Q&A: Adventure Cycling With Mark Beaumont

Mark Beaumont is a man with a thirst for discovery. As a record-breaking adventure cyclist, he has pushed himself to the limit on a number of challenges, passing through some pretty mesmerising landscapes on his ambitious quests.

Whether it’s cycling around the world in 80 days, or rowing across the Atlantic, Mark likes nothing more than getting his essential kit together and head out into the wild – his work as a Vango brand ambassador encourages others to do the same. We caught up with him to find out more about his adventures; including an insight into how he prepares for his challenges and what he enjoys most about bikepacking.

What inspired you to take on endurance challenges?

I grew up in the foothills of the Scottish Highlands, which is such an amazing adventure playground. Being home-schooled until the age of 12 age gave me a huge amount of freedom to explore and build a sense of self-confidence. It was a newspaper article that I read when I was 11 years old that first inspired me to go on a cycle across Scotland; a 145-mile ride that took 4 days. I was hooked from that point on – not just in relation to the journeys, but the planning and the storytelling too.

Does resilience come naturally to you, or have you trained yourself to overcome the mental challenges that come with endurance events?

Resilience is definitely a learnt behaviour. My childhood was spent on the farm, where I had to milk goats and muck out horse boxes before breakfast. I knew from a very early age what manual work was like and the rewards to be had from getting tasks done. I also spent a lot of time on my own, exploring the forests and valley where I lived, so didn’t mind long periods of time in my own head, without company or distraction. In adult life, I have consistently taken on major expeditions, and had to problem-solve and avoid significant risk, which builds a reliance and an ability to make decisions when under pressure. There is a massive difference between knowing what to do and actually doing it. I see that issue very regularly. You get people who are really book smart, but have very little actual experience of being productive under pressure – that is what resilience is. 

How do you plan and find the best routes for your adventure cycling trips?

In one sense I am old-fashioned. At the ‘daydreaming’ stage of new adventures, I enjoy pouring over paper maps, looking up the history and geography of an area to give context to what I am planning. Then I utilise digital platforms like Komoot to find recommended routes as well as using other people’s notes to help inform my decisions. The huge community of users means that you have much richer information than you get from a map alone. You can overlay weather forecasts, sunrise / sunset times and other relevant info to make your route planning interesting without compromising safety. 

It is so important to know what your contingencies are, how to change routes if the weather or other situations change, and how to get help if the adventure ‘goes south’. Most of all, route-setting is a lot of fun; dreaming about what you are about to do, while compiling all the information you need if you are to feel in control out in the wilds!

What’s the best place you’ve been on your adventures so far?

There are a few places I have gone back to because I love them so much, like the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. However, out of the 130 nations and territories I’ve travelled to over the last 15 years, it is pretty hard to choose a favourite.

I do love deserts. The extreme environment, the simplicity of getting across the vast, barren landscapes and the challenge of food and water rationing – they are life at its simplest. The Gobi, the Sahara, the Atacama, the Baluchi and the Australian Outback are all magical landscapes I have enjoyed exploring in the past. 

How do you avoid becoming distracted by your exotic surroundings on your global challenges? Are you able to enjoy the places you visit?

I am often criticised for going too fast and too far each day, missing the magic of a bike adventure. My response is normally that there is no wrong way to ride your bike, just get out there and ride! I personally like pushing myself physically and psychologically, whilst also having that interaction with the world I am passing through. This brings an intensity to these journeys – life is reduced to the simple things; clean water, food and a safe place to sleep. I get to see the world like a slideshow, which is tantalising. What could be better than crossing countries and continents under my own pedal power?

Have there been any occasions where you’ve unexpectedly found yourself relying on a particular piece of kit?

I remember on my first around the world cycle, which was before I had digital mapping on the bike, I got lost in Phoenix, Arizona. It is a vast sprawling city and I only had a state-scale map which didn’t really help me navigate my 5-hour cycle across the city limits. I was completely lost and it was too cloudy to use the sun to know which direction was east. So I was in the middle of a huge city, using my compass to keep heading east until I found the right roads again! 

Another example would be the time in Patagonia when I accidently punctured my sleeping mat with thorns. I was in for a very uncomfortable few weeks sleeping, but I carefully found the holes and patched it up with my puncture repair kit.

What’s the most bizarre situation you’ve found yourself in on your travels?

Where to start?!

