Seven years on a bicycle
XPLORid and Peter Schols
Will Ben van Baardwijk ever see his parents again? It is one of the dilemmas when you leave for a world trip of seven years. And your father and mother are both 86 years old.
Two sturdy bikes dominate the living room of the apartment in a suburb of Maastricht. The space is also crammed with spare chains, tires and all kinds of necessary bicycle gear. The paperwork for a journey through eighty countries appears to be an even greater challenge.
Leaving your elderly parents behind. Naturally, Ben van Baardwijk from Maastricht has struggled with this. "I am now 59 and I said: I can wait until you die, but then I may be too old to cycle 100,000 kilometers around the world. They still find it difficult."
Van Baardwijk has given his mother an iPad with which she can follow him and Linda Reimersdahl (38) continuously through a GPS signal. "If something happens to my parents, we can possibly fly back if we are not too far out of the city."
Traveling together around the world for seven years. You must have the guts to do this. The initiative was Ben’s: "I followed world cyclists on Instagram. I wanted to do that too, alone. "
Ben met Linda two years ago. "I was more into walking, Ben convinced me," says Linda. Initially, people did not take them seriously. "A world trip by bike? Whatever. They now see what we are all doing. When we got married on June 24 2018, we asked for a contribution gift for the bicycles.”
In their living room a world map is showing with an impressive route through all continents. From Europe it goes to countries such as Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Mongolia, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Canada, the USA, Peru, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Congo, Nigeria . "Back in Europe we’ll see what’s next." Spain, maybe Italy. When we arrive in Maastricht, we want to cycle to the North Cape.”
You are kidding me! After seven years you are back in the Netherlands at the “gates” of Maastricht, then you want to be home, right? They are smiling. "Maybe we will skip that trip. We will see. As little as possible is set in advance."
Photo Peter Schols
The countries they are going to visit are certain; the exact route is not. "We have a navigation system and a compass with us. We follow the Foreign Affairs app with travel advice, we talk to other cyclists. In a few years the situation might be totally different."
The Pamir Highway in Tajikistan, where four cyclists were deliberately killed last year, is inevitable. "A risk?" Ben replies: "Certainly. But then we say: you can also be stabbed on Brunssummerheide."
They are not naive. Their safety is of course a top priority. Linda: "We have had training in Krav Maga (self-defense) and bushcraft. We have a satellite communicator with an emergency button to alert the local emergency service.”
They cross oceans and seas by boat. But without buying a ticket. “At a harbor we will look for a passing sailboat or cargo ship. After waiting three months in vain, yes, then we take an airplane.”
They count like this: five years of cycling time, two years of resting, holidays and waiting. "We have no target," says Linda, "it is not that we want to process something drastic while cycling. We like to experience this adventure.”
By far the most expensive purchase is already done: the special, super strong bikes. Made of titanium, eighteen kilos each. Almost indestructible. "We only have to give the gear system a few drops of oil once every 10,000 kilometers."
Falling down is inevitable and no doubt parts will break down in all those years. All in all, they cycle 2.5 times around the earth. "Oh well, you have bicycle repair shops everywhere in the world. We bring our own spare braking pads and chains. Other parts will be send to us, at most places, via DHL or so, within a week."
The bicycles become their home for seven years. They each carry 40 kilos. Linda: "In dry areas, we also need our four 8-liter water bags."
They pitch their tent wherever they see a nice place or spend the night for free through the Warm Shower community, people who open their house to overnight cyclists. "You don't have those places everywhere. Fortunately, you can often pitch your tent at the fire department or the police station. In many countries people are unprecedentedly hospitable. They almost pull you off the bike to come eat and sleep with them."
They undoubtedly already train a lot on bicycles. “So and so. We will cycle 50 to 60 kilometers a day, so we can start fairly untrained. It comes naturally."
Really? "Well, now we go to the gym a few times a week, we went camping for a week in the winter cold of Lapland and have just cycled through Ireland for a month.”
Ireland was a piece of cake for Ben, but Linda needed a super-small resistance. "You are nearly standing still uphill. But pushing a bicycle with 40 kilos of packaging is even harder. We slept in haystacks, that was awesome."
A world trip by bicycle. Because of the length of the trip, the paper work is also a challenge. They always need visas. How many have they arranged in advance? "Zero. That is not possible beforehand, because those documents only have a certain period of validity. We take some passport photos with us to apply for visas at embassies or consulates. Naturally well shaved and showered. And then we often have to wait a week."
