On Christmas day 2007 I was freezing my balls off under the Eastern European snow, midway through my challenge to visit every capital city in the European Union without spending any money, for Cancer Research UK. What I didn’t know until a bit later was that I wasn’t the only 24-year old British guy roughing it far from home in the name of charity and adventure. That same Christmas day, somewhere in the middle of nowhere in New Zealand, Mark Beaumont was getting battered by the driving rain as he rode his bike up the country’s steep Alpine hills, on the third continent of his challenge to become the fastest man to cycle around the world. Later that day he found a motel and, after inadvertently interrupting a family Christmas Dinner, was brought a plate of leftovers which he ate alone in his room.
A little under two months later Mark pedalled into Paris, breaking the previous world record by 81 days. He had gone around the planet, with just his bicycle for company, in 194 days and 17 hours. His adventure raised over £18,000 for charity.
I found out about Mark’s feat a few months later when, flicking through the TV channels one afternoon, I stumbled across his BBC documentary – The Man Who Cycled The World. The complete four-part documentary is available on Youtube, and I highly recommend it to everyone. A bit later on, Mark also released a book of the same name, detailing his epic journey. I’ve read it and it’s excellent. Since then I have followed with interest Mark’s adventures.
Last year, Mark set a new Guinness world record when he cycled from Cairo in Egypt to Cape Town in South Africa in 41 and a half days, smashing to bits the previous record of 59 days. For those of you who were smoking behind the bike sheds when you should have been in geography class, Cairo sits up in the north-eastern corner of Africa, close to where the Nile River drains into the Mediterranean Sea, while Cape Town lies around 6,500 miles away, down on the south-western coast of the continent. But despite how it might look from a cursory glance at a map, do not be fooled into thinking this is an African version of John o’Groats to Land’s End. It is so much bigger than that.
This is no John o’Groats to Land’s End venture. And if you don’t want to take my word for it, you can ask Mark yourself. He rode that famous route himself. Solo. At the age of 15.
Riding your bike from Cairo to Cape Town is like riding your bike from London to Tokyo. And then doing another 300 miles on top, just for shits and giggles. It is going to hurt. Endurance feats like this were nothing new for Mark, who, on top of cycling around the world rode solo from Alaska to the bottom of South America in 2010; and in 2012 had to be rescued whilst attempting to break the world record for rowing across the Atlantic when the boat he was in capsized, 27 days and over 2000 miles into the journey. Mark’s journey through Africa, which he called Africa Solo, raised over £100,000 for the charity Orkidstudio. I caught up with Mark recently to find out about Africa Solo among other things.
Hi Mark, Let’s cut to the chase: Africa Solo – Why did you make the journey?
Well the background to this is that I’ve always looked at the Around the World, the Length of the Americas, and the Length of Africa as the ultimate hat-trick, in terms of ultra-endurance cycling. You know, there’s tons of other great bike rides out there, but if you look at a world map that pretty much crosses the inhabited continents of the world, and having gone round the world, and top to bottom on the Americas, the African one was the obvious last one.