Not mad, just adventurous: Cyclist completes trip around the world in 80 days

Mark Beaumont set a world record, cycling 16 hours every day on his 79-day trip through 16 countries. The hardest part of the challenge, he said, was sleep deprivation.

Neil Hall/Reuters
Endurance cyclist Mark Beaumont, who is aiming for a record-breaking circumnavigation of the globe in 80 days in July, poses during a photocall in central London, Britain April 2, 2017.

As he got off his bike in front of the Arc de Triomphe, Mark Beaumont looked remarkably fresh for a man who had just cycled around the globe in less than 80 days, shattering the world record.

After pedaling for 16 hours a day through 16 countries, Mr. Beaumont arrived on Monday evening to a welcome from family and friends at the spot from which he had set off before dawn 78 days, 14 hours, and 40 minutes earlier.

The time it took him to ride his journey’s 18,032 miles “were definitely the longest two and a half months of my life,” he said. “I’ve taken myself beyond anything I’ve ever done physically and mentally.”

“He has always had an adventurous spirit,” explains his mother, Una, when asked if her boy had always been a bit mad.

Beaumont’s route led from Paris to Beijing, via Russia and Mongolia, and then to Australia and New Zealand. He cycled across Canada and the United States before flying to Lisbon and the final mountainous stage to Paris.

Sleeping less than five hours a night, he covered about 240 miles a day. That’s 25 miles more than the distance from New York to Boston. Every day for 79 days.

“You just have to decide that you are not going to stop,” says Beaumont. “Once you have taken that option off the table, it’s simple.”

Precision and discipline

Beaumont, a Scot, has been doing this sort of thing for a long time. As a 12-year-old schoolboy he cycled across Scotland; three years later he rode the length of Britain.

He has been round the world before, on his own and unsupported; it took him 194 days in 2008 – a record then. He has also cycled from Alaska to Chile and from Cairo to Cape Town. He nearly drowned in 2012 when his boat capsized while he was trying to row the Atlantic in 30 days as part of a six-man crew.

His earlier expeditions were real adventures; he traveled alone carrying his own equipment, often camping and cooking his own food. There was time to stop and chat with people he met on the way.

His latest successful record bid, however, left nothing to serendipity or to chance. Though his goal was inspired by a fantasy, Phileas Fogg’s journey in Jules Verne’s novel “Around the World in Eighty Days,” Beaumont planned his operation with military precision, knowing it would demand iron discipline.

It took a lot of back-up, too. Beaumont was accompanied by two support vehicles and a support team comprising a performance manager, a mechanic, and a navigator/logistics organizer among others.

The rules, set by the Guinness Book of Records, stipulate that contenders should ride for at least 18,000 miles through two points on opposite sides of the globe. They can choose their route and fly between continents. Beaumont won two awards on Monday – for the fastest circumnavigation of the globe and for “the furthest distance cycled by a human in one month,” as the Guinness Book of Records official put it as she presented Beaumont with his certificate.

“It’s a marvelous, marvelous achievement,” said Lindsay Whitelaw, founder of Artemis Investments, Beaumont’s main sponsor, as he waited at the finish line. “He wanted to show what you can achieve if you are focused, that if you put your mind to something you can really change things. His message is that you can have your own 80 days.”

'Getting to the next horizon'

Beaumont came off his bike three times, breaking a tooth and apparently fracturing an elbow in one nasty fall occasioned by a Russian pothole, but the hardest part of the challenge, he said, was sleep deprivation.

“You spend long, long hours in your head, battling,” he recalled. “There were definitely moments when I wondered if the race would carry on. I plumbed the depths.”

He coped by breaking his challenge into chunks and tackling the immediate task at hand. “Looking at the big picture of the world was really scary,” he said. “It was just a question of getting to the next horizon.”

Rising at 3:30 in the morning and in the saddle by 4 a.m., Beaumont rode for four-hour spells, with 30-minute breaks in between. That system meant that he could always concentrate on a near-term, reachable goal.

Cycling around the world in less than 80 days would pose problems for most of us; it was “simple” for Beaumont. But tasks that are simple for the rest of us are more complicated for him. For the past 11 weeks, Beaumont has scarcely taken more than the few paces he needed to fall into bed. He has got out of the habit of walking.

“I’ve been riding my bike from four in the morning 'til 10 at night,” he says. “Just taking the dog for a walk is going to be strange.”

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