Ten years after he broke the record for fastest manpowered circumnavigation of the world, Mark Beaumont has a new target – Phileas Fogg. This week the Scottish adventurer sets off on an 18,000- mile race around the world, which he aims to complete in 80 days, smashing the current world record by an astounding 43 days. If he can keep up the 240 miles a day pace. Odds are against him but Beaumont’s determination is as steely as his thigh muscles, and as he explains, the regret of not trying would be more painful than any potential injuries along the road.
The Big Issue: Cycling around the world in 80 days. Why?
Mark Beaumont: Good question, probably the one that’s hardest to answer succinctly. I’ve been doing this since I was a 12-year-old kid [when Beaumont set himself the challenge of cycling across Scotland], so that’s 22 years building my ability as a biker, taking bigger and bigger journeys, going faster and faster. It’s not like I’ve rolled out of bed and decided to try this. I’ve always wanted one chance to put all my cards on the table and find out what my personal best was. So this is it, this is me shooting for the stars.
Isn’t it a lot of pressure to think your life comes down to this one challenge?
It’s huge motivation. The fear of failure is massive – it’s scary, hugely intimidating. You don’t have to be a bike rider to understand that riding for 16 hours a day for two-and-a-half months is quite a commitment. But how many people in their lives have the opportunity to take on their biggest dreams? What’s worth doing, what’s worth fighting for? I don’t want to have regrets. I don’t want to look back knowing I had the chance to take on the world and didn’t do it.
You’ve already cycled around the world, broken the Cairo-to-Cape Town record… have you always had a list of goals you want to achieve?
My life has not been particularly well planned. I did an economics degree and planned to work in finance but I’ve spent the last 11 years going on big adventures. I’m not a big believer in the five-year plan because the world changes so fast – you’re stuck in a rut before you realise and you limit your options. It’s about being furiously busy with what’s in front of you. There’s a lot of suffering and a huge amount of commitment but ultimately I love it. I realise now, looking at my friends and peers, how lucky I am to do something I genuinely enjoy. That adds fuel to my fire to keep going.
The fear of failure is massive – it’s scary, hugely intimidating
How have you chosen your route for this trip?
I’ve found the flattest 18,000 miles around the word. The biggest criteria are the topography – the climb, wind direction – that’s huge, it could be a difference of 5mph, road quality, border crossings…
You seem to take a detour across America.
Your total miles have to add up to more than 18,000. If you pinged straight across the continent it wouldn’t be enough. You are never allowed to go back on yourself and you have to hit two points on the opposite side of the world. In the faster countries you have to make up miles.
Do you know what the toughest leg will be?
I think there will be massive relief getting out of leg one, going through Russia, Mongolia and China. Physically and logistically that’s going to test us. Then it becomes a more straightforward bike race.
Phileas Fogg in Jules Verne’s book Around the World in Eighty Days is suspected of being on the run from the law when he goes off on his adventure. Are you planning any heists before you go?
Good idea. I like the history of the story. I went in and introduced myself to the Reform Club and, when I come in, I’m going to give a talk to the members, which will be pretty cool.
When I arrive in the middle of Outer Mongolia looking like a spaceman on a bike, I think people will be bemused
Fogg is delayed on his journey when he has to save a damsel in distress. Would you delay your journey for similar reasons?
I’m afraid I’m going to be pretty brutal about this one. There’s going to be no pleasantries along the way, no time to stop and smell the roses. I’m not going to slow down for anything or anyone. So I’d probably delegate it to my team.
Fogg had quite an easy journey because lots of the places he lands – India, Singapore, Hong Kong – were British territories. Does being a Brit abroad still have currency?
I’ve got a lot of experience of that because I’ve travelled to 130 countries in the last 10 years. When you arrive on a bike it’s a real leveller. That said, I do look a bit ridiculous this time – aero helmet, visors – I look properly racey. When I arrive in the middle of Outer Mongolia looking like a spaceman on a bike, I think people will be bemused.
Are you remembering that you’ll gain a day overall? Both Fogg, and Michael Palin following in his footsteps, forgot.
It’s annoying because you lose an hour every time you cross a time zone. If you travel 240 miles to the east you lose 15 minutes in that day. Every morning at eight o’clock my team put their watches back to try and incrementally lose time as we go, which means basically we have to treat every day like it’s 23 hours 45 minutes.
Why is a view from a bike a good one?
You get to see a hell of a lot and you get to see it in detail. Walking is too slow and a car cuts you off from the world around you. A bike is perfect – you can travel vast distances but your eyes, ears, your senses, are switched on to the world around you.
What advice would you have for people who want to have their own adventures, if on a slightly smaller scale?
People spend their life talking about stuff they’re going to do – I’m a huge fan of stopping people talking about it and actually getting them doing it. You don’t need to pedal around the world to have a cool adventure, you can quickly escape anywhere. And some of the tough stuff that’s a bit miserable at the time – camping out in the rain, hiking up a hill – becomes your fondest memories and you find out a ton about yourself.