Jenny Graham | Coffee First, Then the World: Cycling Around the Globe

Back in 2018, it took Jenny Graham just over four months to pedal around the planet. When we interviewed her shortly afterwards, we never thought it'd take her five years to write about this record-breaking feat. But the resulting book is a must-read for all aspiring adventurers.

Updated 28th March 2024 | Words by Jack Hart and Matt Jones @ WildBounds HQ

Ultra endurance cyclist Jenny Graham burst onto the outdoor adventure scene back in October 2018 after cycling around the world in 124 days, shattering the women’s world record by 20 days in the process. Just to avoid any doubt over the epic nature of that feat, let’s run some statistics: she travelled over 19,000 miles across four continents, averaging 156 miles per day. Setting out from Berlin, Jenny journeyed through Eastern Europe, Russia, Mongolia and China, flew to Australia and New Zealand, then cycled through Canada and the US to reach the Atlantic Ocean, completing her journey through Portugal, Spain, France, Belgium and Holland. The scale of the expedition was stupendous and the speed at which she completed it... well, the word 'inspiring' doesn’t really do it justice.

We caught up with Jenny just after she finished her record-breaking ride and got to hear the story first-hand. It still makes for a fascinating interview, even several years later.  

WildBounds Person of the Year 2018: Jenny Graham


  • Berlin to Badaling: 6,261 miles in 36 days, averaging 184 miles/day
  • Perth to Brisbane: 3,523 miles in 23 days, averaging 160 miles/day
  • Invercargill to Auckland: 1,720 miles in 8.5 weeks, averaging 117 miles/day
  • Anchorage to Halifax: 5,816 miles in 37 days, averaging 157 miles/day
  • Portugal to Berlin: 1,970 miles in 12 days, averaging 164 miles/day
Women’s World Record Holder, Jenny Graham.

What sort of mileage were you clocking on the round-the-world attempt?

The overall average came out as 156 miles per day, cycling at an average of 13.5 hours per day. It’s amazing how the continents change; I think it’s a lot to do with the weather, as Australia and New Zealand were my worst averages and that’s when the weather was really bad. There was no accommodation so I was going to bed wet and shivering, then waking up and going again. Your body just gets worn down. I’d got sick, too, and I was wiped. Instead of taking a day off, which I totally should have done, I was like, “I’m fine, let’s see what I can churn out”. I was lying in this motel and just shivering, I couldn’t even take my clothes off as I was so plastered to the bed. I got up in the morning and tried to have a shower but I couldn’t even do that – it was that feeling that your skin would just rip open if the water touched it, so I went back for lie down. I was getting up every hour to see how bad it was: “can I move yet?” As soon as I could have a shower, I thought I could get back on the bike.

Jenny Graham's round-the-world cycling adventure

That must have been one of the lowest moments of the trip – what was one of the best?

The bears in the Rockies took it out of me a bit – I saw three of those, loads of caribou, and oh my goodness, just loads of bison! They were all over the road so I was cycling through herds of bison. At the time, you’re sort of taking it all in your stride because that’s just what you’re doing but when I think about it now and look at pictures, I’m like, “Oh my God, that is crazy!” That night, I had the northern lights behind me and there’s me cycling through a herd of bison and... yeah, it was pretty good.

Going back to the start, what first made you think, “Right, I’m going to cycle round the world”?

I’d been building up miles for a while after getting my road bike (I’m a total mountain biker!) and you get to that point where you do your first 100 miles and wonder if you can do the same again tomorrow. Then you go and do it again so you’ve done back-to-back centuries... there’s that constant questioning of how much further you can go, and that’s always been in my head. I’m always pushing things, whether it’s cycling or not – even at home I take things too far.

So I had that, then I went away on an Adventure Syndicate training camp and met this guy, John Hampshire, who’s a coach. He said “I’d like to work with you”; I was doing this Arizona race and I think he could just see that I had all these questions about what I could do. But I was skint, I could barely afford to go on the training camp – I got one of their funded places just to be there, so I was never, ever going to pay for a coach. I’d stopped working so much, so I could cycle more! When I got back, John emailed me and was like, “Look, I’m going to work with you”, and he offered me a year for free with no expectation on me whatsoever. I think he thought I might go and do the TransCon the next year or something, because he knew where my head was at.

Australia's Longest Straight Road

He must have really seen some potential in you to make an offer like that?

You know in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when he wins the golden ticket and he’s like, “What has just happened?” That is exactly how I felt. I was crying and everything, it was incredible.

