By James Bowthorpe
In 2009 I cycled around the world in 174 days and 5 hours. I never did finish that Guinness World Record application, even though I’d beaten the existing time by about 20 days. Why? Because, although important to me in terms of a personal challenge, the record wasn’t my main reason for being out there.
Cycling is, for me, an expression of independence and self-reliance. For my ‘round the world ride, it was also an physical expression of how I feel about a Parkinson’s Disease research charity where I’ve either been been volunteering or working for the last 4 years.
I wanted a big box to stand on to point at what they do, and cycling around the world really fast was the biggest box I could find. When I got back we’d raised £120,000 off the back of it; that’s a lot of money, but it isn’t enough. There were lots of people telling me how I’d done this amazing, difficult thing. All I could think was that it wasn’t as difficult as doing groundbreaking research, on a shoestring budget, for decades.
I’ve learnt a lot through this experience and I know more about cycling and fundraising. Getting up (pretty much) every day for close to 6 months to cycle an average of 113 miles gives you some learning. So I’m back in the saddle, training to ride solo in the Race Across America (RAAM).
Billed as the toughest bike race in the world, solo riders must complete the 3050 mile course, from west to east coast, in less than 12 days. That’s further than the total mileage of the Tour de France and there are no rest days and no stages; solo finishers sleep for about 1.5 hours per day. It’s one long stage if you like. People who win it (the late Jure Robic, for example, completed the course in 8 or 9 days. I am aiming for a 10 day time and I’ve never been so scared in my life.
If you are thinking, “Why is he doing that, putting himself through so much?”, or “Surely there are other ways to raise money for charity?” Well, yes there are, but this is my way. I often think about the famous Mallory response of “Because it is there”, when he was asked why he wanted to climb Everest. I don’t think that what I’ve done is equivalent to climbing Everest, but I do think that a corollary of “because it is there” is probably more suitable to that and similar feats, including my own.
We run marathons, ride sportifs, walk to the North Pole and climb Everest not because “they” are there, but because “we” are here. Not “Because it is there,” rather, “Because I am here”! It’s my ego that makes me think I can do this. It’s my ego that makes me think that the best way to raise funds and awareness for a cause I believe in is to cycle 300 miles a day, for 10 days, sleeping 1.5 hours a day, peeling back the cosier coatings of my mind as I go. Trying to harness that undoubtedly ambiguous force, the ego, for a good cause.
I’m interested in this balance of reasons to keep going; the social contract of raising money and the egotistical need to not give up. I’m planning on learning a lot between now and the start of the RAAM of the 15th of June. I’m going to be talking to sports psychologists, ex-military people, other cyclists and endurance athletes to find out how they do it – I’m going to share what I learn with you. Then I’m going to go and do it myself, non-stop across a continent.