Loretta and her adventures as a female solo cyclist

Huaraz gets many visits by cyclists like Álvaro Perez who earlier this year cycled for the well-being of animals, and Fernando Padrós from Cataluña who cycled for the well-being of orphans. Our newest visitor is Loretta Henderson (41) from Canada who is cycling around the world. An interesting thing about Loretta is that up until four years ago she had never even owned a bicycle, much less ridden one. She has since cycled across Asia, the Middle East, Oceania and Africa, and then sailed across the Atlantic to South America. The owner of Jo’s Place suggested Loretta got in touch with The Huaraz Telegraph to tell her story.

Loretta started the WOW – Women on Wheels Wall on her website. The WOW Wall is a growing community of over 120 solo female bicycle tourists from all around the world, sharing pictures and adventures among their followers. We had a coffee with Loretta, and got to know all about her adventures as a female solo cyclist.

So tell us where your adventure started

I am originally from Canada, but had been living in Alaska for nine years, and I had everything one likes to have at my age: a boyfriend, a career, a house and a good job working for the school district, but I wasn’t any interested in any of it. I was obsessed with a book called Adventure Cycle-Touring Handbook and decided to go to England, buy a bicycle and give it a go, never having even met a cycle tourist before. After buying the bike I cycled to Ireland. When I got that far, I decided I wanted to go Asia cycling from Bangkok to Mongolia. Here I came to the conclusion that my life was not about travelling so I stopped and went home to see my family.

I stayed for two months then I decided to connect the dots and go around the world. From home I went to New Zealand, from there I have been to the northern parts of Australia, Asia, China, Pakistan, India and back to Pakistan, then on to Iran, Turkey and then all of Africa. I also wanted to learn to sail so I sailed to South America, and have cycled up from the south of Ushuaia, Arg up to Huaraz. I always try to adopt aspects of the culture of the country I am in, for instance when cycling in Pakistan I wore a headscarf and Pakistani pyjamas.

There aren’t many female solo cycle tourists so I started a project called Women on Wheels Wall as a resource to show other females that it´s possible to be a female solo cyclist, it´s absolutely a lot safer than a lot of people think, and if anyone wants to try this sort of thing they can find lots of useful information and make contact with other solo female cyclists via the wall. Every week there are at least two or three people contacting me, not only women but also guys asking for information etc.

I am almost at the end of my trip. It has taken four years of my life. My experiences have been made possible because a lot of people have been supporting me, and I have learned a lot from my trip. I have lived simply, and at low cost, on the bike I am close to nature and can connect easily with the people and their culture.

What about safety. The first thing that comes to mind is how safe is it to be a solo female cyclist?

I really believe that 99% of the world´s people are good people, especially in the Middle East and Africa. I have been pushing cultural boundaries; most families I have met have tried to help me out. People have asked my many times if it safe to be a solo female cyclist, and I believe it is because of the kindness of so many people.

Let me give you an example. When I crossed the salt lakes in Bolivia, I met this woman who was so worried about me, only asking me: “where are you sleeping tonight?” And I could only answer, well in my tent of course. But people are always worried, on several occasions I have slept in places other than my tent, like a small room in a church. I believe it´s no less safe being a female as being a male travelling the world; it is just a different experience!

I believe there is actually a lot more women on the road than you´d think. I know of a 130 solo female cyclists and I imagine there are a lot more than that. After 18 months I met another woman and she was so glad to have met me. She felt a bit lonely, solo cycling is lonely and I said to her that there are more of us around, we just have to find them. It was nice to meet another sole cyclist because we had so much in common. I knew there were more! In general the network of cycling touring is about meeting each other on the road.

I think I have been to more than 40 countries. In Africa many people were surprised, but open-minded, when they saw I was alone. In the Middle East, with the Muslim tradition of trekking to Mecca, travelling is really supported. In South America people really, really want to talk about it. It´s a never ending curiosity, and although my Spanish has improved, it is still not good enough to uphold that kind of conversation.

How do you finance your trip?

In Alaska I built myself a cabin, which I sold before I left for England. That’s where most of my money comes from. A few years ago, when I was running short on money, I sold t-shirts on my website and a few articles I wrote about women cycle touring. But for the most part, what I do is incredibly cheap. In Africa my daily expenses did not raise above two dollars a day, and here in South America I mainly spend my money on food. I try to uphold the economic lifestyle that is inherent to cycle tourism. I have this awesome tent which saves me a lot of money, and some gear I carry was sponsored.

How´s it been cycling across Peru?

Good! Peru is great. I just made a loop here from Huaraz, north into the Cordillera Blanca, and from Yungay I went all the way up to Yanamá. That is where it got interesting. I cycled up the hill for a couple of hours and took a wrong turn and went down into a valley where I met a woman in a village, who insisted I was going the right way. I was almost at river level and in the end it became too steep and too rocky so I had to drag my bike up the mountain for six hours. But it was beautiful, even when I was lost; it was worth every minute of those six hours.

Most of the cycling I did was in the developing world and this was amazing, the scenery is so beautiful, and there is some walking involved as well. There is a lot of flying downhill in first gear and peddling up again and that makes Peru unique. The Andean roads in Peru really keep going; I think Peru is the only country in which I have cycled where it took me a full day to get up a mountain. Which reminds me, did you know I met three Peruvian cyclists in Bolivia? They designed and welded their own bicycle trailers together and were on their way to the World Cup in Brazil.

Rounding up our interview, as you are at the end of your trip, would you call your project a success?

My goal was to make a line west across the world, and I achieved that, my cycle trip literally ended when I got to the Pacific. In terms of expectations, I had none when I started I always kept the mind-set of “I’ll see what happens”. Going around the world is a personal definition. I met a guy from Canada whose definition was to ride out of his front door, go around the world and enter his front door again.

I am actually buying the plane ticket home after this interview with you. I might go north after Huaraz because I think a nice place to end my trip would be at the Equator. Have you seen Forest Gump? People have made Forest Gump jokes to me for years. Remember when he was running across America and then just stopped? He just came to the conclusion he was tired? I might just Forest Gump the end of my cycle tour. I’d like to see my family now.

I have had some fantastic experiences. I got to meet the Dalai Lama in India. I have cycled with zebras and elephants and giraffes and this week I was cycling close to a beautiful glacier. In ten years’ time, I want to cross the world again, but north to south and on water on a sail boat, I want to build most of the boat myself. But once I get home in a couple of weeks I don’t want to go anywhere.

One Response to “Loretta and her adventures as a female solo cyclist” Subscribe

  1. Vimi Sian July 21, 2014 at 09:48 #

    I had the pleasure of not only meeting this daring woman but also got to spend some amazing time with her in Patagonia. Her humility and strength blow my mind as I have seen her survive – without a “scratch” – being hit by a bus at 90km/hr and still keep travelling! She will always be considered a good friend and I hope to see her again soon. You are an inspiration, Loretta!

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