On the 15th February 2008, Mark Beaumont cycled along the Champs Elysees in Paris, to set what was then the Guinness World Record for the fastest circumnavigation of the globe by bicycle, just 194 days and 17 hours after beginning his epic ride of 18,000 miles. Since then, the adventurer and documentary maker has cycled the length of the Americas, and rowed to the North Pole. In February 2012 he was stranded for 14 hours in the freezing waters of the Atlantic Ocean, 500 miles offshore, when a trans-Atlantic rowing expedition went horribly wrong.
Mark’s life of adventure began young. By age 15 he’d already cycled Land’s End to John O’Groats, but it wasn’t until after university that he realised he could make a career out of his exploits. Having studied Politics and Economics at university and heading toward a life in finance, Mark eventually realised that: “This wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a broadcaster, to share my journeys with people.”
I wanted to circumnavigate the world, but I’d not done the oceans. I wondered what it would take to cross the ocean, to join up the pins on the map.
So Mark set off to complete what he described as a “personal challenge”, the fastest circumnavigation of the world by bicycle, with no support team, thousands of miles to cycle and months of isolation to contend with, filming it all for the BBC documentary The Man who cycled the World.
“I researched what had been done. I realised only five people had done it before and thought, why not? The previous world record was 276 days. I wanted to smash it, I wanted to set it at a whole new level and I realised I could”.
Cycling over 100 miles a day is no easy feat. “I needed mental toughness to cope with 8-10 hours a day on the bike. It needed commitment. It wasn’t a race where you’re maxing out each day, I had to wake up each day and get on the bike to meet my target.
“It was always tempting to take a day off, but I was always trying to break the record and that would have left me behind, so it was enough of a goal to keep me going.”
It wasn’t just isolation and the physical challenge that Mark had to overcome,
“Stuff slows you down. I had armed guards in Pakistan, I was fighting cross winds in Australia, was hit by a car in the US – there’s enough to keep you going”.
Mark’s ride took him across 18,000 miles, from Europe to Asia, across the Australian outback and the length of the United States.
In Baluchistan, Pakistan, Mark “skirted Helmand province, to Quetta up to the Indus valley, with armed guards and it was tough riding. There had been 20 kidnappings of foreigners the month before and lots of insurgency.
“The British foreign office didn’t want me there. The Guinness criteria would have allowed me to avoid it, and make up the miles elsewhere, but I wanted to go. If you’re circumnavigating the world that’s exactly what you want to do. Looking at a map it wouldn’t have been right not to”.
Mark collided with a motorcyclist in Lucknow, India but it was America where his venture came closest to failure, after being hit by a car and robbed.
His journey ended in Paris, on the Champs Elysees, the finish of the Tour de France and an icon of cycling culture: “I had a full police escort, outriders and the road ahead was cleared. I had a huge reception. It was mental, crazy, and an amazing accolade to finish on”.
After setting an incredible, record breaking circumnavigation time, Mark Beaumont went on to cycle the length of the Americas for a second BBC documentary The Man who cycled the Americas.
After this success Mark looked towards the seas: “I wanted to circumnavigate the world, but I’d not done the oceans. I wondered what it would take to cross the ocean, to join up the pins on the map”.
In 2011 Mark was part of an expedition that traversed the Canadian arctic to reach the 1996 position of the North Pole. Last year however, as part of a transatlantic rowing attempt, Mark found himself “In a desperate situation, 500 miles offshore in the middle of the Atlantic, with everything we needed to survive under the capsized boat”.
After 14 hours in the water the crew were rescued. Mark describes this near death incident as integral to “[changing] my outlook on ocean rowing. The Atlantic is a dull place, it’s a personal, physical battle”. After getting married last year, he wonders, “Do I want to put my family through that danger again?”
Photo courtesy of The Queen’s Hall