Around the world in 80 days by Mark Beaumont
I inhabit the world of adventure cycling, and have always felt a strong connection with other cycling adventurers who espouse the conviction that a true ‘adventure’ is essentially an unsupported, self-sufficient and self-propelled experience. Whatever happens on the journey, you take all the credit, and all the blame, for whatever transpires (allowing for ‘acts of God’, of course).
Two weeks before Mark Beaumont headed off to enter the Guinness Book of Records for cycling around the world in fewer than 80 days, I had the opportunity of meeting him. He was the keynote speaker at an adventure cycling weekend in the Lake District. He is an impressive figure in the world of long-distance cycling, and has ‘managed’ his place in that world with amazing dexterity. But when I learnt of the huge amounts of sponsorship, the size of his support team on all the continents, the sophistication of his transport links and the extent of expert advice on tap during his journey, I began to wonder why he was ever invited as the keynote speaker on an adventure cycling weekend. I liken his attempts on the RTW record to Chris Bonington’s assaults on Everest in the days before alpine methods of climbing really kicked in.
Beaumont had enjoyed the distinction in 2007 of being the first person ever to circumnavigate the world on a bike in under 200 days……but that was a largely self-supported effort, and he was quickly followed by several other aspirants who broke his record because, like him, all they needed was a bike, a tent and a huge amount of determination and courage. It was the ‘Everyman’s Everest’ of the world of adventure cycling. Anyone could have a go at it.
What Beaumont has achieved with his current record is in a completely different league, and should never feature as an adventure cycling feat. Without a doubt, it is truly impressive as a feat of endurance, and he deserves all the accolades fitting such an achievement, but let’s not confuse it with the record he had set 10 years earlier. No one with a bike and a tent, and a huge amount of determination and courage, will be following in his footsteps. He has effectively cornered this record for decades to come…..or until someone comes along who dreams even bigger than Beaumont, and can bring to the table an even more impressive bank of resources.
However, the book is definitely worth reading….if you haven’t done so already.
Take Mark Beaumont as an example…….two weeks before his recent success at breaking the round-the-world cycling record, which he completed in under 80 days by the way, I sat in on a presentation he gave at the Adventure Cycling Festival in Ambleside, and he painted the broad brush-strokes of his forthcoming challenge: ride 18,000 miles in both hemispheres, be on his bike every day for 80 days for 16 hours, and ride an average of 240 miles per day.
Now, I know what it’s like to ride 240 miles in a day because have ridden 250 miles in less than 24 hours on several occasions, but………..(and here is the big ‘but’) they were Audax 400km events, and they were ridden as stand-alone events, and I still used up most of the 24 hours to complete them. Beaumont, on the other hand, had to ride at a much higher than average speed to complete each day within 16 hours (including 4 rest stops), to give himself a chance to catch 4-5 hours sleep at the end of the day. That requires stamina, fitness and discipline…..
I thought long and hard about Beaumont’s adventure, and the dilemma between speed/distance and pure enjoyment on the bike, as I meandered my way across the golden landscapes of an autumnal countryside, enjoyed lunch with a crowd of fellow roadies, and decided that my own cycling life was definitely in its ‘autumnal years’, where enjoyment has almost (and I mean almost) imperceptibly superseded speed and mileage-bagging as the desired goal. Unfortunately, I cannot entirely own up to not taking any notice of the stats that appear on my Garmin screen as I bowl along (the average speed, in particular, holds a feisty grip on the attention), but my eyes spend much more time enjoying what lies around me, passing and acknowledging other people on the road, especially cyclists.
Today’s route was a civilised 70km at an average pace of 24kph. I mean, how laid-back is that…..?