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Wobbly Wheeler.

Byline: Tony Pogson ,

Come November and Anne Mustoe will be setting off on her third trip round the world - by bicycle.

But she readily admits she's a fair weather cyclist who goes abroad to escape the English winter and before that Anne, who writes very readable books with humour about her travels, has her autumn talks season.

This year that includes a visit to Huddersfield on Tuesday, September 28, to speak about Around The World On A Bike. It promises to be an event not to be missed.

Anne had a many-sided career as a high achiever behind her - Classics MA from Cambridge University, married a QC, taught classics and economics at Francis Holland School, worked in personnel and management training with GKN, set up a small independent travel business, returned to teaching as deputy head and headmistress, president of the Girls' Schools Association, chairman of ISIS, JP, member of the Final Selection Board for the Foreign Office and Home Civil Service and educational consultant - when on holiday in India in 1983 she saw a lone European man pedalling across the Great Thar Desert.

She admits: "I was seized with sudden envy."

Neverthless it took her four years to screw up her courage but by then she was not going to cycle across India but the world.

Today Anne is one of those rare writers who can stand back and describe herself with perfect objectivity.

Her website (ww.annemustoe.co.uk) hits a bullseye by describing her as "the improbable cyclist".

She readily admits that when she traded in the Alfa Romeo and set off to cycle alone around the world in 1987 she was 54, overweight and unfit and wobbled when she rode her sturdy, custom-built Condor cycle (bought as a leaving-present by the girls at her school).

In her own words: "I was not athletic. I was not young. I had never been a keen cyclist. I had no idea how to mend a puncture. I hated camping, picnics and discomfort."

Probably her best qualification was that she was born in Nottingham, home of the famous Raleigh cycles.

But despite all that she completed the ride, west to east, from London to London in 16 months.

Anne, a widow, clearly loved the experience. She went on to cycle from the North to the South of India and went round the world a second time, east to west this time, from Rome to Rome.

Her exploits earned her a place in the Guinness Book of Records. Anne's interest was more historical than sporting. She has followedRoman roads, the campaigns of Alexander the Great, US pioneer trails and so on.

She cycled from Cleopatra's Needle on the Thames to Heliopolis on the Nile, where the Needle originally came from; she tried various short rides, like the Santa Fe Trail, the Camino Real and the PilgrimWay from Le Puy to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

On her way she has tackled blistering heat, political turmoil, kidnappers and amorous waiters, crossed deserts and mountains. The one thing she can't stand is cold. (One of her books is the practical handbook Escaping Winter.)

Most of the time Anne tries to sleep in hotels, although she says being a lone woman brings out the best in people and she has been offered some strange accommodation.

She admits to having slept seven-in-a-bed with Tadjik nomads ("and when one turned over, the other six had to follow") and even with the Chinese Army at a frontier post in the Pamirs.

Anne, who prepares meticulously and works to budget, always carries a tent but the only time she has had to use it so far was in the middle of an Australian desert.

She says there are also advantages in going by bicycle. She travels off the beaten track through small villages and "people always talk to a cyclist".

A cyclist, she says, is not threatening, it's taken to be a poor person's form of transport so people never try to sell you anything "and anyway, there's no room for a Turkish carpet".

Between journeys Anne lives in central London and although cycling has suddenly become more popular in the capital since Mayor Ken Livingstone introduced his congestion charge, she has good reason not to consider cycling to the shops. She lives 89 steps up!

Anne admits that she is not fit and never trains so at the beginning of a ride she aims to cover 30 miles a day which builds up to 50 or 60 miles as she gets into practice again.

And she has still never mended a puncture.

She explains: "I've never mended a car, so why should I have to mend my bike? I pay someone to do it for me. I don't enjoy tinkering and I'm no good at it.

"But there's a serious reason too. In poorer parts of the world, the small sum of money I pay for a puncture repair is nothing to me, but to the man who earns it, it's dinner for his family."

And she doesn't cheat. One puncture occurred in the middle of the Colorado desert in the USA. Anne hitched a lift to a shop to have the puncture mended and then got another lift back to the middle of the desert to continue from there.

Sometimes what she can do is influenced by world affairs. She was cycling in the Middle East without hindrance during the Gulf War and now Saddam Hussein has gone she has an eye on "a lovely route, the Persian Royal Highway..."

Circumnavigation number three will concentrate exclusively on the southern hemisphere, beginning and ending in Buenos Aires.

It will take her across the Andes and South America, across New Zealand, Australia (she expects to use the tent again in the Nullarbor Desert) and South Africa.

There is a reason for all this. Her stepson Julian is a solo round-the-world yachtsman who is out in Argentina now trying to buy a boat to continue his journey in the track of the famous Beagle that carried Charles Darwin.

His cruise on his boat Harrier (Get it? The harrier follows the beagle in hunting!) ended when he ran the boat aground in Argentina.

Anne says that although there is no blood tie they do feed off each other's activities. She says: "We're like cats that walk alone."

* Anne's talk Around The World On A Bike, will be held at Huddersfield University in the Main Lecture Theatre, Canalside, Firth Street, at 7.15pm on Tuesday, September 28. Admission is free.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Date:Sep 18, 2004
Words:1089
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