FINDING HOME AWAY FROM HOME

Like most people who have moved country knows, it comes with amazing opportunities but also some pretty difficult challenges. While it is really cool to start a new chapter of your life, it also means leaving home and all sense of security behind. Suddenly you are a foreigner, an exotic animal, the one that doesn’t get the jokes (or English sarcasm in my case). The hardest thing about moving isn’t the paper work, or the physical packing and unpacking of things, but the feeling of loneliness that comes with it. Over the years, however, I have realised that there is a way to break away from that loneliness – and it is called mountain biking. There is no one that will make you feel more welcome to a new place than a bunch of muddy (or dusty), stoked bikers and nowhere you will feel more like home than on the trails. Mountain biking breaks down barriers and opens doors like nothing else because on the bike we all speak the same language. It is home away from home.

Moving is never easy

In 28 years I’ve called four countries and a bunch of cities “home”. I grew up abroad surrounded by different cultures, languages and people and I’ve always had the traveling bug, even more so since I got into biking. But being an international kid has also meant moving a lot and having to start from scratch over and over again. It is never easy. Moving country is actually really freaking hard and lonely. I am not talking about “packing all your stuff into boxes”-hard but it is “moving away from your life and feeling completely lost”-hard. The physical part of moving is a pain in the ass but it stops as soon as you’ve unpacked the last box, the mental struggle doesn’t.

As most mountain bikers know, nothing get’s you out of that mental down spiral like a spin on the bike. Thing is, when it comes to moving to a new place a quick spin on the bike can do more than just get you out of a lonely state of mind – it will most likely result in meeting new people, getting to know the area and generally feel more at home. Trails may differ, but the feeling you get out on them are the same wherever in the world you are. And funny thing is, it’s the same with people. You might have different cultures and even speak different languages, yet I’ve found that mountain bikers across the globe tend to have similar mind-sets and a culture that stretches far beyond boarders.


Moving country

When I moved back to Sweden in 2012, after having lived 17 years abroad, it wasn’t really like “coming home”. I barely knew anyone, I didn’t know the city and all my mannerisms (and even my language) was very un-Swedish. As Swedes are very tentative and quite set in their own routines, I was scared of how difficult it’d be make new friends. Yet, I soon realised the mountain bike community was just as open here as in any other country and within six months I had a bigger friendship group than I could ever have imagined. Getting to know one biker often means getting three new friends for free.

Now that I am once again on the move, this time from Sweden to the lush green hills of Sheffield (UK), I know not to be scared when the overwhelming feeling of loneliness hits. It takes time to settle in somewhere new and whenever I feel like I need to escape I just hit the trails. And just like many times before, it is also on the trails that I’ve found a place where I feel like I belong – because just like the Swedish mountain bike community helped me find home a few years ago, the UK mountain bike community is now helping me do the same by welcoming me with open arms and muddy smiles.

Bonding over biking

There is this welcoming aura about mountain bikers. Even if you’re just out cruising your local trails and bump into a bunch of riders you’re more than likely to start a conversation with them, probably continue your ride together and maybe even exchange numbers by the end of it. It is easy to get new friends because it is like we’re all connected on a different level. I think it has something to do with being able to relate so easily to one another. I wrote some time ago that there is nothing quite like bonding over an energy bar and some cold water halfway up a climb – and over time I’ve come to believe it even more. We know how it feels to be out riding; the adrenaline, the happiness, the highs and the lows are the same wherever in the world we’re from and whatever language we’re speaking. That connects us. It also makes us relax in each other’s company, which makes it easier to get to know one another and have fun.

Breaking down barriers

I am not going to lie, I sometimes feel like a complete alien here in the UK. The mannerisms and language can feel so foreign at times. Geographically we are so close, yet our cultures are a million miles apart. There is nothing lonelier than sitting in the middle of a group of people at the pub and not understanding a word of what they are saying, because the background noise blurs everything into an incoherent murmur – inside jokes, local people, local places and cultural topics are simply lost in translation (yes, the Yorkshire accent isn’t really helping either).

However, out on trails surrounded by bikers very few things seem to get lost in translation. Out on the trails it is easy to bond and culture gaps disappear. Having a close-crash-moment is equally as thrilling and scary in any language, so we can all relate to it and have a laugh about it. But it’s more than that – I feel understood when I am out riding. Although I speak the language pretty good, I tend to forget words or mess up expressions, and I have even heard that I sometimes sounds a little “harsh” when I say things. I think it has to do with how we express ourselves in Sweden compared to the UK, we just tend to say things slightly more direct. Language goes so much further than just speaking grammatically correct and it can be quite tricky to get your personality across to new people when you stumble on things like how you say things without sounding harsh. Out on the trails however, I rarely find myself misunderstood. Even if I say something wrong, it is like bikers just get what I mean. Somehow, these two-wheeled-fun-machines break down barriers that seem hard to otherwise overcome.

Finding a new home

With all this in mind, it comes as no surprise that the one place where I escape to when I feel out of place or miss home are the trails. It has once again become my happy and safe place – my gateway to understanding a new country and its culture, and to make new friends. Just like when I moved to Sweden I now, about 6 months in, find myself surrounded by an amazing group of riders. I admit, I had a little more help this time around as I used to live here when I went to Uni and I have a Sheffield-based boyfriend, but nonetheless, most of these people I haven’t met in over 5 years, some I have met maybe once or twice and some I have never met except on social media. Yet they have all welcomed me into their riding family and make me feel part of daily life. By inviting me on rides, bringing me along on riding weekends, or simply asking me how I am feeling today I feel apart of something. Whilst Sheffield is not yet home, these people make me feel like I have a place, like I can eventually belong here as well.

In the end, I believe that it all comes down to the fact that we are mountain bikers and that out on the trails we are all the same – equally (in)sane, equally stoked, equally muddy. It is a language we all speak. It is a culture we all understand. It is a place where we are all at home.