The Good Route: A Long, Fruitful Ride Ends


Photo: Anne Mustoe from her website

By Mary Catherine O'Connor

For some people, the only kinds of bike rides to go on are the epic kind. Such was the opinion, it seems, of Anne Mustoe, a British citizen who, during a trip to India in 1983, decided she wanted to quit her job as a headmistress and embark on a long journey. That compulsion grew into not one but two circumnavigations of the globe on her trusty Condor bike and Brooks saddle. Following an illness, she died early last month in Syria, during her third attempt to ride around the world. She was 76.

Though she was 54 when she set off on her first ride, cycling and writing about it became the focus of the rest of her life. She wrote a total of seven books, all but one of which were based on bike rides. Her first two books recount her first two circumnavigations (the first from the west to east, the second from east two west) and most of the others tell of shorter rides along specific routes, such as the Santa Fe trail and Che Guevara's path across South America.

In fact, though her path in life was clearly her own, following routes steeped in history turned into her platform for riding. On her first trip she chose, according to The Times, “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.”

On her site, Mustoe described her inspiration…

“In January 1983 I was taking a holiday in India to recover from the rigours of the long Autumn Term. Somewhere in Rajasthan I looked out of the bus window and saw a cyclist, a solitary European man, pedalling across the immensity of the Great Thar Desert. I was seized with sudden envy. I wanted to be out there myself on that road on a bicycle, alone and free, feeling the reality of India, not gazing at it through a pane of glass.”

And her approach to training. Or rather, lack thereof…

“I never train, so for the first day or two, I can only manage about 30 miles (50 kms). Then I build up gradually to about 50/60 miles. With rest days and sightseeing time, I reckon to average about 250 miles (400 kms.) a week, 1,000 miles a month. But mountains, winds and weather can affect that, and often do!”

She was never in shape before a ride, fitness resulted from the ride itself.

“…when I'm in writing mode, I get out of condition, eat too much and put on weight. Then it's time for another ride,” she wrote.


Mary Catherine O'Connor is a freelance writer, covering the environment, sustainability and outdoor recreation. The Good Route, her new blog for Outside Online, is focused on the places where the active life and sustainability merge.