The Great Escape! We’ve all fantasised about it. Whether dreaming of a few months off the grid in rural Scotland or pulling a Forrest Gump, I’m sure many of us have whiled away the hours thinking up epic adventures.
There does exist out there a small group of trans-continental cyclists who (unlike me) turned their daydreams into reality, taking years to traverse continents with pedal power alone. One such individual is a member of the Handlebars team. Leaving in 2018, Hayley pedalled across Europe to Georgia, through the Stans to Western China, before spending a further year cycling and pedalling her way around Australia. And yes, she is as awesome as she sounds.
Two weeks ago, Hayley and I sat down for a chat with Blanca. Blanca is similarly incredible, with multiple tours under her belt. The two reminisced about some of their favourite moments, and let us in on all their tips and tricks for others wanting to do the same. If you didn’t catch it, you can watch it here on our Instagram. You should also check out Blanca’s blog, which is beautifully written.
So, for anyone wanting to dream of being somewhere that isn’t the four walls we’re currently confined to, here are 5 more incredible long-distance cyclists to fuel those daydreams.
Juliana Buhring on her circumnavigation of the world (Source: Juliana Buhring)
First on the list is Juliana Buhring, the fastest woman around the world on a bicycle. Having only learnt to ride a road bike a few weeks before, Buhring setout from Naples in December 2012, returning 152 days later having circumnavigated the globe.
Incredibly, she had very little cycling experience. Buhring recalled riding a bicycle with stabilizers in a Filipino playground, but had never really cycled until starting her training regimen 8 months prior to leaving. Having grown up in the infamous Children of God cult, Buhring was raised in 30 different countries, eventually escaping in her twenties and setting up Rise International, a charity that helps children who have grown up in religious sects. Part of the reason behind the trip was to raise money for her charity.
After, Buhring continued with ultra-endurance challenges, completing the Transcontinental Race from London to Istanbul, as well as the 2014 Trans Am Bike Race. ‘Inspired to Ride’ is a cracking documentary about the 2014 TransAm race, which you can watch the trailer of here.
Alee Denham riding his Koga World Traveller in Ecuador. (Source: cyclingabout.com)
Not every trans-continental adventure is focused on speed. Alee Denham is currently completing a 3 year trip along the Pan-American highway. The longest road in the world, the Pan-Am spans from the southernmost tip of Argentina, to the north of Alaska.
Over on his instagram, Allee has been documenting his trip, sharing his tales which include falling off a cliff, and cycling in Mexico. He also has a blog, cyclingabout.com which is a great resource for all things cycle touring.
I find it hard to talk about Dervla Murphy without fangirling too hard. She’s epic. The Irish cyclist setout in 1965, to cycle to India, making her way through Europe, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. She rather beautifully recalls pedalling through the Irish countryside as a child, thinking to herself, “if I went on doing this for long enough, I could get to India”.
Her trip to India began a 40 year stint of travel writing, which includes walking across Ethiopia with a pack mule named Jack. Despite being robbed 3 times, she still managed to cover 1,000 miles. In 1977, Murphy took her 9-year old daughter, Rachel to the Peruvian Andes. With another pack mule in tow the two trekked, miles away from basic roads or services.
Her book, ‘Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle’ is still one of the most famous books ever written about cycle touring.
Mark Beaumont during training for his around the world cycling record. (Source :koga.com)
We’re back with another speed demon. This time, Mark Beaumont. In 2008, Beaumont broke the Guinness World Record for a circumnavigational bike tour of the world. Over 194 days, Beaumont cycled through 20 countries. After his record was later broken, he got back into the saddle to reclaim it in 2017.
In his TedTalk, Beaumont talks about the positive mindset and confidence needed to undertake big challenges. In fact, Beaumont definitely needed that positive mindset on his round the world adventure, when in Louisiana, Beaumont was knocked off his bike and robbed in the same day.
Subsequent trips include cycling the Pan-American highway, and setting a new record for cycling the length of Africa, by pedaling from Cape Town to Cairo in 41 days.
Rob Lilwall (Source: hivelife.com)
Last but not least is Rob Lilwall, who documented his three year trip in ‘Cycling home from Siberia’. If you’ve got some time to kill over lockdown, it’s one of my favourite travelogues. After quitting his job as a Geography teacher, Lilwall sets out to join his friend Alistair Humphreys (another of the greats), before saying adios to Alistair, to go it alone.
Detouring on his original plan to fly to the most north-eastern city Siberian city of Magdan and pedal home, Lilwall ended up cycling through Papua New Guinea, Australia, Afghanistan and Iran. During his trip, he also met his now-wife in Hong Kong. Following his trans-continental cycling trip, Lilwall has trekked from Mongolia back to Hong Kong, and ridden a tandem with his wife across the USA.
So there we have it. We might not be about to quit our jobs for a bike tour of the world, or spend the next year training for a Guinness World Record, but perhaps these 5 individuals will inspire us to take undertake some smaller challenges of our own.