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Dublin: 9°C Sunday 18 April 2021
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The inspiring story behind one Irishman’s 490-day, 29,000km round-the-world cycle

Breifne Earley chats to The42 about his incredible achievement.

Earley spent 490 days cycling 18,000 miles.
Earley spent 490 days cycling 18,000 miles.
Image: Breifne Earley

CYCLING ROUGHLY 18,000 miles (29,000 km) in 490 days all around the world clearly takes incredible individual willpower, but Breifne Earley cites other people as being key to his successful round-the-world cycle.

It is quite an achievement for the 34-year-old Leitrim man, who says that as recently as five years ago, he was overweight, bitterly unhappy and working in a job he drew little satisfaction from.

At his lowest ebb, Earley contemplated suicide, but through seeking help, he ultimately emerged with a more positive outlook in life. Having initially tested himself in endurance events such as marathons and triathlons, and getting involved in the Cycle Against Suicide, he was inspired to try a particularly ambitious and arduous challenge entitled ‘Pedal the Planet,’ with the aim of promoting positive mental health along the way.

After beginning his journey in February 2014, he became just the fourth person ever to complete the event last weekend, with a similar challenge being organised in 2011, and just three out of the 11 who set out succeeding. In addition, on this occasion, of the four people who took part, Earley was the only one to go the distance, with two competitors failing to last longer than a month.

However, that is not to say Earley never considered quitting, as there were inevitably some difficult moments, encompassing sickness, robberies and crashes, with two days in particular standing out.

“I was climbing a mountain in India, probably the size of Croagh Patrick on top of Carrauntoohil,” he tells The42. “I ran out of water, ran out of food and was really struggling mentally to not just turn the bike around and roll down the hill, and shelter from the 55-degree heat. A guy came in on the side of the road ahead of me and gave me water, snacks and little biscuits, and that gave me enough energy to get shelter and proper food and water, and that was a huge day. I kind of call him my good Samaritan.

“And I had a similar experience in New Zealand, when I was climbing a mountain in very bad weather — I’ve had both extremes in that regard. But those two moments probably lasted a minute or two each. I just thought about the people who put their faith in me and supported me, and I kind of knew in the back of my mind that I was never going to quit until I got home.”

Indeed, Earley explains how the more turmoil he encountered, the more emboldened he felt.

“I cycled up the steepest street in the world with a 35% gradient — Baldwin Street, in Dunedin, New Zealand. Once you’ve done that, hills don’t really scare you anymore. You climb over the Rocky Divide at 7,500 feet. You kind of think: ‘I’ve climbed really high mountains, what’s ahead of me doesn’t scare me anymore.’

“You become immune to it, because you know that you’ve done harder things or more dangerous things previously on the route, and it just becomes easier in your mind to deal with the distances left. You think: ‘I’ve got 5,000km left and I’ve already done 25,000, so the rest is going to be relatively easy.’”

Source: PedalThePlanetTV/YouTube

Moreover, the journey was by no means a grim slog for its duration. Earley also encountered many spectacular and unique sights along the way.

“The Grand Canyon was awe-inspiring. Dealey Plaza, where JFK was killed, was humbling just to see how the whole area has been preserved. The museum that’s there is a phenomenal experience.

“I went to a rodeo at Houston… I spent time in a sheep farm in Australia, I spent time with a family at a wedding in India. And you can’t just buy that experience. You can’t just rock up to an Indian wedding. I happened to meet someone on the street and they invited me to the wedding — it was awesome.”

Yet despite all the beautiful scenery and surreal experiences, he describes the highlight of the trip, quite simply, as “people”. Without the help of countless others on a regular basis, he explains, this audacious feat would have been impossible to complete.

“I ran out of money when I was in Pensacolain in Western Florida, and I didn’t have enough money for a place to stay at night. My aunt lives in Florida, but she was about 1,000km away, so I rang her and said: ‘Listen, I’m stuck. Can you help me?’ So she paid for a hotel room.

