The rain is poring from the sky. Today is going a bit different than planned. I sit down with Daniel in a wooden abandoned hut in a natural park in the Netherlands called Veluwe. The plan for today included a bike ride of about 80 kilometers. The weather had other plans with us.
Fortunately, we are now sitting warm around a campfire on seats made of stones and wooden planks. We’re not bored at all. Daniel opens a bottle of port “Had this bottle for a while now laying around in my house, I knew it would come in handy one day.” And here we are, with enough stories to tell for the whole night.
Stories to tell?
Remember Daniel? In March, just after my return from my bicycle journey to Singapore I got an email from him. He invited me in his hometown for some advice. And I was glad to got his invitation because I was looking for an excuse to go out.
Daniel asked me for advice for his big cycling journey to Kyrgyzstan. And now, a year later, he is back.
Today I’m going to tell you the story of Daniel, about our encounter and his cycling journey with his friend Eric and later on with his wife Shanon.
I met you when you almost started with your cycling journey from the Netherlands to Kyrgyzstan. You had quite your job. That final week before you left, can you describe what was going through your mind?
That was funny, I followed you for a while. I came to know your journey through the national radio. And then I met you in real life: the great adventurer Henk van Dillen! I was expecting some kind of super hero with a beard. Instead, a most friendly, shivering and shaven male appeared at my front door.
It is strange. You are indeed eager, but at the same time you’re terrified of what lies ahead. In one way or another, you know you totally can’t prepare, but you are trying to control everything you can. Such as your equipment. And later during the journey you think: what nonsense that I brought this! I remember going to my father just before I left and told him this:
“I’ve never done anything that I had so little idea of how it was going to be.”
And that was the truth. You have no idea of what is going to happen and you have to get used to that.
How did you come up with the ambitious idea of traveling from the Netherlands to Kyrgyzstan on a bicycle?
I was walking to the supermarket during a break from my office. It was midsummer and I was walking in the sun in a small neightbourhood where my office is located. I realized at that moment that I felt such a terrible feeling from being in that office. The boredom, the vagueness and the hopelessness that went through my mind, you almost can’t imagine.
Everything in me cried for something different.
I started to hate the certainty and lazy feeling my life was giving me. I believed that I had too many privileges in this world and I was using it shamelessly to make my life comfortable.
When I called Eric, a friend I occasionally had contact with and who always did something crazy either hitchhiking or cycling, he told me this: “Daniel, I just decided that I’m going to cycle to Kyrgyzstan!” I then decided in a second without any doubt that I was going to join him. I had no idea where it was, or how it would be, but I was sure enough that this was exactly what I wanted and needed right now.
Everyone secretly dreams of going abroad for some months. Time, money, career, relationships, fear of the unknown, there’re plenty of reasons to think about that’ll hold you back from really doing it. Your mind was on it and nothing was going to hold you back. Was it difficult for you to commit yourself to this plan?
Strangely enough it was time, money, career, and the unkown that made me wanting to do this. My career felt tremendously wrong, I couldn’t sustain this for any years longer. But I had earned enough money with it to leave. And when I was there, walking to that supermarket, and deciding to change my life, a huge weight went off my shoulders.
Of course I was worrying about what ‘they’ were going to say, but I decided for myself that there was no turning back from this.
And that’s crazy though: I was going through my life without any decision making. I whizzed through the secondary school, I studied some, went backpacking and even earned a Master’s degree. And in a blink I was working a serious job.
I became 29 without ever having made a real decision for myself.
And in that time you were married with Sharon. How did she react on your radical decision?
Sharon was my biggest fan! She also saw that I was on the wrong pad and we talked a lot about what would fit me. She only saw the plan of a detached house with a horse and a goat provisionally go up in smoke. But she also saw the charm and the scope of this adventure. She was even more excited than I was.
I often heard that I cycled quite fast. It took me an unprecedented two months and I was already cycling into Istanbul. I was even kinda proud on this. Until I heard that you cycled in a month from the Netherlands to Istanbul. One month? Did you even sleep that month?
