"Make 'em Comfortable" - Kathryn
"I'm an expert in this now," Kathryn declared on our phone call. "I trust my intuition."
It makes sense. After four years of solo international travel, both by bicycle and on foot, Kathryn knows how to read people.
"Has your intuition ever been wrong?" I countered.
"Nope," she replied. "My intuition has never failed me. " She paused a moment before adding, "Well, maybe I've left a situation early when it wasn't really dangerous... But I've never trusted anyone who was untrustworthy."
For most people, it's hard to picture Kathryn's life on the road. She's pedaled her recumbent tricycle alone through New Zealand, Morocco, Australia, Cuba, Trinidad, Southeast Asia, and parts of Europe. Kathryn loves "wild camping," or camping at the side of the road, and does so even in foreign countries.
"I camp right in the open, where people can see me... I figure, if I ever feel so unsafe that I want to hide, then I don't want to be doing this anymore anyway."
"And I don't hide," she assured me. "I camp right in the open, where people can see me. I don't want to hide, because I don't want to be afraid. I figure, if I ever feel so unsafe that I want to hide, then I don't want to be doing this anymore anyway."
One of the most profound takeaways from my interview with Kathryn was her philosophy on strangers. "Strangers are just friends you haven't made yet," she quipped. "I make sure to smile and wave at everybody, even if they're looking at me like 'what's she doing out here?' Everyone who sees me gets a smile and a wave, and then: their energy changes. They suddenly get this big smile, and sometimes they wave back."
I can hear the happiness in her voice, the satisfaction she feels from this discovery. "That sounds magical," I agree. "Does it ever get exhausting? Reading people's energy all day, and sending them energy in return?"
"I make sure to smile and wave at everybody, even if they're looking at me like, 'what's she doing out here?'"
"No!" she laughs. "It comes naturally. The exhausting part is being on the receiving end of all that positive energy from other people!" Kathryn mentioned her travels in Morocco were particularly full of smiles. "People were so happy there. Moroccans are outside all the time. There was always someone around, even the middle of nowhere there'd be a little house or someone working outside. I'd get the biggest smiles from people, they were so excited about what I was doing."
"It's important to make them comfortable," Kathryn explained. "Whenever I travel alone, it's my job to help people feel comfortable around me, so they don't feel threatened. I don't want anyone to see me as a danger. People all over the world are kind and generous, but they need to feel comfortable about you."
"Whenever I travel alone, it's my job to help people feel comfortable around me, so they don't feel threatened. I don't want anyone to see me as a danger."
Kathryn confessed she does envision worst-case scenarios sometimes. "I walk myself through the situation, and I think about what I would do to get out of it. First of all, there's nothing I wouldn't give away: they can have absolutely everything I own, in exchange for my safety. And then it would be important to make some kind of personal connection with them, to practice compassion for them. To think about why they needed this stuff, or what they were hoping to get out of this situation."
"Does it help you," I asked, "to picture these worst case scenarios?"
"Yes," replied Kathryn. "I always picture the outcome being good, and me continuing on. I've got to keep going, and trusting myself. People get scared for me all the time, even locals in the countries I'm traveling through. But I know that there's 'pockets of weird' in every country, including the United States."
Kathryn's future plans include a bicycle tour from New York to Minnesota this summer, a bike adventure in Greece this fall, and bike touring Mexico in the winter. "People are really worried about me biking in Mexico," notes Kathryn, "and I know a couple guys were killed there recently. I still need to do a lot more research, to choose the safest routes. But I want to go, and I'm not just going to sit on the couch because the world is dangerous."