job and travel. My husband didn’t. Not yet at least. But he was the first to suggest I go without him. Thus began an exciting, confusing period of compromise and selfishness, adventure and learning, pushing and recovering.

East and West Africa

I started big, not knowing how many more trips would follow: five months in Africa.

The trip began in East Africa in Uganda, where I put my software background to work building a website for Roots of Hope, a small NGO supporting education for women and girls. I also spent some time “teaching” (in all honestly mostly learning) at Keframa High School. While this was a memorable and deeply educational experience for me, and hopefully helpful for them, it also opened my eyes to the complexity of this dynamic.

After Uganda I hopped next door to Rwanda to hike the Congo Nile Trail, and then flew across the continent to the mysterious and even more challenging region of West Africa.

There I traveled alone, overland, via public transport (such as it is), through Senegal, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Ivory Coast. It was one heck of an adventure, extremely thought-provoking, overwhelming at times, but oh-so-worth it. I became hooked on “adventurous” travel, travel in places with few tourists, thoughtful travel that attempts to respect and learn from the local people, active travel that is physically and mentally challenging, and of course the freedom and interaction of solo travel.

Looking out the window of a Land Cruiser in Sierra Leone, traveling down rough dirt road. Ahead is another car with luggage and people on the roof.
Remote road in Sierra Leone

Southeast Asia Bicycle Tour

Having made it through that trip, I felt I could handle myself pretty much anywhere. I’d always been fascinated by the freedom and adventure of long-haul bicycle journeys and finally felt ready to take one on myself. So I got a touring bike – my trusty steed Black Pearl – and headed off to Southeast Asia for 2.5 months.

My route took me through the challenging mountains of northern Vietnam (maybe not the smartest place to start), into friendly Laos along the Mekong River, south into dustier, grittier Cambodia and finally on a speedy dash into Thailand’s bustling Bangkok.

While Southeast Asia is definitely more touristy than West Africa, on a bicycle you pass through all the in-between places that most tourists miss. Once again I enjoyed the feeling of discovery and spontaneity, plus the added freedom of being my own transportation. I was hooked on bicycle touring.

Touring bicycle leaning against guardrail on mountainous road in northern Vietnam
Cycling the Ha Giang loop in northern Vietnam

Patagonia Bicycle Tour

My next bicycle trip was very different: gravel, glaciers, cooler weather and even a riding companion for the first couple weeks in Patagonia. I spent two weeks riding with my friend on Chile’s famous Carretera Austral, then three more weeks riding alone through barren Argentina all the way south to Ushuaia. It was beautiful, wild, remote, and lonely in a good way. I loved it.

Cyclist riding gravel road toward mountains on the Carretera Austral.
Riding the Carretera Austral in Chile

3500 Miles of Bicycle Racing Across the USA

While still high on biking in beautiful Patagonia, I made the decision to enter the inaugural Bike Nonstop US race across America: 3500 miles of self-supported riding, as fast as possible, following gravel and backroads as much as possible from Oregon to Washington DC. It seemed like the perfect way to blend my growing love of bike travel with an endurance athlete’s itch to push the envelope. It would just be a fast bike tour, right?

What I discovered: a whole new level of crazy. The winner rode an average of 220 miles per day. I nearly did myself in to average 120 per day. My gear was too heavy, my bike too sluggish, my legs and mind too weak. I pedaled through the dark, through sleep deprivation, electrical storms, floods, dangerous traffic…

And after finishing, it only took a few weeks before I forgot all that and started to wonder if I could do it better.

At the finish line

Bikepacking

Biking across the US was amazing, but there was one unfortunate negative that really stood out: the danger of riding in traffic. Though it may appear otherwise, I’m very calculated with the risks I take, and I decided that more road cycling in the US is not the direction I want to be heading.

So after returning from Bike Nonstop I decided to refocus my riding, at least in my home country, on bikepacking. The distinction can be subtle, but basically this means less pavement, more dirt and gravel, and a more minimalist style of gear.

