IN 2008, then-Edinburgh-based Mark Beaumont set the world record for cycling around the planet – a journey that led to the Bafta-nominated BBC documentary The Man Who Cycled the World.
Two years later, and he had gone the length of the Americas, from Alaska to Argentina, at the speed of a bike. A year after that, and Beaumont had narrowly missed death after an attempt to row the Atlantic ended in capsize, and a daring sea rescue.
Not one to sit idly by, Beaumont got back on the bike and completed the world record for cycling the length of Africa, totalling 10,000km in 42 days – a feat of endurance immortalised in his 2016 book Africa Solo: My World Record Race From Cairo to Cape Town.
“The cycling is always what I’m best at,” explains the 34-year-old Scotsman.
“As an athlete, that’s what I’m interested in, what I want to keep pushing in terms of these big ambitions and I can honestly say, even though it wasn’t my longest trip, I think Africa was by far the hardest I’ve ever pushed myself. That, for me, was about trying to reset expectations and take endurance to the next level.”
Africa last year was so many hours in the saddle, I think that’s a mind-set that a lot of cyclists would really struggle with. The only reason I relish that space is because I’ve been doing it for 20 years.
From the age of 12, when he cycled solo across his native Scotland, Beaumont has pushed his body and his bike to the limits, conquering, among others, the Alps, the Andes, and now the entire “exciting, ever-changing, and dramatic” African continent.
“People often say when they watch my stuff on telly, or read my book, ‘Oh man, I’d love to do what you do’,” he remarks, “I always correct them; I say ‘I think you like the idea of what I do’.
“Africa last year was so many hours in the saddle, I think that’s a mind-set that a lot of cyclists would really struggle with.
“The only reason I relish that space is because I’ve been doing it for 20 years,”
Beaumont continues: “You don’t wake up and suddenly race the length of Africa one day – it’s more than just the ability to ride the bike well.
“I’ve always pitted myself against routes and times – I mean, it’s the way I’m wired, I genuinely do love exploring the world at the speed of a bike.
“After going around the world, and doing the length of the Americas and Africa as a continent, I don’t think I’d be as motivated to enter a race and just be doing these shorter distances.
“It’s the endurance rides that I’m interested in, it’s what I love doing and it’s also what I’ve been doing since I was a 12-year-old kid.” It was the brush with death off the coast of Barbados, however, that brought Beaumont back to the bike, eight long years after his record-breaking ride down the spine of America.
“I’d definitely decided even before that accident in the Atlantic that I was more of a land-lover, this wasn’t why I did adventuring – I just had to go to the middle of the Atlantic to figure that one out,” he says,
“I definitely learnt a huge amount about what motivates me and my psyche out there.”
Now with two wheels firmly back on solid ground, Beaumont hopes that as he starts to face the twilight of his endurance career, Africa Solo, in which he cycled 160 miles a day for over 40 days, will provide a great springboard for what comes next.
“I hope in a few years’ time I can look back and see Africa as a training ride for what comes next, because I see that as updating my profile as a bike rider and pushing my ability,” he says.
“Now that I’ve got that I know what that feels like, I’m pushing onto what’s next – I’m not looking back and saying ‘That was the ultimate’.”
• Mark Beaumont’s Africa Solo: My World Record Race from Cairo to Cape Town, which documents his 6762-mile journey along the length of Africa in the face of illness, mechanical faults and attempted robbery, will be released today via Transworld, in conjunction with Penguin Random House.