“When I was 11, I read about a guy who had cycled from John O’Groats to Lands End. I got the car atlas out with a highlighter pen and traced the roads from the top of Scotland to the bottom of England. I remember taking it to my mum and dad. My first big plan.”
This is the 2nd of our #highlandhumans series. Scottish record-breaking adventurer Mark Beaumont shares his background and passion for the Scottish highlands.
“Mum didn’t completely shoot the idea down. But she did suggest maybe try something smaller first. So with a bit of encouragement I recruited a friend and we decided to cycle across Scotland. I’d grown up on a farm in Perthshire and hadn’t cycled off the farm. So to be targeting John O’Groats to Lands End, not just as an 11 year old, but also as a first proper cycle was a bit ambitious.
We spent 3 days going from Dundee to Oban, 45 miles a day and raised a few thousand pounds for charity. Our dads rode with us. It was great fun. I loved seeing the country by bicycle but I also loved the planning and sharing the story. It was so much more than just riding my bike and I guess that’s where the bug for expeditions started. Three years later I rode from Land’s End to John O’Groats solo and the fire had been lit! I’m best known for cycling around the world in 2008, which was an 18,000 mile race. But in the last 5 years I’ve been ocean rowing, going through the Arctic and climbing mountains. I’ve been doing all sorts of things.”
There’s still that kid inside me that wants to go fast and to see the world on 2 wheels.
“I’ve been doing expeditions full-time for the last decade and as an amateur for 10 years before that.
Some of the journeys I’ve been on have been 6 to 9 months in duration. That’s a huge period of time, solo, unsupported. You can’t be out there imagining a time when you’re not doing what you’re doing. You’re committed. I always describe expedition adventure life as wonderfully simple but brutal. I get a real wry smile, sort of a “yeah, we’re back at it” like a real fire in the belly when I’m up against something. I never feel I’m competing against anyone else out there. It’s about facing up to the challenge inside myself. You build experience and resilience. There’s a great strength in the dark humour, the resolute mindset you get into when you’re up against it. They’re the bits you end up relishing afterwards even though at the time they can be torture.
On the bike you’ve got one task, you’re moving. So you’ve got time to be tuned into the world around you. There are hours on the bike that can feel far, far longer. But also when I’m on long expeditions there are weeks which can fly by in moments. It’s like elasticity of time. Away from all the daily distractions of the modern world, life on a bike is simple. There’s a tough physical aspect, but the addictive part is that place your mind goes to. It’s hard to put into words. During big endurance rides there’s a lot of pain and discomfort. There’s a lot of wishing I was back home. It can be miserable out there and yet when I get back home, I crave that space, that mental, simple, single space. That ability to tune out and be completely at one with the task. That’s ultimately why I do it.
I’ve been to over 130 countries in the last decade, but my motivation now is to do more adventures on my doorstep.”
Having pedalled in over 60 of those countries I believe road cycling in Scotland is some of the best out there.
“It’s these incredible tiny roads. Up the west coast of Scotland where the Atlantic comes in you’ve got protection from the islands. You can travel along the rugged coastlines and it feels like the fjords of Norway. It’s so winding and the roads are always interesting. On a bike, terrain like that is exciting because you don’t know what’s around the corner. It’s constantly challenging, full of breathtaking scenery. Last year I cycled the North Coast 500 route as a non-stop challenge and my favourite section was the west coast. It’s the least populated part of the United Kingdom and with that comes a fantastic sense of space. It was an epic experience and I was overjoyed to do it in under 38 hours. I’ll definitely go back with my family and do it as a tourist with a week or a fortnight on my side in the future. But it was so exciting to take on a massive endurance cycle in Scotland. Even being Scottish and living in Scotland I often forget how much incredible terrain is up there. I don’t think there’s any better way to explore and discover it than by the speed of a bike.”