Paying by card
Their passports expire in 2025. They have too little space for the visa stamps of the 80 countries. Linda and Ben purchase a second passport and if that one is full as well, they will get a business passport with room for another 70 stamps.
All kinds of diseases threaten tropical countries. That requires a lot of arranging vaccinations for rabies, jaundice and malaria pills. "We have to repeat some vaccinations en route."
You cannot pay by card in some countries, such as Iran. Ben: "That means debit card payments in Turkey, change at the border and set off with a pile of banknotes."
There is often no time to be lazy. “We need to do shopping every day, we have to cook and wash. And of course write blogs. ”
With these cosmopolitan considerations you would almost forget the bureaucracy in your own country. That’s hard as well. Ben and Linda are leaving the Netherlands for more than eight months, so they have to be deregistered.
Linda: "You enter the register unknown, not having a permanent place of residence. You may not even have a mailing address. If our bank cards expire, they must send the new one to a friend of ours."
Ben is on his early retirement from October 1. Linda interrupts her study health therapy on March 1 and gives up her two jobs. The two of them are going to live super low budget. "We think we need 6,000 euros per person per year. The early retirement is of course not much, but we rent the apartment in Maastricht and have some savings. The good thing is that we don't have to work on the way.”
Through a charity foundation they want to give something back to the people on the road. "Paying school fees for children for example, having the roof repaired, helping to set up a business. Only if people appreciate it. In some countries they see help as a huge insult to their hospitality."
They hope to raise 100,000 euros, one euro per kilometer to cycle. They spent months to get the foundation up and running. "The Tax and Customs Administration asked a lot about the PBO (Public Benefit Organisation) recognition. Then you can only give 10 percent to private individuals. The bank was also very critical of possible money laundering practices or support to terrorism. Which companies in Iran were we doing business with? We said: "We only cycle and occasionally get some money from the bank." Eventually the bank also agreed. Even with acquaintances, skepticism prevailed. Ben: "We sometimes got the question: You don't raise money to finance the trip, do you? But no: really not. We are accountable in a transparent manner, and the board of the foundation supervises this.” Next issue. Ben's state pension accrual will be stopped. "If you live in the Netherlands, you build up 2 percent each year. That will be stopped for seven years. ”Ben does have to pay AOW (general old age law) premium. "That is not correct, but we do not get any further than one official at the tax authorities. He only calls and does not record anything on paper. People my age hardly ever go on such an adventure."
Because they are leaving for more than a year, they will no longer be compulsorily insured in the Netherlands. In principle, the insurance no longer accepts them. The Social Insurance Bank in Roermond said: “Send a letter to Amstelveen, the specialists are there.” Ben: “A month later an answer came from… Roermond:“ This is so specialized, send a letter to Amstelveen. We are already waiting a half year for clarity. Only eight weeks before you leave, you can submit an application to remain insured in the Netherlands. Now they say: You will receive an answer when you are already on the road ..."
Oh dear, they defy all bureaucracy, so they really have to be eager to go on a world trip. Laughter. Ben: "Imagine staying here because of the state pension ..." Linda: "I would like to leave tomorrow." Ben: "Sometimes I think: I just want to ride my bicycle."
Their departure party with family, friends, acquaintances, sponsors and former colleagues will be at the end of March. That will certainly be an emotional gathering for Linda and Ben who will get on their bikes early April, just before his sixtieth birthday. Starting from the Vrijthof. “We would like to leave on a sunny day."
Then hopefully the reward for all the worries of today awaits them. The world trip provides a certain timelessness. Ben: “That's right, we don't have the pressure of an end date.” Linda: “If we don't feel like cycling anymore, we just pitch our tent. The peace on the bike, the thought that everything will be fine ... "
Ben does not expect them to return to the apartment in Maastricht. "We discover so many beautiful places in the world." Linda: "The Netherlands has of course changed in seven years. Maybe we will help other people to set up such a journey.” Ben stares briefly at the crowded room and then looks at Linda: "We recently cycled on a nice, quiet route on a bridge over a motorway. I saw all those cars rushing by and said to Linda: I am glad that we will no longer be part of that."
For more information about the journey and the charity foundation: