Somewhere in the hilly part of Western Australia, Jack Thompson—also known as ‘Jack Cycles Far’—is cycling around the clock. Three years ago Jack decided to take a leap of faith, and he gave up his permanent job for a life on the bike. He travelled approximately 52,000 km on his bike in 2017, and this year he wants to push his limits again. In an upcoming series of challenges, Jack will show us all what the human body is capable of. We talked extensively with Jack about his life, tours and the upcoming challenge.
Hi Jack, have you cycled today?
Yes, for about six and a half hours. I love it!
How do you do it?
The biggest challenge with these long journeys is learning to how deal with your own presence. When abroad, there are days that go by without talking to anyone. At times like this it is crucial to channel the voices in your head positively, as they will tell you to lay down after 30 hours of cycling.
What works for me is setting small milestones. For example, I never listen to music for the first 100 km. During the next two to three hours I can listen to music that I like, which at the time feels like a small gift. After 2 to 3 hours of trance music I have had enough of it, and I usually put on an audiobook. And that works pretty well to relax me. In addition to the mental distraction, an audiobook feels like someone is talking to you. This is an important part of my training and crucial to reach a next level. It’s a good method to stay comfortable in your head.
You now organise and supervise a number of group rides each year. Was this the purpose from the beginning?
No, after I resigned from my full-time job, it was mainly about my own adventures—and sometimes rather extreme rides. For example, in China I Everested for nine days in a row [this means to exceed 8,848 altimeters in one activity]. After 11 days I collected nearly 90,000 altimeters. So quite extreme! [he laughs].
Why do you like to organise group rides?
That decision actually came about in the beginning of last year. Up until then I had usually cycled on my own. It was incredibly cool, but I missed sharing these adventures with others. If you experience something cool with a friend, you have this moment that you can share together for the rest of your lives. It seemed cool to me to take groups of people into the adventures I experienced, and to show them the beautiful places I see.
How do the trips come about? Do you choose the locations randomly?
No, they are always places where I have been before. During my solo adventures I got to know some local cyclists—they now assist in organising the routes and in guiding the group. And it makes communication much easier, especially in places deep in Asia where it is useful that someone knows the local language. That prevents a lot of miscommunication and problems.
Logical. Have you ever got into trouble yourself due to miscommunication?
Yeah, that’s a good story! I was cycling along the Tibetan border. When I arrived at my overnight stay for that night, I was told that I had to go to the police station. I didn’t know what was going on; nobody spoke English, and I did not speak Chinese. All of our communication was via Google Translate. I did what I was told, went to the police station and was then locked up in a cell. I was arrested. They thought I was a spy. So there I am, in a cell, without a mobile signal or passport—I had left this with my bike in the hotel. After several hours of questioning, they realised that I was not a spy, and I was thankfully released again.
Because I had gone directly from the hotel to the police station, I had not had a chance to eat since my long bike ride. The police chief invited me to dine with him. In Rome you do not say no to the Pope, so I accepted his offer. Not much later a black SUV appears, and two cardboard boxes were placed on the back seat next to me. Boxes of about 30 × 30 cm in size, completely wrapped in tape. From that moment on I started thinking that I was being used to stage a drug deal. I got the idea that if they could not take me under the guise of a spy, they would pick me up for drug trafficking.
Once we arrived at the destination, it was made clear to me with gestures that I had to bring the boxes to a red door. I was still thinking there might be drugs in the boxes so I refused to touch them. I stepped out, and held the door strategically open to the chief. He took the boxes, and we walked in together.
I followed him up the stairs, where we entered a small room full of Chinese people sitting on the floor enjoying their dinner. While I greeted everyone in English, I heard a crack of cardboard behind me. Then I thought it was over for me. I expected white powder everywhere and a lifelong prison sentence. And do you know what came out of the cardboard? Six packs of Belgian beer. He wrote in his translation app: “I like Belgian beer better than the Chinese beer.” We had a good deal of beer that evening, and ended up in some karaoke bar late in the night. I still have his number. It was crazy!
What a story! Do you ride a lot in those areas? When I look at your website, I see that you mainly ride around in Asia.
Yes, mainly [in Asia]. I work with a number of tourist agencies in Thailand, but at the end of this year I will take on a number of big challenges to show what the human body is capable of. These challenges will mainly be around major events, such as the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France, but also the Taiwan KOM Challenge, which will be held next October. This challenge means that a group of cyclists, including pros, will cycle a 105-km-long climb, from sea level. In addition, they bridge about 3,300 vertical meters—no small challenge. Vincenzo Nibali won the prize pool last year. This will be my first challenge of many, but with a twist.
Where this climb is normally ridden once, I [will] ride up to four times in a row—some 850 km, and over 13,000 altimeters. Nonstop. With only a camera crew following me. I will start before the official event, so that my fourth time will coincide with the official start.
And next year?
Next year I [will] think of something around the Tour de France, but that is still undecided. I won’t get any rest until after the KOM Challenge. During that time I will also finalise the details for a number of tours. So I am working on the last plans for the BBB Experience: bikes, beers & Belgian Classics. For eight days we ride four Classics like Paris-Roubaix, Tour of Flanders, the Amstel Gold race and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. And when we are not on the bike, we ride around the area and visit local breweries.
In addition, there will be a couple of women’s tours in Girona, which I am leading together with Lauren Rowney [former professional at Mitchelton Scott]. I am also creating a series of tours in Bhutan, but more about that soon. It is a very interesting country. A story for next time …