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'It's got to be an adventure': Extreme athlete from Denver plans to bike around the globe — including oceans

Posted: 6:14 PM, Sep 29, 2022
Updated: 2022-09-29 22:14:14-04
Paul Spencer_Pedal Round the World

In his own words, Paul Spencer is terrible at staying still. He's much more at ease pedaling hundreds, if not thousands, of miles across countries.

"I'm not very good at not riding," the 41-year-old Denver resident said. "I do the miles because I want to see more."

And over thousands of miles, he sees a lot. Take a quick glance at Paul's cycling resume and you'll see a multi-month 6,800-mile race from Cairo, Egypt, to Cape Town, South Africa, six cross-continent rides through 42 countries, and previous claims to three endurance cycling Guinness World Records. This summer, he completed the Grand Tours in Europe: Giro d'italia, Tour de France, and the Vuelta a España.

He ran the 2017 Leadville 100. He paddleboarded through the entire Grand Canyon. He skydives for recovery.

And yet, he's eyeing something bigger. A years-long, logistical-nightmare-but-lifetime-dream born in 2018 is in the works.

Paul is ready to cycle around the world, across both land and oceans.

Denver man plans to circumnavigate the globe — including oceans — by cycling

How a bet at a party sparked a lifelong passion

It's not surprising to learn that Paul was an active, mischievous kid.

But he really "came into his element" when he was 11 years old, and his family moved from the South of England to the rural hills of North Wales, said his mother, Miriam Spencer. That's where he discovered bicycles.

"The whole world opened up to him," she remembered.

A friend's challenge was the final push he needed to launch into the endurance cycling world. Conversation at a 2009 party had turned to the 880-mile Land's End to John O'Groats — which runs the entire length of the island of Great Britain — and Paul estimated he could probably complete the route in four days. His buddy said it couldn't be done in less than a week.

"My friends bet me I couldn't do it. So I went and did it," Paul said, casually. "And that was kind of my first long-distance ride. It was torture. It was pain at the end."

As agonizing as it was, it barely scared him off. It actually sucked him further in.

Tour d'Afrique_Paul Spencer

Just a couple years later, he completed the 2011 Tour d'Afrique, riding the entire length of Africa and finishing sixth overall (after recovering from malaria). To train for such a huge endeavor, the then-29-year-old chased down a Guinness World Record in 2010 called "Fastest Cycle Across America: North to South, then West to East," riding an average of 125 miles daily for 44 days.

Guinness World Record_Paul Spencer

In 2000, Paul moved to Colorado and secured a job at Beaver Creek Ski Resort, where he has worked for 22 winters.

He found more opportunities for endurance cycling in Colorado, and is now sponsored by Pactimo, a local cycling clothing company. When he's home in Denver's LoHi neighborhood, his favorite long rides take him along Boulder's roads and the Mount Evans Scenic Byway. From October through December, Paul lives in Avon and works at Beaver Creek for the World Cup Super G and Downhill races. When he's there, he'll ride down Highway 6 and turn up every mountain road he comes across before heading back home.

"I normally go towards the mountains and go up and down mountains," Paul said.

He recalled one workout with his coach, Zach Vogel, founder of Heroes Training Systems in Golden, when the two men went to the top of Lookout Mountain four times — once with a weight vest, once running, once on a mountain bike, once on a road bike.

Vogel smiled at this memory.

"Yeah, and then all of my kids see me lying down on the ground afterward," he said. "And they're like ‘Daddy, why are you lying down on the ground and why is Mr. Paul walking around like he did nothing?’"

Breaking down the Pedal Round the World

Paul was in the middle of his ride across the United States when his mind drifted toward a global bike race he had recently learned about.

The 18,000-mile trek indeed took athletes around the world, but skipped entire continents — namely, Africa or South America, depending on the route — and included multiple flights over both land and oceans.

Great Bike Ride routes.jpg

While even world-class cyclists likely wouldn't grumble about resting on a few flights, it didn't sit well with Paul.

"I was kind of like, ‘Well, that's not really around the world,'" he said. "Like, around the world — there's oceans in the way."

He started to play with the idea of circumnavigating the globe, but using a souped-up pedal boat that could survive an oceanic beatdown.

"Then, that would be pedaling the whole way," he said. "And then the more I looked into it, it slowly evolved and evolved and evolved."

And so Pedal Round the World was born.

Mapped out, a route that closely follows the equator would add up to roughly 26,000 miles. But Paul, forever seeking adventure, plans to stray from the fastest course.

Paul Spencer_planning at Briar Common
Paul Spencer works at Briar Common Brewery in Jefferson Park in November 2019 to plan his Pedal Round the World trip.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime trip," he explained. "My trip is more like 40,000 miles because I'm going to take in as many countries as possible and zigzag all over the place, because why not? It’s not going to happen again. It's going to be a one-off. So, I'm going to do way more miles than I really need to, but it's got to be an adventure. So that's how it'll be."

Add about 10,000 miles over the ocean for a trip clocking in at roughly 50,000 miles.

