Bicycle Touring Solo in Morocco - Kathryn
Kathryn's most recent solo bicycle touring adventure was in Morocco. Understandably, she was nervous.
Kathryn said that preparing for the unknown was the hardest part. "A seasoned solo traveler friend, who's a woman, told me she'd never go back to Morocco alone again," admits Kathryn. "Yikes! Imagine what that did to my imagination! My gut was a wreck."
"A seasoned solo traveler friend told me she'd never go back to Morocco alone again... Yikes!"
Kathryn went anyway, and she ended up loving Morocco. The trickiest part turned out to be that Moroccans were more concerned for her safety than she was... at one point about halfway through the trip, police officers were assigned to escort her through the rest of the country. She pedaled along at her signature 5 miles per hour, being trailed all the while by an official-looking government vehicle. "It was different men, different unmarked cars every day. We played leap frog down the road. But I could always spot them. And they usually had no uniform on. Creepy! I hated it," she reported. "You ever been followed? Day after day? It's the worst feeling."
Kathryn, how did you overcome other people's fears about your safety?
In Morocco, locals told me, “it’s too dangerous.” Overcoming other people’s fears just adds another level of complication. I was told not to wild camp because of the wild dogs. A foreigner was killed by wild dogs there a few years ago. I had to dig deep to overcome that fear: “You can do this. You are the expert, not them.” I just relied on my 1000 nights of wild camping experience to say the risk was low and the rewards were high. I do believe I’m constantly doing risk assessment and knowledge assessment. Many people are ill-informed, so the information they’re sharing is false.
"It's really a good world out there, full of kind people."
How do you respond to people who worry about you?
I tell them to turn off the TV. :) It's really a good world out there, full of kind people. People that will help me in a minute if I need it.
What's one of your favorite travel memories from Morocco?
I biked for weeks through the Sahara Desert. Other than passing through the small towns, I hardly saw anyone. I might see a shepherd off in the distance, but there was a lot of openness, emptiness, and rocks!
This particular night I’ve gone up a side path a short ways to hide from the wind behind a bit of a knoll. My tent is up and I’m sitting on my yoga mat outside the door playing with my phone (yes, cell service even there!).
A young man appears beside me, having come around the backside of my tent. He’s all grins. The Moroccan smile is to die for…just so beautiful! He points to his bicycle then to mine and mimics pedaling. He only speaks Berber, no French, so we have no common language. I did understand that his family lived across the road and he was inviting me to come stay with them.
Once my tent is up, I’m done for the night. No energy to pack and move. He squats down near me and pulls from is worn and tattered backpack a box of tea, a cone of sugar and teapot.
"He squats down near me and pulls from his worn and tattered backpack a box of tea, a cone of sugar and teapot."
"Do you need water," I ask. He shakes his head no and pulls out a well-used bottle of water wrapped in tattered fabric. "How are you going to heat the water?" I have limited fuel that seems to be irreplaceable in Morocco so I’m not eager to use it.
He gets up and walks away. While he’s gone, a goatherder comes by with his flock, stops and shakes my hand, and then wanders away. My new friend returns with his hands full of blond twigs. Where did he find those? I had looked across the desert and seen nothing. Little did I realize there was this fuel for fires everywhere. After watching him make this fire, I cooked over an open flame every night and never ran out of fuel.
He put the pot of water and tea leaves on the fire. While it was heating, another friend showed up on a motorcycle. He spoke French. My friend was an agriculture worker in the area. We shared tea from one glass. The motorcycle guy said his goodbyes and left. My friend cleaned up stuff, dried his glass and pot, packed everything away, stood up, smiled and said goodbye.
He never asked me for anything except my company and lack of language was no barrier.
"In Morocco, the men were amazingly kind and helpful. I had not one issue."
That's a beautiful story. Do you ever feel like traveling by bicycle makes you more vulnerable?
I've only had my warning bells go off a couple of times. I just move myself out of the situation. In Morocco, the men were amazingly kind and helpful. I had not one issue. It’s a truly safe country outside the cities and away from the touristy areas.
What advice would you offer to a woman who wants to travel more, but is afraid to do so?
Baby steps. Start with a short trip closer to home. Something just a little bit out of your comfort zone, but where you know you'll be safe. Each time you find out that you're okay, your confidence will increase and the fear will diminish.
I remember being married and in my 20's when I went to a motel at the beach all alone for the first time. It was a big deal. It built confidence that I could do it by myself. Now look where it's taken me!
"I remember in my 20's I went to a motel all alone for the first time. It was a big deal. It built confidence... Now look where it's taken me!"
What activity, besides traveling, helps you be a better traveler?
Be open and friendly. Talk to people. Smile at people. Connect with strangers. A stranger is just a friend I haven't met yet.
What are some things that help you feel more comfortable in unfamiliar territory?
I read other people’s journals who have traveled to where I’m planning to go. Right now I’m planning to cycle Mexico next winter. Oh, the fears everyone has!! “The drug cartel will murder you!” But I’ve heard the most amazing stories of the wonderful people in Mexico. I’ll be fine. And if I’m not, that’s okay too. I don’t fear death as much as I fear not living.