Over the summer, as I was reading a big host of cycling books during the Tour de France, I read “the man who cycled around the world“ by Mark Beaumont. Like the title suggests, he cycled 18,297 miles in 194 days (that’s an average of almost 100 miles a day) around the world, through Europe, Turkey and the Middle East, skirting Helmand Province in Afghanistan, through India, down through Thailand and then across Australia and through New Zealand, from one side of the United States to the other before going back through Europe to Paris. In doing so, he set the Guinness world record by 81 days.
It is an incredible story, an incredible feat of endurance. Indeed, the physical difficulty of what he does is often glossed over in favour of the practical arrangements, and is only tersely mentioned in short extracts from his log book: “really tough day. So low on energy and left calf really sore. Shit lunch and breakfast. Shouted at police escort.”
The descriptions of his saddle sores had me grimacing and filled with respect – very little complaints throughout until he loses his chamois cream in Australia – “the skin had split at a number of rub points and was deeply bruised. It was also starting to callus around these cuts, on small areas that fad broken and healed repeatedly. All day I could not stay on the bike got more than 20 minutes at a time because of the pain“. And he still cycled 100 miles that day!
He subsists on very little food, pushes through to 150k on horrendously painful saddle sores, suffers from lack of sleep due to noise, rough beds, children throwing stones through an open window. One night in Southern Pakistan he makes some friends and is offered a bed for the night. At 2am he is woken up by the police shining headlights on his face and shouting at him. He is forced to wake up and cycle further in the middle of the night to sleep in a police station.
The police escort through Southern Pakistan appears to be the worst part of the journey. It was needed due to the risks of kidnapping in the region but seems to have heightened Beaumont’s stress levels and reduced the amount of cycling he could do – subject to the whims of men with a heightened sense of their own power and with no idea who he is or why he is determined to cycle, no understanding of speeds or distance, of the need for food, and no common language in which to explain.
Another issue throughout all the various countries was finding enough food, both during the day and for his evening meal, due to a scarcity of restaurants on some of the more remote roads. So different from me going off for a few hours with a flapjack, banana and gel tucked into my pockets – Beaumont was setting off for a full day with barely anything, just the knowledge that he had to find a shop or restaurant at some point!
I also found his musings on the difference in countries and cultures so interesting, describing moving from India to Thailand like moving into the western world, “people stop for traffic lights here – that’s not happened since Western Europe“! Indeed, Beaumont felt that Thailand felt more like “home” than eastern Europe, mainly due to recognisable brands such as McDonalds. On a holiday that’s probably not something you’d want to see, but when you’ve been living away from home a long time it’s quite nice to have something so recognisable!
BUT this book got me thinking about whether any women had attempted to cycle the world solo, whether it was even possible due to safety issues in so many countries around the world. A quick google proved me very wrong.
Annie Londonderry was the first woman to cycle around the world in the 1890s, armed with just one change of clothes and a small revolver. She was the true “new woman” – breaking completely with convention by leaving behind her role as wife and mother and swapping her traditional skirts for bloomers that would allow her to ride further and faster. Cycling was a relatively new thing for women at this time – although bikes were still designed to avoid the sexual stimulation that they thought women would get from riding on a traditional saddle! That’s why women had high stems and upright handlebars – to prevent them orgasming over a simple bike ride. Those pesky women. Find out more about Annie here.
Then there’s Devla Murphy, who travelled the world on her bicycle and has written over 20 books on her experiences – not just about the cultures she visited but also writing about political issues such as apartheid in South Africa, globalisation and the Israel-Palestine crisis. I’m currently reading A month by the sea and am looking forward to reading more of her books!! You can read more about Devla and her books here.
In 2012, Juliana Buhring became the first woman to cycle around the world in a way approved by the Guiness Book of Records in order to hold the women’s record for Fastest Circumnavigation by Bicycle. She completed her trip in 152 days, pedalling a total of 29,060km – a mindboggling average of 118 miles every day for 152 days. As someone who has only ever cycled 83 miles one day I can barely even imagine….. Her blog, Wanderlust, has more details about this trip and various other endurance cycles including cycling from Istanbul to London in the 2013 Transcontinental Race – a race in which she was the only female racer and she came 9th overall.
But these women are incredible anomalies, right? Very few women would go off all by themselves into the remote corners of the world, with just their bikes to hold all their worldly goods and possessions, right? Nope! All wrong!
It turns out there are LOADS of incredible women exploring the world by themselves. In fact there is a whole blog dedicated to them, Skalatitude. The author cycled around the world herself and documented it in a very interesting blog with wonderful pictures, and while doing so, met and heard of so many solo female cyclists that she has dedicated a page of her blog to them – the Women on Wheels Wall with pictures and a blurb about so many different women on solo cycling adventures. It’s really, really inspiring especially for anyone who ever thought “I want to do x but I probably can’t because……” It also gave me some other blogs to follow including the beautiful A Wandering Nomad (incredible photos) and Anna at WishFish. Be warned: you may get lost in these blogs.
Read them and be inspired!