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World record attempt: cycling around Australia in 36 days

Alia Parker's picture
Reid Anderton attempting world record cycling around Australia. Cycle Traveller

Reid Anderton has been cycling for almost 11 hours straight when he answers my phone call. I've been hesitant about calling him; he has ridden more than 9,000km in less than 24 days on his mission to become the fastest person to cycle around Australia, and I don't want to get in his way. But I'm assured by a member of his support crew that I should call him.

The wind is blowing into the phone making it hard to hear, the same wind that has been torturing the father from Brisbane as he edges closer to entering the record books. He slows down to chat.

"I have been struggling," Anderton says as he makes his way towards Norseman, Western Australia – the closest town to the western edge of the Nullarbor Plain. "The body is extremely sore."

That's no understatement. Anderton is just over half way through day 23 of his ride and averaging 382km a day since heading north out of Brisbane on March 10, across the top end and down the western coast of Australia. He's on track to set the new world record, but due to treacherous conditions, he's tracking slower than he had hoped. For the past eight days since leaving Darwin, Anderton has been fighting constant headwinds, sometimes averaging up to 40km an hour along the coast of Western Australia.

"It has been very disheartening that side of it, knowing that I have to spend an extra three or four hours on the bike [because of the wind]," he says. "By the time I'm finished I can only get, at the moment, between three and five hours sleep."

Record in sight

The lack of sleep and endless riding is taking its toll on his body, but despite the conditions, Anderton is pushing forward impressively and is on track to complete the ride in a record 36 days. He had been targeting 35 days.

"We're hoping conditions will change a bit, but we're still there, we're still on the bike," he says. "We're pacing some reasonable averages, which keeps us in the game as far as the record's concerned."

That record was set in 2011 by Dave Alley, a Queensland police officer who circled the country in 37 days, 20 hours and 45 minutes, or around 377km a day. Alley's ride, however, was not registered with Guinness World Records. The official book gives the honour to Hubert Schwarz of Germany, who knocked over 14,183 km (8,813 miles) around the coastline in 42 days, 8 hours and 25 minutes back in 1993. That's an average of about 337km a day.

In order to stay in the game due to the headwinds, Anderton has been forced to ride extreme hours. Dan Brown from Anderton's support team says the rider was on the road at 7am that day and would ride through to about 2am. A few days earlier he cycled 537km in one session, stopped for a coffee, snored his way through a one hour massage and got straight back on the bike to finish up at 770km before taking a nap.

Under such duress, a staunch mental attitude to attaining his goal is what keeps Anderton moving.

Passion and pain

Anderton, who was a recreational cyclist before setting out on this challenge, says there are two things that keep him going: his purpose and the people supporting him.

His purpose is something very close to his heart. Anderton set out to break the world record in order to raise funds for Eagles Wings, a not-for-profit aid and development organisation that supports children in the poorest regions of Africa. It's a charity that he is the National Director of in Australia and one that he helped establish more than 12 years ago since first being exposed to the extreme poverty that impacts the daily lives of children in parts of Africa.

"Knowing what they go through, that's really a motivating factor," he says. "I've got a week and a half to two weeks left before the end point of my pain, but for the kids that we work with, there's no end in sight. It keeps me extremely motivated."

And then there's the support of the people around him. Anderton says he wouldn't be able to do this without his team, his friends and family and the support of complete strangers who send him encouragement via social media and phone calls, which he sometimes takes while riding.

"If I was riding around Australia with no purpose and nobody was taking an interest, I don't think I would have the strength to keep riding. Mentally, I would have been finished a couple of weeks ago," he says. "Other than that, it's just sheer stubbornness."

Homeward bound

The wind is beginning to drown out the conversation. In a few hours Reid will have reached the desert outpost of Norseman and by the time you read this he will have set out to tackle the notorious Nullarbor Plain.

"I'm actually looking forward to it because I get to point my wheels directly east," he says. It's a mental triumph that sets him in the direction of home on the east coast of Australia.

"I know that there could be some bad winds, but it's not going to be any worse than what we had on the coast of WA. And so I'm ready for that."

Reid is expected to reach Brisbane on about Monday, April 15. You can follow Reid's progress or donate to his charity on The Challenge for Change website.

Image: Reid Anderton cycling along the southern coast of Western Australia on his Specialized time trial bike. Photo courtesy of Eagles Wings.

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