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Chasing Lines: My World Record Pursuit Cycling Unsupported Across Europe 6292km, 9 Countries, Two Wheels, One Man

Chasing Lines: My World Record Pursuit Cycling Unsupported Across Europe 6292km, 9 Countries, Two Wheels, One Man

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Chasing Lines: My World Record Pursuit Cycling Unsupported Across Europe 6292km, 9 Countries, Two Wheels, One Man

268 Seiten
4 Stunden
Jan 9, 2019


When James McLaren saw a shiny blue bike at age thirteen, it was love at first sight. Two years after buying it, he cycled two hundred miles from Canterbury to Portsmouth along the southeast coast of England. He enjoyed riding somewhere he’d never been before, and even though there was a lot of rain, it was great fun. As the years went by, there would be other bikes, lots of roads traveled, and numerous injuries, but one thing stayed the same: McLaren loved to ride. Fast forward to 2016, and McLaren sought to do the unthinkable: cycling from Ufa, Russia, to Cabo Da Roca, Portugal, without a sponsor in a bid to set a Guinness World Record. In Chasing Lines, he recalls his journey, weaving in stories about other cycling adventures and how the sport has taught him valuable lessons about the importance of moving forward—no matter what. Join an amateur cyclist as he quits his job and chases a dream across nine countries, from the Ural Mountains of Russia to the coast of Portugal.
Jan 9, 2019

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Chasing Lines - James McLaren


Copyright © 2019 James McLaren.

Interior Image Credit: James McLaren

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored, or transmitted by any means—whether auditory, graphic, mechanical, or electronic—without written permission of the author, except in the case of brief excerpts used in critical articles and reviews. Unauthorized reproduction of any part of this work is illegal and is punishable by law.

This book is a work of non-fiction. Unless otherwise noted, the author and the publisher make no explicit guarantees as to the accuracy of the information contained in this book and in some cases, names of people and places have been altered to protect their privacy.

ISBN: 978-1-4834-9407-4 (sc)

ISBN: 978-1-4834-9406-7 (e)

Library of Congress Control Number: 2018913892

Because of the dynamic nature of the Internet, any web addresses or links contained in this book may have changed since publication and may no longer be valid. The views expressed in this work are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher, and the publisher hereby disclaims any responsibility for them.

Any people depicted in stock imagery provided by Getty Images are models, and such images are being used for illustrative purposes only.

Certain stock imagery © Getty Images.

Lulu Publishing Services rev. date: 12/21/2018




What am I doing? I thought to myself, as I sat in a room on the ninth floor in a nice hotel in Ufa, Russia, staring at my bike all boxed-up in cardboard. Before I left for the biggest cycle trip of my life, that hotel was one of the first things I had booked - one of the requirements when applying for a Russian Visa. I had spent all of five minutes booking it on my iPhone, the main draw being free cancellation, because at the time, I was thinking, As if I’ll manage to get this trip off the ground…

But I hadn’t cancelled, and there I was, thousands of miles from home, with just my bike as my return ticket.

I was about to attempt to beat the World Record for the Fastest Cycle Across Europe. This was my first time doing anything remotely like this, so everything was new to me. Essentially, I was about to make countless mistakes, learning what on Earth I was doing along the way to a single goal: cross Europe on a bike in record time. Solo.

I had planned this extra day at the start of my trip because, in my research, I had found that you have to get a visa registered when you first get to Russia if you are planning on staying for any longer than a week. My brother Alastair, who had visited Russia for work, had said he had to hand over his passport for a day to get his visa registered. In my case, the hotel staff did it overnight when I arrived.

This situation is typical - until you are there, you don’t know the realities but must plan for the worst. So I did a lot of research before my trip – including hearsay. Visas have always been a big worry for me as there are so many options to choose from - until I arrive, I never know if I have chosen the right one. Every time airport security looks at my paperwork, I stand there thinking, Please let me through. These worries come with going solo, and I knew it was all on me.

It was a great feeling to have landed in Ufa, gotten the bike and made it to the hotel - just like ticking off a checklist. After the visa was sorted out, it was no bad thing to have a day to get some rest and build the bike, go through all my kit – which I had been through a thousand times - and pack it correctly on the bike so I would feel good to go. The last thing I wanted was to forget something right then or rush and break something.

