From novice to world-beater, a life-changing story of coping with grief
It’s National Bike Week, which aims to get everyone out there enjoying cycling, so we’re taking inspiration from Juliana Buhring’s incredible transformation from novice cyclist to first woman to circumnavigate the world by bicycle.
When the love of Juliana’s life died unexpectedly, she was plunged into an all-consuming grief. But out of that grief grew a determination to take on a seemingly impossible challenge – to cycle the world, to push herself to the very limit, to feel the rush of life again. With little experience of riding a bike and without a support crew or official sponsor, Juliana set out to cross the globe. Here’s a short extract from the story of her amazing, life-changing journey.
11 September 2012
My Australian friend, Jesse, cycles a few kilometres down the Gold Coast with me. Most of the roads have spacious cycle paths, something I did not encounter often in Europe or the United States. ‘Drivers don’t have much patience for cyclists here, so be careful,’ Jesse says as he waves goodbye and peels off the highway to go to work, leaving me alone on the road to Sydney.
It’s dead flat as I head south along the east coast, which makes for fast cycling, especially when coupled with a pleasant tailwind. My bike, Pegasus, has a new rear derailleur, my legs are feeling strong, and I’m in a great mood. The sun is shining high overhead when I notice the shadow of a bird hovering. Then it swoops down, flapping next to me, squawking conversationally.
‘Well, good morning to you too, Mr Birdie. You’re awfully friendly. What the …!’ With a warning screech, my feathered friend plunges headlong into my helmet. I remember hearing stories of infamous magpie attacks in Australia and rather belatedly put two and two together. So this is a magpie and I am not, after all, a bird whisperer. I wave one hand over my head and pedal hard as the bird continues to circle, looking for an opportunity to swoop again. It gives up after a few kilometres, but another soon takes its place. It is early spring, peak nesting time, and magpies across the country are all on high intruder alert.
There is plenty of advice and information on the subject of magpie attacks. Apparently, the birds are able to recognize faces, and they do not attack familiar local residents. Passing round-the-world cyclists are obviously fair game, though. They also seem to hate helmets: in one study, they targeted helmeted cyclists while leaving bareheaded ones alone. But I’m not about to take mine off to confirm that theory, particularly as it is the only thing standing between their beaks and my skull.
I reach the small coastal town of Evans Head at sunset. Strolling down the quiet, empty roads to find something to eat, I end up at a pub where I am promptly invited to join the self-proclaimed ‘Publican’, ‘Lunatic’ and ‘Gigolo’. This diverting trio try to keep me entertained throughout dinner: the Publican with free refills; the Gigolo with smooth come-ons; and the Lunatic with off-colour jokes. At the end of the evening, the Publican of this fine establishment presents me with a Bundaberg rum keyring as a parting gift.
‘I just want to give you something so you won’t forget us,’ he explains, then slides a shot of the local liquor across the counter to me.
I suddenly realise why I have been pedalling through fields of sugar cane all day. I tear myself away from the trio’s endearing company with great difficulty. In their minds, having to get up at dawn to cycle two hundred kilometres is a poor excuse to end the night so early.
A fellow cyclist, Shaun, is waiting on the road outside Melbourne to accompany me into the city and guide me through the sprawling metropolis. A seasoned bike tourer, he has cycled all around Europe and the Middle East. We met in a Facebook chat group of long-distance cyclists a few months ago and have kept in touch ever since. I spot him sitting on a patch of turf by the side of the M31 highway.
‘You want a cereal bar? Water?’ he offers intuitively as I pull up.
I gratefully stuff down two of his bars, but then say, ‘I’ll probably need to stop for something more substantial soon.’
It’s already 3 p.m. and I’ve pedalled 170 kilometres without stopping for food because I want to make the most of the strong tailwind and cover the 250 kilometres all the way to Melbourne. Fatigue is starting to creep up on me now, though. We spot a Subway along the highway and pull over for a late lunch. It is here that I discover their luscious brownie and my chocolate love affair officially begins. One is simply not enough. From now on, all brownies will be purchased and eaten in pairs.
The sun is just disappearing below the horizon when our wheels touch the city periphery. Shaun knows all the scenic cycle routes to avoid the worst of the traffic. It’s a nice change to be pedalling next to another person. Time flies by faster with company. Another friend, Vincent, has offered to host me for the night, and he is waiting by Shaun’s house when we arrive.
In addition to being an excellent navigator, Shaun is a bit of mechanic. He takes Pegasus off my hands to give him a tweak-over. ‘I’ll have him ready for you bright and early tomorrow,’ he promises.
We arrange a time to meet in the morning and Vincent whisks me off for a steak dinner – the sure-fire way to a hungry cyclist’s heart. He has recently moved to Australia with his Taiwanese girlfriend and they put me up in their guest room for the night. While my dirty clothes spin in the washing machine, a bottle of Johnny Walker is whipped out for a night cap. I could not ask for a better host.
Taken from This Road I Ride by Juliana Buhring. Juliana is the first woman to circumnavigate the world by bicycle and a Guinness World Record holder.