The latest instalment in my guest blog series (examining why some of us choose to travel long distances on bikes) comes from Sean Conway. Sean recently made national headlines for having a ridiculously awesome beard (and also for being the first person to swim the length of Britain.) Prior to that, however, he cycled around the world, and despite getting run over en route he still covered 16,000 miles in just 116 days. Below Sean shares with us his thoughts and motivations on taking to the pedals:
It’s the 31st December 1939 and a thin tired man dismounts his bicycle after spending 365 days in the saddle. The crowd and media surround him as he wobbles on his legs. He has been riding from 4am till midnight every single day for the entire year and has forgotten how to walk. His name is Tommy Godwin and he has destroyed the record for the most miles cycled in a year having covered the unimaginable distance of 75,065 miles. Already a hero he decides he’s not done. He takes a few days off and carries on and eventually completes an astonishing 100,000 miles in 500 days. That’s an average of 200 miles per day on a heavy steel bike, a record that even in today’s standards seems impossible – so much so Guinness have decided it’s too dangerous for anyone else to attempt and have discontinued it.
Ultra-long distance cycling has always fascinated me. The distances that can be covered turn even a large country like America into a two-week crossing. Unfortunately since 1939 ultra-long distance cycling has taken a dive in popularity. Had we reached our physical limit? Did less people cycle due to better public transport and the mass production of cars? Whatever the reason was, people just weren’t that interested in doing big miles on bikes anymore.
This changed somewhat in 2008 when Mark Beaumont broke the record for round the world cycling completing 18,000 miles in under 200 days, averaging 100 miles per day. Although far off Tommy Godwin’s pace it started to capture people’s imagination in long distance cycling again. In the 1930’s the goal was to cycle the most miles in a year. It was now who could cycle around the world the fastest. A new wave of ultra-long distance cyclists was reborn.
In 2010 I set off from New York City on a bicycle, headed west for an indefinite amount of time. The bike was my one-way ticket to new experiences, and I was determined to see what lay beyond the boundaries of comfortable living.
There were a lot of reasons why I decided to launch off across America on a bike, but the main one was that I just wanted to - to be more specific, I felt I needed to.
It didn't matter that it was America, or even that I was on a bike. What was important was that I was 22 years old and I felt completely mollycoddled by my previous life in the UK (my knowledge of the word mollycoddle was a prime example of this.) I'd never been tested; never been tried and found wanting. I'd almost always been comfortable and safe, and more than anything I wanted to break free of that for even just a little while.
I wanted to head off into the wilderness, towards places and people that scared me because I knew nothing about them, and to see what would happen when I arrived. How would I respond? If it went well, I would learn to trust in myself a lot more. If it went badly, at least I'd know comprehensively that I was in fact a wimp, and I should return home to wrap myself back up in cotton wool.
I've always found there to be something irresistibly appealing about cycle touring, and it's clear that I'm not alone - cycling is fast becoming the new backpacking! But what is it that is so attractive about it? I wrote down a few of my thoughts here, and over the next couple of months this blog will be hosting a number of guest posts on the theme of 'Why travel by bicycle?' in an effort to hear a wide range of perspectives.
First up, we have Tim and Laura Moss, who are on the road as we speak/type/read. Last summer they set off from England, headed for Australia - so far they've cycled across Europe, the Caucasus, the Middle East and are currently in India. It's a great trip to follow vicariously - they've had some great adventures, and both write wonderfully about the journey on their blog. Below, then, are their thoughts on why they love travelling by bicycle. Or at least, below are Laura's thoughts on that topic. Tim has rather helpfully taken a different approach, and decided to point out why he hates his bicycle...enjoy!