On a previous trip across the Andes mountains, my bike was delayed by a day in Santiago, Chile, and I felt I was up against it on a ride that I knew would already be tough. When the bike finally arrived, I put it together in the airport parking lot in the boiling heat, as fast as I could. Thirty miles into the first day, I had axle issues. Luckily, I managed to get it repaired by a young lad in the smallest bicycle shop I had ever seen. Still, I couldn’t help but think, Was I not supposed to pull the wheel’s axles out when I dismantled it to box the bike? Could I have lost some bearings, or was it just worn and making the whole wheel wobble?

This time, I was embarking on a much bigger trip, and a day to get ready was most welcome. The worst start is when you leave, then straight away issues occur. My experience in the Andes really nailed it home for me to breathe and take my time. I suffer from a tendency to be impatient (some may say that’s an understatement) so I really have to focus on my flaws and make sure I do things correctly. This trip wasn’t just going to be a physical challenge but also a logistical nightmare. In the build-up, I had run through so many situations meticulously in my head. What if this, what if that, over and over usually while driving my van at work. Then I would come up with a solution. So it had been a long time coming to get to this hotel room.

The first job in the morning on a trip like this: eat. I went downstairs to reception, which was empty except for a big, Russian security man. Everywhere has a security man, as I was soon to learn. I managed to find the person who had my visa registration paperwork (good for my Guinness World Record evidence) from the night before. The in-hotel restaurant was completely empty, a trait that I would come across a lot in Russia. A young waitress came out, and here began my first Russian-language encounter.

It’s very hard using a completely different alphabet. I sat on my own in a big, quiet, empty room, with no menu and just words. It was pushing on the impossible for me. The waitress brought over some food labels, so I used the pointing method for what I recognised - happy days! Omelette, eggs, and sausages, but the waitress simply replied, Is that all? It seemed like a lot to me, but then as I sat waiting I wondered, What have I really ordered? All I know is I want to eat as much as possible for what’s to come. As I was rapidly trying to learn more Russian from my phrase book, flicking through the pages at the table, she returned, and sadly, it was not a lot of food. This was going to be a long ride.

The goals of the day were to find the Ufa train station, the starting point stated by the Guinness World Records rules, and then get some food supplies for the next day. It felt good to be riding my bike, around Ufa as steadily as I could, despite having physio tape still wrapped around my knee cap from a last minute attempt to solve a niggle I was struggling with.

I rolled to the station with a mix of excitement and anxiousness. I found supplies in a shop: bananas, bread, and the rest. then took a short tourist ride around town. Seeing some Russian dancing in the square, I began to feel as if I was enjoying the process a little more; it was not just a challenge, but an adventure. I always prefer to ride in places that are different, after all. I grabbed a McDonald’s and headed back to my hotel - yes, McDonald’s, I was just eating whatever I could find, and as much of it as possible.

I decided that it was best to spend the afternoon resting, eating and stretching. However, time with my thoughts is not always a good thing, Now that everything was done it was just a ticking clock till the kick-off the next morning. The bike was packed, my kit was laid out, and I knew where to go. Now what to think about? Oh yeah, and what lies ahead?


Found station and got supplies for start tomorrow. Sitting around is driving me mad.

I was mainly thinking about the Russian highways and their notorious drunk drivers, with me trying to navigate through them on my bike for the next 550 miles of the M5 highway from Ufa. The roads will be littered more with lorries and trucks than cars. I will be just a mere speck to them. The road’s hard shoulder will be non-existent, I think.

The previous night, I hadn’t slept well, with thoughts swimming around my slightly jet-lagged head in a dark, quiet room. I was beginning to doubt that this night would be much better. Dwelling on the future would do me no good, but I found it hard not to. It was not doing my confidence any good, and I wanted to take my mind off it. I knew that as soon as I set off I would be fine and just existing in the moment. I knew what I was doing, it’s just that the sitting around drove me crazy. Plus, I felt quite selfish knowing that everyone back home would be worrying about me.

The afternoon dragged on; the TV in my hotel room was all in Russian. Luckily the Formula 1 was on and it was in Russia, so at least there was something to watch. My stomach was turning, and I wanted something to keep me busy, but all I could do was sit on the bed, stretch and prepare myself as best I could. I felt a million miles from home here, and the longer I waited, the more anxious I became, thinking about what I was about to attempt.

This was a solo journey, un-supported, just the way I wanted it. I felt that having a support wasn’t the real deal - it wouldn’t be an adventure then, it would just be more of a cycling challenge. I couldn’t predict what was to lie ahead, but I had thought out and prepared everything I could, and that was all I could really ask of myself. While my mind worried about my aching knee - not the best thing to give me confidence - I spent the evening massaging it with Ibuprofen gel before getting my head down.

Could I sleep? Could I heck!


It all made it to Ufa, thankfully. Hotel prep time.



How I Ended Up Here

As a kid in my home village Bradworthy, in North Devon, England, I had taken up athletics at twelve years old. I loved football, like most kids, but there were not enough players for a team in my age group. One day, my dentist Michael Gilmore, mentioned the athletic club he belonged to. I had been quite good at running in primary school, but when I went along to my first cross country race I got destroyed! It was a typical case of a big fish in a small pond thrown into the ocean; last place, last race of the day - marshals were even waiting for me to finish so they could pick up the course markers. I decided that I didn’t want to run - it was embarrassing and I hated it. Somehow, though, I was persuaded to keep at it. I went to training session after training session, and eventually I began to get more into it. Running became my focus for years.

A couple of years later, my knees were sore with typical growing pains. I was in a cycle shop in Kilkhampton, Cornwall, with my dad and there, standing proud, was a shiny, blue road bike. I knew nothing of cycling apart from the buzz of riding around on my mountain bike. I would often get home from school, get my bike out, and go for rides around the country lanes. We lived on a farm and there was no shortage of quiet back roads in North Devon around Bradworthy. I would get my backpack and just cycle a loop - somewhere, anywhere. But that day my interest was sparked. So the next day, I decided to try to convince dad to get that shiny, blue road bike, with the idea that if I could get him to buy it for himself, then I could use it.

His response shocked me. You can get it from your savings if you want, he said. Huh, I thought, I’ve never been allowed to spend from my savings before. I was thirteen years old and had one of those mystical savings accounts full of my Christmas present money. Slightly nervous, I replied, Okay. £250 later and I was going home with a small frame, blue Diamond Back Expert road bike! It had twenty-one gears on the thin, steel frame. I wasn’t quite sure how I had ended up at home with this, having spent half my life savings at the age of thirteen, but I was very proud of it. And, until I was twenty-eight years old, it was my only bike - you could say I ended up getting quite attached to it!

At first, cycling was just a fun thing that I’d do to help improve my running; cycling evenings and on occasion cycling to Bideford, 15 miles away, to train with the Bideford Blues Athletics Club and pedal back again. Whenever I would get injured, the trusty blue bike would come out - as bikes often do for runners.

But one day, when I was fifteen, I was talking to my older cousin Matthew and he told me about these weekend rides he had done with his dad, my Uncle Phil. I loved this idea - strap some stuff to the bike and go on an adventure! So our plans began… Our own adventure was set in motion. We cycled a 200-mile ride over four days from Canterbury to Portsmouth along the south-east coast of England. I enjoyed riding somewhere I’d never been before, it felt more exciting. I remember a lot of rain, but it was great fun.

The next year we ventured further - to France. A 2-week trip, camping and cycling northern France in the summer holidays. It was very exciting, a cycling trip abroad. I had been to France on family holidays, Euro camping, and had taken my mountain bike along countless times as a kid. Beaches, warm weather, and a ferry trip - it’s not an adventure without a boat trip in it somewhere, in my opinion.

But the cycling was still just fitting around my running. Running had taken all of my focus and I had dreams of succeeding. The cycle trip to France was to strengthen my legs, I told myself. I was never into the Tour de France and had no idea about bikes or racing, I just liked packing it up and going on a mini adventure - it was exciting! I remember getting the ferry to France from Plymouth at 16, looking out over the sea and riding that evening, thinking that I could go on forever doing this. Obviously, tiredness kicks in pretty quick and then you’re forced to re-think that optimism.

We had a great time, Matty taking the lead on anything that involved speaking French and me learning the one word avec- with to distinguish orange juice with bits. That’s as far as my language learning got. 2 weeks later we arrived home after covering about 600 miles with days on the beach, days riding and a lot of sun. I did most the navigating but Matty would do anything that took pretty much any intellect, including dealing with the inevitable breakdowns.

