DAY 816 - LAST RIDE & HOMECOMING
Day 816 - Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina - 19991 km
Before sunrise I leave from my hotel in Tolhuin. It’s another 105 km towards Ushuaia, the last day on the road. The white mountain peaks of Tierra del Fuego light up pink in the first light. I breathe in the cold air, it’s refreshing. I’m used to the winter and I liked it. There’s hardly any traffic and the road is smoothly paved — easy cycling. A few hours of climbing take me up a 500m pass that offers far views over Lago Escondido. I pull out my camera and take a few shots, more out of habit than out of excitement. There is nothing new today. It’s a wintery landscape, old snow piles up on the sides of the road. Then the downhill starts and before I know it I reach Ushuaia in the early afternoon. There’s a sigh of relieve when I see the skyline unfold ahead of me. I point my camera to myself to record something but I haven’t much to say. The entire journey is a blur, I can only recall the last weeks.
Ushuaia is not a destination like other places have been on this journey. It’s simply the quiet end of the line. I have two days to prepare everything for the flight home. I need to find a carton box and take the bike apart. That’s easier said than done. After a few visits to all the bike shop in town I’m lucky to find a box that’s big enough. I have no agenda to do anything touristic, I think I don’t have to explain why. The only thing on my mind now is being home. The coming days are going to be a hectic itinerary, travelling via 4 different airports and airlines to Amsterdam where my family will await me on the airport. The second flight from Buenos Aires to London feels longer than ever. I find out I had to pre-order food online. While the cabin fills with the smell of food and meals are being passed on I’m not getting one. I have to buy a sandwich via the screen in front of me, but my creditcard doesn’t work so I have no food or drinks for 13 hours, just some water. Airlines these days… In London I have a big meal and a beer for breakfast, which for me is a midnight meal. The skies are clear and Amsterdam looks beautiful in the pale light. It takes two years to cycle half the globe, two days to fly it. The arrival is intimate. My dad is the first one that sees me, he holds me longer than ever. Then my mother, 3 brothers and spouses. It’s great to feel each other again.
What’s it like to end a journey like this and get back to normal life? Everyone asks me this, but you would have to define ‘normal’ to answer this. 5 years ago I was dreaming to cycle the world. I had a fairly normal life as a designer in Amsterdam. I figured out that if I save some money and rented out my apartment it would be possible to spend a year on a bicycle without having income. I did a 2-week try out cycling to Switzerland in winter and a few months later I was ready for my first big journey towards China, which finally became Singapore. I made a book about it which reached audiences around the world beyond imagination. It’s out now for nearly 3 years and it still pops up in places I would never think of. The other day someone on Instagram send me a picture of One Year on a Bike found in a small store in Hiroshima, of all places. The reactions it stirred and the participation in the bicycle community around the world makes me grateful to live this in time of social media that connects us so easily. After a year in Amsterdam I thought I could do it again, another big journey, because the first one inspired and taught me so much. But I also knew that doing something for the second time might be less rewarding and more predictable. So I choose a different bike with bigger tyres that would invite me to go more remote. The roads were dirtier, the mountains higher, the canyons deeper and the detours longer. I also wanted to make a next step in being more flexible and independent regarding work. During the journey I’ve picked up several projects, mostly for clients overseas. I worked from hostels and airbnb’s, in San Francisco I rented desk space and stayed for 6 weeks. Other times I needed to quickly do some design tweaks on a project. I’d stop at a diner, do the work and after I’d sent out a pdf I’d be back on the bike again. It felt incredibly liberating to combine everything I love doing. There wasn’t a moment I thought about reaching Ushuaia, I adjusted my cycling agenda to everything that came on my path which made me grow as a person. Sometimes I’d met a girl I completely fell for that made me stay for longer. Sometimes I thought “This is it, I’m staying here”. That a happened a few times. A blue-eyes French model from Guadalajara. We travelled Mexico doing photo shoots, a country with so many secrets. I loved Mexico City. The raw grittiness, the mesmerising food, the eclectic architecture of La Condesa. It made me stay 4 months. But from every beautiful place and person I had to disconnect too, which was often bitter sweet. There were moments in the journey I’d feel displaced and torn apart, that I wanted to go back or didn’t know where I belonged. But as I kept moving new horizons showed exciting colours and I found myself back into the moment. It became a drug and I made the road my home.
Now I’m back in my home in Amsterdam and I feel enriched and blessed, by experiences and not by things. I have this big bag of memories that are stored in the depth of my brains, that will never leave me. The proof are the terabytes of photos on my hard drives. All of the people I’ve met, from intimate friends to a thousand hellos to truck drivers, pump operators, street vendors, farmers in the field and children playing in the dirt. The uncountable views of the most scenic landscapes. Most of them are below the surface of my memory. I can’t reach all of them, they’re simply too many. It’s when I scroll through photo albums on my computer or phone that everything comes back in vivid detail. Being home again feels good. I can switch quite easily and make a hotel room my own, but nothing beats a personalised space as your own home. I missed that. Amsterdam is still same as ever but has also grown. There are new restaurants and coffee places around my house. Somehow the city feels renewed, or maybe I feel renewed. I see my old home in a new light. Everyday I’m meeting up with old friends, but also new people I connected with on social media. Travelling provides you new perspectives, it clears your mind and catalyses making bigger decisions faster in life. When I return from travels there’s always a big clean up. I get rid of all the stuff and habits I don’t really need and catch up on the things I find important.
When I started this blog I wrote in the about section that everything you do effects the next thing you do, directly or indirectly. I’ve learned that if you embark on something you find a bit scary, the next time it will be easier and you will be able to take a bigger leap. If you get out of the house and go somewhere new, it may turn your life into another direction and take you somewhere unexpected. That’s essentially what I love about slow travel and that’s how I want to keep approaching life in general. The coming period I’ll be settling in Amsterdam for a while, renovating my home and kickstart some new projects, which includes making a book. With this 200th blogpost this diary comes to a close. Thanks for all the love in comments and messages, I hope you enjoyed reading along.