I tried it out with the Idaho Smoke ‘n’ Fire 400 race, once again bringing up the rear with my Surly LHT, and decided I loved the style. More bikepacking trips in the US eventually led to the purchase of a Salsa Fargo (found a deal on a used one that I couldn’t pass up) and an ever-growing wishlist of new route ideas.

Gravel road bikepacking in Central Oregon

Bicycle Touring Egypt and Sudan

In early 2020 I decided it was time to combine my love of traveling in Africa with my love of traveling by bike. The obvious choice, the most culturally unfamiliar region of the continent for me, was northern Africa. I spent a month pedaling south from Luxor, Egypt through northern Sudan to Khartoum before this whole covid-19 mess erupted.

In that one month I pushed through some scorching desert riding, was confronted with extremely conservative gender roles and a country on the verge of both a social revolution and economic collapse, and welcomed by countless kind individuals. The experience was thought provoking, humbling, confusing, and heartwarming all at once.

In mid-March I cut the trip short and left Sudan on the last flight from Khartoum before the airport closed due to the pandemic. Talk about luck!

Solo female cyclist riding in Sudan

Common Questions

I tend to focus more on places and activities on this site, and less on the mechanics of my personal life. A person’s got to have a little privacy, right? But there are a few questions I’m often asked that I would like to answer here.

How do you pay for all this?

With my savings. In my “former life” I was fortunate to acquire a good education and a career in the software technology industry. After a decade of working and living a relatively frugal lifestyle, I had saved enough money for “temporary retirement.”

My current lifestyle isn’t sustainable forever, but I’ve made the conscious choice to focus on flexibility over money for now while I have the opportunity. If I eventually start a family, traveling for months at a time may no longer be feasible and my priorities will shift.

Between periods of travel and adventure I work as a WordPress consultant and a software product management consultant, do a bit of freelance writing, and run this website. I also travel cheaply and keep my expenses minimal when home. All of this stretches the savings account a little further.

You say you’re married but you travel solo for months at a time? How does that work?

Communication, negotiation, and an amazing husband. He chooses to focus on his career, which is his passion. I choose to focus on broadening my experiences, which is my passion. He is my favorite adventure partner and we take a lot of shorter trips together, but I am also immensely grateful for the months I’ve spent traveling solo and developing myself in an individual context.

We don’t have anything magic figured out. We are just feeling our way step by step. Here’a an interview where I talk about this a bit more.

I notice you’re female and do a lot of adventurous things by yourself. Aren’t you scared? Isn’t this dangerous?

Yes and no. Yes I’m often scared, because I was taught to be and because we do live in a patriarchal world with unbalanced power. No, I don’t think it’s actually as dangerous as most people think. Our society and media sensationalize female vulnerability and make the world seem far more dangerous for solo women than it actually is.

I won’t give you the “almost all people are good” line – even though it’s mostly true – because it sweeps too much under the rug. If you’re interested in more of my thoughts on the nuance of this subject, you can read them here.

What is “Exploring Wild” supposed to mean?

It’s meant to be more evocative than literal; on one level it’s just two words and concepts I appreciate. When something or someone is wild it is free, untamed, uncomplicated, at peace, a bit dirty with windblown hair. To explore is to adventure curiously, independently, without rigid goals or destinations.

Have you heard the expression “running wild?” For me it evokes a feeling of freedom and exhilaration, like running around barefoot outside. Exploring Wild is kind of like running wild, but more general: traveling wild, hiking wild, biking wild…

Finally, “wild” has multiple layers for me. We might be exploring the wilds of nature, of cultural complexity, or of our own internal depths.

Plus, the domain name was available and relatively short, which is hard to find these days.

In Conclusion

I’m glad you’re here and I’m impressed that you read all the way to the end. Perhaps you recognize part of yourself in this story? If so I’d love to hear from you. Use this contact form to get in touch, or find me on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.

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