Cycling

“Life Is Like Riding A Bicycle. To Keep Your Balance, You Must Keep Moving.”

I occasionally receive emails from people who are aspiring to cycle one of the routes – or parts thereof – that I have cycled myself in the past few years; England to southern Italy, along the coast of the Mediterranean from Greece to Portugal and, most recently, from Tarifa in Spain to Nordkapp in Norway. Some have found me via a Google search and landed on this website, others have read the books. Lynn came across me via the most recent book, Spain to Norway on a Bike Called Reggie:

“I gobbled every word of your Spain to Norway book as I’m thinking about doing that ride north to south. If I do, it would be to set my third (and probably last) Guinness World Record.”

As someone who grew up admiring the exploits of those who appeared alongside Roy Castle and Norris McWhirter on the TV show Record Breakers, the thought of a bona fide holder of not one but two Guinness World Records contacting me (me!?) for advice made this email stand out from most.

img_3199It turns out that the two World Records that are held by Lynn are to do cycling and age including being the oldest person to cross America by bicycle (female) in 2016. She has now set her sights on Europe and would like to become the oldest woman to cycle across Europe from its northernmost to southernmost points; Nordkapp to Tarifa. Perhaps when she discovered the existence of my book she thought her organisational prayers had been answered. Despite her kind words above, she must, however, have been a little disappointed as my 2015 escapade never came close to breaking any World Records. On any account, my journey from Spain to Norway would have been ruled ineligible as I didn’t cycle all the way; I took ferries at the points where the road stopped and those pesky Norwegian fjords (as well as other inconvenient bodies of water in Spain, France, Germany, Denmark and Sweden) started, not to mention two ‘transporter bridges’. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to discover that I’ve been blacklisted by the people at Guinness as someone who should be treated very sceptically if I were ever to submit myself as a potential record breaker.

I gave Lynn a few more details in my response to her email:

“As you know from reading the book, my route along the west coast of Norway did involve many ferries. The cycle route – Eurovelo 1 – necessitates taking lots of ferries and I think it would be almost impossible not to do so as the further north you travel, the fewer the number of on-road options. I would guess the only other possibility is to head south via Finland. If you aren’t permitted to use ferries, presumably you’d have to take the mainland route via Russia. How could you do it otherwise? Ferries are needed to travel from Sweden to Denmark (or a train ride across the bridge to Copenhagen as you can’t cycle over it). Even if you did arrive in Denmark by bicycle, is it possible to pass over all the bridges linking the islands to Jutland? I took a good number of ferries in Denmark as well. Once in Germany, there are, of course, no issues…”

At least Lynn has time on her side; her World Records are not ones that aspire to complete the long distances she cycles in set times. She has, however, been considering the route from northern Norway to southern Spain that was adopted by the Nordkapp-Tarifa Race that first took place earlier this year and that will be repeated in 2019:

“I have studied the route a lot since I first wrote to you and I think that, without ferries, there is no way other than going through Russia (St. Petersburg). There is a group of cyclists doing the route in June of 2019: http://www.northcape-tarifa.com. They are taking one ferry from Helsinki, Finland to Tallinn, Estonia. I have specifically asked Guinness World Records if that would be permitted on my record attempt. GWR is quite slow about responding so I don’t have the answer to that question yet.”

I can’t imagine that Guinness will accede to her request. She is currently considering three possibly routes, the first of which is that adopted by the Northcape-Tarifa Race:

Screenshot 2018-12-09 at 10.15.49

The other two routes are based upon that of Lee Fancourt. Lee held the record for the fastest cycle across Europe from Nordkapp to Tarifa . He set the record in 2015 and as I was cycling north in 2015, he was cycling south (somewhat more quickly). Sadly, Lee took his own life in January 2018 but his record still stands. Although similar to that of the race, Lee’s 2015 route differed significantly, not just by heading east into Russia but also in France and Spain where Lee took the presumably much flatter route along the Spanish costas. He arrived in Tarifa on July 5th 2015, 21 days, 14 hours and 23 minutes after having left Nordkapp. (I arrived at Nordkapp on July 28th 2015 after cycling for 98 days and taking 15 rest days…)

It does seem that Russia can’t be avoided for Lynn.

I can’t see the attraction in completing such a long journey in a record time – and Lynn seems to agree, although I dare say she will be a bit quicker than me when she does attempt the cycle in 2019 – but I can see the attraction in ‘repeating’ the Tarifa to Nordkapp cycle in reverse taking a more easterly route through Norway, Finland, Russia (perhaps), Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, The Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, France and Spain. It might be more direct than the route I took and avoid all those ferries (which I would actually consider to be a loss), but it’s certainly more challenging on a vertical level…

Screenshot 2018-12-09 at 10.52.15

…these being the ‘high’ and ‘low’ lights as provided on the Northcape-Tarifa Race website:

Screenshot 2018-12-09 at 10.55.55

The section through the Alps of Switzerland, Italy and France looks spectacular. The ‘race’ has no time limit and sets off at 00:01 on Thursday 20th June 2019. On Thursday 20th June 2019 I will be flying back to the UK after having spent 7 days as the resident speaker on a River Cruise from Basel in Switzerland to Dusseldorf in Germany (a different kind of adventure altogether). I suppose I could catch a plane to Alta in northern Norway instead…


Follow Lynn’s progress on her website, Life Is Like A Bike. Her mantra is expressed so eloquently in the famous words of Albert Einstein that she quotes on her site:

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”

Quite.

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Categories: Cycling

2 replies »

  1. Yes, there seems to be two types of cyclist: ones who cycle to enjoy the experience, and ones who cycle to do it as fast as possible.

    The second approach has never appealed to me. I don’t enjoy my curries more if I eat them faster than anyone else in the restaurant, or have a better beer experience if swig it down in one. (Well, it’s a different experience, anyway.) And I don’t find that Shostakovich symphonies get better if you play them at four times the speed. (Mind you, Wagner operas might well do. In fact, Forty times might be a good idea, so you could at least make the last bus home.)

    So I’m definitely in the leisurely camp. Breaking records is great, it’s fun and I’m happy to celebrate those benignly mad people who cycle round the world faster than I take to change the light bulb in the bathroom. But for me it’s the experience, the doing it, the going through all those places, the being there.

    Last time I did LEJOG I chatted to a few groups en route who were blasting it a week. They’d seen nothing except the back wheel in front of them and had no anecdotes about anything except room service. Well, OK, if you only have a week off work and want to buy the fact that you’ve cycled the End to End, then fair enough. But it seems a rather soulless way to spend 168 hours to me. (I took three weeks, which shows you where I’d likely finish in the Tour de Yorkshire.)

    I’ve read some of those books by the record breakers, and they aren’t half boring. Day 87: Got up. Cycled 180 miles. Camped by roadside. Went to bed. Day 88: See Day 87. Etc…

    I quite like sensibly-paced travelogues, with somebody’s actual experiences to read about, because it might encourage me to bike there myself one day, instead of being grateful I’m not doing it!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. … and I’ve just been wondering if I can be bothered to ride the 7km to meet my friend for coffee tomorrow ….. Is there a World Record for least committed cyclist?

    The title brought to mind that lovely poem by Michael Donaghy “Machines” which ends with the wonderful couplet;

    “Who only by moving can balance,
    Only by balancing move.”

    Liked by 1 person

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