Monthly Archives: May 2016

Cycle around the world

Want to quit your job and go travelling but too skint or scared to take the leap? Take inspiration from Annie Londonderry, the first woman to cycle around the world. Coralie Modschiedler recounts her stirring tale.

On the morning of 13 January 1895, an enthusiastic crowd, giddy with anticipation, lined the streets of Marseille to see the arrival of a brave, young American woman in her early twenties.

Dressed in a man’s riding suit and astride a man’s bicycle, she had braved bitter cold and snow to reach the south of France from Paris. But despite the hardship, there she was, in the flesh: the famous, audacious Annie Londonderry – the first woman to attempt to cycle around the world.

A loud cheer went up and people waved and shouted as the petite, dark-haired cyclist wheeled by with one foot – her other foot, wrapped in bandages, was propped on the handlebars. Marseille was the last leg of her French sojourn and had been the most perilous so far.

“One night I had an encounter with highwaymen near Lacone [about 50km north of Marseille],” Annie later wrote in the New York World.

“There were three men in the party, and all wore masks. They sprang at me from behind a clump of trees, and one of them grabbed my bicycle wheel, throwing me heavily.

“I carried a revolver in my pocket within easy reach, and when I stood up I had that revolver against the head of the man nearest me. He backed off but another seized me from behind and disarmed me. They rifled my pockets and found just three francs.

“My shoulder had been badly wrenched by my fall, and my ankle was sprained, but I was able to continue my journey.”

Annie was a bold spirit who reinvented herself against all odds
Peter Zheutlin

While the dramatic encounter with highwaymen quickly became a staple among Annie’s many stories, it was never mentioned in the local press.

There was of course another explanation for why Annie pedalled into town with one foot wrapped in bandages – the inflammation of her Achilles tendon a few days earlier – but surviving a dramatic robbery made a much better story.

Annie never let the facts get in the way of a good tale. By then, she was reportedly halfway through a 15-month bike ride, a challenge she was undertaking to settle an extraordinary, high-stakes wager between two wealthy Boston businessmen.

If she could cycle around the world in that time and manage to earn $5,000 during her travels, she would earn an additional $10,000 on her return.

Her celebrity status was on the rise and the French press had been writing about her prolifically since her arrival at the northern port of Le Havre in December. She was a legend in the making.

Unbeknownst to the crowd of admirers who had gathered to see her in Marseille, the young cyclist from Boston was in fact Annie Cohen Kopchovsky, a married Jewish working mother of three.

What’s more, Annie was not just a cyclist on a round-the-world tour, but a consummate self-promoter and inveterate storyteller who was about to turn her journey into one of the most outrageous chapters in cycling history and herself into one of the most colourful characters of the 1890s.

“I didn’t want to spend my life at home with a baby under my apron every year,” she would often say.

With the cycling craze and women’s movement for social equality in full swing in the mid-1890s, the bicycle represented to Annie a literal vehicle to the fame, freedom and material wealth she craved.

Best Clubs For Your Travelling

Tired of BPM-obsessed bores, queue-jumping liggers and fascist security? Looking for a new clubbing experience? David Hillier explores ball pools, bondage gear and spa parties to find the best alternative club nights across Europe.

Each year tourists flock to all corners of Europe to get loaded and have a weird time, whether it’s in an Ibiza superclub, a Berlin technohaus or on a party boat in Belgrade. Of course, it’s all fine and well when you’re travelling with someone who loves dance music as much as you do, and who only needs a box room, a DJ and a Void sound system to achieve disco enlightenment.

But if your companion is not a techno fiend and needs more from a club than untarnished BPMs, here are some of the best nights out on the continent.

Regression Sessions (UK)

Strictly speaking, it’s a night rather than a club, but let’s not concern ourselves with trivialities. Regression Sessions have been putting on events all over the UK for the last five years and are famous for their ball pits, bouncy castles and expansive production. The vibe is very much adults indulging their childish sides, so if you’re not feeling the drum and bass, house and techno spun by Fabric residents, there’s always something else to do. That might just mean face painting.

Fluxus Ministerija (Kaunas, Lithuania)

Housed in an abandoned shoe factory, the Ministry of Fluxus is an accessible art project that happens to throw twanging raves. You’ll find a different vibe in every cavernous room, and the swirling visuals and chin-strokey art installations will make more sense when you’re two pingers down. The lengths of their parties are legendary – come on Saturday, leave Sunday afternoon. Spend the next two days in your hotel room squinting through the curtains and watching Lithuanian dubbed reruns of Diagnosis Murder.

Elrow (Barcelona/Ibiza/Madrid)

Elrow states that its primary function is to “entertain and amuse” and it does so through a magical alchemy of the finest tech house and techno in the style of a throbbing technicolour carnival. Their spiritual home is Viladecans in Barcelona, but they’ve had a recent residency at Space in Ibiza, as well as shows in Madrid, Zaragoza and the UK. Expect elaborately costumed actors, confetti drops and endless blow-up toys to joust with.

