Fresh off the road, we caught up with Juliana Buhring in Muscat after an exciting 3rd-place finish overall, and 1st place in the females category, in 2018’s first installment of the BikingMan ultra-endurance cycling race, which took place in Oman last week.
To our surprise, this 36-year old British-German ultra-endurance cyclist has only been cycling for 6 years! She managed to gain global repute by coming out of the gate full force aiming for an incredible target: cycling around the world unassisted! And, she accomplished this goal becoming the first woman to circumnavigate the world (29,000 km) on a cycle in 152 days setting a Guinness World Record back in December 2012.
With numerous firsts and records under her belt, Juliana is now one of the strongest female ultra-endurance cyclists in the world. If that is not amazing enough, Juliana has authored two books as well!
In today’s interview, Juliana Buhring opens up about her childhood, when her passion for cycling began, her experience in Oman, and where she plans to go from here.
Before entering the world of cycling, Juliana grew up in a cult called “The Children of God” where she was raised in almost 30 different countries across Asia, Africa, and Europe.
In 2004 she left the cult and has been instrumental in closing it down. She penned her unique experience of living within this sheltered community in the 2007 best-selling book, “Not Without My Sister.” Juliana started a charity, “Safe Passage Foundation,” to raise funding to provide education, resources, and a safe transition for those born and/or raised in extremist, isolated or high-demand organizations.
ub-cool: Would you please tell us more about your unique childhood?
Juliana Buhring: I was born and raised in a religious cult called “Children of God.” From the time I was three, I was taken from my parents and became group property. So, I grew up around Asia under the supervision of people of the group and they had all the children herded into big training camps and centers.
Basically, this was to indoctrinate us and bring us up to be good cult zombies – “Little soldiers for Jesus.”
However, it did teach me a lot of independence. I suppose when you’re all alone and you have no one to protect you or no parents to go to when you need help, you develop your own way of coping with constantly changing circumstances, which has helped me later on in life.
ub-cool: When did you leave the cult and are you in touch with your siblings?
Juliana Buhring: I left the cult in 2004. In the group there were 18 of us brothers and sisters from the same dad but different mothers.
We have managed to connect in our adult years and we are all very close now. Everyone is located all around the world and we all hook up at Christmas. Many live in Europe around me.
ub-cool: Where do you live?
Juliana Buhring: I live in Italy – south of Naples. The beautiful part of Italy.
ub-cool: How did you reunite with your brothers and sister?
Juliana Buhring: I always kept contact with all of them. For me, I think it was more important because I was the only one who grew up alone. The others all had at least one other they grew up with. So, when I was a teenage and could, I started tracking them down and make contact on the internet; once there were social networks, it was very easy to do.
“I kind of made it a mission to find all of my siblings – my tribe (haha). We had our first reunion in 2014 – I got them all to Italy. I managed to get 13 of us in one place.”
ub-cool: Do any of your brothers and sisters also cycle or do sports? Are they supportive of what you do?
Juliana Buhring: No, I’m the only weirdo (haha). Actually, they are the opposite; they don’t do much physical activity.
ub-cool: Are they supportive of what you do?
Juliana Buhring: Oh yeah, and they say: “That’s just Juliana.” But it was a very recent thing. I didn’t start cycling till I was 30 anyway. Before then, I wasn’t athletic. It was a surprise to everyone – it was a surprise to me too.
Climbing on a Bicycle and Peddling Away!
ub-cool: So, one day you just decided to hop onto a bicycle?
Juliana Buhring: I lost the guy I really loved and I just wanted to escape and just go off – I couldn’t find a way to come back from that. It reached a limit where I had dealt with so many blows in life and I was so tired of bouncing back – I had lost the will to live.
“So, I had to do something drastic to pull myself out of it.”
That’s when I thought I’d go around the world. I had no plan to make it all the way around and thought: “I’ll just go and what will be will be” – it was very kind of fatalistic almost (haha).
