Juliana Buhring became the first and fastest woman to circumnavigate the world by bicycle. This book follows her journey. It is an incredible adventure, particularly as the author had no background in cycling and was spurred into doing the ride after her boyfriend was killed by a crocodile. Buhring's background as a former member of the cult of The Children of God provides a fascinating backdrop to the journey.
These long distance cycle rides tend to be done by men and when Juliana Buhring became inspired by Mark Beaumont's around the world cycle she discovered that no woman had ever done the record attempt. Buhring was searching for something amazing to do in the aftermath of the death of her boyfriend, killed by a crocodile in Congo. The bike ride becomes the emotional release from this tragic event.
The first part of the book is set in Naples, Italy. This is where the author enlists the help of Professor Perno who has a background in cycling training. Buhring outlines the details of her training regime and learning how to maintain a bicycle at a friendly cycle shop.
Once the record attempt beings the book takes on a diary format, with short sections for each day of the adventure. This makes the book very easy to read and gives it a good pace, reflecting the time pressure of this ride. Europe flashes by and America is over in under a month. As you would expect this journey is full of highs and lows.
The highs are captured beautifully by the author in this quotation:
"On a bicycle, you are inside the movie, an essential part of it. Completely reliant upon your environment, you observe and absorb every sensation around you. You feel every change in terrain, the texture of the road, the direction of the wind, every ascent and descent, the constantly shifting weather. You smell every plant and flower, every rotting roadkill carcass. You hear every birdcall, every insect and animal. You take in the country, and the country takes you in. If you really want to experience the world, get on a bicycle."
There is a heart stopping moment when Buhring is cycling uphill through mountains in New Zealand when temperatures drop, hypothermia is setting in, it is getting dark and the GPS is not working. By chance she spots a camper van by the side of the road and the couple take her in for the night. The kindness of people is a common theme in the book. Crossing the Nullarbor Plain in Australia there is great camaraderie among travellers and Buhring experiences tooting horns and is given money to buy food.
Despite the speed of the journey the author is able to give a vivid flavour of the countries that she travels through. For example, there is a wonderful encounter with a family in Thailand who invite the author to eat with them at a place where there are prawns swimming in buckets and you simply choose however many you want for the cook to prepare and have them with rice and beer.
India proves particularly challenging for a cyclist- the roads are a mix of rubbish, mud and human waste as people just squat by the side of the road. Buhring and the bike are covered in it by the end of each day. Crowds of staring men gather each time she stops in India and she is often followed by men on motorbikes making rude comments.
This wouldn't happen to a male cyclist. Another point that Buhring makes is that she must find and stop at public toilets, something that male cyclists don’t need to do. The toilet stops add 10 minutes, precious time when you are trying to set a world record. She has to get the balance right between getting enough hydration and avoiding the toilet time wastage.
Despite these challenges you get the feeling that Buhring took all of this in her stride, that it came natural to her. This is because of her nomadic background, raised in The Children of God cult. In many ways the most fascinating aspect of this book is reading of the author's cult background.
Buhring has 17 siblings and her father had multiple partners. The cult leaders separated her from her parents when she was 4 and she was moved around the world so there was no country that she could call 'home'. The cult had training centres around the world where food and sleep deprivation, beatings and humiliation were used. These centres were disguised as international schools. Buhring escaped the cult and found it difficult to relate to mainstream life, particularly when people asked where she was from and she was unable to answer this. She did not know things, like how to open a bank account. That adjustment and leaving behind parents and friends provided her with the mental preparation for undertaking something as challenging as a cycle ride around the world.
This book is a great read. It provides a fresh perspective to add to the many other books about around the world cycle challenges. You can buy it from Amazon by clicking on the image below:
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle.