Cult survivor becomes 'first woman' to circumnavigate the world by bike (at least by Guinness World Record rules)
English language teacher from Naples completes 18,000-mile journey
A 32-year-old English language teacher from Naples is believed to have become the first woman to circumnavigate the world by bicycle using a route that complies with the requirements of Guinness World Records. Juliana Buhring, who had only been riding a road bike in earnest for eight months prior to embarking on her trip in July, undertook the 18,000 mile journey in part to raise awareness of the Safe Passage Foundation charity that she and two of her sisters founded to help children brought up within a cult, as they had been.
Buhring was born in Greece within the Family of Love cult, previously known as the Children of God, which her British father had joined in the 1970s. The cult's members engaged in serial child abuse, with Buhring and her siblings among the victims, charting their experience in a book, Not Without My Sister, published in 2007.
Her experience of life in the cult, which included frequent moves between countries and even continents, was the subject of an article in the Sunday Telegraph's Seven magazine earlier this year.
The round-the-world ride, during which Buhring spent a total of 152 days on the bike - previously, days in transit by boat or plane didn't count, but a change in the rules set by Guinness World Records mean they now do have to be taken into consideration - took her through 18 countries, reports the Sunday Telegraph.
While there's no doubt that she is, perhaps surprisingly, the first woman to undertake such a circumnavigation - there have of course been other notable long-distance female cyclists, not least Britain's own Josie Dew - the journey now needs to be ratified by Guinness World Records if it is to become the official benchmark.
The rules require that the distance travelled must be the same as the circumference of the earth - 24,900 miles - and that at least 18,000 miles of that must be travelled by bike. The start and finish points of the itinerary must be the same, and it also has to pass through two antipodal points.
Other women who have cycled round the world have chosen routes that would have fallen down on one or more of those criteria, although it should be pointed out that the first male record ride recognised by Guinness wasn't until 1984, set by Nick Sanders under rules that no longer apply, nine decades after the first female had ridden round the world.
That ride was undertaken by an American, Annie Londonderry - real name, Annie Cohen Kopchovsky - was the first woman to ride around the world, which she did for a bet in 1894-95, although the ride took place entirely inside the Northern Hemisphere and wouldn't therefore satisfy the requirements regarding antipodal points, for a start. Nevertheless, given the times, it was an incredible achievement and you can read her fascinating story here.
Among others known to have circled the globe are another British cyclist, the late Anne Mustoe, who did so twice, and one of whose books, A Bike Ride, inspired Bristol woman Astrid Domingo Molyneux to do likewise in 2008-10.
If you know of any other women who have completed a circumnavigation by bike, and particularly one thayt would satisfy the Guinness World Record rules, please let us know in the comments below.
Speaking to the Sunday Telegraph after completing her ride, Buhring said: "It feels surreal to stop. 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."
As she headed through Italy towards her adopted home city and the conclusion of her journey, which had taken her across the United States and onto Australia, New Zealand and through Asia back to Europe, she encountered heavy snowfalls and sub-zero temperatures, "But I was trailed by about 100 cyclists who rode with me along the coast into Naples, which made that fun."
Her lack of experience in long-distance cycling and absence of commercial sponsorship led to scepticism in some quarters that she was up to the challenge when she left Naples, the city where the 2013 Giro d'Italia will get under way next May.
"From the beginning, everybody told me I wasn't ready," she explained, although the newspaper points out that she had been undertaking training with an Italian sports scientist who had worked with pro cyclists - the name isn't recorded - and had received backing from actress Maria Grazia Cucinotta, who had appeared in the movie Il Postino.
"Nobody believed I would make it, certainly not all the way around the world," she went on. "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 news of her trip spread through social networks, however, people from around the world rallied to her cause.
"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," she said.
Among hazards she encountered on her trip were being chased by dogs in Turkey and attacked by birds in Australia. Those weren't the only hazards.
"The first time I got into trouble was crossing the mountains in New Zealand," she revealed. "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."
Luckily, she spotted a camper van parked at the roadside. "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."
Another memorable moment happened in Europe as the journey neared its end. "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."
Buhring's www.julianabuhring.com has a video page which includes footage from Italian newspaper La Reppubblica of her arrival in Naples' Piazza del Plebescito at the end of what will hopefully be ratified as her record-setting ride. There is also more information about her journey on her World Cycle page on Facebook.