“I don’t think my parents or mates believed me at first. At 19, in my gap year, I wanted to challenge myself, see what I was really capable of and become the youngest person to cycle around the world. Guinness World Records no longer cover ‘youngest person’ records but, even though it wouldn’t be official, I followed the rules as if it would.
“So, as per the rules, the route was over 18,000 miles, the journey was continual and heading in one direction, I used the same bike frame throughout, and I passed through two approximate antipodal points, i.e. opposite points on the earth. The start and finish points were the same – my house in Battersea, London – but the rest of my route was dictated by where was safe to travel, parental concerns, and where I could get a visa for.
“I got hooked on pedal power when I was 15. I cycled from London to the Alps with my dad, so I knew I could ride around 100 miles a day without too much difficulty. But to keep my fitness up I trained seven or eight times a week – cycling, running, rugby and general fitness training.
I trained seven or eight times a week
“I didn’t set myself a strict regime, I just did what I enjoyed and kept it varied so that I wouldn’t get fed up with cycling before I’d even started.”
“The last week before I set off in January 2015 the nerves started to kick in. On that first day, after cycling to Portsmouth and saying goodbye to my family as I boarded the ferry, the enormity of the challenge hit me.
“I carried my kit in my panniers, which included a tent and sleeping bag – although I didn’t end up camping much, as it was too cold in Europe and I was advised not to in South East Asia.”
“I was very wary of getting saddle sores so I also took two pairs of padded cycling shorts, which I washed every night and alternated, so that I always wore clean shorts. I also carried a GPS with my route on it; my laptop so I could update my blog; and a satellite phone so I could contact home, as my mum had to organise a lot of the accommodation for me along the way.
Cycling into Croatia in the pitch black, it was uphill, snowing, windy and horrible
“The most physically challenging moments came with the extreme weather. During the first stretch, from London to Istanbul, it snowed or rained most days. I remember cycling into Croatia in the pitch black, it was uphill, snowing, windy and horrible. The coldest weather I encountered was minus eight degrees Celsius – in Greece of all places! That day the roads iced over and I just had to stop.
“I experienced both extremes: in the US there was a heatwave and temperatures hit 45°C. There, I had to stop regularly to rehydrate, which wasn’t always easy as there were long stretches where there was absolutely nothing. The heat really affected me in Burma, where I guess I didn’t eat or drink enough. I had to stop every 5km and it got to the stage where I couldn’t even open a bottle of water without my whole arm cramping up.
I couldn’t even open a bottle of water without my whole arm cramping up
“There were times when I thought, ‘I’ve no idea what I’m doing here,’ but I never considered quitting and, on the whole, I was lucky.”
“I got a bit of Delhi belly in India but it was more nausea than ‘the other end’. I also had a knee problem that flared up every now and again, plus I crashed in the last week – I hit the edge of a kerb, fell off and landed hard on my head, jarring my wrist and shoulder. To be honest I was more concerned about looking like an idiot!
I fell off and landed hard on my head
“There were mental challenges too. I got lost a couple of times in Burma and, when it came to communication, there was a lot of sign language going on, especially in South East Asia and India. It was a steep learning curve, but I generally only ever needed food or a bed, so they were easy to mime!
“Loneliness wasn’t too much of a factor until I ran out of things to do or organise – like sorting out my next meal or writing my blog – and then I started to think of home. Generally I was cycling on my own, although my dad joined me for 10 days in New Zealand and I uploaded my itinerary on Strava, a website that tracked where I was using my GPS. A few people contacted me through that and cycled with me for a few hours here and there, which was really nice.”
“I have some incredible memories: cycling through the Australian outback with an emu running alongside me for several minutes; being chased by a pack of dogs in Albania who took an instant dislike to me and tried to bite me; and seeing a guy in India out for jog – running backwards!
“I was also overwhelmed by the hospitality of people I met along the way. One woman near Adelaide in Australia offered me a bed for the night and a meal. I’d already booked my accommodation, but I went round for dinner, which was really nice.
I experienced every emotion possible during those seven months
“I experienced every emotion possible during those seven months and, despite being sore and beyond tired, it all became worth it when I arrived back in London. After 200 days – 174 of which were riding days – all my friends and family were there to welcome me home, and I got a bit emotional!”
“I think my parents would kill me if I were to plan any more escapades just yet. I’m off to university now. Having said that, I’ve realised I can push myself harder than I ever thought possible, and I don’t think sitting behind a desk is really for me, so I’m sure there’ll be another adventure at some point. Sorry, Mum.”
To learn more about Tom’s round-the-world adventure, visit his blog