Anne Mustoe, a round the world cyclist, has died in Syria. She was 76. This is sad news for all fans of cycling literature, though there is consolation that she passed away whilst away on another grand adventure.
I have always enjoyed having Anne Mustoe in my armoury. She was a fabulous example to give to people who told me,
“I wish I could do that, but I am too old / it’s harder for a woman / I cannot mend a puncture…”
Anne began her ride round the world only after retiring from a career as a headmistress. What a headmistress to have! And through all her books and adventures she was fiercely proud of being utterly mechanically incompetent.
Books of long bike journeys are usually incredibly dull. It is not, I have to admit, a very rich genre. (There are noble exceptions, of course!) So I enjoyed the way Anne wove her fascination with the ancient world into her books.
The Times has written a glowing obituary for her. From it, a couple of excerpts,
“…It is an exceptional author who can supply a book with three appendices so varied as a technical specification of a bicycle, a timeline of the life of Cleopatra and an ichthyological listing.
When she resolved to cycle round the world, Mustoe was 54, somewhat overweight and unfit, and without any idea of how to mend a puncture. She had not ridden a bike for 30 years, wobbled when she tried again, and she hated camping, picnics and discomfort.
Her Condor bicycle, customised for her by a mechanic with a workshop in the Old Kent Road, was bought for her as a leaving present from the girls at her school, and she was still riding it 22 years and about 100,000 miles later on her last cycle trip this year.
She set out from London to ride round the world from west to east in 1987 and completed the circumnavigation 12,000 miles and 15 months later. Her first book, A Bike Ride, dealt with all the preparations, route-planning, packing and budgeting, as well as the riding.
The extra dimension with which Mustoe sustained her travels was that she followed historical routes: Roman roads across Europe; Alexander the Great’s route from Greece to the Indus Valley; Pakistan and India with the Moghuls and the Raj; and so on. Across the United States she followed the great pioneer trails, and undeterred by downpours, heat, political turmoil or amorous waiters, she promptly decided to do it all over again, in reverse direction.
For the second ride, and subsequent book, Lone Traveller, she went from Rome, following Roman roads to Lisbon, the Conquistadors across South America, Captain Cook over the Pacific, and the Silk Route from China back to Rome. Special chapters dealt with the day-to-day difficulties of the voyage up the Amazon in small cargo boats, and cycling the Australian Outback, the Gobi Desert and the Karakoram Highway.
All her incident-packed journeys were recounted in a warm, accessible, no-nonsense prose in which a wry, understated humour was coupled with indefatigable fortitude, enthusiasm and optimism, making light of robberies, injuries, freak floods, storms, desert heat waves, blizzards in the Rockies and ferocious winds in Jutland and Patagonia ó and even of being knocked off her bike by a short-sighted nonagenarian in a Fiat Panda.
Mustoe cycled off on her last expedition in May this year, but became ill in Syria. She died in Aleppo (Haleb).
Mustoe was married to Nelson Edwin Mustoe, QC, in 1960. He died in 1976. She is survived by her three stepsons, one of whom is a solo round-the-world yachtsman.
Anne Mustoe, headmistress, round-the-world cyclist and travel writer, was born on May 24, 1933. She died on November 10, 2009, aged 76.”
You can buy Anne’s book here.