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Jenny Graham Q&A: Alone around the globe in 110 days

Joseph Delves
12 Jun 2018

Ahead of her mammoth ride we chatted to the Scottish cyclist about her motivation for taking on the world. Photo: James Robertson

On 16th June 2018 Jenny Graham will leave Berlin and head East. If things go to plan she’ll arrive back 110 days later having become the fastest woman to circumnavigate the globe self-supported. To do so she’ll need to rack up over 18,000 miles across 15 countries.

All while carrying all her own kit, organising her own re-supply, and maintain her own bike. Just days ahead of setting off we caught up with the Inverness-based cyclist to find out more about the adventure ahead.

Cyclist: What’s the reason for setting off around the world?

Jenny Graham: It’s curiosity as to what I can do with my mind and body. Over the last five years I’ve been building up miles. I just started doing a little bit more and a little bit more.

After my first back-to-back hundred mile days, I thought how far can I go?

Cyc: You’re aiming to ride 180 miles a day self-supported. How are you going to deal with logistics, food, and shelter?

JG: I’ve done lots of prep sussing out the biggest gaps between re-supply stops. One hundred miles seems to be the longest.

There are big gaps, but I’m travelling so far each day I don't envision having problems. I’m used to mountain biking where finding food is much harder if you’re very remote.

I’ve got a bivy bag and sleeping bag so I plan on being out a lot of the time. I’m aiming to spend 15 hours on the bike each day.

That should give me five to six hours of sleep each night. Minimising the faffing each day is going to be a massive challenge. Hopefully looking for accommodation shouldn’t take up to much of my headspace.

Cyc: What’s your route and how did you plan it?

JG: I was looking into routes around the world that would get the 18,000 miles needed, then Mark Beaumont did his supported 78-day ride.

Having spoken to him it was obvious how much effort he and the team put into planning their route. I’m using his, with a few tweaks and changes because of needing to look after myself.

Cyc: Are there any bits you’re particularly apprehensive about?

JG: The first bit to Asia. After Germany, I’ve not done any of the next section. There are so many unknowns. There’ll be lots of language barriers, cultural differences, even the food could be a challenge. Until I get to Beijing there are also lots of timings I have to make due to visa restrictions.

New Zealand is also a biggie. It’ll be winter and there are some pretty big passes I’ll need to get over. I’ve got two alternate routes I might use dependent on the weather.

Being on my own there’s no van for me to warm my mitts up in at night. Canada is also just one massive stretch. Without much changing with the scenery or things to occupy myself that might be even harder. I’m worried about all of it!

Cyc: How do you rate the difficulty of your challenge compared to doing the ride with a support team?

JG: Both ways have their own difficulties. A van and team means you have to ride a bit faster. It feels like more stress to me, having people there and knowing you have to take it to this different level.

Going self-supported you have to take your foot off the gas a little bit and go at a pace where you can think clearly and make these big decisions and look after yourself.

For me self-supported always appealed because it’s not solely about how much time you can spend on the bike. There’s so much more problem solving and exploring.

I wouldn’t do it supported.

Cyc: How do you deal with low moments when you’re by yourself?

JG: When I get really low I play tricks on myself. I’ll promise myself I’ve only 20 minutes riding left, but then I won’t actually stop after that.

If I don’t want to get up, I’ll promise myself an extra 10 minutes with my morning coffee. I make all these little bargains with myself. They sound ridiculous now, but when you’re in that state of mind it really helps.

Then there are stickers on my bike of things friends have said to remind me of all the support I’ve had. I’m planning to try and call home once a week too.

When I stay in accommodation being able to plug my phone in and look at supportive messages on social media really helps too.

Cyc: Who have you been talking to in order to get advice?

JG: Being in the Highlands I’m surrounded by people who do cool things. The Adventure Syndicate who I ride with has played a massive role.

It helps going on long bike rides and speaking with people and being able to get all your ideas out. Just being able to say them out loud with people who know what you’re talking about.

We go and do these massive endurance events, then come back and try to inspire, encourage, and enable people in schools and communities to have amazing times on bikes too.

Cyc: How have you been preparing? What’s the toughest ride you’ve done so far?

JG: The Adventure Syndicate did Land’s End to John o'Groats in four days over New Year. It was absolutely disgusting, and we were mostly riding in the dark.

It was brutal, but we did it in 96 hours having spent about 20 hours on the bike each day. We did it to see how long you could be on the bike, and I remember thinking it was probably a bit much.

Since then I’ve been in France and Spain trying to ride back-to-back days as much as possible, but I’ve got a job and a grown-up family.

I feel I’ve been a better cyclist than a mother or employee recently, but everyone has been so supportive I’ve just about managed to juggle it all.

Cyc: You’ve set yourself a difficult target. Will falling behind ruin your ride, or will you push on around the world regardless?

JG: I’ve got six months off work and the budget to do it. 110 days is the dream, and I know it’s pretty out-there. I can’t put a number on it, but I feel like I can do it.

There’s so much that can happen out on the road that could scupper it. It’s the target I’m leaving with, but I’d like to think I’ll keep going regardless.

Cyc: How are you feeling with less than a week to go before you set off?

JG: I can’t believe it’s here. It’s been a whole year in the making. Now I’m sitting here trying to fit all my spares into my bag.

Sometimes I get giddy when I think about it. Other times I think 'oh boy, what have I done'. I have to remind myself that this is what I love to do, just on a much bigger scale.

Jenny will be riding with a spot tracker and you can follow her progress here: trackleaders.com/jennyrtw18   
The Adventure Syndicate will be posting updates when she’s able to check in: theadventuresyndicate.com   
Jenny is also a member and supporter of charity Cycling UK: cyclinguk.org

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