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From Never Cycling to Touring the World: Loretta Henderson’s Journey

Tough Girl - Loretta Henderson - quit her normal life at 36, and having never cycled before, set off to cycle around the world!

Tired of the life she’d created and ready for something new, Loretta set off to get her first bike and ended up cycling around the world. Loretta cycled solo on routes she believes had only ever been traversed by men.

With a new passion underfoot, Loretta founded the Women on Wheels Wall to create a community of women cycling around the world. Loretta came on the Tough Girl podcast to share her story and her passion for discovering the world on two wheels.

Read on to learn more about Loretta’s experience of the cycling lifestyle from food and funds to challenges galore.

Discovering the Cycling Lifestyle

After building a house with her own two hands and spending ten years on her career, Loretta was ready for something completely new. So, rather than continue in the life she’d spent years building, Loretta flew to Bridgewater, Somerset, England and bought her first bicycle.

“I showed up with no experience, no clothes, never having met a bicycle tourist,” Loretta says. “There was no cycling culture. I just showed up at this bike store, bought a bike and tried to get to Ireland, basically.”

While she’d had no plans for a world tour, Loretta decided to fly to Bangkok and keep cycling after a positive experience in Ireland. Loretta’s trip in Ireland hadn’t been easy considering the pain of her body getting used to the bicycle and the inclement weather, but she enjoyed the experience of cycling tremendously.

After cycling from Thailand to Mongolia, Loretta went back home. Unable to find a job, she decided to take her bicycle and continue her journey around the world. Starting in New Zealand, Loretta went west across the continents, sailing on water and cycling on land.

“Once I found bicycle touring, it was just phenomenal,” Loretta remembers. “This is the best thing I've ever found.” Loretta was surprised to find that people cycled the world, sleeping in tents and cooking their own food on budgets from $5-$10 a day.

With enough funds in the bank, Loretta went on to have an incredible experience. Some days she’d continue to cycle through the night to soak in all the natural beauty. While she was in the Gobi Desert in Mongolia, the moon shone so bright she kept pedalling to take in the incredible sights.

Overcoming Challenges with Time and Experience

Cycling didn’t come without its challenges. On her first trip in Ireland, Loretta faced icy hail constantly hitting her face like tiny daggers. “I was frozen over those handlebars,” Loretta says. “But I really didn’t care. I had a perma-grin. It was so new and exciting.”

With a body still getting used to the idea of cycling, Loretta experienced pains she’d never before imagined. After going up a five mile hill, her neck throbbed from her form. Then there were her Achilles tendons that hurt so much they squeaked. Luckily, as time passed her body grew used to the experience and the pain faded.

“In some ways, the challenges are broken up into daily things,” Loretta relates. “I had one day where I had seven punctures. There were thorns everywhere. That day was endless.”

Learning the Ins and Outs of Feeding and Funds

Throughout her travels, there were times when Loretta would get skinnier and other times when she’d gain a bit of weight. Loretta kept a camp stove and ate whatever she could find. In some countries there was amazing food all around, in others Loretta relied on soy nuts.

“You could definitely pick your location by your interest,” Loretta says. “Say you want to do a food tour. You could go over to Thailand and cycle the golden triangle of Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. You’d eat amazing street food all the way. Super healthy, super economical and amazing.”

With Loretta’s smart mindset, saving for a cycling trip doesn’t have to be so hard. She advocates a simple strategy of choosing a trip over every other indulgence. Do you want to go on a trip...or drink fancy pants coffee? Do you need a new shirt...or can you wear an old one? If you play those games, eventually you have a savings, Loretta says.

Creating a Community of Cycling Women

As Loretta began cycling, she couldn’t find any kind of female community. In fact, it was 18 months before she even met another woman on wheels. So Loretta created a place where she could share the accomplishments of solo female cyclists.

How does one become a woman on wheels? “Just paddle out the door,” Loretta says. “The hardest step is to just going. Just go for it!”

Loretta recognises that most of our concerns will simply melt away once the journey begins. Worried about what path you’ll take? Loretta’s cycled without a map in Bangkok and Ireland. Sure, she got lost sometimes but it all worked out. Loretta easily found the help she needed and met great people doing it.

For more on Loretta’s fascinating journey, listen to our complete conversation on the Tough Girl podcast.


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