50,000 Kilometres with Captain Brett Lanham
In the coming months we will be writing rider profiles of our most dedicated riders in a series called TDA Super Alumni. If you would like to join in the fun by telling your cycling and other life adventure tales to our website readers, just send a request by email to our office and we will send you the details.
He used to captain enormous 350-meter-long ships and travel the oceans far and wide. Yet after his retirement he found that he was able to connect iconic maritime points by land, rather than by water. And today, Aussie Brett Lanham celebrated kilometre number 50,000 with TDA, and 165,000 since he turned 51 twelve years ago.
How did this all get started? In other words, why cycling?
When I was 51 I was diagnosed with diabetes and the doctor told me I needed a way to control my blood-sugar levels more effectively or I was going to have serious health problems. So I turned to the good old push bike. And it changed my life completely. Not only has it become a means of travel but also a way of regulating my diabetes. Besides that there’s just something so incredible about crossing a continent like this. It’s a big buzz, ya know?
So where has push bike of yours taken you up until now?
Well it started with the Ride Across Australia, and then a good buddy of mine who I met suggested we take our bikes to the UK, which I did. Then it was across the USA on my first TDA tour. Then the Amber Route, which took me across Europe – this was the trip that made me realize I was in it for the long haul. I retired afterwards and did the northern part of the new North American Epic followed by the Bamboo Road, taking me to back door once again. In Europe, Slovenia was outstanding. Definitely a favorite in that region. And Newfoundland was such a great destination, I’d love to go back. Being here in Tierra del Fuego is also pretty exciting for me.
And so does this mean you’re done? Does 50,000 kilometres mark the end?
Now that I’ve taken the whole 7 Epics thing, I’ve only got the Silk Route and Africa left which I’ll probably do in the next couple years. But the South American Epic has been a lot tougher than I expected. It’s taken the wind out of my sails, to be honest, so instead of doing Silk Route next year like I planned, I’m just going to push everything further down the calendar. So to answer your question, no. I’ve still got plenty of wonderful kilometres ahead of me.
So here we are, at the first sight of the Straight of Magellan at the bottom of the world. Does this milestone mean anything to you?
With my background as a ship captain, I’ve always loved the ocean. But since I retired, I’ve realized how great it is to connect all of these iconic maritime points by land, which has been a part of my motivation. As a navigator, I always kept detailed records out at sea which has extended to my time on the bike. Not only is this 50,000 kilometres with TDA but 165,000 since I was diagnosed 12 years ago.
After so many kilometres pedalling around the world, is there any lesson that stands out as a result? Anything you’ve learned?
That people pretty much everywhere are the same. And by that I mean that they’re all driven by the impulse to look after their family and hope for the best. From a village in Cambodia to people in a city like Chicago. And kids’ ability to be happy with so little. Give ‘em a tin can and they’ll make the most out of it, which is really inspiring.
Any words of wisdom or advice to people looking for a life change or perhaps even considering long distance bike touring?
Just start. Once you get moving, it’s pretty easy to keep the pedals moving and all you want is to see what’s around the next bend. You’ll end up fuelling yourself as you go.
A lot of people who do cycle tours have a sort of relationship with their bike. Is that true for you? How would you describe it?
Oh man, it’s a lot. It’s a friend. It’s a tool that has allowed me to achieve a lot of my goals and meet people from all over the world. It has created a brotherhood in my life that I get to enjoy every time a new TDA trip gets scouted. We call each other up and say, “Hey, did you see this one? What do you think?”. In fact, I’m a host on Warm Showers and I love meeting the people that come through on their bikes. I love solitary adventures but you get a lot of motivation from sharing stories with people as they have their own.