The running continued until the next year. Now turning 17 and owning a car I still wanted to pack the bike and go. This 2-week trip was similar, just with Matty on the phone to his new girlfriend at any free moment we got. They’re married now, so I guess its ok. Rain and wind raged for the whole trip. Most shops and restaurants were closed, as we were out of season, trying to fit the ride in between our summer jobs. It wasn’t the most memorable trip.

That last day’s ride I do remember, though. We had 100 miles left to travel from Dorset to North Devon, and both of us were attempting to get home to the girlfriends early. The thought of achieving 100-mile day looked like quite an accomplishment at the time and a great buzz to end on. We were growing up and life was beginning to get in the way as it does. That was the end of our trips. We had talked of trying out Lands’ end to John O’Groats, but that was more Matty’s cup of tea - I was never interested in England, I liked going somewhere different. The length of France to Spain was my dream.

Years passed and running was still my focus, with the bike still appearing through injuries. At one point, I was living in Portsmouth, quite broke, working in ASDA supermarket. My parents visited one weekend, so I decided to ask for my blue bike. I had a mountain bike already, but I had been struggling with injuries and boredom - I needed a challenge and I had no money. The bike is great for that. I’ll cycle home in one day, I resolved.

It was a 200-mile journey. It was the end of November, I hadn’t ridden a bike in over a year and had a 30 mph raining headwind to contend with the whole way. I started at 4 am with no lights, and for food I remember huddling up in someone’s porch out of the rain with nothing but a warm bag of chips. I made it 130 miles to Exeter along the hilly south coast of England, and ended up exhausted and shivering behind a dumpster waiting to get picked up by my Mum. I had never failed before at a goal like this. But I was naïve, and it took me days to recover.

Years later I found myself back in Devon living in Exeter as an apprentice at my new job at BT (British Telecom). The running was not going so well. 5 hard years of a nasty injury had taken its toll. I would get shooting pains down the front of my lower left leg, and no one could help. The doctors in Exeter more or less gave up on me and suggested, after a lot of physio, that I simply shouldn’t run any more. I was swimming five days a week (and hating it), still holding on to a dream of just being able to run again. I’d never reached my ultimate goals in running, I never got a second shot at that 200-mile ride, and never cycled to Spain either. It felt like there were so many dreams that I had lost my chance to realise.

My leg improves. I still can’t run, but I can ride. So, during the summer, I get my favourite blue bike out and set out to cycle to Portsmouth from home. I train for 2 weeks and, feeling a little more prepared, head home for the weekend. I text my mate Mark Wade, or Wadie:

You fancy picking me up after a ride this weekend, I’ll pay the fuel?

- Where?

- Portsmouth…

I can’t remember his actual response but it was along the lines of you must be kidding! But he agreed - after calling me an idiot.

I didn’t tell my mother. Considering that the last time she picked me up I was in quite a bad way behind a dumpster, I didn’t think she’d be too keen on the idea.

So, at 1:30 am I was up and on the bike by 2. I took one of my dad’s cheap head torches this time, but it was raining so it pretty much just flashed in my face illuminating the rain in front of me. I had no idea why I was doing this, and swore to myself, never again. Not an hour goes by and I get a flat tyre. Are you kidding? I get it fixed with my weak head torch and cheap puncture patches. Punctures have never been my strong point. Another hour goes by and the tyre is good.

Then, in the middle of nowhere, I meet a police car. It’s only 4 am, and I’m still about 30 miles from starting. Blue lights going, he stops me:

Where are you heading? he asked.

Uh, Portsmouth…

The flashlight is instantly put in my face. It’s soaking wet, my eyes are red and my hands oily and my silly headlight flashing.

I don’t know how to direct you there…

Turns out, there was a milk tanker rolled over in the road. I plead with the officer to let me through. Smart phones weren’t yet around and I had no map, but I knew this part. There’s no way around, he tells me, and he was right, it’s hedge-to-hedge blocked. I didn’t want to cycle a meter extra, but there was no choice, I had to take a gamble on a detour.

Thankfully, I lucked out and found myself back on track just a few miles later. The day goes on. It was tough, but my good old bike got me there. 200 miles in one day - at least I had achieved that, even if it did almost break me.

Before long my dad egged me into a local 100 km sportive cycle event as I can’t run, I had no idea what this was but a 100 km cycle race from Bideford. I had never raced or even ridden with anyone apart from Matty. I did a 30 mile training ride and spent the Saturday pumping my tyres up on good old bluey. I was told it was low-key - anyone takes part. even on

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