Ultra-endurance athlete Mark Beaumont first read about having a pedal-powered adventure when he was 11-years-olds. He was leafing through his local newspaper in Perthshire and was gripped by the story of a man who had cycled from Land's end to John O'Groats. Two decades later, he is hoping to break a world record by cycling around the world in 80 days.
"At the time, I hadn’t really cycled off the farm, but this story encouraged me to pedal across Scotland, from Dundee to Oban," Beamont, who has just finished his lap around the UK as part of the Artemis World Cycle challenge with backing from cycle retailer Wiggle, recalls to The Independent. Beaumont previously held the record for cycling round the world - that's 18,297miles - in 194 days and 17 hours. Not content with that, he then cycled the Americas for the BBC.
Beaumont traces back his hunger for pushing his body to the limit to that news story, and the region of Scotland where he grew up.
"Home has always been Perthshire," he says. "I now live in Crieff, which sits on the highland boundary fault line that runs across Scotland all the way from Arran to Stonehaven, meaning that everything to the North is the highlands and everything to the South is the lowlands. This makes it the ultimate starting point for any adventures."
The Independent caught up with Beaumont to find out what motivates him, why on earth he's cycling for 80 days, and what he plans to do next.
When and why did you decide to cycle around the world in 80 days?
Over the decade since I first pedalled around the planet, there has been a growing niggle inside me that I have never had the chance to go as fast as I am capable – there has always been a compromise between filming, finding my way and racing – whereas with full support and a film crew, I can purely focus on being an athlete. I have worked hard over the last three years to put an amazing team around me and this is my chance to shoot for the stars and take on my biggest dream. The current World Record for the fastest circumnavigation by bicycle is 123 days, but I know that it is possible to cycle around the world in less than 80 days.
What scares you the most about the challenge?
Physically it’s a step into the unknown. I’ve never pushed over 200 miles a day back to back for over two months. Mentally, I think it’s going to take all the strength and experience I’ve got from riding my bike for the last 20 years. Logistically, we’ve got to get a full support team around the world, going through, for me, unknown parts of the world like Mongolia, Russia, China.
It scares me, it’s hugely intimidating, but this is me putting all chips on the table. I guess my greatest fear is having an injury close to the start. But having completed a 3300 mile ‘training ride’ around the coastline of Britain, my team and I now have a lot of confidence that the plan is workable, that I have the strength to go sub-80 days.
What are you most looking forward to?
Leg one takes me through Russia, Mongolia and China. These are places I have never cycled, so whilst these countries raise the greatest concerns about possible delays and logistics, this is also the part of the world I am most looking forwards to exploring. Cycling is a wonderful freedom, I have never found anything else in life that gives me that sense of flow, and clear thinking. The bike has taken me to the most extraordinary places – both in terms of the physical world around me and my physiological and mental limits. But there is not doubt, this 18,000 mile ride is taking endurance cycling to the absolute limit, and whilst I am looking forwards to it, there is also a fair dose of trepidation!
What are some of the most extreme things that have happened to your body during feats of endurance? Have you ever feared for your life? Have you ever hallucinated? Or vomited from physical strain?
Yes, absolutely, all of the above! I capsized mid Atlantic whilst ocean rowing and spent 14 hours fighting for my life. There was the very simple thought as I treaded water 500 miles from land, that I was about to drown. And sadly, in the high mountains of Alaska, I have seen people pay that ultimate price for their adventure. Sleep deprivation is very difficult to deal with, and I guess is a form of torture.
So whilst ocean rowing, and rowing two hour on, two hours off, for a month, I hallucinated quite a bit – but it’s actually quite enjoyable to see forests of trees around you when 100 miles offshore, it breaks up the monotony! The salt sores in the oceans and the saddle sores on the bike can be incredibly painful, not to mention the numerous times I have kept riding whilst having food poisoning in places like Pakistan and Ethiopia – the clock never stops on these World Records, and so its important to keep going during these awful days, as they define the success of the whole journey.
What has been the most memorable moment during your endurance feats?
There have been many breath-taking moments, including sleeping under the stars in the Atacama desert in Chile, filming beluga whales as they swam under our boat 700 miles north of the Arctic circle, a giraffe canter at full tilt alongside me in Botswana and the many incredible acts of kindness from complete strangers who I have met in the 130 countries I have visited. But if I had to pick one moment, it was arriving back at the Arc du Triomphe to break the circumnavigation World Record by a margin of 82 days. I had a full police escort, the British ambassador and hundreds of press, friends and family had turned out. It was the finale that I had always dreamed of, but never expected to happen and it was the first time I had completed a major expedition and broken a record – the first time you live a moment like this, something which goes on to define you, the raw emotions, the relief, the elation, it is indescribable.
What was the hardest moment you’ve experienced?
On the bike, the Africa Solo expedition was incredibly tough, riding 160 miles a day, unsupported from Cairo to Cape Town. One moment that really tested me was climbing the infamous Blue Nile Gorge in Ethiopia, it is probably the longest, hottest and roughest climbs of my life. It came after having already pedalled 100 miles seriously tough miles that day, and getting through the gorge took well over two hours as I tried to race the fading light to reach the top. Off the bike, there was a point high on Denali, Alaska, the highest mountain in North America, when my team-mate collapsed on a narrow ridge and very nearly pulled our rope team of four climbers off the mountain. It was the quick reactions of a teammate and myself by digging our ice axes into the snow that stopped our fall.
How do you motivate yourself to keep going during really tough events?
Expedition life can be absolutely brutal, but it’s also wonderful simple – not keeping going is not really an option, and momentum is your greatest friend. I find that through practice I become incredibly focused when the going gets tough, whereas my mind wanders if it’s all going my way. For example, when the team and I capsized midway from Morocco to Barbados, at the time, I was very calm and analytical, focused on treading water and salvaging the kit that we needed from our upturned rowing boat before it sank. The upset and the thoughts of ‘what if’ came later, once we were rescued – it probably took a couple of months to get over that trauma.
It took nearly an hour to get the life raft inflated and the six crew inside it. Then, it was a process over six hours to swim between the life raft and the upturned vessel to salvage the kit that was needed to ensure we were rescued, including the GPS tracker, the satellite phone, the flares and the VHF radio. The first time I dived underneath, I was holding my breath, opening my eyes, which hurt in the salt and grabbed the first thing I could find, which proved to be the fire extinguisher!
What are your tips for people who want to start exercising more?
Time is the scarcest commodity and exercise can be hard to prioritise. But we don’t need reminded why it is important. Whenever I find it hard to make a decision, I use the trick of ‘asking my 70 year old self’ – he is wiser and less compulsive. So in order to have a wise, happy ’70 year old self’ you need to make smart choices about eating, drinking, sleeping and exercise. Being consistent is far more effective that splurges of exercise and healthiness.
We are also animals of habit, so the more exercise we can build into our routine, the far easier it gets. We are also social animals, so buddying up with friends and family, keeps you motivated to get up and get outside. The hardest part of cycling, like the hardest part of any journey, is getting started – but it’s wonderfully accessible, almost anyone can cycle. I understand that it takes confidence to ride your bike on the roads, especially if you live in the city and busy suburbs. So, it’s always best to buddy up, go out with people who have more experience and build your bike skills and confidence.Reuse content