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Scottish cyclist Jenny Graham smashes round the world cycling record

Joseph Delves
18 Oct 2018

Incredible ride sees Graham circumnavigate the globe in 124 days, bettering the existing women’s record by twenty days

Jenny Graham has broken the women’s around the world cycling record, crossing the globe self-supported in just 124 days. The 37-year-old from the Scottish Highlands departed from Berlin on 16th June 2018. Fifteen countries across four continents later she rode back to where she started after 18,413 miles on the road.

Having started cycling just 14 years ago, before she set off Graham explained her motivation to Cyclist.

It’s curiosity as to what I can do with my mind and body,' she said ahead of the record attempt. '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?'

It turns out the answer is the whole way around the world and in record-breaking time.

Graham had hoped to complete the ride in 110 days but found herself running behind schedule early on in her attempt as she crossed Russia.

Still, her effort was enough to make her the fastest woman in both supported and unsupported categories, beating the existing record by a considerable distance.

Held by Italian Paola Gianotti in 144 days, this previous record was both supported and, controversially, included a four-month hiatus following a road traffic accident.

To claim the record Graham had to adhere to the Guinness world record rules which stipulate: 'The journey should be continuous and of a minimum distance of 18,000 miles between two approximate antipodal points.

'The total distance including flights should also exceed the equator's length of 24,900 miles. The total time will include all transfers.'

Crossing Germany, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, Mongolia, China, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, USA, Portugal, Spain, France, and the Netherlands, Graham followed the route established by fellow Scot, Mark Beaumont.

The holder of the absolute record, Beaumont took 78 days to complete his fully-supported ride. However, taking responsibility for her own maintenance and nutrition, finding her own often less that luxurious sleeping spots, and doing all her own navigation, Graham's challenge was very different in nature.

On the way she found herself pulled over by police and offered a cup of tea in Russia, having to avoid bears in the Yukon, and dodging kangaroos in the Outback.

Checking in with BBC radio every few days, her reports proved unbelievably chipper for someone who had been on their bike an average of 15 hours each day and mostly sleeping in laybys.

The long road around

At some points staying up for over 20 hours at a time, Jenny spent a lot of time riding at night, synchronising with the availability of accommodation, rather than the hours of daylight.

The longest single stretch, the huge expanse of Russia proved difficult, with busy roads and verly familiar truck drivers, while quiet spots to sleep were hard to come by.

On this long slog, Graham found herself falling behind schedule. Eventually having to make peace with the prospect of postponing her first flight from Bejing, China to Perth, Australia.

Nevertheless, after 25 days, Graham was a quarter of the way around and in good spirits.

However, heading into Mongolia, she suffered a series of crashes that left her uninjured but shaken, the enormity of her challenge, the dangers of the road, and the distance from friends and family weighing heavily.

On one of the wilder stretches, Graham declined a young woman’s offer of a bed only to find herself spending the night sheltering from a storm in a cow poo filled drainage pipe.

Luckily the next morning some Mongolian hospitality, along with a plate of rice, meat, and peppers, and several strong coffees set her right.

'Kindness is just part of their culture in Mongolia. People have been passing me biscuits out of their car windows. I was wondering do I look that much of a state, but it’s just because they’re so so kind,' she explained.

Across the Gobi Desert, more drainage pipes provided shelter, along with a place to hide from curious locals.

Switching hemispheres, Graham arrived in Australia on 27th July. Picking up her winter gear, soon she was being assailed by kangaroos and chatty backpackers.

A second flight took Graham to New Zealand, and deeper into winter. Mountainous conditions proved difficult, but it was illness that finally forced Graham off the road and into a motel.

Conscious that a long lay-up could see her lose days, a sick Graham dosed herself with painkillers and pushed on to catch a rescheduled flight from Auckland to Anchorage, Alaska.

Crossing continents and avoiding being eaten

In North America, hungry bears replaced kangaroos as Graham’s prime concern. With bells on her bike to alert them of her approach, a can of bear mace tucked into her bivy bag couldn’t stop her feeling 'a little twitchy'.

She was right to be concerned, at one point finding herself face to face with a baby black bear.

'All the advice is to stop and stand your ground. But what do you do if you’re cycling past and lock eyes with one? Instinct told me to keep going. It made the rest of the night very nervy. It was very cute though.'

Passing into Canada and under the northern lights, after the Rockies the threat of being eaten abated and the weather got warmer.

However, this wasn’t all good news, as Graham found herself caught in a huge lightning storm.

In the USA a 24 hour casino provided an unusual place in which to sleep and take shelter from the snakes out on the roadside, before a final flight from Halifax, Novia Scotia to Lisbon, Portugal saw her return to Europe on 5th October.

Not trusting herself to get up after going to sleep on this final leg, at one point Graham rode for 438 kilometres over 24 hours across Portugal.

Behind her initial 110-day schedule, Graham was still set to smash the existing record, and after riding a largely uneventful final leg, rolled into Berlin at around 4pm on Thursday 18th October.

Back in Mongolia Graham described the best aspect of the ride as seeing the world in snapshot.

'I get to live on my bike all day and don’t have to deal with adult stuff. It’s really good. It’s been harder than I imagined, spending so long not speaking the language when you’re tired is difficult.'

Now ready to head home, look out for a full account of her adventures in soon.

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