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Remembering Anne Mustoe, Round the World Cyclist

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 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.

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Comments

  1. tomontwowheels Posted

    Anne Mustoe changed my life. Around the summer of 2003 I found her book, A Bike Ride, hiding in the discount section of a Norwich Waterstones. One year later I left to cycle the world.

    I only made it as far as China, where I still find myself some five years later.

    Reply
  2. Fergie Meek Posted

    Very sad news, as someone who studied archaeology at University I loved her descriptions of the historical sites she passed through around the world.
    She will be missed by all those, like myself, who enjoy good writing as well as adventure in books.

    Reply
  3. Tom Whewell Posted

    Just seen this. Really sad news. As with Tom above A Bike Ride was an inspiration in 92 and in 93 I set off cycling from Big Ben. At the 12,000 miles mark I stopped in the middle of The Outback and raised my water bottle to AM thanking her tho I did wonder which wrong turn I took to be only in Oz while she was back in London at that point! She was a great cyclist and a brilliant writer who changed my life.

    Reply
  4. Anne was like a good friend, but I met her only in her books. She has been such an inspiration for me and I was devastated to learn of her death. Does anyone know what sort of illness it was that took her? She was such a trooper, it’s still difficult to believe she is gone.

    Reply
  5. Serena Urquhart Posted

    I had the pleasure of meeting Anne over recent years. I am no long distance cycler (yet anyway!) but she is a huge inspiration for anyone who dares to dream the dream. Such a sad loss, but it is undoubted that her legacy will remain in the hearts and thoughts of adventurers for many years to come.

    Reply
  6. I am 19 months into a 2-year round-the-world cycle ride as a direct result of reading A Bike Ride. I should never have thought of such an idea myself, but am hugely glad to have been inspired to do so; it’s a wonderful adventure.
    Many condolences to Anne’s family. I’m sure, though, they will take heart from having seen the richness of her life and from reading the many tributaries being paid to her.

    Reply
  7. Just caught news of Anne Mustoe’s untimely death via Mark Beaumont blog.
    I started reading Dervla Murphy but then stumbled upon Anne Mustoe. I was hooked and have read every one of her books. It was my intention to get the opportunity to hear her speak about her latest trip. Sadly, no chance now.The spooky thing is I am teacher, now aged 55 and love the idea of cycling…mmm I can already hear Anne’s rallying call.
    God rest her soul!

    Reply
  8. Living in Australia, I have only just today { December 14th } learned of Anne’s passing. What a tragic loss. Does anyone have any further details at all as I can find nothing online.

    Reply
  9. Lucy Russell Posted

    I have to comment….although ‘late in the day’. I had only just been introduced to Anne’s books when I learnt of her death, but it felt like the loss of a friend (although clearly,I never met her).
    What an inspiration and how I would have loved to hear her speak. Yes,I too wonder what illness took her.
    Iam hooked on her books. What a fantastic person.

    Reply
  10. I read Anne’s book many years ago, and wrote to her. She wrote a lovely encouraging letter back. I enjoyed all her books. I’ve only just found out about her sad death, but SUCH a full life. An inspiration.

    Susy

    Reply
  11. I have only just learned of this amazingly sounding woman through your post, Al, and have just ordered her books. Such sad news.

    I am about to cycle home to my parents’ house in Germany from Oxford, and even with that plan I get a lot of comments about it being ‘not safe’ for a woman on her own- and I can fix a puncture – so even more inspirational to hear about her journeys. I can’t wait to read the books!

    Reply
  12. Antoinette Morgan Posted

    2005 I read Anne’s Cleopatra’s Needle, whilst recovering from an operation. 8 months later I became the 1st SA woman to cycle solo-self support from Johannesburg to Cape Town. The following year I cycled 2500km through North West Europe and earlier this year I did 1300km through the Kalahari. Anne keeps on inspiring me. May she enjoy the Sky Ways.

    Reply
  13. Anne had been my deputy headmistress at Cobham Hall in the 70s. Many years later I was reintroduced to her through reading “a bike ride” and I was fortunate to spend a very enjoyable evening with her in 2006 in her flat in London. She was an inspiration and I am so sad she is no longer with us.

    Reply
  14. I just today happen upon someone who mention Anne on a lonely planet blog in Italy. I had to right away find out who this woman was. I look forward to reading her books.
    My partner and I discovered the joy and adventure of traveling on bikes 6 years ago and are now hooked.
    Bless your spirit Anne

    Reply
  15. Jenny Antcliffe Posted

    yes, Anne’s books and experiences were a huge inspiration to me and so for the last 15 years I have been cycle touring ever since, and like Anne most of it has been done post retirement. Anne can only be described as one of the world’s best treasures.. may her memory live on!

    Reply

 
 

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