First, the review.
The indoor cycling training program I use, Zwift, has a Facebook page for woman only who use the game. There we can talk about things like sore lady parts from long hours on the bike (and other things) without having to also suffer from rude comments from the men who use the game. Since the female population in the game is somewhere around 8%, it is great to have the support and companionship of other women riders even if it is all virtual.
Not long ago one of the Zwift women posted about an inspiring book she had just read, This Road I Ride by Juliana Buhring. There are hardly any books written by female cyclists so I immediately requested it from the library. And it did indeed turn out to be inspiring.
Buhring isn’t a professional cyclist and wasn’t even a casual cyclist when she decided she was going to ride around the world on her bike. The person she loved most, Hendri, had died while guiding a group of kayakers down the Lukuga River in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A giant crocodile came up out of the water from nowhere and grabbed Hendri from his kayak. At his memorial service a friend of Hendri’s said she wanted to do something big in his memory and thought cycling across Canada was it. She asked Buhring if she would be interested in doing it with her. Deep in grief, Buhring said no. But the idea of cycling stuck with her and several months later she wondered about cycling around the world.
It turned out it had never been done by a woman before. At the time the man holding the record, Vin Cox, had done it in 2010 cycling over 18,000 miles in 165 days. Buhring wrote the the Guinness Book of World Records and they sent her the rules she would have to follow for her own around the world cycling attempt. So she bought herself a bike and started riding every day and every day she would ride just a little longer and farther. She tried to get sponsors and raise money but had very little luck. She did manage to get support from friends and a local bike shop where they built and donated the bike she would ride around the world. Buhring named her bike Pegasus.
Someone from the bike shop gave her the name of a trainer who then gave her a training program to follow to help her get ready. After just eight months she set off from Naples, Italy where she lives. It was not an auspicious beginning. Within an hour she was riding through a heavy downpour and soaked to the skin. But she kept going. And going and going and going. She rode over 18,000 miles/29,000 km in 152 days (144 of those on the bike), averaging 125 miles/201 km a day.
Before she began her ride it was clear that no one expected her to be able to make it. Her friends would say things like, “Even if you don’t make it all the way around, at least you will have tried something nobody else has done.” The man who built Pegasus went out on a training ride with her and told Buhring’s friend, Antonio, that she wasn’t ready and that it would take her years to become a good enough cyclist to be ready. When Buhring found out her response was, “By the time I come back, I will be a good cyclist.”
As you can imagine a ride of this magnitude is not without incident. There was weather — rain, snow, wind and desert heat — there was the physical endurance — tired sore muscles, scrapes and bruises, food poisoning in India — the mental endurance — loneliness, confidence, exhaustion, boredom — and the whole logistics of it all — mechanical breakdowns, tire punctures, getting lost, lodging and food. She was helped along by friends, aquaintances and the kindness of strangers who put her up for the night, fed her, helped her find a bike mechanic, saved her from a pack of dogs, or donated a few dollars. And not a few times did she wonder whether she could make it through to the end. But she did:
We can do things that are greater than ourselves. If you believe nothing exists beyond a certain boundary, then you will never test the veracity of that belief and you will never discover new possibilities. If I had waited to achieve a higher level of fitness, to hone my cycling technique and mechanical know-how, to ensure the best weather conditions, to assemble a full support team, to secure a sponsor and more funding, I never would have left. Many people postpone making their dreams a reality to wait for the perfect time. There is no such thing. The perfect time is right now.
How’s that for carpe diem?
To fill the long hours on the bike she listened to music and audiobooks but there was also lots of time with her thoughts. She says people ask her what she thinks about all day while she is riding and while she says she can get lost in her thoughts as much as anyone, most of the time there was a “complete cessation of any thoughts at all. The ride becomes a meditation, a time of complete stillness.” That is something I recognize because it happens to me when I ride too and I don’t even ride 125 miles a day! That stillness is an amazing feeling and more than anything else in the book, that connected me to her and made me understand the whys and wherefores of her undertaking.
Buhring set the record in 2012 and still holds it. She has since gone on to place ninth overall (and was the only woman) in the inaugural Transcontinental Race from London to Istanbul in 2013. In 2014 she placed fourth overall in the Trans Am Bike race by cycling 4,435 miles/7,137 km in 20 days and 23 hours. She is currently considered one of the best ultra-endurance female cyclists in the world. I suppose after you cycle the globe in 152 days, everything else seems easier in comparison.
This Road I Ride is an enjoyable and inspiring read. Written in a diary-like format, it is fairly short and well-paced. There are some pretty tense moments as well as pretty humorous ones. I highly recommend it if you are looking for a little armchair adventure.
I received an email the other day from Rachel Aitken asking if I might be able to provide a bit of outreach. She is working on her dissertation and hoping to recruit folks to take a survey that will assist her with her research. Help her out if you can. Here is what you need to know:
Calling all science fiction and fantasy fiction fans! I’m Rachel, and I’m a student from Scotland studying the MSc Publishing at Edinburgh Napier University. I’m currently conducting research for my dissertation, which aims to critically analyse racial and gender diversity within sci fi and fantasy fiction, specifically in the UK and Australia. I’m looking for participants to complete the following survey, where you will be asked about yourself, your opinions on diversity in the genre, with some case study questions regarding book cover decisions and naming conventions as well. The survey itself shouldn’t take longer than 20 minutes, and I will be extremely grateful if you could complete it! It’s for British and Australian participants only, as I am investigating differences in the genre between these two countries. The deadline for answers is July 17th. You can contact myself, if you have any questions, on Twitter (@rh_aitken) and you can access the survey here.