Jenny Graham: fastest woman round the world
Jenny Graham is a world-record-obliterating, globe-circumnavigating badass of a bike rider. Here, she chats to Tom Owen about bears, death metal and cheesy puffs…
Earlier this month, 38-year-old adventurer Jenny Graham arrived at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin after cycling around the globe in just 124 days, shaving an astonishing 20 days off the previous women’s record.
The Scot’s epic odyssey crossed four continents, entailed 18,000 miles of pedalling and required her to take four flights and a boat. With an achievement of this magnitude, we’ve dug a little deeper to discover the highs, lows and major food groups getting her through.
So, Jenny. What does someone actually do after having just ridden round the world?
I might just sit down for a bit. Mainly its about catching up on sleep.
What were the highs of your trip?
Definitely the people as I went round. Special people are a major part of bike touring for me, but I thought on this trip: ‘there’ll be no chatting for me,’. The problem is that I can’t help myself – I had to consciously make an effort not to make eye contact sometimes.
What about the lows?
The hardest bits were decision making and trusting my own judgement, particularly when the roads were really busy and scary. At dangerous times like that, it would have been much easier having someone else to chat it through with.
For instance, there was a time in Russia where the roads got incredibly hard and busy. I was making tough calls there.
Then there were the times when I was riding by myself on massive empty roads with 100 miles+ between service stops, hardly any cars and bears knocking about at the side of them! At those times I did have to question, ‘what was I thinking?’
What was the biggest thing you learnt from the trip?
That I could do it! A lot of the motivation behind this trip was curiosity. I wanted to see if a lassie from the Highlands could go and do something like this. Someone who wasn’t in the cycling club at school, someone who wasn’t sporty, someone who was basically a normal working-class person with no cash.
I can still remember the first time I rode 100 miles. I was like, ‘wow, I can actually ride 100 miles!’. Now I wouldn’t think twice. Then there’s the first time you do 100 miles and another 100 the next day – you’re just in awe of your body that it can do this level of mileage.
What were you eating along the way?
So much rubbish! I’m on such a detox now that I’m back. I ate loads of fast-food and was amazed that you could get Wotsits anywhere in the world – not necessarily always called Wotsits, but some form of cheesepuff. They’re so easy to eat as well. No chewing needed.
I drank loads of chocolate milkshake, too – honestly, I must have drunk a cow’s worth of chocolate milkshake.
You’re in a constant battle to get as many calories into your body as you can, so any calories you can get in liquid form, like soups and milkshakes, are a bit of a bonus.
Can anyone do this?
Yes. As a child I wasn’t sporty or in a club. I definitely didn’t just roll out of bed and decide to do this. I got here by building up over the years, but it’s certainly not out of reach for anyone.
What was the support like while you were on the road?
I speak to everyone as if they’ve just done it with me – which is probably because the support I received has been incredible. It was really special – I honestly thought people would get bored after Russia, like “It’s taking her so long to get across one country!”
Did you get saddle sores?
I have an incredible steel Shand bike, made in Scotland. They made the bike for me and it’s the first bike that’s ever fit me. It was incredible.
Being a steel frame with carbon components meant I could keep it light, but with the reassurance of knowing how unbelievably comfortable steel is. 15 hours a day over rough roads in Siberia and Mongolla meant it was important that the bike could take some of those jolts, not just my body.
I tried out saddles for the whole year leading up to going and I only found the right saddle six weeks before leaving. I tried out so many and I think it’s a really difficult thing to narrow down – I’m a bit of an expert now.
But, of course, I got saddle sores. I had two pairs of bib shorts, and I would try and get clean bibs everyday. I also a used a mixture of Sudocrem and talcum powder.
Finally, what were your round the world earworms?
I had my own playlists, which I did all my training to, but I didn’t listen to much going through Asia because it was all just so new and incredible.
When I got to Australia I got audiobooks and podcasts – explorers like Shackleton and Scott – and loads of Desert Island Discs and Dirtbag Diaries. This American Life as well.
I also got all my friends to send me their desert island discs – I was so sick of listening to my own music. I had every type of music except for death metal.
I remember needing some really dancey upbeat stuff for riding at 3am, then I’d try and wake up in the morning with something really chilled. My mum’s country and folk playlists were really good in the morning. It was funny what you craved at certain times of the day.
Jenny Graham is having a nice sit down, possibly with a bag of Wotsits. Get more from her here