I was interviewed for an article about women’s adventure travel by Chick Savvy Travels, a CA based travel website. I thought I would share the article written by Vawn Himmelsbach here as well.
Loretta Henderson was not a cyclist, nor was she a traveler, but she had been obsessing over a dog-eared book about adventure bicycle travel for years — and coming up with every excuse why she couldn’t do something like that. But at the moment, the Cobourg, Ont., native is pedaling her way through Cyprus. In fact, she’s been pedaling since 2009, putting 33,000 kilometres on her bike through 18 countries to date. And she’s doing it solo, on a shoestring budget.
“If you had asked me as a kid if my major relationship at this point in my life would be with a bicycle I would have laughed,” she said in an email interview. “But here I am, happy as can be, deeply committed and grateful to be attached to a bicycle wondering how I got so lucky.”
After years of coming up with excuses, she flew to England, bought a bicycle, which she called “The Pandemic” (after the bird flu that was prevalent at the time) and decided to give it a whirl.
She admits, however, she skipped over the “getting in shape” step, with exactly zero kilometres of cycling experience and zero amount of time invested in getting fit. The bicycle mechanic who sold her the bike even made a sarcastic comment as to whether she was a “real” cyclist. Not that that stopped her.
“I am a big fan of going with what you’ve got. There are thousands of top-end gear choices on the market and most people could work for a lot of hours to be able to afford them,” said Henderson.
Her advice? Put your money into the best tires you can afford and pedal out the door. “People from around the world have been pedaling one-speed bicycles up mountains wearing flip flops since the beginning of time. Just go!”
At the age of 37, she started cycling along the coast of Wales and on to Ireland. She has since been traveling across the world by bike and boat through the South Pacific, Asia and the Middle East on her way to Africa, and is currently in Iran. “I would love to wake up from my tent door and see a zebra or a giraffe somewhere near Capetown, South Africa, in the next year or so,” she said.
Her adventures — and her thoughts about whether women really do this sort of thing on their own — became the motivation behind her bicycle touring website skalatitude.com, which chronicles her travels. She also created the WOW (Women On Wheels) Wall, where solo female cyclists can share their experiences, as well as a newsletter called Pause, Pedal or Push On.
“I am convinced, despite having only met three so far, that solo women venturing off alone by bicycle are growing in numbers,” she said, pointing to the fact that some of the best bicycle touring books have been written by women, such as Dervla Murphy, Josie Dew and Anne Mustoe.
Henderson wanted to do something worthwhile while she was cycling her way around the world. While she funds her travels through donations from individuals and small businesses (she has a “donate” button on her website), she’s also raising money for BEN Namibia through the sale of her Be The Adventure t-shirts.
BEN (Bicycling Empowerment Network) Namibia partners with community-based organizations to construct bicycle ambulances (at a cost of around $500 each), which are used to transport people to clinics and hospitals.
A bicycle ambulance includes a removable stretcher with adjustable backrest and sun shade, as well as a carry bag for medical supplies.
Traveling this way has allowed her to see a different side of countries that are portrayed a certain way in the media. When one thinks about Pakistan, for example, one often conjures up images of the Taliban and roadside bombs. Henderson views Pakistan as a must-see bicycle touring location.
“As a traveler, I was shielded by my adventurous spirit and rewarded with a hospitality that quickly detonates any misconceptions the media has fired up about the place,” said Henderson. “Mongolia had always been my favourite destination, but I must admit Pakistan now holds that spot for my favourite country. The people are great fun!”
So is it safe to travel solo? Henderson does garner a lot of male attention, but she shrugs it off. “Not often does it happen in life that you are mistaken for a porn star. And, as much as I am flattered by the mistake, it is usually best to laugh and pedal on,” she said.
Henderson camps for free, whether in family gardens, farmer’s fields or dried-up river beds — generally where she can find a hiding spot for her tent. She keeps her bike as close to the tent as possible and occasionally ties a string from her bike to her arm if she’s unsure of her surroundings.
Her most courageous moment, however, had nothing to do with anything dangerous or life-threatening. “I dropped my camera in a pit toilet near Tibet in Western China. I actually went after it and saved my photos and YouTube video blogs,” said Henderson. “Retrieving that camera from the pit toilet and saving thousands of photos and video is by far the most courageous thing I have ever done.”
The original article was written by Vawn Himmelsbach and posted at Chick Savvy Travels.