Around the world in seven years... on a bike

Marthaler on the road in Tibet (www.redfish.com) www.redfish.com/yak

Swiss cyclist Claude Marthaler only ever intended to cycle around Japan - but he ended up staying on the road for seven years.

This content was published on March 20, 2003 - 11:02

His world tour was an epic 122,000 kilometres long and took him through 60 countries in four continents.

Starting in his hometown of Geneva in 1994, Claude first travelled through the southern republics of the former Soviet Union, across the Indian subcontinent and into China, South Korea and Japan.

He then cycled across North and South America, before moving on to South Africa. Afterwards, he journeyed through Europe, finishing back in Geneva in 2001.

Since then, Marthaler has written a book recounting his experiences called "Going Crazy - Seven Years in the Saddle", which has been published in French and German.

The trip was a childhood dream come true for the 42-year-old social worker.

"The whole experience was like a cycle in my life, I had to do it - I don't know what I would have done otherwise had I not been on this trip," Marthaler told swissinfo.

Tough trek

Although there were many high points on his journey, such as the breathtaking scenery in Tibet and Peru and the warm friendships made along the way, he also encountered some hardships.

Marthaler spent five and a half years completely on his own and often found it difficult to deal with the loneliness. He also had to contend with illness and the extremely physical demands of riding the bike.

In China and in Russia, he had to overcome some bureaucratic difficulties when crossing borders. But he remains philosophical.

"I think having difficulties opens another door to you and helps you to keep your determination. You learn much more than when everything is easy," he said.

A house on two wheels

His bike, affectionately known as "the yak", became his house for two years. He took 80 kilogrammes of equipment with him, including tools and spare parts for the bike, books, music and photography equipment.

He also had to carry winter clothing to cope with plummeting temperatures, as well as mosquito nets for the summer.

With so much weight on the bike, it's no wonder that it sometimes needed parts or the frame replaced.

Marthaler was lucky enough to benefit from some sponsorship to cover his costs, and he also made some money by writing and selling photos to newspapers.

He became quite a celebrity along the way and was interviewed by journalists from Spain to Senegal. Marthaler found that he could also rely on human kindness.

"People helped me a lot, you can live very cheaply on such a journey," he added.

Journey's end

But after seven years, he decided that it was time to go home - although this was a painful decision to make.

"It took two years to come back from Africa. During this time, I had to digest all my experiences and it was so intense. I spent four months in Morocco cycling in all directions possible to make it a bit longer than seven years," he admitted.

And he has found returning home a bitter-sweet experience.

"It has been euphoric to come back but also difficult to adjust at the beginning, because I was so free and also always moving," he told swissinfo.

"Suddenly I found myself in between four walls, with a work rhythm and a social life very different to what I had in those seven years. I was very lonely as well and I had to rebuild many contacts."

Coming home

Marthaler now makes a living touring with a slideshow of his trip, and he is looking for an English publisher for his book.

He does plan to go cycling again, although not for such a long time as he feels that at 42 years old, he would not learn much more from cycling around the world for eight years.

For now, he is content with life in Switzerland and the freedom that being his own boss brings.

But he has noticed some changes since his return, not only in his own attitudes, where he feels he takes a more panoramic view of life, but also in the country itself.

"Something has changed here - the kind of belief Switzerland will always remain a paradise in terms of economy, opportunity and education," he observed.

"And now we realise that Europe is forming all around us and we can't remain an island, we have to open our doors."

swissinfo, Isobel Johnson

Key facts

Swiss cyclist Claude Marthaler cycled around the world for seven years.
His world tour was 122,000 kilometres long, taking in 60 countries in four continents.
He started in Geneva in 1994 and returned in 2001.
Regions visited: the southern republics of the former Soviet Union, India, China, South Korea, Japan, North America, South America, South Africa and Europe.
He has published a book about his travels.

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