On January 8th, 22-year-old Brit Laura Bingham is setting off to cycle an entire continent: 6,500km from Manta in Ecuador to Buenos Aires in Argentina, without a single penny in her bumbag. The model-turned-adventurer fell in love with South America after doing conservation work in Mexico, and it was there that her love affair with the road less travelled (or what most of us might call “the bloody difficult way”) began.
She sailed back to England in a journey that took two months, and was soon itching to challenge herself even more. Her South American cycling expedition will include nothing more than Laura, a bicycle, and one companion, and even she admits she’s “shitting her pants”. We caught up with her to find if she’s brave, mad, or both.
Where did the idea for this expedition come from?
I was thinking about cycling around the world, and trying to do it in the fastest time, but realised that idea wasn’t really me. I thought I’d much rather do one thing on a continent I love. But I could reel off loads of names that have cycled South America – it’s not exactly unique. I thought, “How do I make it harder on myself?” So I decided to do it without any money. Now I’m two weeks away, and I’m thinking “What have you done, Laura?”
What adventuring have you done in the past?
I was doing conservation work in Mexico. I didn’t want to take the easy route and fly home, so I decided to sail, despite not knowing how to sail. I found out about a private boat sailing from Orlando to England. I flew up to Orlando, met the guy sailing it and got on. Two months later I was back.
What did that experience teach you?
I know that even if I’m not trained at something, I can do it and finish it.
How are you going to eat if you have no money?
My plan is to forage as much as I can - find different nuts, palm hearts, insects, animals and any roadkill. If I go through villages in rural areas, I’ll ask if I can work for food. Maybe I’ll wash cars, or help people plough their land. It’s going to take a lot longer this way because I’ll have to earn my food. Also, hopefully, there’ll be a few nice people that just go, “You look really hungry!”
Do you not worry about travelling in these places by yourself?
Cho, who walked the Amazon with Ed [Stafford, Laura’s fiancé and fellow adventurer], is going to be with me more or less the whole way. When Ranulph Fiennes said he’d be a patron of mine, one of the first things he said was, “You know it’s really dangerous. You’re a young, attractive woman. You need to have a man with you.” I’m delighted Cho’s coming.
You’ve mentioned Ed. Aren’t you two getting married in September?
Yes, so that means I’ve less than nine months to do the 6,500km. It’s good there’s a time pressure, so I don’t end up taking two years to do it and forget who I am. But of course it adds an extra pressure as I might become quite stressed. It’s putting quite a lot of faith and trust in people, the universe and karma, but I tend to think if you really want to survive you’re going to survive.
How much are you aiming to cycle each day to hit that target?
If I do 30km a day I’d do it in eight months. I’m going to try to do 60km-80km, because then I can do it in four or five. That will give me an extra month for days where my body just won’t do it because it’s tired or hungry, or days where I have to work, or days I have to spend foraging or fishing. There’s a two-week stint in Paraguay where it’s just desert. I can’t see any evidence of villages on Google Maps, so I’m going to need to stock up on food before that, and also build a device to stock up on water.
How are you going to carry stuff with you?
We’ve got trailers, so if I find a deer carcass I can put it in there, rather than balancing it on my legs. If I can find water-holding devices like boxes they can go into the trailer. Or perhaps we’ll find a barrel, and somehow tie it to the back. It’s going to be an inventive time, to say the least.
Christmas is coming. Are you going to be able to indulge, or are you on a strict no-fun regime?
Everyone I’ve spoken to has said, “Don’t worry about training or what you’re eating, because your body will get fit while you’re out there. After a month you're going to be fit, so don't stress out your body completely before you go.” So I’m going to live as much I can, and consume as many treats as I want because I’m not going to have them for eight months. How could I do Christmas without gin and wine?
How do you feel about it in yourself?
I’m shitting my pants! Every time someone beings it up, I tell them to shush. I just want to go, get it started and not be worried or anxious about what-ifs.
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