I was cycling through Canada, near Toronto and a fan came out to cheer me on. They decided the best way to do that was to get naked and run down the road!  This the only time I have had a streaker, and it certainly cheered me up a lot, making me laugh during a very hard day’s cycling.  

I found myself in another bizarre situation in the Australian Outback. It was a windy evening, so in the middle of the night I got out of my tent to put in some more pegs down. As soon as I stood up, the tent blew away, I was the only thing keeping it grounded, so I found myself running through the darkness in the middle of nowhere chasing my tent. When I caught up with it, I had to sleep on top of it for the rest of the night to stop it blowing away. The next day I woke up with a huntsman spider beside me!

You must burn a lot of calories; what food do you use as your fuel?

I am from the ‘keep it natural’ school of nutrition. Gels and bars might work for a single day ride or sportive, but not a multi-day bikepacking adventure. You don’t need to have massive meals; they can sit heavy on the stomach. It’s much better to ‘graze’ – eating small amounts regularly to keep yourself topped up.

On the big trips where I am cycling 200+ miles a day, I will usually consume around 8000kcal a day. Eating that many calories can certainly become a chore!

Do you have any advice for getting a decent amount of sleep when camping after a long day on the bike?

I can sleep anywhere, which I appreciate not everyone can. But you can certainly teach yourself to switch off quickly, and be ‘comfortable’ in what others would consider uncomfortable places. I have slept in drainage ditches under roads, bus shelters and under the stars. Wherever you set up camp, the ability to switch off, not worry and get a good night’s sleep depends mostly on how good your equipment is (sleeping bag, tent and mat), but you will also need a strong mind-set to cope with sleeping in the great outdoors.

What’s the best thing about bike-packing?

Bikepacking is the perfect balance of being completely self-sufficient, without compromising the performance of the bike with big, heavy pannier bags. It allows you to go anywhere, on and off-road. I love the freedom of bikepacking – there’s nothing better for me than getting to the end of a day’s cycling and continuing the adventure by finding a wild camp and making dinner. The reward of a great sunset and reflecting on a day of exploration, whilst planning where the next day will take you is definitely the best bit.

Apart from your bike, what piece of equipment do you cherish most when you are out exploring the world?

My cameras. I love the opportunity to capture landscapes and experiences. I started my career before social media was invented, so I am not really talking about Instagram here (although that can be fun as well). I prefer taking traditional cameras with me to document the adventure. I also wouldn’t go anywhere without a Dictaphone, as I like to record audio for my travel diaries

You started at a young age; do you believe it’s possible to get into activities such as bikepacking later in life too?

Absolutely. You can get into adventure cycling and bikepacking at any age. However, you do need to build experience, know what to pack, how to navigate and stay safe out there – which includes communication. You can learn these things fairly quickly and at any age though.

We are creatures of habit, and getting started is often the hardest part. It is what is called ’the doorstep mile’ – committing to the adventure. Once you are out there, you never regret it. My advice is… get started, learn from your mistakes and who knows where the adventure will take you!

Are there any other outdoor activities (extreme or otherwise) that you’d like to try?

Yes, I would love to try some ski mountaineering expeditions. Skiing was my biggest passion growing up and I love the mountains. But I have never taken this into ski mountaineering, so there would be some learning needed to stay safe and gain the technical skills. The freedom of skinning up mountains and camping in remote places really appeals to me. 

Are there any new challenges in the pipeline?

Yes, I am training for GBDuro, which is an iconic 2000km bikepacking race from Land’s End to John O’Groats.

The race is inspired by the early years of the Grand Tours, like the Tour de France which was founded in 1903. Back then, racers did huge stages through the night on and off-road. Riders are completely self-sufficient, carrying their own lightweight equipment. I love the culture of this event as it’s all about creating minimum impact on the environment. Flights to and from the event are banned, and cyclists are expected to do everything they can to preserve the beauty of the landscape they are racing through. 

We’d like to thank Mark for taking the time to talk about his amazing expeditions and wish him all the best with his upcoming challenges.

You can keep track of Mark by following him on Twitter or Instagram (@mrmarkbeaumont). It’s also worth checking out his website too if you want to find out more about his adventures (past, present and future).

If Mark has inspired you take on your very own outdoor adventure, make sure you are kitted up and ready to go. We have everything you need right here at Go Outdoors – shop online or in store today!