Friday 29 January 2010

The Man Who Cycled the World, by Mark Beaumont

(reviewed by the bloke who intends to cycle the Czech Republic)

On Sunday 5 August 2007, Mark Beaumont, a Scotsman, set out from Paris to circumnavigate the globe by bicycle in a world record time. I've just finished reading his account of the journey, which my parents kindly gave me for Christmas. I read it partly in the hope of picking up some tips for my travels.

In many respects, Mark's approach was the antithesis of what I'm planning to do. He was carrying 30 kg of stuff, whereas I'll be credit-card touring with minimal baggage. He was covering 100 miles a day (!), whereas I'm looking at a less ambitious 100 km. And he was getting up before seven every morning, whereas I'll be having a nice lie-in.

In short, he was racing and I'll be taking it easy.

Despite all that, though, I feel I've learnt from his experience. Perhaps most importantly, I've realised that although careful planning helps a lot, it's crucial to keep your cool when things inevitably go awry. I've also been reminded of the need to pace myself and get in the "zone", i.e. the state where mind and body are in perfect harmony on the bike. And I've picked up some useful practical information (such as the hospitality website for touring cyclists

Mark displays an almost scary single-mindedness along the way. He transforms slowly into a cycling automaton, often shunning company to focus on the task at hand. He overcomes all sorts of obstacles - food poisoning, horrific saddle sores, relentless headwinds, chronic fatigue and (my personal Room 101) giant poisonous spiders in his tent. In a single day in the USA he is knocked off his bike by a careless driver and then robbed in his motel room.

Mark's mum deserves a mention. She ran "Base Camp" back in Scotland, staying up day and night to liaise with people in different time zones across the world to keep Mark on the road, on course and on schedule. Her epilogue also gives more insight into the true hardships of the journey.

Mark himself gives a straightforward, linear account of the trip. Like his journey, it's a little monotonous in places and has little time for light-hearted diversions. But - again like the journey - it builds up pace and gathers in intensity as it goes along. I found myself being drawn more and more into the adventure as it progressed. And I felt quite moved as he finally rode, exhausted, over the finish line under the Arc de Triomphe.

He completed the 18,297 mile course in 194 days and 17 hours, smashing the world record by an extraordinary 81 days. Now he's cycling the length of the Americas. Good luck to him!

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