That episode in India kind of strips the glamour off the idea of bicycling around the world in pursuit of a world record. It's just one of many experiences recounted in Mark Beaumont's book “The Man Who Cycled the World,” recently released in the US.
The Scotsman was the second in what has seemed a rush of bicyclists seeking a Guinness World Record for bicycling around the world.
Beaumont accomplished his feat in 2008, completing his grand adventure in 194 days and 17 hours. Remarkably, he shaved 81 days off the record set by Steve Strange in 2005. At least four others have since tallied faster times on paper, but not all made the record books. The current record holder, Vin Cox, accomplished the feat in 163 days.
The competition will heat up in February 2012 when the Global Bicycle Race rolls out of London.
The Scotsman started his career as a professional adventurer at age 24,
when he set off on his 18,296-mile quest. Growing up on a farm and with
his university years behind him, Beaumont hit on the idea of the global
bicycle ride and figured he could get sponsors if he was going for a
coveted world record. He also landed a deal with BBC for a documentary.
Beaumont wrote and published this book, “The Man Who Cycled the World,” the year after he finished his ride. Broadway Paperbacks, an imprint of Crown Publishing, brought the book to US audiences in 2011 and sent me a copy to review.
In reading it, I was struck by how much Beaumont missed by pushing himself to cover 100 miles a day on his bicycle. There are countless times when he talks about being near famous landmarks or destinations, and he just keeps pedaling.
In Thailand, for instance, he catches a tailwind and refuses to stop, in spite of constantly passing road signs for tourist destinations. “The sea was just through the trees to my left and had been for two days, but I hadn't seen it once.”
Head-slapping unbelievable is his response to an attractive and “fun” marine biologist he met soon after landing in Australia. As they trade daily texts as he heads across the continent, she offers to take a week off and take a road trip out to his location. At first it seemed perfect, but he writes:
“I called her again that night, having decided against it. It was hard to explain, and it sounded ridiculous even as I tried to, but I needed to be left in my own world.” Later, he thought about changing his mind, “But I knew in the long run I would regret anything that might slow me down. I was here to race.”
So race he does, across four continents. His human contact is often limited to hotel desk clerks, cooks, waitresses and waiters, and whoever is sitting next to him on the stool at the diner.
But people are often drawn to people traveling by bicycle, and he occasionally acquiesces to offers to share their home or meals.
Beaumont must have kept a detailed journal, as there are descriptions of the terrain, the local foods, housing, traffic and his condition — all things you expect him to dwell on as he spends hours alone on his bicycle.
Throughout his adventures, Beaumont suffers gastrointestinal attacks, bicycle breakdowns, sore muscles, and various other aches and pains. After riding his bicycle across many countries in all types of weather,
his worst experience comes in Louisiana, where he is hit by a car driven
by an old woman and robbed in his hotel room all in the same day.
He goes into detail about suffering from saddle sores most of his trip. No wonder, as Beaumont's target of 100 miles a day takes a toll.
We've all ridden centuries, but not day after day after day. Obviously, he doesn't achieve this goal every day, but he makes the attempt. It often means lots of night riding, camping at the roadside, or riding into strange towns in foreign lands late at night with no idea where to stay.
In the final days of the tour, Beaumont admits to exhaustion as he nears Paris. It's almost like his goal of riding 100 miles a day has become paramount, and the fact that it enabled him to encircle the globe is just a side issue.
“I still didn't feel the least bit excited about the finish; I was simply too tired to care. My every thought was focused on making the next mile, knowing that eventually I would get there.”
Beaumont did get there and realized his achievement. But he didn't stop moving.
Soon, he was back on his bicycle to pedal the longest mountain chain on the planet, at the same time climbing Mt. McKinley in Alaska and Aconcagua in Argentina. That adventure also became a book, “The Man Who Cycled the Americas.”
This past summer, he was the member of a crew that rowed to the North Pole. Next, starting in January 2012, he'll join a team of six seeking to break the trans-Atlantic rowing record.
It sounds like Beaumont isn't interested in slowing down, at all. I'll be interested to hear about his next adventures. You can check up on him at MarkBeaumontOnline.