But, as I started to go, it reawakened the passion for new experiences in life and life goes on and you find a new passion.
ub-cool: Your record is incredible – 152 days to circumnavigate the globe! And you didn’t have experience cycling before this?
Juliana Buhring: Yes, I had never really cycled before the round-the-world trip. I had to learn to cycle because I had a goal and I wanted to do it. But, ultimately, I didn’t care if I made it or not – I just wanted to try.
I learned to cycle properly and trained for about 8 months. Then, I left with about 3000 Euros and just started going at it. When I reached New Zealand, I ran out of money. At that point, people had started following me on Facebook and, for them, it was the craziest thing they had ever seen; here is some person who has never cycled riding around the world.
I was consistently chalking up the miles and basically surviving on the kindness of strangers. So, people were following me online and they started sending little donations like 10 or 50 euros to keep me on the road. When I ran out of money, everyone said keep going and, within one day, my bank account had another 1000 Euros from everyone who had sent little bits. So, I actually got around the world like that. By the time I got to the finish line, I could not believe I had made it.
That is was what really got me into cycling. And, since then, I realized I was alright at doing distances.
Cycling in Oman
ub-cool: What was your goal in this BikingMan Oman challenge?
Juliana Buhring: I’m always trying to best my last record just for me to see how much further I can take it. The most I’ve ever done without stopping is 800km. So, this time, I wanted to hit 1000km without ever stopping. That was my target to see if I could – to see if I was capable of it.
ub-cool: Did you achieve your target?
Juliana Buhring: I did! I rode 1070km nonstop and it took me around 49 hours and 50 minutes.
ub-cool: What made this event special? How was it different?
Juliana Buhring: After Mike Hall passed away last year cycling across Australia in the inaugural “Indian Pacific Wheel Race,” I couldn’t get back into these races mentally – it messed me up a lot. I thought I wouldn’t race anymore.
So, when I saw this event, it was really interesting to me because I have always wanted to go cycling around the Middle East. It is a place that was on my bucket list. And, this year, I thought I would do rides that I want to do and enjoy. I first did Patagonia for fun and thought Middle East is on my bucket list too, so that’s next.
I came into it thinking that if I feel good I’ll race, but if not I’ll do it and just enjoy the experience. Oman looked like a cool place to cycle from the photos. For me, that was the attraction.
ub-cool: What will you remember?
Juliana Buhring: I flew in to Dubai because I wanted to see a little more than just Oman.
“So, I cycled from Dubai to Oman to warm up because I had not trained. I thought I should get a few miles in my legs (haha).”
I was so delighted by the Oman route – it was super tough. The projections shown before the race was not what it actually was; instead, it was constant rollers, mountains, climbs, head wind – there were no flats really. There was only maybe a 50km-section of flat but since that was into a head wind it made you feel like you were climbing anyhow.
What kept me going and enjoying the ride was that there was so many new things to see and I was just enjoying the scenery. It was very interesting. The route took us through some beautiful parts of Oman and I feel I got an overview of the highlights – so that’s cool.
ub-cool: What is on your bucket list for this year?
Juliana Buhring: I have many things on my list but perhaps I’ll do the BikingMan race in Taiwan in October this year. It looks interesting. It’s famous for its long, mountain climb.
ub-cool: Are you planning to write more books?
Juliana Buhring: I’m working on my third book right now. This one will be a fiction and it takes place in Napoli, Italy.
ub-cool: What is your advice to our readers to inspire them to get off the couch, to overcome their personal challenges, and to go on extraordinary challenges?
Juliana Buhring: I always shy away from giving people advice because what works for me may not work for someone else. With that said, what I can say is that I had never cycled in my life till 6 years ago and now I do these types of ultra-races. And, within the first year of cycling, I cycled the world!
“I was not an athlete – so if I can do it, then so can anyone else.”
I would just say just go and don’t over think it. It’s really about just going and having a good time and having a new experience. If you don’t make it, then try again next time. It’s not a big deal – don’t over play it in your head.
All photos courtesy of Juliana Buhring