January 3, 2012

Interview with Loretta Henderson

Loretta Henderson and her blog Skalatitude  first came to my attention when I searched "solo woman cyclist" ... her page WOW, Women on Wheels came up, and to my surprise and delight I found myself included there. 

That was in about October, 2010, and we have corresponded occasionally since then. I am thrilled to inaugurate a series of interviews with other cyclists with this (e-mail) conversation with Loretta. Her trip is totally amazing and inspiring! This will be a two-part interview, it is too long for one post and too good to cut. And visit her site, it is full of photos, stories, tips and resources. She shares her travels as she goes along (as internet service permits) and it is bursting with her wit and dynamite sense of fun. Loretta mentioned that she has especially enjoyed sharing her photos of the route in her Camera Carnival page. It is a good starting point to enjoying both her humor and photos while getting a sense of her world trip.

By the way, she told me that The WOW (Women on Wheels) wall is always looking for more contributors. It is full of links to blogs, books and photos celebrating solo female bicycle touring.

River crossing
To give the reader some perspective, could you give us a quick rundown of the countries you've cycled through?
What started as a bicycle tour in England in 2009 has gotten a little out of hand. 18 countries later I am still pedaling my way around the world. My route has been heading west from New Zealand across the world; the last unavoidable plane was between NZ and OZ.  I have travelled by wooden raft, sail boat, ferry and bicycle from OZ through Asian countries and then Middle Eastern countries.  Listening to the Beastie Boys on full volume while my headscarf flapped free, I headed from China into Pakistan, looped the Himalayas of Northern India, and returned to Pakistan, then pedaled across Iran.  With Oceania, Asia and half the Middle Eastern countries behind me, the best is still to come with pedaling through Africa this year.

Do you have a sense of how long your trip might last?
This makes me laugh, my tips articles about women’s adventure travel continue to be published and I am having too much fun to stop before I reach Capetown, South Africa.  I keep saying one more year but that was last year.

I have never heard the word skalatitude before, where did it come from ... did you invent it?
Skalatitude is a word I read about that was used a long time ago by an indigenous shamanic group in the Pacific Northwest region. I don’t think it is in the dictionary but you might find it in the bicycle tourist glossary of terms on my website.

So many things on your blog resonate with me, including the quote from your masthead:  "Skalatitude...When humans and nature are living in harmony there is magic and beauty everywhere" That idea is a profound one, and open to endless interpretations.  Could you give us any examples you've experienced of humans and nature in harmony?
Solo female bicycle touring, just about anywhere. My favorite cycling memory is in the Gobi Desert, Mongolia. The huge desert sun set on my one side and the full moon rose up on my other. Instead of stopping to camp I kept on pedaling without bike lights under the full moon for another 50km (31miles) or so....[Other favorite] memories are pedaling by glaciers that touched the road on the Karakorum Highway of Pakistan and chewing bubble gum with nomads in the Gobi desert, Mongolia.

Tell us how your bike got its wonderful name.
Pandemic The Magic Bicycle is the character in many articles on my website. Funny enough, Pandemic is named after the bird flu pandemic that was sweeping the world at a moment’s notice. This is humorous because when I named him I had exactly zero experience cycling and I could barely walk, due to my Achilles tendons protesting my new found love of bicycle travel.

 Speaking of the beginning of your trip, what drew you to bicycling? I read that you got interested while living in Alaska, but why bicycles and cycle touring?
While building a circular cabin on my own in Alaska I could not stop reading about bicycle touring. The Adventure Cycling Handbook by Steven Lord became very dog eared. After 5 years of reading that same book over and over again and thinking up every known excuse why I could not possible try something like this, including asking myself if women do this on their own, I finally found a photo of a man who had tied an empty milk jug full of water to the back of a bicycle.  That photo is what finally made me try it because I still didn’t know if I could make it anywhere by bicycle, but I did know that I could tie an empty milk jug to a bicycle rack, and I knew that I could try.
Well, you've certainly done a lot beyond trying! You have cycled some very difficult terrain, and also passed through some extremely challenging locales.  How do you decide where to go next? Geography, culture, history, politics, practical logistics, something else altogether?
I get so busy with pedaling, camping and writing the newsletter that I don’t have time to read the news.  So many things that the TV talks about do not actually affect travelling there. I meet other travelers, and Facebook is great for touching base with those on the road ahead of you. ...  I chose Pakistan because of the Karakorum Highway. The mountains and people are so beautiful there I would go back again any day.  

Yes, I had read in your blog that you have sometimes met other touring cyclists ... has that happened often? Is it most likely to happen in specific kinds of places?
Cycle touring in SE Asia, ( Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia) is an extremely popular cycling destination and a great place for a first tour. It is safe and a good year round destination. Great roads, mountains and flat terrain. The food is cheap and plentiful, inside and outside sleeping options are everywhere, it’s inexpensive and the people are warm. I met a lot of bicycle tourists there.


  1. I just came upon your blog through Iron Rider, who I've gotten to know through randonneuring. I'm so glad to see this interview with Loretta Henderson. She's one inspiring woman!

    1. Hi MG,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. Loretta is indeed amazing. She's been on the road for years now, I think. Last I read, in Tanzania.

      I went briefly to your site and will go back (when I'm not at work.) Very fun to learn that you live in DC ... I grew up near there long ago and got a chance to ride the WASA ride last spring when visiting my sis and her family. It's always fun for me to read DC and cycling related posts.

      Happy pedaling!


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