In April 2015, Martijn Doolarrd left Amsterdam for a long bicycle trip, a year later he arrived in Singapore. He documented his journey with a book and film, sharing the experiences he made and the people he met. But he wasn’t ready for it to be over.
Not long after Singapore, he began his next big adventure, cycling from Vancouver to Patagonia – taking him 816 days to complete! We caught up with Martijn soon after his return home from South America, to see what inspires him to make these epic journeys.
Words and Photography by Martijn Doolaard | @_espiritu.libre_
What inspired you to embark on your year-long bicycle trip, from Amsterdam to Singapore?
I wanted to see the world. But I didn’t want to go on holiday, it needed to be a big challenge of some sort. Strapping a bike full with bags and spending my days outside for a long while resonated with me.
What do you gain from the journey when you slow travel?
I think it’s fulfilling in many ways. Cycling feels like a natural pace because you move yourself by body power. The continuous workout makes your body release endorphines which trigger positive feelings. At the end of the day you feel like you’ve really achieved something. You know how wrecked you can feel after a transcontinental flight; the fast change of environment, climate and time zone is very unnatural for both body and mind. When you travel slow you sense the changes of the landscapes and climate in a much more detailed way. You realise that country borders don’t really exist geologically, culturally and even ethnically. I love the interaction of cycling through a village, making eye contact with people, smell the fresh bread from a bakery and being sent off to the hills by an angry farm dog. It’s full of unexpected little joys and fears.
You have just returned from another solo adventure, cycling from Vancouver to Patagonia. Can you tell us what it is like for you to come back home after being on this 800-day journey?
It’s great to finally meet my family and friends again after so much time away from home. I missed Amsterdam, so there’s a lot of catching up to do. Also, I need some time to stand still and look back to an amazing adventure. There’s a huge bag of memories to revel through, it gives a lot of energy. Our memories are our most valuable belongings, one of the lessons I learned after a period of having less belongings and experiencing more. I also see my old home in a new light. I think travelling gives you new perspectives, it catalyses making bigger decisions faster in life. There’s always a big clean up when I return from travels. I get rid of all the stuff and habits I don’t really need and catch up on the things I find important.
On these journeys, most of the time you travel solo - how does it feel when it is just you and the bike?
I enjoy being on my own, it’s my comfort zone. ‘Alone’ is often a negative word. I don’t feel that way. The digital era makes it very easy to stay connected, my family and friends are Whatsapp message away. On the road I wave often, to a pump operator, a farmer in the field, a passing truck driver, a woman doing laundry in a river, children playing in the field. I made a lot of friends.
In your book, One Year On a Bike, and your online blog you talk a lot about the hospitality of those you meet on these journeys. Could you tell us of one encounter that changed the way you live now?
I’ve been welcomed in many homes accross the world and blindly trusted in communities. What I often experienced is that the poorest people are often the most hospitable. In the desert in Iran I remember passing an old sheep farmer with his grandson. They were sitting on the side of the road eating a watermelon and watching the sheep. I greeted them and the old man gestured me to come over, sit down and eat with them. We didn’t speak each others language so we just stared at each other and the sheep, he kept giving me the spoon to eat more from the melon. It was the purest moment of hospitality and all the fears of strange people and cultures, that we are often raised with, were gone in an instant.
What does travel mean to you?
For me, it’s a tool to renew and rejuvenate myself. I try to travel off the grid as much as possible, to find authentic places and experiences. The most interesting and memorable encounters happen if you don’t know where you’re going.