When Mark Beaumont announced that he intended to break the world record by cycling around the globe in 80 days, I anticipated a slew of messages from my friends and family along the lines of “If he can do it in 80 days, why is it going to take you 18 months?” and “Where will you be in 80 days time, Kent?”
For I, too, have recently embarked on an around-the-world bike ride. It will take me at least 18 months – through Europe to Turkey and Iran and India, then on through Myanmar to south-east Asia. Next, it’s a flight to North America then down through the Americas all the way to Santiago de Chile, then home. If Mark succeeds, he will have cycled around the world in the time it takes me to get through Europe. He would lap me almost seven times.
There are the obvious discrepancies: Mark is an athlete, I am a chunky Londoner, whose love of energy gels is far outweighed by my love of beer. Mark has a support vehicle. My part-time support vehicle, my housemate’s Subaru, failed its MOT a few days before I set off. Mark has a map. I swapped my map for a poster of Ewan McGregor, whose series, Long Way Round, about riding around the world on a motorbike, inspired my trip. I keep it on top of my handlebar bag so that I have someone to shout at when going up hills. Mark has a sensible route (18,000 miles) that goes fairly directly around the world; I have a route with no logic that covers 28,000 miles. Mark has a camper van with a mattress; I often wild camp, and I am even terrible at that because I lie in for so long that police for miles around have time to find me.
But I wouldn’t trade my life of long, lazy rides through vineyard-covered slopes and forests for entire days with eyes locked on the tarmac. I’m writing this from the banks of a lake in a nature reserve in southern Germany (Campingplatz Riedsee). Last night I sat up late with the groundsman drinking beer and learned to count to 10 in German by watching the stars come out. This morning I cleared my fuzzy head by jumping into the lake, before the mist above the surface had cleared, flailing inelegantly at ducks until it was time to make coffee.
I cycled 40 miles yesterday – Mark, who is cycling 240 miles a day, would barely consider this a warm-up – and I took the whole of Sunday off because I decided to track down the relics of a 16th-century mystic nun, St Hildegard of Bingen. I cycled up the steep hill overlooking Rüdesheim am Rhein to the abbey named for her in a mighty thunderstorm, only to discover her relics were at a different church. At a campsite in the shadow of the Lorelei rock (Camping Loreleyblick) I took the afternoon off to hike the woods of the Rhine gorge and sample the local riesling.
Mark is an inspiration to me, and his book The Man Who Cycled The World is one of the reasons I am doing the trip. But what will he do when people try and talk to him? I can barely move a few miles without being stopped. Will he have to turn down the gifts – asparagus, beer, bottles of water – that people press into his hands when he tells them he’s cycling around the world? If he gets lost, is it game over? Or is it an avenue into adventure?
I wondered if maybe I’d got it wrong: I could speed up and in three months be back in my London houseshare, catching up on Masterchef. But instead, in three months my best friend is due to join me in Istanbul, from where we plan to wend our way along the Turkish shore towards Asia, then on and on, to wherever our hearts or our appetites take us. I wouldn’t miss that for all the pages in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Follow Liz’s travels at halfashoestring.com