(CNN) -

"You! You have moto, yes?"

An elderly woman, her craggy face peering out from the folds of her voluminous black chador, demands my attention.

I'm in the immigration line at the Turkey-Iran border and my heart is pounding as I wait to be stamped into the Islamic Republic.

I nod warily, confirming that yes, that is me -- a solo female with a British passport and a motorcycle.

I adjust my headscarf, fearing that my interrogator is a member of Iran's infamous "morality police," the hardliners instructed to arrest women for "immodest" behavior.

She jabs me in the chest.

"You come with moto?" she asks again, twisting an imaginary throttle and even adding a few "vroom vroom" sound effects.

I'm still not sure if I'm in trouble but her opinion becomes clear when she grabs my face and gives it an enthusiastic slap, before pulling me in for a rib-crushing hug.

"Very good! Very good!" she shouts while I gasp for breath among the folds of her chador.

"I am wishing you all the luck in the world!"

Finding the 'real' Iran

This enthusiastic welcome sets the scene for my entire journey -- motorcycling 3,000 miles around Iran solo and female, from the rugged northwest of the country to the Caspian Sea and over the remote Alborz Mountains to the fume-choked streets of Tehran.

My motivation?

Curiosity about the huge gulf between how Iran is perceived in the West and what I hear about it from the few people I know who have been there.

Often painted in the media as a terrifying place full of extremists, travelers who return from Iran invariably rave about how wonderful and welcoming they found the Iranian people.

I wanted to discover the place for myself.

Following some wild times in the capital, where it turns out you can get everything from contraband bacon to booze, I continue through the peaceful Zagros Mountains to the ancient cities of Esfehan, Shiraz and the deserts of the south.

Reports of tourists being arrested for espionage are in the front of my mind when, at one border post, I'm frogmarched to the police station to be fingerprinted.

But, of course, a people and its government are two separate entities.

Persian hospitality is legendary and I find myself overwhelmed with generosity and kindness from Iranians keen to distance themselves from the negative image of their homeland -- from truckers stuffing pomegranates into my panniers to complete strangers insisting on paying for my hotel room and an endless stream of tea.

Challenging too

Of course, there are a couple of challenging moments, most often involving the police.

There are different kinds of police in Iran and on one occasion in Tehran a car full of plainclothes revolutionary guards deliberately drives into me.

On another occasion I'm assaulted at a remote desert gas station by a pump attendant who is probably on meth (quite common in the rural areas, I'm told).

Shouting, he lunges at me.