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Adventurer, presenter, extreme athlete and passionate cycling advocate Mark Beaumont shares his wonder of the world with us.
For Perthshire’s globe-spanning cycling super hero, going the distance takes on a whole new dimension: as is vividly portrayed in his new book, Africa Solo, chronicling Beaumont’s mind melting solo ride from one end of Africa (Cairo) to the other (Cape Town) – a story of extreme endurance through deserts, across mountain sand over vast swathes of savannah.
Cycling the World
If anyone is intimate with the freedom and boundless possibilities that open up when you take to the open road on two wheels, it’s Beaumont.
“I suppose you could say I’ve been exploring the world at the speed of a bike for over 20 years,” he tells us. Beaumont held the record for cycling around the world, completing his 18,297 miles (29,446 km) route in 194 days and 17 hours – a full 82 days less than the previous record holder’s.
En route, collisions, robberies, illness but also wonder, awe and inspiration. And a handlebar perspective of the world that, as every cyclist knows, is hard to beat.
“You get to see everything in every detail,“ he says of his challenging itineraries, which also include riding the 21,000 km length of the Americas, from Alaska to Argentina (and scaling the continent’s highest peaks en route).
“It’s more satisfying. Your eyes, your ears – all of your senses are switched on to the world around you. And that definitely doesn’t happen in a car!” For Beaumont, life is all about taking every opportunity to really experience the world around him. And it’s a passion that started early.
“I remember reading about a cyclist doing Lands End to John O’Groats, and immediately got my Dad’s road atlas out, cut out the pages, and stuck a route together. In the end, my parents sort of relented, and allowed me to cycle across Scotland. I guess that was the start of it all…” he says, adding he was all of 15 before completing the Lands End to John O’Groats rite of passage.
After university, Mark was off, on his around the world jaunt. But, unlike your typical gap year student, he didn’t hang around on the beaches of Thailand – he rode right into the heart of the places he passed through – and in doing so, he got himself a real education.
“We always tend to talk about differences,” he says. “Try cycling, and you only see incremental changes. You see the similarities. You see that the sum of humanity is incredibly positive. We’re all the same, really…” And it’s a similarity, Beaumont believes, best discovered on a saddle:
“If you roll up in an Indian village or Mongolian camp in a Landrover there’s instantly a massive gulf between you and them. If you cycle through Asia, Central America or China it’s a great leveller. You need the same things. Food, drink, somewhere to sleep,” he says.
But we don’t have to go to such great lengths to witness the wonder in our midst. Freedom, says Beaumont, is just a matter of changing your viewpoint: “We can all ride a bike,” he says. “It’s amazing how by exploring the world under your own power gives you a real grassroots understanding of people and places.
I’ve seen 130 or so countries – but I remember them all vividly, with clarity and authenticity I know I just wouldn’t have experienced if I’d have travelled any other way.”
Having recently cycled the length of Africa, that continent holds many cherished memories – it’s a continent we explore, too, from the sand dunes of Namibia to the Atlas Mountains of Morocco – “It’s the homeland of adventure,” he says. “But, ultimately, exploring the world at the speed of a bike makes every destination really special.”
Mark Beaumont in Numbers
AFRICA KMs: 10,800 DAYS: 42 AMERICAS KMs: 21,100 DAYS: 268 AROUND THE WORLD KMs: 29,000 DAYS: 195
Discover Africa for yourself with our cycling tours below.