A NORTH Yorkshire accountant has taken a year out of work to cycle round the world on a bike he built himself. Ruth Campbell caught up with him on the first leg of his epic 18,000 mile journey.

FROM his desk in a fourth storey city centre office block, accountant Iain Johnston used to look out on the same grey stretch of urban sprawl, with dismal congested streets below. But, since ditching his job and jumping on a bicycle he built himself to set off on an epic 18,000 mile journey around the world, he is now greeted with a stunningly different and ever-changing landscape each morning.

Inspired by the celebrated Scottish cyclist Mark Beaumont, 29-year-old Iain started cycling from Leeds city centre just a week after Beaumont set off from the Arc de Triomphe on his record-breaking mission to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days.

But the North Yorkshire accountant is planning to take a little longer, stopping off to see some of the sites along the way, and reckons he will be returning home next July.

In order to help raise the £12,000 it is costing him to fund the trip, he even slept in an under-stairs cupboard the week before he left while renting out his bedroom.

So far, he has cycled more than 5,800km, or 3,600 miles, climbed 44,500m and spent 360 hours in the saddle, having travelled through Holland, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia and Turkey to arrive in Georgia, the 11th country on his route.

He camps in secluded spots most nights and gets up at 5am to set off by 6.30am, cycling 100km in temperatures ranging from minus four to 43 degrees Celsius, for around six-and-a-half hours each day. It’s a far cry from the 100km a week he normally cycles in the temperate climate of Yorkshire throughout the year.“But it’s a good balance between getting the miles done and not feeling too rushed to stop off for a cup of tea or two," he says.

During rest days, Iain, who lives near Ripon, stays in hotels to shower and charge his gadgets. “If I want to visit a city, I’ll take a detour. But in more remote parts, I end up cycling non-stop," he says.

Some of the astonishing sights he has seen along the way include Istanbul’s Sultan Ahmed Mosque and the City of Troy and he enjoys seeing the sunrise and sunset every day. More recently, he found climbing a challenging 2,550m summit on the Turkish border, where the Eastern Anatolia converges with the Lesser Caucasus mountain range, particularly breathtaking.

Having descended from there into Georgia, he now plans to cross the Caspian Sea, through Turkistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, into China, India and through South-East Asia to Australia. Then he will take a flight to the States and cycle across North America, before returning home.

Iain, a former pupil of Ripon Grammar School, has long been a keen cyclist, biking 240 miles from Leeds to London in 24 hours last year. He built his bespoke bike from scratch, purchasing parts from a specialist company.

It was watching a BBC documentary about Beaumont with his twin brother James, back in 2010, that gave Iain, then studying economics at Manchester University, the idea of setting himself a challenge. “We decided we would go on a cycling trip before starting work," he says.

Once they graduated, the pair flew to Venice with their bikes and cycled the 1,800 miles back over four weeks. It planted the seed for something bigger and better. “I enjoyed it so much and Mark Beaumont’s trip had sparked my imagination, although I wasn’t originally planning to cycle around the world," says Iain.

While working and studying for his final chartered accountancy exams, Iain, who has recently purchased a house with James, found the idea of taking time out difficult: “Then I came home from work one day and said if I didn’t commit now, I never would.”

Early last year, he began to save and research a route. “As time went on, I thought I could potentially do it. I took the risk of leaving my job and told anyone who would listen about my trip to make it difficult to pull out,” he says.

With the help of additional money coming in from renting out a spare room in their house, it took around 18 months to save what he needed to cover the cost of equipment, flights, visas, food and hotels.

His parents, a retired police officer and a carer, are keen walkers and campers and encouraged their three children to be adventurous and explore new places, so Iain is no stranger to physical exertion and challenge. Having completed both the Yorkshire and national Three Peaks challenges with his brother, he ran the London Marathon in three hours 56 minutes last year.

“I’m coping well, health-wise, and it has all gone smoothly so far,” he says. “But cycling can be tough, especially going up the mountains of Eastern Turkey, and I’ve come down with food poisoning several times.”

Surviving on a diet of bread, noodles, beans, pasta and eggs, supplemented by the occasional meal in a local restaurant, he is finding it difficult to source nutritious food in shops the further east he goes.

One of the most challenging things, he says, is staying on his bike for hours at a time with only himself for company, but the incredibly generous and welcoming people he has met along the way make it easier to bear.“I’ve had meals bought for me, and fruit and water given to me by locals, who enjoy having a friendly chat by the side of the road.” And, although he decided to camp to cut costs, he says he enjoys the camping as much as the cycling.

Carrying a GPS transponder, so friends and family can track his progress and alert emergency services if necessary, Iain is delighted with the performance of his bike, having only suffered five punctures and a broken pannier rack so far.

When he returns home, he says he'll have to get a job to start paying the bills as James is planning a 12-month motorbike trip after he gets back.

"But, for now, I’m living my dream, and loving every second. It would be nice, though, if I could inspire a few people to get on their bikes and head off on an adventure themselves.”