“Then, when I got to the hotel room, I recorded a short video and was just very honest with the people who’ve been supporting me on my Pedal the Planet Facebook page. I said: ‘I’ve run out of money — I’m probably going to have to call this quits and come home, unless I raise €1,000 in the next couple of days to keep on the road and to get me home to Ireland in the next 3-4 weeks.’

“I went to bed — it was 7am Irish time when I sent the message, and I woke up at noon Irish time in Florida. By that time, I had €1100 in my account. And that’s from no major big one-off contributions. 70 or 80 people gave me €20 or €30 each. It just accumulated overnight.

“It was €1,000 overnight and it was €3,000 within 24 hours and ended up at €4,000-€4,500. That actually got me the whole way through Ireland, Spain, France and the UK. So it closed it off for me completely, which was fantastic, and it really wouldn’t have been possible without the support of hundreds of people.”

Having received a hero’s welcome home upon returning to Leitrim last Saturday night, with the County Council among those to congratulate him, Earley’s first priority was catching up on some much-needed sleep.

“I’ve had two really good nights of sleep since I came home. I don’t have to get the feet up in the morning and cycle 100km. It’s kind of allowed me to relax a bit more. Even on rest days, you sort of know that the following day, you’re going to have to cycle. So knowing that that’s not over my head — I can cycle if I want to, but not as I have to, it’s quite a nice feeling.”

ph-11

(Earley caught up with Pádraig Harrington in Arizona)

However, rest is not all he lost out on from being away from home for over a year.

“I missed very little about home in terms of the actual material things. It boils down to missing my family, my two nephews growing up. When I left, one could barely talk and walk, and now he’s running around like a little boy. So I missed a year and a half of his life growing up, so that was tough.

“I missed some big family events, weddings — my cousin got married, a close friend got married, and I wasn’t able to come home to them. There were a couple of deaths as well — my grandmother died and my cousin died when I was away, and it just wasn’t possible at the time to come home. That was tough, but I’ve since visited both graves, so they were probably the difficult moments and the things I missed most from home.”

Having finished the journey, Earley is now working on a book about his extraordinary experience. He is unsure what will follow thereafter, nonetheless he emphasises the importance of continuing to spread his message encouraging people who are feeling depressed to seek help.

“I’ve been completely overwhelmed with messages over the last couple of days,” he adds. “My Twitter has gone nuts. My Facebook page has gone through the roof. And I haven’t been able to respond to all the individual messages.

“In terms of the reach of my Facebook page over the last couple of weeks — the last 10 days has been about 150,000 people. Over the course of the entire segment, it’s well over a million. So the campaign has definitely been successful.

“Anecdotally, the messages I’ve received from people who have made the decision to give life another bash from hearing my story has smashed my target of one.

“And there’s probably another multiple of that for people who haven’t told me. I take a lot of pride in the fact that that has been a success. Winning the world cycle race is just a bonus. I’m not an athlete, I’m not pretending to be an athlete. I’m just a guy who likes to cycle… The priority for me was always to let the message reach as many people as possible.”

Source: coilinduffymedia/YouTube

He continues: “I didn’t do this without help. I got a huge amount of support from many people. People who helped me find a gym, people who helped me source a bike so I could cycle. When I wanted to learn how to swim, people put me in touch with swim teachers. Even just people who gave me an ear and said: ‘I want to help you do this’. It was fantastic the support I got, but it was because I asked for help.

“It’s okay not to feel okay, and it’s absolutely okay to ask for help. If you know you’ve got a problem, ask a friend, a family member, a teacher, a coach, a complete stranger at the end of a phone.

“People perhaps sometimes don’t realise the level of love that’s out there for them and the level of support that’s available, but sometimes [other] people forget to show that. But when you ask for help, you’d be amazed how much of that you’ll see coming back in spades.”

You can like Breifne’s page on Facebook here and follow him on Twitter here. For more information on Cycle Against Suicide, click here.

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If you have been affected by any of the issues mentioned in this article, please contact one of the following helplines:

  • Samaritans 116123 or email jo@samaritans.org
  • Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634
  • Console 1800 247 247
  • Aware 1890 303 302
  • Pieta House 01 601 0000 or email mary@pieta.ie
  • Childline 1800 66 66 66

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