The scenery was otherworldly, nothing like any place I have been before
Martijn Doolaard shares some highlights from his trip when he spent 365 days cycling from Europe to Asia
THE LANDSCAPE THAT WAS OTHERWORLDLY
Tuz Golu, Turkey (4,604km)
While examining the map one morning, I discovered a large, white stain exactly in the middle of Turkey. One of the largest salt lakes in the world. I discovered that because of this lake’s size, it doesn’t get more than half-a-metre deep and after a hot summer it is totally dried out by August/September.
About 5km north of [the entry] point I dragged my bike through a barley field so I could cycle on the beach without being disturbed by (other) tourists. After I struggled through some metres of sticky mud I was standing on a huge plain as white as snow. Depending on the direction of the sun, the surface has a pink glow to it and the reflection of the sun was overwhelmingly bright. The beach consists of sharp crystals on which you’d hurt yourself if you walked with bare feet. The scenery was otherworldly, nothing like any place I have been before. With a knife I carved a bit of salt out to take with me as a memento.
THE SIGHT THAT MAKES YOU FORGET YOUR PROBLEMS
Cappadocia, Turkey (4,689km)
At 5.30am I wake up from a bad dream. A thin ray of sunlight pierces through the tent. I open the zipper and when I stick my head out: instant happiness. The sky is filled with colourful hot air balloons drifting on the wind. The sound of soft eruptions of fire from the balloons is almost Zen-like. What a fabulous thing to look at. I’ve never been so happy waking up.
THE CLIMB THAT WAS WORTH IT
Dizin, Iran (7,0244km)
The mountains symbolise love and hate. It takes me three days to cross the mountain range between the Persian coast and Tehran. The main road climbs from below sea level to 2,700 metres, then after a long tunnel it goes down a few hundred metres, and after that it goes up to the summit at 3,300 metres.
The third day the road gets steeper, which lowers my average speed to a silly 7km/h. I take short breaks and eat twice as much to compensate for the heavy workout. Luckily my body is doing really well. My mind goes back to the first weeks in Germany when I was dreading ascents of a mere 500 metres.
At the top there is a tunnel. Then it splits and I need to make a decision. I can follow the main road down and end up on the west side of Tehran, or I can go east, climbing further up to a height of 3,300 metres and ending up on the east side of Tehran. I feel east is where I need to be, so I take a deep breath and make my choice. The road turns out to be even harder than I thought, with no less than 19 hairpin bends. I become exhausted. I’m questioning what I’m doing and I’m close to giving up. This is madness. But at the same time, I realise if I just take my time I will make it. After a gruelling three hours in which I cover only 6km, I kiss the sky at the magic 3,300 metres. The summit overlooks the entire valley. It was the toughest climb on this trip so far. In the end though, the view alone made it totally worth it.
WHEN MY KIT WAS PUT TO THE TEST
After Lake Toktogul the road rose up from 1,000 to 3,000 metres. There were two high peak to climb and then a long descent down to Bishkek, my final destination in Kyrgyzstan. There was an abandoned shack where I could hide from the wind and snow to change my clothing. During a descent it’s a lot colder due to the higher speed and the reduced physical effort. I exchanged all my clothes for dry ones. Outside everything was white, even the sky. It snowed so hard I couldn’t see beyond 100 metres. I had to put on my sunglasses to keep the snow from going into my eyes. It was just below zero degrees, which made the snow sticky and watery. The derailleur [unit that supports the chain] on my bike got obstructed. Everything was covered in ice while I descended at 40km/h.
THE FINAL RIDE
The last day I cycle the final 70km to Gardens by the Bay where Jordy and Monique, Dutch friends living in Singapore, await me. It’s a busy route through Johor, a city on the Malaysian side, and then it crosses Singapore from north to south. It goes pretty fast. Before I know it I’m at the border. Everything is neatly organised and I get channelled through the motorcycle lanes. There are hundreds of motorcycles and dozens of immigration booths to process the traffic smoothly. I’m the only one on a bicycle. At the booth I need to fill out a little card and it’s a matter of minutes before I’m on the bridge to Singapore.
When I pass the Flower Domes in the gardens I almost collide with a child on a skateboard who is not looking where he is going. This would have been the only accident of this trip. I make a left turn and I see Jordy waving and filming with his phone. There are cheers and smiles. A bottle of champagne is pushed into my hands and I’m fiddling with the cap for a few seconds. Then there’s a pop and the glasses are filled. The bikes, leaning against a palm tree is covered in balloons. Seventeen thousand miles, 18 countries. From Amsterdam to Singapore by bike. It’s done.
Read more about Martijn Doolaard’s adventure in One Year On A Bike: From Amsterdam To Singapore (published by Gestalten). Photography by Martijn Doolaard, from One Year on a Bike, Copyright Gestalten 2017