You like to think you can understand people, work them out. Understand their contribution. But every now and then you meet someone who is difficult to place.
I first heard of James Bowthorpe as he was preparing to attempt a world record for cycling around the world. If I’m right this involved cycling 120 miles a day for just over 150 days, covering 18,000 miles or so.
In some ways attempting a world record involving endurance is not that uncommon. What did interest me though was the extraordinary amount of money that James was attempting to raise to help research into a particular treatment for Parkinson’s Disease. You see while I was aiming to raise Â£2000 for a pootle around the UK, James was going for Â£1.5m. Later I realised that he was never going to get near that total, but for him a massive target was worth going for. The Â£120,000 he eventually raised was 60 times more than my goal. An amazing achievement, never mind the world record.
The second thing that amazed me, I only discovered recently. You see, I understood that by cycling around the world in 174 days, James had broken the record. So I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t seeing his name as the record holder. The truth, I found on his blog the other day. And I’ll leave James to explain in his own words.
‘In 2009 I cycled around the world in 174 days and 5 hours. I never did finish that Guinness World Record application, even though Iâ€™d beaten the existing time by about 20 days. Why? Because, although important to me in terms of a personal challenge, the record wasnâ€™t my main reason for being out there.
Cycling is, for me, an expression of independence and self-reliance. For my â€˜round the world ride, it was also an physical expression of how I feel about a Parkinsonâ€™s Disease research charity where Iâ€™ve either been volunteering or working for the last 4 years. I wanted a big box to stand on to point at what they do, and cycling around the world really fast was the biggest box I could find. When I got back weâ€™d raised Â£120,000 off the back of it; thatâ€™s a lot of money, but it isnâ€™t enough. There were lots of people telling me how Iâ€™d done this amazing, difficult thing. All I could think was that it wasnâ€™t as difficult as doing groundbreaking research, on a shoestring budget, for decades’.
So while Chris Hoy no doubt is well worthy of being knighted, the real heroes are perhaps the ones that don’t fill the forms in, the ones who aim for impossible targets and getting part of the way is still way further than most of us will ever get.
Well, he’s off again shortly and aiming to ride 300 miles a day in the RAAM (race across America), a coast to coast endurance race over 3500 miles. And you can see his progress on his website (and sponsor him as well).
I met James briefly in Bristol last year (at John McFaul’s brilliant cycle festival). As you would imagine, he is a lovely bloke, quiet and unassuming (though as I remember he did do a very nice DJ spot after his talk).
So here’s to the ones that don’t fill in the forms, and here’s to the ones that aim for the impossible and sometimes get near to it. I really hope that one day we can say that James was the one who helped towards the big breakthrough in finding a cure for Parkinson’s Disease, and didn’t he do a couple of bike trips on the way?