Depending on the terrain and support availability, Paul hopes to have access to road bikes, gravel bikes, and mountain bikes. For long, flat stretches, he'd like to take a Velomobile, a recumbent bike with an aerodynamic shell.

And then, of course, there's the Pedal Beast for the oceans.

Paul Spencer in Pedal Beast

Originally a rowboat, the Pedal Beast is currently in New Zealand, where naval architects with a company called LOMOcean are converting it into a pedal boat outfitted for Paul's needs. The 38-foot watertight boat will be 100% powered by customized foot pedals. A seat will keep him protected in poor weather and he can stick his head and shoulders out of the boat in better conditions. It has two cabins, one for storage and one for sleeping. A sea anchor — sort of an underwater parachute to catch deeper and more calm waters — will keep him relatively in place while he rests, he explained.

The Pedal Beast will have a flywheel, which is weighted to help with smooth pedaling, connected to cranks. While it doesn't have gears, it is being designed to keep a cadence around 95 rpm.

Paul Spencer Pedal Beast

Size-wise, the watercraft is a speck of dust in the wind compared to the barges and ocean liners that often cross massive, unpredictable waters like the Pacific and Atlantic.

"I just still can't get my head around that," his mother, Miriam, said of him crossing oceans.

Paul said he is prepared to endure storms and possibly the boat flipping. A few people on land plan to help with tracking weather and tides for him.

Paul Spencer_Pedal Beast

Of the many, many miles ahead of him, he is clearly most excited for those on the open sea.

"I can't wait," he said, his face lighting up. "No traffic lights. No silly rules. Like, make up your own rules. I can't wait. It's going to be brilliant. I don't have to abide by social standards or anything. It's going to be fantastic."

He has a few practice journeys set up with the Pedal Beast to get the hang of the craft and build his confidence in it before he starts Pedal Round the World.

Paul said he hopes to have a support vehicle, preferably an electric or solar-powered car, following him throughout the journey on land, though he'll cross the oceans solo. Depending on the finances available, he said he's also prepared to bicycle on his own and camp along the way. But he's hoping friends will join in for the land sections.

"I've done trips with support before, I've done trips on my own before," he explained. "A trip with support gets shared much more because people take pictures. And there's other people helping with blogs and posts and stuff like that. When it's just me on my own, I’m enjoying the trip and I totally forget to take pictures and I forget to do anything. So, it'd be nice to have a support crew."

It's no surprise the logistics are critical, intense, and endless. So, Paul is starting small. Relatively.

The first leg, he explained, will start in either Denver or Avon and travel west to San Francisco. From there, he will take the Pedal Beast to Hawaii, then to the Marshall Islands, then to the Philippines. He'll start sketching out the next section — which runs on land from China to Iran — during these legs. The following bit is where things get a little trickier and he'll have to choose a route that will bring him from Iran to Africa.

"You've got three different options, and none of them are very good," he said.

Paul Spencer's Pedal Around the World map
Paul Spencer's Pedal Around the World journey will cover thousands of miles over both land and sea. This is a breakdown of his route, which is detailed on his website.

Taking the pedal boat out for part of this section runs the risk of running into pirates. Going across the Persian Gulf to Yemen isn't great either, as the country is mostly desert and is in the midst of a war. A third option would take Paul up through Iraq, through more desert and into Israel, he explained.

"So, that's a really tough area to get through," Paul said. "And I don't think it's worth trying to make a plan until you're closer (to) there and see how the world situation is at the time."

The current Guinness World Record for fastest circumnavigation of the globe by human power is five years, 11 days, 12 hours, and 22 minutes, held by rower Erden Eruç. Based on Paul's calculations, he thinks he can complete it in about three years, citing how much faster he'll be traveling by bicycle than Eruç was rowing.

The dream started in 2018 and was halted that autumn because the Pedal Beast was not yet ready. And then the world shut down in 2020.

While the start date relies on a multitude of factors — including funding — Paul said he hopes to start the journey within two or three years.

"It will happen, hopefully sooner rather than later," he said.

Building the strength "for the long haul"

If you're training to navigate the globe under nothing but your body's own power, it helps to have some guidance from a professional.

That's why Paul reached out to Zach Vogel, who owns Heroes Training Systems in Golden. Vogel trains some elite athletes, but also caters to local mothers and fathers who simply want to get stronger, faster and more agile in mountainous spaces while juggling busy home lives.

But Paul?

"He's definitely on his own island," Vogel said.

Paul Spencer and Zach Vogel

They have worked together for a while, but Vogel said he expects training for Pedal Round the World to ramp up between 12 and 18 months ahead of its start date.

"Getting to know him now over the last few years — it's been quite an interesting journey," Vogel said. "We don't just hit workouts together. We'll also go do rides together and other crazy adventures that we come up with together. Some days, I almost kill him. And some days he almost kills me. So, it's quite a good relationship we've got going on. The man is an absolute animal."

Vogel acknowledges that Paul has nearly perfected the work necessary to prepare for intense endurance events.