Well, you could say that I have sacrificed a lot of culture for speed. A nice place like Dubrovnik in Croatia I cycled just through it. But I really enjoyed the long hours cycling 20km/h and zapping through Europe and even enjoyed all the beautiful places that I encountered.
But it was February, it rained, it snowed, it was cold. And I was not alone, I was with Eric, the guy from the aforementioned phone call. Eric is a beast on his bicycle, so I paddled behind him. I also slept a lot in people’s homes through couchsurfing or warm showers in the first three weeks. In that way you can relax a little bit more because you don’t have to set up a tent and cook food. You cycle into the evening with a purpose. That makes you go fast. The disadvantage is that you can’t directly fall asleep on a sofa. You’ll have to be social to the people which host you.
We just have taken little rest, because we wanted to go to the warmer south. Although ultimately disappointing: it snowed in Albania and it hailed in Macedonia.
You were completely trained and fit when you left?
Haha, well I would advise not necessarily to maintain my pace. I did an average of more than 100km per day. If you average 50km per day it’ll also be a great dostance. In addition, of course, you automatically become trained on such a journey!
You prepare and hope that you have the right stuff with you. You try to plan everything as good as you can.
Yes exactly, but I had quickly learned from you that this planning can cost a lot of money. A tent of 800 euros and a sleeping bag of 600 euros are not necessarily needed. So I’ve prepared myself in a budget way and took my old sleeping bag and mat and a second hand tent. And my motto is: “Problems you’ll solve when they occur.”
And it worked fine, I’ve had very few times that I was really in trouble. And those times I couldn’t prevent in any way.
Which things in your panniers had the most value for you?
I had a very nice knife with me. Which I used very often. And I also had an extra pocket knife with me, and a spork (knife and fork in one). And Eric also had a knife. We really often used a knife.
But after two months, we lost all of them. Seriously, I had three knives with me, Eric had one and I have received two gifts knives on the way. All lost.
It is funny when you hear about all the things that cyclist lose. From complete panniers to cameras. We are a bunch of very bad equipment keepers.
Also interesting is to see what pointless things cyclcist take with them. I took with me a bluetooth speaker and an Italian coffee maker for example. Or what about a washing net? The proud owner of that washing net now is a Greek fisherman who hold his fishes in it.
Which local person made the biggest impression on you?
That’s a hard question. As a traveler you put yourself in a vulnerable and dependendable position. Therefor you will meet an awful lot of lovely people. I would bypass many people if I just would choose one. But Ramazan would be an excellent example of many great and helpful local people I’ve met. He just sat somewhere outside his home in Turkey along the main road. He waved and whistled and gestured to stop. I was just fine, but I decided to stop for him. We could not communicate with a common language, but he fired his stove, made tea, made bread, olives, cheese and butter and we were just looking at each other in his home. When I wanted to go again, he gestured that it was lunchtime. From time to time friends came along and eventually an English-speaking man was phoned. He asked if we were satisfied and that Ramadan took good care of us.
That unconditional kindness of people for strangers. It’s something what amazed me the most.
In which country did you face the most amazing hospitality?
I had very high expectations from Iran. That seems to be a Walhalla for travelers. And the funny thing is: it was like this. I can write a book about it. Take for example Farhad, which just came to us to say that his mother had dinner ready for us. Or a man that ran out of his shop and told us we had to stay as guests with him. He almost cried when we declined his offer.
Picnicking with families, taken from your tent or you just sleep with someone at home. Really, Iran is heaven for the traveler who has time and is open to hospitality.
What traveler in this journey has impressed you the most?
That must have been Rutz Andreas (Andy). He had just left Switzerland with his bike and guitar. Many travelers are always talking about the impact of their impressive adventures. The vast distances or how tough it is. Andy not, he always smiles and will tell you how easy it is. And he was extremely patient and friendly, which made me feel sad that after three weeks we had to go our separate ways.
Which border crossing took the most trouble?
Border crossings always cause me some abdominal pain. If you forget to fill in a box somewhere on a form. Or forget your signature. Or you loose a form along the way. Or you have no proper proof of health insurance. The little things can cause you hours of delay or even worse, I had heard about a Frenchman who needed to stay a week in the middle of nowhere between the borders of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan!
