Looking for some solo travel inspiration? This is my first in what I hope will be a series of profiles on some of the inspirational solo female travellers I meet on the road. Michelle Hardman is a Solo Distance Cycle Tourist I met on my second night at OX Basecamp. After a short conversation with her, I felt completely inspired and asked if she would mind being interviewed for my blog so she can hopefully inspire some more women out there to hop on their bikes and hit the road!
To give you a little context…
Since arriving here in Guatemala I have had an education on cycle touring and a community called Warm Showers. Warm Showers is a little like Couchsurfing but it’s for cyclists, people open their homes to offer cyclists a bed, and a warm shower for the night. OX Expeditions is one of the few hostels that is part of the warm showers network meaning there is a steady flow of tour cyclists moving through. Most of these cyclists are men or couples, but Michelle Hardman, from Ireland, is so far the only female solo cycle tourist I have met so far and I wanted to find out more about her passion for solo distance cycle touring.
Can you tell me a bit about what you are doing?
I’m cycling from Vancouver in Canada to the Panama Canal.
That’s pretty impressive! When did you first start cycling?
When I was at school. I’ve cycled my whole life. Mostly just to get to where I needed to get to. But when I was 26 (20 years ago) I started cycle touring. I lived there for 6 years and every weekend so many Germans take a bike trip. It’s just something ingrained in German culture. Every weekend people take a trip on their bikes with a tent.
I did lots of weekend trips, but I didn’t take my first distance tour until I was 26. I had just quit my job and someone suggested that I buy some panniers and cycle the Danu, I thought yea why not. So I cycled from Munich to Bucharest solo travelling along the Danu. From day 1 I was hooked.
How do you prepare for your trips?
Always the same way. I do very little planning other than my equipment which is all on and excel sheet. It’s always the same, apart from the sleeping bag. That really depends on the weather.
What about your routes, how do you plan where you are going?
I never do any route planning, I know where to start and where to finish that’s it. Then when I arrive and I just speak to the locals asking them what the roads are like, and then I take their advice. There are lots of things you can get to help route planning but I don’t use it. I just cycle and then pitch a tent when I need to sleep. Although I do read up on routes on crazyguyonabike.com as there is a lot of advice about routes on there from people who have cycled them before.
What or who inspired you to start long distance cycling?
It wasn’t one person. I think it was just Germany and their biking culture. The feeling I had when I was 26 and on the road. I got on my bike and never looked back. Germany inspired me.
What’s the most difficult part?
Being in developed countries. In my experience the poorer the countries the nicer the people. Cycling through the developed countries the magic just doesn’t happen. The magic for me happens miles away from everywhere up in the mountains in a remote village.
I would also say wild camping on my own. No matter how many times I do it, especially as a woman, I never quite feel safe.
What’s the best thing?
The randomness of it! I never know where I might end up. I love the spontaneity and the freedom I feel.
What would you say to any women out there thinking of cycle touring solo?
Start somewhere familiar. Follow a river, they always go downhill and start in a country you speak the language of. Make sure you bring a tent as it gives you access to places you wouldn’t normally have. If you are worried about wild camping start off camping in campsites. For 20 years toured a 200lb commuting hybrid bike. It was only 20 years in I spent £15000 on this bike. But to start off with you don’t need to spend that amount of money, I wanted to do some more serious touring so it was an investment.
Do you have any other advice you can offer anyone thinking of Cycle touring?
Yes, sign up to warmshowers.com. Warm Showers is an absolute life saver. Become a member and a host and look after your fellow cyclists. When I have hosted I have always gone over and above, picking people up from the airport, feeding them great food and helping with their planning. I have been shown such kindness by this community all over the world. Repay the kindness you will be shown.
Another great online community is Bike Backers. On any route, you are on there will be a group that has done that route so do a quick Facebook search and connect with others, be inspired. There is also a new website that hosts a collection of blogs by many of the solo female cyclists out there it’s called Woman Cycle the World.
Also be sure to download the following apps:
Google maps offline
It’s also worth making sure you have lots of good podcasts for lonely nights in tents!
And to finish, where is the best place to cycle tour?
I hope that Michelle has inspired you as much as she has inspired me! If you are looking for some more Female solo cycling inspiration then check out WOW – Women On Wheels they have a whole wall for of blogs written by women who cycle tour solo you can follow.