A year on a bike

Posted

March 2, 2017

6 min read
Words & Photos: Martijn Doolaard

"The more you travel, the more you realise how little you have seen..."

This is the quote which greets you when you visit espiritu-libre.com, the website for Martijn Doolaard, a man who with just a bicycle and a backpack, travelled from Amsterdam to Singapore almost solely under his own steam.

He says the aforementioned quote "describes best why I travel", and that for him his endless journeying satisfies an addictive urge to encounter the unexpected and new.

He recently published a truly glorious photo book of his journey traversing the globe on his bike, and we nabbed him for a chat about his experiences, and what the future holds.

Right now you are fulfilling your Kickstarter commitments after the publication of your book. Will that be the end of this journey for you?

Yes, the Kickstarter rewards have been sent out, which means the project comes to an end regarding creation and production. I’m currently working on a film. It’s basically the cinematic version of the book, because most of the moments I photographed, I have also filmed. That’s the great thing about modern cameras - with the switch of a button they become a high quality video camera.

Martijn, adventurer, explorer, cyclist.
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  1. Martijn, adventurer, explorer, cyclist.

My main goal is always to make people dream - about life, about the world, about travelling. I dream about exploring."

Was publishing a book of photos of your journey always the end goal for you, or did that emerge as you started seeing amazing sights and wanting to share them with the world?

Not really. I was a graphic designer, with an interest in photography and film. This journey was all about not having a plan but taking life as it comes and seeing where it took me. I posted on my blog regularly and people responded very engagingly to what I wrote and the imagery I posted. The writing part was new for me but it felt really natural, and I don’t think I have ever spoken so straight from the heart in my writings and creative work. I needed a certain honesty, to deal with the loneliness on the road. It’s easy to make beautiful photos from tropical beaches and outstanding landmarks. But it’s the way you deal with all this beauty in contrast with all the challenges of bicycle touring that makes such a journey so interesting.

Did you have a clear goal in mind?

My main goal is always to make people dream - about life, about the world, about travelling. I dream about exploring.

You talk about loneliness on the road, how important were the daily messages from the people following your journey?

Probably more important than I thought. I talked about this a lot with my friend Nils, a cyclist with a similar quest I met on the road. In contrast to how I do it, he doesn’t share anything on social media. When he comes home he has a story to tell. When I came home we just talked about my blogposts. Everyone knew in detail what I had been through.

Essentials for a cross-continental tour.
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His steed ready to go – where is the guitar?
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  1. Essentials for a cross-continental tour.
  2. His steed ready to go – where is the guitar?
You saw some pretty crazy and amazing sights during your journey, what was a particularly memorable experience?

There were just so many, like the hot air balloons in Cappadocia, Turkey taking off at sunrise. Then there were the mosques of Esfahan in Iran, the temples of Bagan. Such beautiful, sacred places. A pretty horrifying memory was being hunted down by a pack of stray dogs on a salt lake in Turkey. I’m still surprised I made it out without a scratch.

Did you have a favourite destination, or area of the world?

On this journey it was Turkey, Iran, Kyrgzyzstan, India and Myanmar, and all for totally different reasons. I think any culture that contrasts with the one you grew up with is interesting because there is so much to learn from and be amazed by.

And travelling by bike created a different sense of wonder again?

When you travel by bicycle life is a lot more intense because you’re vulnerable and so much more exposed to the climate, people, sound. The beauty you’ll see is more beautiful but all the challenges are harder to get through too. When you finally make it to your destination all those memories, good or bad, are valuable.

How did you keep your mind focussed during particularly challenging times?

Life on the road always has a new horizon. That’s the thing that draws me.

Would you do it again?

Absolutely.

Have you started working on anything else, or are you still settling after the last whirlwind year and a half?

Settling after this journey took me a few weeks. It was really great to be back home again, after not having a home for a year. New ideas? I have lots. I’d love to explore the Americas, maybe by motorbike. I love the mountains and going off the road. During my last trip there were so many side roads up on the mountains I would have liked to explore, but with a 50kg bicycle you stick to the route and paved roads as much as possible.

A year on a bike
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A year on a bike
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So your bike made you feel limited at times?

Climbing up a mountain needs a lot of persistence. That said, every setup has it’s own advantages and downsides. It’s very personal. Some people are fine sleeping without a tent, whilst others enjoy a bit more comfort but it adds to the weight you have to carry. You’ll have to find a sweet spot there for yourselves.

If you could give someone else one piece of advice about cycling the world, what would it be?

Don’t try to plan too much and travel as light as possible - the less you have, the more you absorb and connect with your surroundings.

  1. The stunning skies and landscapes of Cappadocia were a highlight.
  2. From the ‘Dam’ to ‘Lion City’ in a many, many legs.
  3. Camping out, a pretty regular occurrence along the way.
  4. Lonely at times, Martijn spent a lot of time with the horizon.
A year on a bike
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A year on a bike
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