John lived in Spain, so I wasn’t working with him face-to-face, I wasn’t out riding for him or anything, and then I went away to Arizona by myself. I’d gone to Europe by myself before and put extra days on my holiday to cycle and stuff, so I’d travelled alone, but I’d never properly gone and crossed a country by myself, not knowing anyone out there. But once I did that, I thought, “Oh my God, I can do this, this is fine!” I went back to work and I was part-time by then but the other part-timer had left, so I offered to come back full-time but with a sabbatical the year after, so they were up for that. So now I’ve got six months off work, I’ve got a coach, I’ve got a thirst for miles and I’ve realised that I can go anywhere by myself.

Sunset Cycling, Jenny Graham.

So everything just seemed to click into place for it.

Yeah, it was like the stars aligned, honestly. At one point, I looked back – because I had wavers on that journey, though not once I’d started riding – but before the start line I’d think, “What are you doing?” I had no funding until about three months before I had to leave and stuff like that, it was just silly. But then I’d look back at what was in place and I knew it would never happen again; this is special. And people just started coming into my life, like filmmakers I’d met in the past, I’d bump into them in Tesco, before anyone knew, and they were like, “Oh, we want to make some adventure films, do you know of anything?”, and once I said I was going around the world they wanted to make a film about it. Then, Adventure Syndicate got on board!

Jenny Graham world-cycling tour
Credit: Christoph Soeder/dpa/Alamy Live News

Was there a moment when you thought, not only do I want to cycle round the world, I want to do it faster than anyone else?

It was always there – this would never have been a trip if I wasn’t trying to break the record. It was always going to be a record-breaking trip. If it wasn’t, I’d have gone on my mountain bike. It was basically after I met John and after Arizona, I was looking for races and something that could test my body and strength the following year. Originally, before I met John, I was thinking of doing a tour or going to Iran or something, but as soon as John gave me a that chance, it was like, “This is a race and it’s a solo race”. I wasn’t just looking at road cycling, either, it was mostly mountain bike races. Then this popped up and I thought, “I reckon I can probably do that”.

World cycling tour, Jenny Graham.
Credit: Christoph Soeder/dpa/Alamy Live News

The Next Chapter

However, it took Jenny another five years to write and publish her account of the four-month trip. By her own admission, the writing process was "a bit traumatic". After all, it meant reliving every moment, whilst reflecting on the wider experience in order to dig really deep into how she actually felt and what was going on in her own head at the time. Of course, in the ensuing years, she had given loads of talks, interviews, podcasts and even made a film, but they had all really only scratched the surface of what went on. 

As with many adventure athletes, she found it a little tricky to simply sit still and concentrate too. She even got back in the saddle and embarked on a bikepacking tour of Spain in an attempt to eliminate distraction and meet her editor's deadline. Alas, it didn't work all that well.

All this might suggest that the resulting book, which ended up being titled Coffee First, Then the World, might have been a bit of a tortuous read. Far from it. In fact, it was well worth the wait. Plenty of readers thought likewise – it was deservedly one of 2023's bestsellers in the adventure writing genre.

That's not to say the book is a joyous reading experience from first page to last. Jenny goes to some pretty dark places at times, confessing even right at the start of the book to feeling overcome with self-doubt and being completely out of her depth. But her candidness makes for fascinating reading. Styled in the form of an almost day-to-day journal of the ride, the book paints an unflinching portrait of Jenny's physical and mental state throughout. Yet the writing never tends too much to introspection. With a brisk cadence that matches the record-breaking distances she was covering, the narrative speeds along at pace.

Life in the saddle is presented in a characteristically frank manner, sores and all. Mistakes are made, decisions are taken, consequences are faced – but all convey Jenny's very human side, far from the superwoman that her epic feat might suggest. One of the book's most memorable passages is a salutary lesson for all human-powered adventurers: "Acceptance is the greatest mindset of all on the road. You don't have to be gloriously happy in a storm, but accepting it is what makes for an easier passage".

Another of her thoughts will be familiar to anyone who has ever tackled a long, self-sufficient journey: "There is a freedom that comes from carrying your own home with you...You soon whittle down your wants and settle on your actual needs." After all, it was this element of the record-breaking ride that was perhaps the single most impressive part of the entire adventure. Cycling thousands of miles across unfamiliar terrain with no support crew required incredible fortitude and reserves of resilience. Jenny pulls no punches when recounting the realities of this adventure. Admittedly, it might scare you – or it might inspire you to challenge yourself. Either way, it's an utterly compelling read.

Coffee First

Images: Jenny Graham and Christoph Soeder

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