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It's almost five years since Jenny Graham pedalled her Shand Stooshie away from the Brandenburg Gate in Germany to attempt a record-breaking, self-supported round-the-world ride. While it was possible to dot watch and keep updated with her progress at the time via communications from CyclingUK and the Adventure Syndicate, we've had to wait until now to read Jenny's own personal account of her adventure. Having read Coffee First, Then The World, I'd say it was worth waiting for. It launches next week and Jenny is also doing a book tour, starting on 12th April, with talks (and rides) happening at various locations across the UK.
At the start of the book, Jenny talks about the evening prior to her departure. She discusses feeling 'overcome with self-doubt' and being completely out of her depth (triggered by an issue with route uploading). At the end of the book, she admits that writing has never been her forte, indeed it's never appealed. The prospect of a book might well have been more overwhelming to her than that of circumnavigating the globe on two wheels, without any support. Having read the book, I'd say she's succeeded in overcoming her fears, again. The book is a thoroughly enjoyable and frank account.
After some discussion of her early years and a background to the round-the-world motivation, the book turns into what is best described as a candid journal. Virtually every day of the tour is documented. Each day includes locations, sleeping conditions and distance stats, followed by a commentary from Jenny. She rarely breaks away from the flow of the journal, and when she does, it's normally in recognition of something that has positively impacted her life and/or the challenge.
Without giving away too much detail, the commentaries paint an honest picture of Jenny's physical and mental state throughout the ride, as well as recalling memorable events, both positive and perilous. The style of writing reflects her attitude to breaking the world record – or, rather, smashing the world record! She never dwells on one single anecdote or description for long; what needs to be said is said, then the narrative moves on. On the other hand, it's definitely possible to sense when she is riding through impressive landscapes or witnessing a natural spectacle; things slow down just a little and her writing becomes more descriptive.
Encounters on the road, both human and animal, always get a mention, albeit briefly. They are frank, entertaining and invariably analysed by Jenny as battles with her own conscience (for riding away). She also freely admits making mistakes out on the road. All of this really makes you warm to her character; exceptionally tough on so many levels but a hundred per cent compassionate and human inside.
While any avid cyclist or tourer will relate to many of Jenny's quotes, for example, 'Acceptance is the greatest mindset of all on the road. You don't have to be gloriously happy in a storm, but accepting it is what makes for an easier passage', and, 'There is a freedom that comes from carrying your own home with you...You soon whittle down your wants and settle on your actual needs', she doesn't assume that all her readers are cyclists. Brief explanations of technical terms, dangers and joys of being on the open road and the ins and outs of specific gear are all explained. So, if you've finished reading it and hand it to your non-cycling partner to enjoy, it won't go over their head (though it may confirm that cyclists are just a little bit crazy).
One of the major and, in my opinion, most impressive aspects of Jenny's record was the self-supported element. The pros and cons of this are conveyed well in the book, as are the strategies and coping mechanisms that Jenny rolled out with, and developed over time. Again, I don't want to give too much away here...
In short, I've loved reading Coffee First, Then The World. I felt it could have benefited from some pictures (in addition to the few on the back cover), and a map of her route. Perhaps there's a reason for this omission. I've found myself wanting to know more about the ride; the book races through the adventure as quickly as Jenny raced around the world. I guess that's why she is touring off the back of its publication, to talk more about her adventure (as she finds that more enjoyable than writing about them).
Without trying to sound too much like a teacher, I'd say, as with most presentations about books, try to read the book before you go to the talk (if you plan to); you'll get so much more out of it.
Overall, it's an honest, easy-to-read account of an inspiring, record-smashing ride. It'll change your view of 'suffering on a bike' while simultaneously fuelling a desire to challenge yourself.
Excellent, honest, easy-to-read account of an inspiring, record-smashing ride
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Coffee First, Then the World by Jenny Graham
Size tested: n/a
Tell us what the product is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
In 2018, Jenny Graham broke the round-the-world cycling record by nearly three weeks. This book is her story of this unsupported, solo adventure.
From the publisher:
In 2018, amateur cyclist Jenny Graham left family and friends behind in Scotland to become the fastest woman to cycle around the world. Alone and unsupported, she crossed the finish line at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin four months later, smashing the female record by nearly three weeks.
With infectious wit and honesty, Jenny brings readers into her remarkable Round the World adventure, as she takes on four continents, 16 countries – and countless cups of coffee. Her journey swerves from terrifying near road collisions in Russia and weather extremes in Australia to breathtaking landscapes in Mongolia and exhilarating wildlife encounters in North America. Tight on time and money, she resorts to fixing her bike on the fly, sleeping on roadsides and often riding through the night to stay on track and complete her mission.
As she battles physical and mental challenges to race against the clock, Jenny gradually opens up to the joy of the adventure and all its daily discoveries. She gives in to her impulse to connect with people, making friends with strangers across the globe and embracing new cultures.
Coffee First, Then the World is her account of a record-breaking ride, and how one woman and a humble bike conquered the world.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Published 13 Apr 2023
Imprint Bloomsbury Sport
Dimensions 234 x 153 mm
Publisher Bloomsbury Publishing
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
How Jenny's character comes through, and how frank she is; there are no bells and whistles here (unless they are being used to scare off bears).
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Lack of images.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
An honest, engaging and easy-to-read account of an inspiring record-breaking ride. I'd have loved a few images, or possibly a few maps of the tracks used.
About the tester
I usually ride: Road My best bike is: Carbon road.
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, touring, club rides, general fitness riding, Getting to grips with off roading too!
Emma’s first encounters with a road bike were in between swimming and running. Soon after competing for GB in the World Age Group Triathlon Championships in Edmonton in 2001 she saw the light and decided to focus on cycling.
After a couple of half decent UK road seasons racing for Leisure Lakes, she went out to Belgium to sample the racing there and spent two years with Lotto-Belisol Ladies team, racing alongside the likes of Sara Carrigan, Grace Verbeke, Rochelle Gilmore and Lizzie Deignan. Emma moved from Lotto-Belisol to Dutch team Redsun, then a new Belgian team of primarily developing riders, where there was less pressure, an opportunity to share her experience and help build a whole new team; a nice way to spend her final years of professional racing.
Since retiring Emma has returned to teaching. When not coercing kids to do maths, she is invariably out on two wheels. In addition to the daily commute, Emma still enjoys getting out on her road bike and having her legs ripped off on the local club rides and chain gangs. She has also developed an addiction to touring, with destinations including Iceland, Georgia and Albania, to mention just a few. There have also been rare sightings of Emma off-road on a mountain bike…