Mugged in Florida and locked up by police in Pakistan, Mark Beaumont has had an eventful year of travel, but is now set to become the fastest person ever to circumnavigate the globe by bicycle , writes FIONA MACGREGOR
IT WAS 191 days, 6 hours and 36 minutes ago that Mark Beaumont cycled out of Paris, beginning a solo attempt to break the 18,000-mile world record to become the fastest person to have ever circumnavigated the globe by bicycle. His legs, he says, are “good,” but he’s feeling “pretty blanked out”.
Beaumont was speaking to The Scotsman from Ligourne, near Bordeaux, yesterday afternoon. By Friday – if everything continues according to plan – the 25-year-old Scot will finally be able to rest after he arrives back in Paris, beating the current record by at least 81 days and cycling through 20 countries in the process. Although he has only days left on his amazing trip, Beaumont says he finds it hard to imagine what will happen when he crosses the finishing line.
“I get the impression there has been a build-up of everyone’s support back in Scotland, which is fantastic. I think there’s going to be quite a lot of my friends and family coming to the finishing line, and my mum and my sister will be there, which is amazing, but it’s hard to picture the end. I’ve been completely on my own for most of the past five or six months and that’s meant I’ve had to live in the moment.”
The last few days, he explains, have been particularly challenging. On reaching Spain last week, he was pulled over by police for “cycling on a highway” and ordered to find an alternative route from the one to Madrid and north to Bilbao he had planned. “I’ve cycled through most countries in Europe and I’d assumed Spain would be the same. I lost a lot of time, which meant I had to make up the miles over the Pyrenees, so it’s been pretty tough going,” says Beaumont, who is undertaking the route on a fully-laden expedition bike. “My kit set-up is about 100kg.”
The attentions of the Spanish police seem minor, though, when he recounts his dealings with law-enforcement officers in Pakistan: “Travelling in the Pakistan-controlled parts of Baluchistan, we were told would be less safe and the British embassy told us not to go through, but we weighed it up and wanted to do it.When we spoke to the Pakistan police, they offered to provide an escort. They ended up travelling with me all day, and at night I was locked up in the police cells.”
This, so they told him, was for his own safety, but he remains sceptical, although he is grateful to have left Pakistan just days before attempts on the life of Benazir Bhutto led to the declaration of martial law.
During his time there he lost over a stone, unable to keep up the 6,000kcal-a-day diet he has needed to keep his strength up during the expedition. Pakistan, he said, came as a particular shock after his experiences in neighbouring Iran. “[Iran] was definitely the biggest surprise in what I’d been expecting. It was far more developed and I felt safe. I was far more worried about myself in the States than I was in Iran.”
America seems to have been the scene for some of the very best and the worst points in his trip. It was while cycling through Louisiana that he had the worst accident of his adventure, after an old lady failed to stop her vehicle at a red light and drove into him. Although not too badly hurt, his bike was badly damaged and Beaumont was forced to stop for the night at a hostel which turned out to be a be a centre for local crackheads.
During the night there was a huge fight and, in the uproar that ensued, he was robbed of his wallet and the video camera, with which he was filming a documentary for BBC. Being hit by a car and mugged in the same day was “a wee bit traumatic,” he says, “but, after that, the people who helped me at the bike shop were just amazing and we became friends.
“Then there was a man who I’d met with his family when I’d stopped for a ten-minute break on the California coast. He lived in Florida, but, when he heard what had happened, he took the two-day road trip from there to come and help me out and bring me a camera. There have been so many great people I’ve met, who have stopped and helped me out. I think when you’re on a bike people treat you differently.”
So, what is it that inspired Beaumont – who graduated in economics and politics from Glasgow University and, as he puts it, “should probably be working in a bank” – to dedicate two years of his life to preparing and undertaking this demanding, and, at times, dangerous trip?
Brought up on an organic farm, near Blairgowrie, in Perthshire, Beaumont was home educated until secondary school, in what he says was a somewhat “hippy upbringing”.
“Mum was definitely an inspiration to me,” he says, adding that he and his two sisters were brought up to think “outside the box”.
In fact, Beaumont was just 12 when he decided to cycle from John O’Groats to Land’s End after reading an article about a local man completing the coveted ‘End to End’. His mother dissuaded him from undertaking the 1,000 mile journey, but encouraged him to complete a 145 cross-Scotland route from Dundee to Oban instead. From then on he was “hooked” on cycling expeditions.
“I had done these other cycles and, while I wouldn’t say this (round world route) was a sensible progression, it was the way things were going. I love the challenge and I love the notion of being the first and the fastest. When I was growing up I read about people like Ranulph Fiennes and that was very inspiring.”
It has, he says, “been an emotional rollercoaster,” but he never thought about giving up. “When it gets hard, I just shorten my focus. I wouldn’t think about anything further ahead than the next couple of hours. And when it got really, really hard, I would just concentrate on my heart-rate monitor on the bike, and what that was telling me.”
So, what’s next? “I’m not sure. My focus has still got to be on the next couple of days and I haven’t really given myself time to think about what I’m going to do next or what I’ve learned from all this. When I cross that line it’s a blank canvas. That’s really exciting.” He hopes the BBC documentary, due to air in the spring, will lead to more adventures: “I’d like to do more expeditions and more documentaries. The other great thing about this trip has been the school side. I’ve been doing a geoblog (at bbc.co.uk/pedallingaround) and schools have been following it and learning about the different countries and cultures I’ve experienced. When I get back, I’m going to go and meet the kids and talk to them about my challenge. It would be fantastic if I could encourage them to have the confidence to go out there and go for it.”
PARIS TO ISTANBUL
• DISTANCE: 2,054 miles
• COUNTRIES: France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey
ISTANBUL TO CALCUTTA
• DISTANCE: 5,234 miles
• COUNTRIES: Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, India
BANGKOK TO SINGAPORE
• DISTANCE: 1,253 miles
• COUNTRIES: Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore
PERTH TO BRISBANE
• DISTANCE: 4,085 miles
• COUNTRY: Australia
DUNEDIN TO AUCKLAND
• DISTANCE: 907 miles
• COUNTRY: New Zealand
SAN FRANCISCO TO ST AUGUSTINE
• DISTANCE: 2,833 miles
• COUNTRY: USA
LISBON TO PARIS
• DISTANCE: 1,180 miles
• COUNTRIES: Portugal, Spain, France