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Dutch cycling duo ends marathon trip on Jeju, South Korea

31 January 2009 One Comment

Dutch cyclists
Peter Mak (left) and Karen Van Toor | Credit: David Holmes

Cycling the world, one revolution at a time
Story and photos by David Homles

They cycled nearly 38,000 miles in six years through 38 countries. They survived severe malaria, rampant rats and stone-throwing Africans. But it took the global financial crisis to end the cycling odyssey of Peter Mak and Karen Van Toor. Last stop: Jeju Island.

Mak and Van Toor arrived on Jeju-do via ferry on Oct. 14, the last stop on an epic personal odyssey that was put into motion eight years prior. In 2000 amidst a barrage of professional and personal turmoil the Dutch couple recognized the need for change in their lives. Their lives had always been comfortable and by all accounts normal, but as Mak describes it, “We felt trapped inside the golden cage we had built for ourselves.” Van Toor added, “In the Netherlands life really starts when you are 65. People live for the retirement years when they are too old to do anything except group travel and die. In other words people exist more than they experience.“

After much deliberation Mak and Van Toor recognized that they were no longer happy with the monotony of their western lifestyle. As a result, they decided to combine Mak’s love for cycling with their love for travel to achieve their next great goal: cycling the world. Mak had extensive experience as an amateur cyclist but Van Toor was a self -proclaimed Sunday afternoon biker. The couple spent two years making all of the necessary arrangements. They invested all of their assets, eliminated all other responsibilities and trained for long distance bicycling. In addition, they also mapped the route they would follow for the next six years.

The adventure begins

On May 31, 2002, Mak’s birthday, the couple started their monumental journey. From the Netherlands they traveled southeast toward Turkey and the Middle East, eventually migrating through eastern Africa. After spending several years in Africa the couple ended up in Asia where they explored India, Pakistan, Tibet, Nepal, China and South Korea. Throughout this voyage the couple has borne witness to many beautiful things, from African sunsets and majestic Himalayan mountain tops to rare species of animals and incredible cultural sites.

However, their journey was not without hardship. They experienced everything from infected dog bites and scorpion stings to emergency appendectomies, an advanced case of malaria and a significant cycle crash (see side bar). The couple has biked through some of the remotest parts of Africa and Asia which brings a new significance to the phrase, “to boldly go where no one has gone before.” Over a six year period, Mak and Van Toor traveled nearly 38,000 miles (or 61,000 km), eventually landing in Korea, of all places.

The plan to cycle through the world is an ambitious one and Mak estimates that at least another 10 years would be required in order to tour the Western continents and visit other remaining countries. Unfortunately, The pair’s financing has been crippled by the recent downturn of the global economy. Their funding is entirely personal and because of this, they can no longer afford to continue their adventure.

Economic crisis cuts trip short

And so it came to be that while sitting in a PC room on mainland Korea, the couple realized that Jeju-do would be their last stop before returning to the Netherlands to raise more money. Candidly, they say they are saddened by this but that it is just a temporary break in their globetrotting schedule. All things considered however, they are happy to have concluded this part of their voyage here in Jeju. They remark that the island is beautiful and the people extremely friendly. For more information on Peter Mak and Karen Van Toor’s cycling pilgrimage visit their website at http://www.cycletheworld.nl/welcome-E.htm.

Countries Traveled:

The Netherlands, Serbia, Kenya, Cambodia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Uganda, Thailand, Luxemburg, Turkey, Tanzania, Laos, Germany, Syria, Mozambique, Vietnam, Switzerland, Jordan, South Africa, Nepal, Austria, U.A.E., Lesotho, Tibet, Slovenia, Oman, Botswana, China, Italy, Egypt, Namibia, South Korea, Croatia, Sudan, India, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ethiopia, Pakistan.

Hazards encountered on trip:

Somersault: 3 times
Terrifying fall: 1 (Karin in Namibia, a drama of the first kind, see Namibia, the Fall 1 and 2)
Collisions: 2(without damage)
Falling asleep whilst cycling: 3 (really true, Karin is very good at sleeping; since we rediscovered ORS it never happened again)
Operations: 2 one appendectomy, one gall bladderectomy
Dental Visits: 11 times in 7 countries with varying success…
Malaria: 1 time (Karen) extremely serious
Thrown at with stones: 10 (8 times in Ethiopia)
Robbed: 7 (mainly small things, but once a handle bar bag with contents)
Lost each other: 5
Found each other: 5
Attacked by ticks: 6
Attacked by ants: 218 (our most frequent tormentors whilst camping as well as in hotels)
Attacked by mosquitoes/flies: thousands of times
Run over by rats: 3 (two times in bed, once in a restaurant, always in India)
Pannier eaten by rats: 1 (in fancy hotel in Islamabad)
Kicked by ostrich: 1
Stung by scorpion: 1
Bitten by dog: 1
Amount of rabies shots: 5

Peter Karen
The traveling couple | Credit: David Holmes

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One Comment »

  • Karin van Toor said:

    Hugh,

    I love the article you wrote about the journey Peter and I made. Although I can image people thinking: 4.000 miles in six years, that’s not a lot. And they would be right! We’ve cycled 61.000 kilometres (38,000 miles). A slight difference!!
    Hope to see you soon in the Netherlands, the pancakes are waiting for you!!!

    Love, Peter and Karin

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