|Time at DuVine: 6 years|
Hometown: Bloemfontein, South Africa
Ride With Arien: Italy, Holland, and South Africa
|Bike: Tuscany in the spring or Piedmont in the fall, when the colors are amazing|
Eat: South African braaivleis
Drink: A good bottle of Barbaresco
Sleep: Outside, beneath the stars, after a bottle of Barbaresco
Riding a rusty BMX bike across the cracked brown fields of Bloemfontein, Arien couldn’t possibly predict how cycling would lead her all over the world and eventually bring her back home. After pursuing a career as a professional cyclist in Europe, she transitioned to full-time guiding with DuVine in Italy and recently returned to South Africa to design and lead trips in her own backyard—alongside her husband, Tom, and their baby daughter, Clara. Arien talks with us about her inspiring journey.
What was it like growing up in rural South Africa during Apartheid?
I grew up running around my family’s chicken farm and exploring the countryside barefoot. I’d come home dirty and bathe once a week. In the chilly winter months, we’d sink our feet into piles of steaming manure to warm them up.
Witnessing extreme poverty firsthand taught me an important lesson: happiness doesn’t come from money. I appreciate everything because I’ve seen what it’s like to have nothing. Sometimes I get frustrated when people take things for granted! It also made me realize that you can’t blame underprivileged people for their lack of resources; there are bigger forces at play beyond their control. This made me more compassionate.
Another critical experience in my childhood was my parents’ tumultuous divorce. Through that experience, I realized that I could choose to be happy. You can’t point a finger at someone else for your well-being. We’re each responsible for our own path, and happiness is mine.
I was born in 1987 when Apartheid was in full force, and my hometown of Bloemfontein was an epicenter as the birthplace of the African National Congress party. Animosity and fear infiltrated everything. The high-security prison was next to our farm and the prison bus would do double duty taking us to school. During the most turbulent times, we were told to block the bus windows with our bags if we encountered any protest to our white identity. Back home, I grew up playing with a lot of black kids who were the children of the chicken farm workers, which made me more aware of my own white privilege.
How did you get into cycling?
Bloemfontein is bone dry and the threat of fire was ever-present. A carelessly tossed cigarette or an overheated pile of chicken manure would quickly turn into a raging fire—my family’s house almost burned down twice. When a fire broke out, my parents would dispatch me on a rickety old BMX bike to spread the word to our neighbors. There were no cell phones and everyone was working out in the fields, so biking was the quickest way to warn people. To this day, I’ve never cycled as fast as I did on that BMX!
I didn’t realize I was good at cycling until I won my first race. I have an all-or-nothing personality and I’m naturally competitive, so once I started winning it became addictive. Cycling became my new passion, and the harder I trained, the better I performed. Meanwhile, my mom drove me hours and hours to get to cycling races, scraping together enough money to afford the gear. It was a huge sacrifice.
At 18, I moved to Europe to pursue a cycling career. I had met the coach of a team during a race in Ireland, and found a Dutch family to live with over the internet. Looking back, the whole process seems ludicrous.
I remember the day my mother dropped me off at the Johannesburg airport. She handed me my luggage, hid her tears, hugged me goodbye, and walked away. Later on I came to appreciate how brave she had been to let me go like that. She was teaching me an important lesson: that it’s ok to fail, and that it’s always better to fail than not to try at all. She encouraged me to live that way, so I got on the plane, I trusted, and I tried.
What was your role on the cycling team?
Cycling is a self-centered sport. It’s all about you: how much you’re sleeping, what you eat, how your legs are feeling. Except that I was a domestique. My job was to work hard on behalf of someone else. A domestique ensures the leader’s legs stay fresh legs by stepping in to close a gap or get a water bottle. It’s a completely selfless role. When I finished races, I would nearly fall off my bike from tiredness.
In many ways, being a domestique prepared me for guiding trips. In both roles, you’re working hard to assist people without taking the spotlight. As guides, people often don’t realize how much we man the ropes behind the scenes to make a trip run smoothly, and that’s something I’ve always liked. I find joy in helping others and making sure people have the best experience possible.
What was the highlight of your cycling career?
In 2008 all of my dreams came true with the opportunity to race in the Giro Donne, the equivalent of the Tour de France for women. All the hard work I’d put in, the parties I’d turned down, the family gatherings I’d missed, and my mother’s sacrifices finally paid off. I raced the Giro on an Italian team that included the world champion. It was a big moment.
How did you find your way to guiding?
The cycling world is a bubble, and leaving was a huge transition. I had to create an entirely new life for myself. I moved to Madrid where I got my first-ever desk job and turned into a party animal, indulging in all the things that I’d given up as a cyclist. After a little while I realized: “this isn’t who I am.” I started to look for guiding opportunities. I applied to DuVine and got a courteous e-mail back saying that DuVine wasn’t hiring. I applied four more times. On the fifth time, I finally got the job! I moved to Italy and started guiding.
While guiding with DuVine, I met the love of my life—a fellow guide, Tom. I feel so lucky to have him as a partner. I stopped guiding full-time last year when Tom and I had our first child, Clara. She takes after her adventurous parents and loves biking, too. She melts my heart!
Cuisine is one of your areas of expertise in addition to cycling. Talk to us about food!
I’ve always loved cooking and eating. But on a farm in the rural countryside, there was limited access to fresh ingredients. My mom used to go grocery shopping once a month and brought back everything frozen.
As I return to my South African roots as an adult, it’s been amazing to explore the diversity of South African cuisine and see how much the cuisine has improved. In South Africa’s more affluent areas, people are starting to adapt a healthier way of living that highlights fresh, seasonal ingredients like locally produced cheeses and extra virgin olive oil from Stellenbosch. There are lots of hip, young chefs coming into the country, and the restaurants are truly outstanding.
Still, there’s nothing I love more than an old fashioned braai, the South African version of a barbecue cookout. Veggies, meat, bread, sauces—I cook it all over the fire. My husband Tom has finally relinquished the role of grill-master because he knows I love it so much.
After years of guiding in Europe, you’ve recently started leading trips in South Africa. What’s it like guiding back in your home country?
In my opinion, travel should change you. It’s a way to open your eyes and challenge your assumptions. Guiding in South Africa is amazing because it’s not just a beautiful tour; it’s a powerful opportunity to be moved by what you see. For example, we stay at super luxurious hotels in the Western Cape, and then we go visit artists in their townships. We explore the fascinating history of the country firsthand and see how South Africa’s history is still unfolding.
I grew up in the heart of Apartheid and my co-guide is from Zulu-Natal, where his father was part of the anti-Apartheid fight. Together we’re able to offer a rich variety of perspectives. On our most recent tour, the group was so deeply impacted that everyone cried on the last night! It’s a transformative experience for guests and for us as guides.