Cycling: the itinerary from Canada to Argentina

Martijn Doolaard, Two Years on a Bike, gestalten 2021

It all started from one end. You only realize afterwards that it can only be like this: You have to close with what you have been until then, if you want to open up to something else. I had it all: a good job – graphic designer in an international studio in Amsterdam, an apartment I owned where I lived with my boyfriend – and yet I felt miserable. I sat glued to the computer from morning to night, and I had no time for anything other than repeating to myself that in the future I would do this or that.

Your dreams will be bigger if you can look at the stars before falling asleep

The truth is that I was paralyzed by the fear of losing everything and breaking the so-called “perfect life”. Until one day, in a rush of courage? unconsciousness? I left both the studio and the girl and started freelancing and cycling – not that before, like all Dutch people, I didn’t do it, but now it wasn’t routine anymore. A trip to Paris was revealing: I pedaled and felt “at home”. I tried to increase the distances with a crossing in Switzerland and although I was not a super sportsman, I not only managed it, but I liked it.

martijn doolaard, two years on a bike, gestalten 2021

Two years on a bike. From Vancouver to Patagonia (Two years on a bicycle), ed. Gestalt. 416 pages to tell the 19,788 kilometers that separate the Canadian city from the Argentinian Ushuaia, in Tierra del Fuego, where Martijn Doolaard finally gets off his bike. He made his first adventure on two wheels in 2015 when he left Amsterdam and in one year reached Singapore.

Martijn Doolaard, Two Years on a Bike, gestalten 2021

The feeling of freedom, yes also of lightness – because you learn to relieve yourself of everything that is not necessary – the euphoria of changing horizons every day and the endorphins of physical exercise. I had finally figured out what I really wanted to do, I just needed to get organized. For the first transcontinental, from Amsterdam to Singapore via China, I saved a year keeping another on the road, but other than that I had nothing planned, not even the destination – just the direction, east – and that was already incredibly liberating.

Your dreams will be bigger if you can look at the stars before falling asleep

Once in the saddle, everything became clear. The very simplicity of the journey became its very meaning: everything I had with me had a significant reason, I had chosen it and had found a place for it in the maximum imaginable space to then be able to pedal and survive. After 18 countries and 17,000 kilometers I returned to Amsterdam, ready to return to “usual” life. And for a while it was like that: the design studios started calling me again, and I sat down at my desk as if nothing had changed.

two years on a bike

Day 695: “pit stop” to change tires at a hostel in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Martijn Doolaard, Two Years on a Bike, gestalten 2021

But it was me who had changed, able to enjoy the well-being and comfort of the little things and at the same time aware that my life could also be elsewhere. Throughout the world? It was then that I began to think that I could ride a bike but also continue to work, in a virtuous circle of pleasure, duty and pleasure of duty. After all, all my work was done via laptop: I just needed a place to sit down, put down my computer and connect to Wi-Fi. Where it was not important for the result – for the customers – it was fundamental for me.

If I had moved from east to west the first time, it might now be the north-south axis. Leaving Alaska was no longer a season, Vancouver was instead ideal for setting up the bike, making a base with some friends and freelancing for a few days. Then descend towards the Pacific Ocean and, following the coast, arrive at Tierra del Fuego: 12,000 kilometers on the map, with desired detours – the bike is a way of being somewhere, rather than a means of going there. I was not interested in the most direct or economic way, but the richest of interest. Time was secondary, the only fixed “deadline” was to reach San Francisco and stay there for a few days as the first work stop. For the following I counted on Mexico City, Bogotà,

Baja California

Day 177: Overnight camp in the Mexican desert along the Baja Divide, a 2,700 km mountain bike trail that runs from north to south on the Baja California peninsula.

Martijn Doolaard, Two Years on a Bike, gestalten 2021

La Paz, Santiago de Chile. In the end, the total kilometers were almost 20,000, and few things were, as I expected, the best – as I hoped – the unexpected. The Grand Canyon, where I “cheated” the bike that a car was 500 km off course, turned out to be a disappointment – crowded, clicking, noisy, while Zion National Park in Utah had captivated me so much that I longed for going up there … and down and what South America means: Not all roads were accessible to cyclists and not all places where you could camp, but I did both.

They have been the first two cycling lessons: memorable destinations are those that have cost you effort or that you have found by chance; not all illegal things are wrong unless you harm nature and leave no trace. Another thing that the more I pedaled the more I learned was to free myself from fear. Assets? Also. I was afraid of finding myself walking or sick, and it happened: In Mexico City – where I enjoyed a girl, the connection and the night life – they stole my bike, and after crossing the Cordillera Blanca in Peru and steps over 4,000 meters, collapsed for almost two weeks.

two years on a bike

Day 515: a final look at the Cotopaxi volcano in Ecuador, passed after a two-day circumnavigation and a pass at more than 4,000m altitude.

Martijn Doolaard, Two Years on a Bike, gestalten 2021

But it was in the worst moments that I had the most extraordinary encounters: the cyclist who gives you a bike, the tailor who sews the inner tube and the tent, the shepherd who guides you and shares his meal. When I took the Carretera Austral, in Puerto Varas, Chile, the final sprint to Ushuaia, I was steeped in melancholy – and not just because I did it in the wrong season and it rained constantly. It was the beginning of the end, and it seemed to me that the best had already happened, over there behind me. Now it was all downhill, all easy, and then two days of flying for two years. Traveling is not the only answer for those looking for meaning, but I think it is one of the best ways to ask what normal and special mean to oneself. Just leaving the house and going somewhere has the power to turn your life in a different direction. Small, bold choices suddenly turn the wheel. Do not brake immediately ».

(Martijn Doolaard’s testimony collected by Alessandra Pon)

Top: Martin in front of the George Bryce Canyon landscape in Utah. One of the most spectacular, but least known, American national parks

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