"But if I can make him stronger so he's outputting less energy with more ease — that's the most benefit," he said. "I think the greatest asset that I can be to him is to make sure that he is able to sustain his strength over the long haul."

In his training, Vogel has Paul go out on long rides with plenty of incline, and then he stacks strength work — especially for the lower body and core — on top of it. He said each workout starts with some mobility work and a core complex.

Paul Spencer and Zach Vogel

Paul will undergo training for upright cycling, but also recumbent cycling, when he's in a reclined position, which will cater to when he's inside the Pedal Beast.

At the cellular level, Vogel explained that Paul's workouts will build more mitochondria, and therefore, more power.

He'll have active recovery days so he's always moving the needle forward.

"It's been amazing to see the transferability about how we train and how we coach into real life application," Vogel said. "And Paul is a great example of that."

Their friendship and coach-athlete relationship has flourished under the mutual understanding that Paul does not plan to take his foot off the gas.

"When I come up with some silly idea, Zach never says, ‘That's a silly idea,'" Paul said. "He always helps me work through the logistics of like, ‘OK, well, if you want to ride this many miles, how will you do that?’"

True to his role as a personal coach, Vogel is eager to create these plans, no matter how complex, and make workouts specific for Paul's lofty goals.

"He's got these wild ideas," he said. "He’s just been an inspiration. And I think that's something that a lot of people need, you know, especially nowadays, to be able to get outside, get outdoors, enjoy what nature has to offer."

"This is his dream"

Paul's mother Miriam said she recognized Paul was reaching for another level of endurance athletics when he casually mentioned his plans for the Land's End to John O'Groats challenge in 2009.

"And he kind of told me that he was going to do it, but he didn't like to go into too many details in case I worried," she said. "And I think I've been worrying about Paul on his trips ever since."

Miriam and Paul Spencer

The Pedal Round the World journey is no different. But for every concern she voices — "You will make sure you're tied on all the time, won’t you?" she asked once of his ocean travels — he has a well-researched answer to quell her worries.

"I still think he's crazy," she smiled. "And I'm still worried, obviously. But, very proud of him."

She also keeps tabs on his GPS tracker as he wanders the world.

"If he sets his mind to do something, he will do it," she continued. "Obviously, this is a huge, huge plan he has, but it's been his dream for a long time now. He's passionate about cycling, but he's also passionate about following your dreams. You know, if you set your mind to something, then you should be able to do it. And he's very passionate in that sense. You know, I wouldn't dream of setting any obstacles up. This is his dream."

He is pulling them into it as well, having previously invited them on multiple long rides. They recently joined him for 250 miles over 10 days, though Miriam quickly added she and Paul's father were on e-bikes. He also inspired them to ride 100 miles in a single day.

"Proud of you, Paul, you know that," she said over a group Zoom.

Paul's friend, Jennifer Cresswell of Denver, remembers kind of "forcing a friendship" on Paul when they met a few years ago.

"In minutes with us talking, I'm like, ‘This guy's mad,’" she said. "And then later on, I learned — I think it was the next day — about his website. His original website was And I'm like, that's perfect."

Jennifer Cresswell and Paul Spencer

She called Paul a "massive inspiration" as she aims higher in her own pursuits.

"I've tried to be really mindful about keeping people in my life with a good energy and a good excitement and a good passion and inspiration for life and he's all of those things," Cresswell said. "So I was more intrigued of what crazy things can I do in my life and just think about different adventures that I can go on."

He lives choose-your-own-adventure style while staying humble, she said.

Jennifer Cresswell and Paul Spencer

"Maybe a 10-year-old will read this story and say, ‘I'm going to do that one day,’ and he'll create his own crazy idea and make it his own," Cresswell said.

Paul's passion is already dribbling down to young children, including his coach's young kids. Vogel has been teaching them about the new photos from NASA of galaxies far, far away and it made him feel small, which led to reflections on the community bubbles in places like Boulder, Golden and Denver.

Paul Spencer

"And what I find so unique about Paul is he's managed to... make the world his oyster," he said. "We look at how we live our lives in these small little confined spaces where we can do so much in such a small area, especially in the Mountain West.... We're one little itty-bitty speck and how many people don't take the time and take the opportunity to get out there with either themselves and their thoughts, or people that they love that share that same type of passion? That's why one of the other reasons why I think Paul is so special is because he's managed to take the world and shrink it for himself."

It's part of the reason why Vogel, as well as Cresswell and Paul's family, have expressed interest in helping Paul along the journey, experiencing new countries and escapades.

There's a lot of world out there for them to see, too.

"Ideally, on my round-the-world trip, every one of my friends comes for at least a week and we ride together," he said, then slightly corrected himself — perhaps a coy acknowledgment of his own extreme abilities. "I mean, we don't have to ride together. They can sit in the truck and follow behind. But ideally, we ride bikes and we explore. We adventure. That's what I want to do and that's what I enjoy sharing with people."

Click here for the Pedal Around the World website and to support Paul's journey.

Video created by Denver7 photojournalist Adam Hillberry.