Thursday, 18 July 2013

Cycling to the Ashes

Oli Broom was a chartered surveyor, but he found the idea of making money for other people whilst failing to save money for himself was disheartening.  He was the right side of 30 still and wanted one more adventure before he finally settled down with a family and a full time job.

The idea for an adventure came to him from his friend Becca one night, why not cycle to the Ashes and especially the first test in Brisbane in November 2010.  Cycling had been a passion of his since his year in Spain when he dreamed of cycling down to the southern border and across the Northern part of Africa.  The idea of doing this trek would be an adventure and rekindle his fitness which had long been lost under some city desk.

With little or no money in his savings, and little or no sponsors it seemed like he had no hope of gaining the necessary funds.  However, light came in the form of main sponsors Betfair and Mongoose cricket coupled with the support of the Lords Taverners.

The book which has been released during another intense Ashes summer yet the greatest cricketing rivalry ia a light at the end of the journey, a reason to get to where he is going. Cricket is paramount to his journey and yet it is as much a book about cycling, traversing and encountering people who have little or no knowledge of the sport, yet respect his passion and desire in this seemingly impossible journey

Cycling to the Ashes is that rare book that is part memoir, part satire and part travelogue, helped by the cynical Englishman lost abroad facet we have seen from Michael Palin or Alan Whicker before him.  When he encounters an Australian backpacker in South East Asia, Oli finds out that he is travelling around for one year and does not know where he will end up, Broom makes the observation that he could not do that sort of journey without a sense of purpose or direction.  Broom's resilience and stubbornness are apparent in equal abundance; the tenacity to get to Brisbane in time is a marvel.

What becomes apparent is how fortuitous Broom has been or how willing he has been to trust strangers when he is more of a stranger in these strange lands; at one point going to Goa for a few days and leaving his bike unattended with a man who owns a dhaba, a roadside cafe. He comes back to a bike cleaner than ever before, this is just one of many episodes where people offer lodgings and food just because he looks tired. Broom is amazed at the Samaritan he finds in passing strangers.

India seems to cost Broom is sanity at one point, odd considering that cricket is a religion in that over-populated country and how small he felt in a country of 1.3 billion people.  The breakdown he suffers at a sign saying Kolkata 997km is very strong, in marked contrast to the elation he feels when he finally sees the first sign of Brisbane 1695km.  A photo of himself with this sign shows him in a new light, it may seem like a lot but it seems so near to him after nearly 13,000km pedalled already.

Broom writes with a real fluency and happiness recalling his experiences, none more so than when he is remembering his encounters with his friends in every country none more so than Laszlo, a Hungarian man who becomes his best friend, filming his times in Eastern Europe setting him up with film-makers in Turkey and Africa, before meeting up with him for the last 1000km or three weeks into Brisbane.

You wonder how Broom would have done the trip had he been truly alone, but sometimes the power of community and friendship can help one man do things he never thought he could do, that were beyond the realms of possibility.  Some people (and those people are probably the Neanderthals who thing that football is the one and only) may think why do this just to see a cricket match.  Myself, being a cricket fan for so long can attest to that, cricket is the sport that taught me about the globe, places to travel to and all for a game that may not end in a result.

Oli Broom has written a wonderful book full of incident and accidents without a hint of allegation or circumstance - the book is funny and touching in equal measure, and the feat all the more astonishing and memorable considering he did not know how far he would go, and so it becomes a tale of one man exceeding himself and going further than he thought.

Cycling to the Ashes is out now from Yellow Jersey Press for £16.99 in Hardback

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