SIMON HUTCHINSON SMILES, though it is through gritted teeth.
As he looks out of his kitchen window sheets of rain have turned the morning from mild to miserable, “Maybe it’s just as well I’m not cycling today.”
He knows that is what most people would say, and that they would welcome the luxury of a rare lift through the cold and wet. But Hutchinson is not most people and his frustration is thinly veiled. The clock is ticking; he should be pedalling, preparing to put his body and mind through the ultimate test.
Instead, his bike lies upside down in the repair shop.
On 18 February he will be in London. 160 days before the Olympics’ opening ceremony, Greenwich will be the start/finish line for the biggest adventure of his life, the Global Bicycle Race; an 18,000 mile solo time trial around the world.
That means carrying all his own equipment; clothing, tent, food and tools for the inevitable repairs needed to his bike which may not be replaced.
There is no predetermined route, his itinerary choices are his own. The only stipulation set by race founder Vin Cox (who holds the circumnavigation record of 163 days) is that riders must pass through two antipodal points which, in Hutchinson’s case will take him through northern Peru and southern Thailand.
Looking up at the map he is undaunted, just keen to get stuck in and connect the dots between each exotic destination. His infectious enthusiasm makes the greatest journey sound like a hop, skip and jump: “London to Istanbul, Mumbai to Calcutta,” he chimes, it all sounds so easy.
An idea inspired by a documentary following Mark Beaumont’s 2008 circumnavigation, it quickly mushroomed to a dream in the back of Hutchinson’s mind. It was never likely to remain there for long and it caused the young carpentry apprentice to become restless, claustrophobic and he began to re-assess the path ahead:
“I knew my (carpentry) course was ending” Hutchinson tells TheScore, “and I was going to find it very hard to get a job, so what was I going to do? Would I go back to Wolverhampton to work in the kitchen joinery?”
No, as it turned out, and one day a conversation with his girlfriend, Nicola, turned to his hopes and goals for the short, medium and long term.
“I told her I wanted to cycle around the world before I’m 25. I was 23 at the time and she said: ‘Well, you better get to it then!’” Get to it, he did. There was no turning back now; a monster was created, a coiled spring inside him had been released.
“I just had to say screw the apprenticeship! I wanna do what I wanna do. Everyone tells you ‘do it when you’re young, when you have time.’ “Well, this is my time! Nobody is going to tell you when it’s time, you have to decide for yourself, and I did.”
Whereas previous round-the-world cyclists have lived and breathed bikes, working as either cycling instructors or as designers of state of the art touring frames, Hutchinson (Ireland’s only entrant to the race’s growing field of 20) is much closer to normality and the tag of ‘endurance athlete’ was never one he played up to.
Until recently Simon worked the 4pm to midnight shift in a Carrickmacross factory. The constraint made for a very abnormal training regime whereby, each day, he would cycle the 27-kilometre commute from his home in Bailieborough, across the Monaghan border, and back again in the pitch black of night.
Sadly, that job has now become another unwanted statistic but Hutchinson is quick to put a positive spin on the situation, chirping “I’m a full time cyclist now.”
Indeed, there is more than enough to fill his newly-found free time. A targeted record of 150 days is almost a secondary goal. First and foremost is the epilepsy charity close to his heart (Brainwave Ireland) for whom Simon has promised a minimum €15,000.
He has plenty of previous in putting his body through the mill for a good cause. He has worked in post-earthquake Haiti and then joined in for six of, his cousin, Ken Whitelaw’s 32 marathons in 32 days. It would seem that endurance is in the blood and Whitelaw is a figure of inspiration which Hutchinson rarely looks beyond.
When not raising cash for Brainwave, whirring away imaginary miles on a bike mounted inside a supermarket door, Hutchinson is sniffing out much needed sponsors to make this race possible. So far the recession has made this exercise a fruitless one.
Such distractions don’t make for ideal training, there is will be no acclimatisation for heat or altitude, just miles and more miles in the saddle whenever he can fit them in. Inevitably, it gets laborious. Yet, whenever his head drops Simon finds his family waiting with impeccably timed and invaluable words of encouragement.
His blog (www.simonsepiccycle.com) is already enthralling, but over the coming months it will become essential reading. One potentially soul-destroying moment already in there details how one simple error in LIfford dumped him unmercifully onto the tarmac. Pointing the bike south, he realised that gale force winds would mean nine more hours before home. Questions, doubts and self-pity began to spin under his soaking helmet until messages to Nicola and his father Tom were promptly answered with private words of solace and inspiration.
The 24-year-old is only too aware that he is pushing away from that comfort zone. After all, this is not any orthodox race; there will be no friendly slipstream to ease the pressure. For five long months his team will be trimmed to one. He will only be able to imagine the shoulders he once leaned on, piecing comfort together bit by bit through phone calls and social media. The feeling of isolation is inevitable and, as each competitor will have their own route planned, any camaraderie will be fleeting.
“Yeah, I’ll probably go a bit mad. But I’m already a bit mad really… I think you have to be to do something like this.”
Madness aside, this is a serious record attempt. This man will be cycling an average of 129 miles per day for 140 days. With only 10 days left open for transit and much-needed rest, Hutchinson must endure the pain and follow his sense of adventure.
“There’s no denying I will be bored out of my tree sometimes, but then I’m going to see things that are just going to amaze me. Like going through America; from one ocean to the next – trying to talk to different people, because there’ll be so many different languages to get my head around…”
The wonder in his eyes is unavoidable. His absolute commitment to the race is unquestionable and, through gritted teeth, he will succeed. You see, perseverance is not only in the blood, it’s the Hutchinson family motto.