Aaron Rolph and Paul Guest cycled around 1800km in 7 days to visit 14 countries to break the official Guinness World Record. In his own words Aaron kindly looks back and recounts the key moments of this record breaking ride.
Who grew up in the UK in the 90s and didn’t watch BBC’s Record Breakers right? After browsing Guinness’ catalogue of impressive World records, I began to research how feasible breaking the existing record of visiting 13 countries by bicycle in 7 days might be…
After more hours on Strava and Google Maps than I care to remember, we had our provisional route all mapped out. After our fifth train pulled into the remote southern tip of Poland, we were ready to make history ... except it was raining hard and bloody freezing. Unfortunately, the summer had flown by and we were now entering November with the uncertainty of Brexit in full swing, this may have been our only chance to do this moving smoothly through EU borders.
Despite the serious mountain passes and high probability of experiencing adverse weather, we went with the ‘just back yourself’ mentality.
Deciding to “credit card tour”, staying in Hotels was key to packing relatively light but in order to be prepared for the -10 degrees temperatures, it was essential we had enough warm and light kit with us. Safe to say, though pleased with our 260km first day, day 2 revealed some seriously challenging conditions, and unlike when you’re out at the weekend, losing time or seeking shelter wasn’t going to be an option if we were to hit our goal. We were facing brutal head and cross winds, which we’d later learn was a storm serious enough to warrant having its own name, and also tragically claiming lives in the areas in which we were cycling. At a low point, I physically couldn’t even stay upright on the bike, having my bike blown from under me, hitting the tarmac hard. By what felt like some miracle however, our general direction changes soon after, to receive a partial tail wind and we’re back in the game! Managing another 250km despite the savage conditions, and another smooth 262km through Croatia the following day, we had charged through seven countries in just three days.
Despite being roughly on track, the following days would be make or break for the trip heading into more mountainous, and for us personally, into unfamiliar territory. Thus far the differences between countries had felt subtle however cycling over the bridge into Bosnia and leaving the EU presented a stark contrast. Despite a general lack of English spoken, we were welcomed with open arms by all those we met. Furthermore, the drivers were courteous and the roads quiet – a cyclist’s dream. The exhaustion of riding 14-15 hours per day whilst battling through November’s cold temperatures was definitely taking its toll.
The following couple of days were characterised by high peaks and deep troughs - thankfully we were blessed with some sunshine that seemed to keep us cranking. Most notably, we were undertaking some seriously isolated mountain passes with 35+km long ascents and similar descents. The remoteness of these cold areas should not be underestimated – a fact we were reminded of by a few distinct Wolf howls in the depths of Kosovo’s mountainous forests.
Complex relations between Serbia and Kosovo meant we had to plan our route carefully to avoid rejection going back into Serbia with Kosovo stamps in our passports (14 countries excludes Kosovo). The 3-4 hours after dark each night were undoubtedly some of the most mentally challenging riding of our trip but the promise of a warm hotel and some food would always keep us moving. Braving the dusty and dark roads into Macedonia’s capital, Skopje, signified our last stop over before what felt like the home run was upon us. Having completed the bulk of the big hills, and with only the shortest day to date to come, crossing over to Bulgaria and then finally to Greece was a more relaxed and enjoyable conclusion to our journey. Seven days later, we’d cycled over 1800km and visited 14 countries by bicycle, something that had never been done before.
Although the World Record status of our Breaking Borders challenge was at the core of every early morning start and the 15 hours ride each day, curiously very soon after it didn’t seem quite as significant. Soon after, I look back and am already more proud of the journey we took from Poland down to Greece and every experience along the way. Despite every limitation we had, potential excuses we could find or adversity we faced, we had the time of our lives - so whether you want to break a World Record or not, go and explore these regions by bicycle because I promise you won’t look back.