To the joyous cheers of Omani locals, British cyclist Jonathan Shubert rode into the southern city of Salalah shortly after 4:00am (00:00GMT) following two days during which he cycled 1,300 kilometres across the country, beating a world record of six days for this distance.
- calories burnt during the 2-day cycle ride
The British cycling champion and former round the world cyclist, who is currently working as a science teacher at a British school in Oman, set off from the capital city, Muscat in the north, on Sunday morning and travelled from there across the country to the southern city of Salalah in an attempt to set a world record by cycling across Oman in under 48 hours.
He fought against sunstroke, dehydration and exhaustion and managed to complete the journey in 47 hours and 21 minutes. Racing against time and the blazing sun of the Wahiba desert, the record attempt was Shubert's way of raising awareness about the work of humanitarian charity Lifting Hands International and the plight of refugees in northern Iraq.
"I follow the news quite closely and it saddens me to see what's happening in Yemen and in Syria and Iraq, and I wanted to be able to do something," Shubert told MEMO ahead of his journey.
"I thought why not use this strange talent that I have for long distance cycling to try and help some of these people." By the time he reached Salalah, Shubert had raised close to £3,000 ($4,161) for the charity, overcoming restrictions on fundraising in Oman that require either permission from the government or an affiliation with a local charity.
Life on two wheels
Shubert says cycling was in his blood even before he was born. "There is a legacy in my family," he told MEMO. "My grandfather was a great cycling champion in the 1930s." However, growing up in different countries to expatriate parents, it was not until the age of 14 that he took to cycling.
"When I lived in places like Turkey as a 12-year-old child, it wasn't possible to cycle; the roads weren't good enough," he continued. "But when I came back to the UK, I fell in love with riding my bike."
"I suppose ever since then, I haven't been able to put my bike down," he added. Between March 2013 and March 2014, Shubert embarked on a 30,000 kilometre circumnavigation of the globe by bicycle along with his friend and fellow cyclist Imran Mughal, passing through 29 countries and three continents. "We had this ambition to cycle across Eurasia all the way from France to Singapore without taking any other mode of transport."
"The life lessons that I learned from travelling around the world were numerous," Shubert said. "I think it restored my faith in human nature."
To Shubert, the bicycle was the most beautiful way of seeing the world, because it exposes your vulnerability. "As much as that thought might scare people, it's actually the best thing because then you experience human hospitality, human kindness at its very best," he continued.
Before completing his round the world journey, Shubert had raced as an amateur in the UK, placed in the top five in national time trial championships. Only three weeks after his return, however, he won the 2014 British 24-hour cycling championship, the same championship his grandfather had won.
"When I won that 24-hour championship, that was the proudest moment of my life," Shubert told MEMO. Being greeted at the finish line by his father, who had project-managed the whole thing, made it all the more special to him. "To share that moment with him was really quite magical and it was a nice way to encapsulate the year I'd spent cycling around the world."
No stranger to the Middle East
Shubert is no stranger to the Middle East. When there was an opening for a teacher's post in Oman three years ago, he was quick to apply.
"Oman itself is one of the safest countries in the world," Shubert says. "It's a lovely place and people in this country are so friendly and so welcoming."
"It also gives me the opportunity to ride my bike in nice weather most of the year round, and I go back to the UK in the summer during the school holidays and race over there," he continued.
Shubert follows Middle Eastern news closely and hopes that things will improve in the region. "Since the few years that I've been here, things have worsened especially in Yemen, just across the border, and you wouldn't believe that living in Oman."
"Sadly, it seems to be a bit of a stalemate in Yemen. These proxy wars that are going on between Iran and Saudi, and I hope that doesn't spread again to places like Lebanon."
Discussions about the Middle East and the West's perceptions of the Middle East and Muslims are not uncommon among British expatriates at the school where Schubert works. "It's interesting looking from the outside at how the West, how many of them – perhaps the ignorant ones – view the Middle East."
"Humanity is a wonderful thing," Shubert said, "and I would encourage anyone to go out and see it with their own eyes and experience it, because the world is not the scary place that's portrayed to us in most of the media."