My hardest border crossing was from Uzbekistan to Tajikistan. It was 45 degrees and the building obviously had no air conditioning. For obscure reasons, I had to wait for two hours in a cubicle. Then a smiling man appeared and I had to hand him a custom form. Custom form? Huh? I didn’t have one. And didn’t seen it either. It is a form that says how much money you bring into the country and you can’t take out more than that. I had a big problem. But, the man grinned, he had a solution. He took 20 euro from my stack bills and motioned to me to give it to him. I did and was so happy that I didn’t have to spend half a year in the Uzbek prison. And yes, after this obscure transaction I could continue my way. I got a stamp in my passport and was allowed to go further.
Have you ever almost peed in your pants with fear?
Haha, no! Well, maybe that time in Turkey that at 1:00 o’clock at night a car stopped next to our tent, and two men got out which woke us up. That was not so nice. But they turned out to be police officers.
When you arrived in Kyrgyzstan your wife Sharon joined you and you cycled with her through China to Bangkok. How did that go?
That was really fantastic. Sharon proved a born adventurer: she had less requirements than me. She had no problem with any kind of place to sleep or problems with eating three days of dry rice with a slice of tomato. And it was brilliant: she understood what I had experienced for months. We now do this more often in the Netherlands because she now that there is no better form of traveling than by bicycle!
It was quite different than either alone or with another male cyclist but I had already met couples and I knew how I wanted to bot be as a couple. Often they are in themselves, as a sort of clique. I didn’t want to be like that. And with success, we even cycled a while with other cyclists.
What is your advice for others to include someone as a partner in your travel dream?
Do it! I really need a woman in my life so I want to see the world with her. I meet a lot of people who say yes, I would absolutely go, but my partner sees not what I see. I find that sometimes sin, because often that’s an answer that they made up themselves and does not represent their partner decision. Sharon was to my surprise very excited about my plan, it was because she saw the fire in my eyes. If you really want something, there is much more possible than you think.
You came after months of ultimate freedom back home. And the weather in Holland was awful. You came from the tropical climate in Bangkok. You had no job, it was cold and your wife went on a journey for her work. Didn’t you feel depressed about that?
It is tempting to sit at home moping and complaining about how bad it is. I look particularly at the fact that I have a lovely house, with a full refrigerator and a comfortable bed. Flat trails with good asphalt. Friends, beers, and warm family love. The Netherlands is beautiful and the climate is wonderfully mild: not weird cold, warm and no extreme heights.
It makes no sense to compare your culture with any other one. It’s ingrained in people that they have their own way of life and habits and judge other ways of living. To judge your own culture -from other cultural perspectives- is in my opinion a pointless exercise. In the beginning, I was an expert at this, you know. But I learned that we all just live our life in a certain way, we follow traditions and invent new things and that’s okay.
You were IT consultant before you started this journey and now you are a filmmaker. It allows me to say that this journey has completely threw your life upside down. Tell us about that!
Yes, if you make a big change in your way of living, unexpected things come on your path. When I came back I got the chance to work for television: finding stories and elaborate them for a TV program. It really is a dream job: I am all day talking to different people about their lives and their motivations. And those stories we share on TV.
I would love to keep doing this. It’s a dream for me to be a full time camera man. Maybe in a few years..
Will you ever do a big travel journey again?
Absolutely, although I’m not sure if it is such a long journey as this one. Perhaps a month here, a month there. But I have no plans yet, I first have to learn to make good television.
The trick now is to clutter my life: no expensive car, no big house, no high and expensive standard of living. If you love yourself regardless of physical things.
I think that property makes travel difficult.
Do you have an inspiring or not inspiring quote for us?
Well, I’m not some kind of Dalai Lama. But in its core it is this: one day you’ll die. Really. Don’t forget about your dreams. And spend the time you have on living up to something special!
Thnx for this great story Daniel! Take a look at www.wegenvandewereld.nl, here Daniel documented his journey.