House parties are great, right? You don’t have to pay to enter and there are no bouncers. You don’t have to secrete your drugs anywhere near your genitals, and no-one’s going to chuck you out for getting frisky in the toilets. Renate doesn’t fly in the face of all these conventions, but the vibe inside this old apartment block is more unhinged house party than urban nightclub. Lose a night and day exploring the labyrinth of rooms, nooks and baroque-decorated bars. There’s a latex covered bed in one room, and rumors of a maze in the basement. Door policy can be tough- don’t expect to roll up singing Oasis tunes and be beckoned down the rabbit hole.

Torture Garden (London/Edinburgh)

A grand old lady of the fetish club scene, Torture Garden started life in the basement of a converted church in Brixton in 1990 and is now Europe’s largest of its kind. A vast celebration of all things sexual fantastical, you won’t get in without donning the sort of bondage outfit you pray your parents never wear. As renowned for its elaborate theatrical performances as its ‘play’ rooms, the bondage side is something you can get involved with as much you wish. There are whipping horses, spanking benches and places for you to get naughty, but if you just want to hang out and party in your gimp suit, that’s cool too.

Travel buddy could be Bear Grylls

If you want a holiday that isn’t just good but spectacular, you should perhaps put more thought into who you go with. And Mike Peake suggests that the ultimate travel companion is a world-famous guide or explorer…

In April 2007, long-distance backpacker Andrew Skurka set off from the Grand Canyon to walk ‘The Great Western Loop’, a 6,875-mile journey which takes in a vast swathe of the left hand side of America. Upon his triumphant return in November the same year, his status in the adventure community skyrocketed. National Geographic named him an adventurer of the year and everyone from Fox News to the Wall Street Journal wanted to speak to him.

Skurka became a hot ticket.

With brains to match his brawn, he realised that ‘exposure’, while nice, wasn’t going to buy him a house or convince his girlfriend he was serious marriage material. In fact, he now says, he was “a backpacking dirtbag,” spending as many days on trails each year as he could and then working as little as he had to in order to get by.

When Skurka hit 30 in 2011, he decided to turn the thing he knows and loves into a business and set himself up as a backpacking guide offering less-experienced hikers memorable and meaningful adventures in the Rockies. Five days with Andrew costs around £1,200 – not bad considering the experience, planning and fireside stories he brings to the table. “I was tired of financial uncertainty,” he says, “and going into business doing something I loved was a more appealing option than a 9-5 job.”

Though he perhaps didn’t realise it at the time, Skurka had cottoned on to something that is only now starting to become a bit of a ‘thing’: namely that big-name adventurers are not only there to bag sponsorship money and chase news headlines, they can also show us lesser mortals how to we can have an awesome adventure, too.

At one end of the spectrum is Bear Grylls. His popular Survival Academy offers trips ranging from 1-5 days, but he’s not normally there to haul you up the mountain or help you build a raft. If you want the man himself to show up, you’ll have to pay an incredible – wait for it – £110,000, though that does include all fees for a group of up to 10 people.

Rather more affordable is TV’s Ray Mears, who leads several adventures a year to places like Namibia and charges a jolly reasonable £5,000 for 10 days. Even more wallet-friendly is Kenton Cool, the famous mountain guide who helped Sir Ranulph Fiennes make it up Everest. It’ll set you back around £475 a day to get one-on-one tuition from Cool, one of the world’s most vaunted mountain guides, which is not a whole lot more than what you’d have to pay to go climbing with someone no one has ever heard of.

There are other adventurers who are starting to smell the potential of offering themselves up as personal guides, too – people like Jason Lewis, the first person to circumnavigate the globe using human power.

“I’ve certainly thought about it,” says Lewis. “Getting amateurs into the field and having a grand adventure is something I’ve always felt passionate about, and I’ve done it several times, though I’ve only asked people to cover their costs. But seeing as I’ve already done it for free and a couple of times it’s not been very pleasant, then hell, why not charge for it?

American ultrarunning legend Karl Meltzer has given some thought to the matter, too. “I really do think my future may be in giving people running tours in really cool places,” he says. “Something for later life – especially if there’s decent money in it.”

While there’s little doubt that accomplished adventurers can bring a wealth of experience and opportunities to the table, might it also be true that once money changes hands it suddenly becomes a little bit corporate? Can clients ever really be anything other than this week’s meal ticket?

It’s a question not lost on Andrew Skurka, who tries to get to know his guests months before every trip for this very reason. He acknowledges that each of them has paid good money to be there and that he needs to match their enthusiasm.

But he says he is “unapologetically comfortable” with having turned something he adores into a business, even though he could never have envisioned this would be how he pays the bills when he first started hiking. “My earliest trips were motivated by nothing but passion, and at the time I fully expected there would be a stage in my life at which point I’d have to get a conventional job,” he says. “This is far better.”

Jason Lewis has no qualms about paid hand-holding either. “As long as there is complete transparency, then it is no different to any other kind of consultancy work,” he says, pointing out that while consulting is certainly not the reason he got into adventuring, he first considered the idea more than a decade ago.

The chance to hit the road with a seasoned adventurer is something that usually most of us would only dream of, but it’s becoming a reality (if you can afford it). Why trudge aimlessly through the Rockies when the king of backpackers could show you how it’s really done? What you’re really paying for here is expertise that will turn your incredible adventure into the experience of a lifetime.