It has taken Juliana Buhring just 152 days to cycle round the world, becoming the first woman ever to do so. She tells Cole Moreton about the highs and lows of her 18,000 mile solo road trip.
By Cole Moreton
When Juliana Buhring rode out of Naples in the summer, saying she was off to cycle around the world, hardly anyone believed her. But yesterday the 32-year-old English language teacher returned to a hero’s welcome in the Piazza del Plebiscito, having pedalled more than 18,000 miles alone.
She had been on the road for 152 days, travelling through 18 countries on four continents and fighting off sickness in India, dogs in Turkey and even birds in Australia.
“It feels surreal to stop,” she said afterwards, looking forward to a bath and a drink. “I haven’t quite registered that I don’t have to get up at five tomorrow morning and get back on the bike again. I am in surprisingly good shape, considering.”
The last leg of the journey had been among the hardest: heavy snows were falling and the temperature was nine below zero as she cycled back through Italy. “But I was trailed by about 100 cyclists who rode with me along the coast into Naples, which made that fun,” she said.
Miss Buhring, who has a British father, was attempting to set a new record as the first woman to circumnavigate the globe alone on a bicycle. She must now wait for the claim to be accepted by Guinness World Records, who act as adjudicators on such matters.
The rules say that a rider must travel the same distance as the circumference of the Earth – 24,900 miles – in one direction, starting and finishing in the same place. Travel by sea and air is allowed, but at least 18,000 miles of the route must be cycled.
“From the beginning, everybody told me I wasn’t ready,” said Miss Buhring. She left on July 23 with no commercial backers and very little money, having only been riding a road bike properly for eight months. But she was serious. Her trainer was an Italian sports scientist who works with professional race cyclists and she had a patron in the actress Maria Grazia Cucinotta, best known for the film Il Postino.
The Sunday Telegraph was the only newspaper outside Italy to cover her attempt. In July she revealed in Seven magazine how she had been raised in the Children of God sex cult, before breaking free. She wrote a book about the experience with her siblings called Not Without My Sister, which helped to bring down the organisation.
Miss Buhring set out to cycle the world to raise awareness of her charity Safe Passage Foundation, which aims to help children and young people raised in cults. She also wanted to be known as something other than a cult survivor.
“Nobody believed I would make it, certainly not all the way around the world,” she said. “I was not an athlete and not a cyclist. In fact, there was nothing to qualify me for such a huge undertaking. Nothing but willpower and the determination to finish, no matter what. I was out to prove everything is possible.”
As she rode west through Europe, then across the United States, Australia and New Zealand and on to Asia, Miss Buhring began to attract supporters and sponsors online. “Soon I was being literally propelled along by an international support team of friends, strangers and well-wishers who kept me going morally and financially and without whom the journey would have been far more difficult and failure a real possibility.”
Travelling with just two cycling outfits and a pair of jogging pants, she would look for a place to stay in the nearest town when the sun came down.
“The first time I got into trouble was crossing the mountains in New Zealand,” she said. “I got stuck at the top with darkness coming down. The wind was so strong it was picking up my bicycle. I started to get hypothermia and the next town was miles away. I thought I would die.”
Then she saw a camper van parked by the side of the road. “There was a little old couple inside. I knocked on their door and said, ‘Help me!’ They fed me whisky and sausages and let me sleep the night in their van. That lady was like an angel.”
One of the best moments also happened at high altitude. “I remember getting to the top of a very high mountain in Greece, after a really hard ride, and being up above the clouds. I soared down the mountain with the sunset in my eyes and music in my ears. That was the best feeling in the world. I have never felt more alive.”
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