I started my computer this morning and, as I have for the past couple of weeks, opened my browser and immediately checked up on the progress of Mark Beaumont. This Scot is currently involved in a world record attempt to cycle Around the World in 80 Days. As of today, 21st July, he’s on target.
When cycling in on my much more modest commute of 13 miles (Mark’s been banging out 240+ miles per day!), the thought occurred to me that we’re on similar journeys. Not my commute, but in the writing of my thesis. Mark’s just passed the quarter-way marker; I’m a little further behind, but we both wake each day knowing that we have to fulfil a daily target in order to meet our longer term goals. With the regular updates on social media, it’s been interesting to see the difference in Mark’s demeanour at the start and end of each day when he provides his video updates. In the morning, his voice is deeper and he appears rather downcast, but then he is facing 16 hours in the saddle before he can return to bed and repeat the (ahem) cycle. In the evening he always seems to be more upbeat, even on the days where the weather’s been foul or a headwind’s reduced his mileage for the day to 236!
I see some similarities in that; there’s always a sense of achievement in having completed a section of writing. As a writer, I too often have metaphorical headwinds and struggle to make the distance. Mark facing his 240 miles and sixteen hours each day is like me staring at the empty page, or at the next sub-section, but as he’s often remarked, you have to keep your mind both on those short term goals and at the same time play for the long game. We both share a need for good nutrition, good sleep and good health, something that Mark put into jeopardy when he came off the bike on Day 9. I’m glad to say (and here I cross my fingers firmly) I haven’t yet suffered a fall, but wonder what that might look like for a thesis writer. Maybe if I came off my real, rather than metaphorical, bike and did some serious damage, that might have an effect, but there’s no point in worrying about an event that’s not yet happened. I shall however be taking just that little more care when I set out on my summer cycle trip in a few weeks!
When he first got the round the world record as an unsupported rider, Mark didn’t have the extensive team he now has behind him. In order to maintain that brutal schedule, he can’t afford to be hauling an extra 30 kilos of equipment, be hunting round for accommodation each night, or spend time foraging for food. I too am blessed with a support team: with my wonderful supervisors, my fellow PhD students, Martina my study buddy in Germany, the Google Doctoral Study group, all the bloggers and podcasters who have shaped my thinking, and of course the amazing people on Twitter who have contributed to my research in so many different ways.
In a couple of days, Mark will be out of Russia and into Mongolia, then China and be hopping on a plane down to Perth as he puts his Europe and Asia behind him for Australia. I too will be completing chapters over the forthcoming months, but here the similarities end. I’m producing drafts which I know will need revisiting, redrafting and recrafting. I suspect Mark won’t be revisiting sections of road to re-ride them just because he didn’t get them quite right and could have got them better. His only arbiters are the clock, the calendar and the odometer; will he make the distance in the predetermined time? Mine will be the two examiners who judge the worth of my thesis and whether it fulfils the criteria needed to achieve the standard required of a PhD.
In the meantime, we both push on, Mark grinding out the miles and me the words. Barring mishaps,he’ll be done in a couple of months; I still have (barring mishaps) around a year. I wouldn’t swap. I don’t have the legs … or the mind!
Mark’s original 2008 journey as documented in ‘The Man Who cycled the World’
helped inspire me on my, albeit shorter, Land’s End to John O’Groats adventure. Celebrating my 50th year entitled me to set the bar slightly lower I feel. We also rode pretty much the same bike, although my more modest budget couldn’t stretch to a Rohloff hub. We’re both Scots … well, OK, me just 50%. And we both have beards … well, Mark just 50% of the time.