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Record-breaking world cyclist Jenny Graham pens new book

Written by Fiona

July 17 2023

I interviewed Jenny Graham for The Scots Magazine. If you like what I have written, you can read more of my articles in the magazine each month.

Jenny Graham: Writing the book was tougher than the ride

Holding her new book, Coffee First, Then The World, in her lap, and occasionally glancing nervously down at the freshly printed cover and thick wedge of pages, Jenny Graham declares: “It was probably, no definitely probably, more of an emotional rollercoaster to write this than it was to cycle around the world.”

Perhaps, you might think, the record-breaking cyclist from Inverness, in the Scottish Highlands, has forgotten some of the toughest parts of the 18,000-mile ride through 16 countries in 2018 but, no, she is sure the writing has been the harder task.

Laughing, Jenny, 43, adds with self-deprecation: “It has taken me two years to write this book. It only took me 124 days to circumnavigate the world on my bike.”

She continues: “The writing has totally pushed me out of my comfort zone. The thing is, I don’t consider myself to be very academic and I while I enjoyed school I struggled with the learning side.

“In fact, I’ve realised only recently that I’m probably dyslexic and so I’ve had this terrible imposter’s syndrome about the book. I have worried constantly it would not be good enough and I couldn’t do it.

“But when it came to riding my bike, day after day, even for all that time on my own, in strange new places and with many challenges, I felt a lot more confident. I didn’t know if I would set a world record before I started, and the ride was definitely very difficult physically and mentally, but I never once thought about quitting.”

The start of Jenny’s round-world cycle.

The truth of Jenny’s record ride

In writing the book, which many friends had encouraged her to do, Jenny has had the opportunity to give a more in-depth account of her journey.

After smashing the solo and unsupported female Guinness World Record by almost three weeks, she found herself suddenly in demand for TV, radio and newspaper interviews.

Her open, frank and witty revelations of the ride also brought her new opportunities, such as guest speaking, delivering corporate talks, podcasting and becoming the presenter of a cycling documentary channel.

Through this, many of the challenges of her incredible solo ride became points of entertainment. Jenny admits: “When in front of an audience, I tend to laugh things off. Even if what happened was hard or dangerous, I often looked for the entertainment value because people like to laugh and so I think people felt I just took everything in my stride. But this wasn’t really the case.”

The book gives a truer story.  She says: “Writing the book has allowed me to pull things apart, to more closely consider my emotions, and to be very honest about the difficulties.”

As an example, there is a fairly lengthy first chapter entitled “preparation”. Jenny says: “Preparing for the ride was hard. It was harder in some ways for me to get to the start line than it was to reach the finish line. 

“First of all, I had to believe that people like me could do something like cycle around the world. I had seen other people doing amazing adventures, but I didn’t think it was something I would be able to do.”

Jenny, who was already an experienced cyclist, isn’t talking about the physical aspect, but rather her ability to plan the ride, raise the funds, gain sponsors and to envisage it happening.

She says: “I already knew I was good at riding long distances, but there was so much more to planning the record attempt. I needed the confidence to approach sponsors and supporters and to get them to believe I could do it.”

Jenny has also been part of several cycling projects, such as one for Sustrans. Credit; Andy McCandlish

The highs and lows of a round-world ride

Then, from her first pedal stroke on June 16, 2018, leaving the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin  behind, Jenny felt the freedom of “being able to simply ride my bike”.  

Unsurprisingly, there were positives and negatives of a solo challenge. While Jenny, who had her only child, Lachlan, at the age of 18, is chatty and gregarious, she reveals she likes being on her own. 

She says: “I do like riding with other people but for the round-the-world cycle it was easier to be doing my own thing. It meant there were fewer stresses and pressures of riding with others.

“I could go at my own pace and make my own plans as I went. Quite often, I’d just decide to have another coffee – and then get going, just like the book title says.”

However, there were times when Jenny admits she would have enjoyed the motivating drive of someone else. She says: “You have to learn to manage yourself. There is no one motivating you, no one to get you out of your bad mood and no one to put you in a good mood. There is also no one to blame for anything. You have to figure out your own rollercoaster of emotions and to watch for your natural highs and lows.

“I learned through the ride how to look after the mental side of me.” 

Fear also played a part in the earlier stages of the ride. Jenny says: “It could be too easy to tell yourself you are afraid of all sorts of things but I learned to work out what was real fear and when I was simply craving a bit of comfort.”

In Russia, when Jenny faced the danger of riding on the busy Trans Siberian Highway, she made the difficult decision to cycle through the night instead of day-time. She says: “There I was on Day 9, already breaking my rule that I wouldn’t cycle through the night too early in the trip. It did worry me that this would end up being a mistake but the highway traffic was a real fear.”

In Alaska, on another highway, the threat of bears saw her ringing a bell, playing music out loud and singing as she cycled.  “I was quite the picture, riding along that lonely highway,” she says, laughing again.

In the book, Jenny also explores the many “amazing experiences” of cycling overseas. 

She says: “There were many countries that were new to me. I enjoyed seeing new places, experiencing different cultures and benefitting from the kindness of strangers. So many times, the people who had the least give the most.

“This made me think a lot about how grateful I should be for the life I have in Scotland. Although I am not particularly financially wealthy in my culture, I have wealth in terms of freedom to make my own choices and to travel. 

“I’ve had great opportunities throughout my life, such as training in outdoor education and rewarding work supporting disadvantaged children. 

“And, there I was, too, feeling so lucky to be able to take off to cycle the around world.” 

…Then she wrote a book

It was October 18, 2018, when Jenny finished the record ride as she returned to the Brandenburg Gate. She says: “I can still remember the incredible feeling on that day. My mood was high. I felt giddy and I laughed with hysteria. I guess it felt unreal at the time.

“Looking back now, I could never have imagined what the ride would bring me on so many different levels, including so many new experiences, a new career and different expectations. 

“I’ve even written a book, which I would have thought to be completely impossible before I set off on the journey.”

  • Coffee First, Then The World: One Woman’s Record-Breaking Pedal Around the Planet is published by Bloomsbury.

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