The Cycling Dutch Girl

San Felipe, Baja, Mexico


Gyrations Through All the Nations

Mirjam Wouters, The Cycling Dutch Girl, sat across the table. Her words tumbled out quickly, -a kind of Tour de France constellation of verbiage that barely kept abreast with her thoughts.  She is the best sort of raconteur, the kind who does not have a scrapbook memory but rather relives experiences in the moment, as if they were only now happening.

“I absolutely love the Northern Lights,” she says.  “They are just my favorite thing in the world.”  She’s talking about Iceland, a country she considers ideal for cyclists.  “There’s no cars at night and it’s dark a long time so you can sleep a lot.” Her pale blue eyes gather in the corners as she turns her head and smiles. The movement sends a tributary of blonde hair down her left shoulder.

I had met Mirjam through a friend who in turn met her in a local café.  My friend was hosting the itinerant cyclist’s stay in San Felipe while Mirjam waited for a computer part to arrive by mail.  We were in the Rancho Market having breakfast.

“After you circle the globe, what are your plans?” I asked her.

“Oh there’s no after.  No Plans.”

“So it’s an ongoing life project?”

“Kind of.  It’s just- …life.  Not even a project.  Plus, I wouldn’t know what else to do,” she said, laughing.  “This seems to be the thing I do now.  I’ve got people asking me questions.  I’m like, ‘the expert’.”  She laughs again.  “Which is kind of funny because I don’t do anything proper.  I don’t do a lot of research.  I just go and see what happens."

She slices off a wedge of burrito and chases it with a sip of coffee. “In the beginning, that was how I ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time.  I cycled across Iran in the summer and Tibet in the winter, because I didn’t do much planning.  But it turned out I really liked being in the wrong season.  Well, there’s no such thing as wrong season, --just wrong clothing.” 

Mirjam's Multicycle
The Multicycle - photo by Mirjam Wouters

Mirjam Wouters enthusiastically suffers from eleutheromania, a manic zeal for freedom.  She has cycled across 62 countries, pedaling over 60,000 miles, -a convincing demonstration of the affliction.  Motion is her religion, the steady, metronomic, cyclical movement that seems almost archaic in the context of this century’s electronic velocities.  She inhabits the spirit of a pioneer.  Her high-tech Dutch-built Multicycle is her Prairie Schooner.  Her home is the planet itself, revolving with the same tenacity of her bike tires.  She considers herself fortunate every bicycle she has owned had a front wheel that lusted for the horizon.

Mirjam began her flight from entropy 15 years ago, in 2001, when she decided to ignore her university conscience and hitch hike across Europe.  She eventually ended up in Ireland where she ran a backpackers hostel in Derry.  One day as she was dreamily staring at the hostel’s world map, she wondered how far she might get on a bicycle.  And then by some mysterious action of a mental watch spring, she fixed upon Australia as a starting point.  Possibly she played Risk when she was younger.

Mirjam bought a bike for 300 Euros, a ponderous amount for anyone whose world baggage is minimalist, and took two years to cross Europe, then cycled through Pakistan, Tibet, Nepal, India, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia.  She took a commuter flight from Bali to Darwin, Australia where she arrived without money but had something almost as good, -a work permit.  Mijam drove a combine and lived in Australia for three and a half years then departed the great Down Under with more money than she originally had when she left the Netherlands.  She smiled when recounting how easy-going Australian civic officials were.  Even after hitting a tree during her test, she was awarded a driver’s license.  The government representative felt confident Mirjam wouldn’t hit a try every time she drove.

Her next destination was New Zealand and she pedaled through meadows of bleating wool and buzzing shearing barns before leaping over to Japan and then on to China.  I asked about shipping her bike during her various international flights.  She explained that transporting a bicycle by plane is affordable on the larger airlines.  The smaller ones can be prohibitively expensive.  Dutch Airline, for example, charges $200 Euros.  Eruda Airlines in Indonesia flies them for free.  Iceland Air charges $30.

Mirjam Wouters
Mirjam Wouters with her mobile home.

Mijam couldn’t get a VISA to enter Russia.  Instead, she flew from Korea back to Europe.  From there she went to Iceland where she worked while pedaling the countryside.  Her next stop was Canada.  She landed in Edmonton and spent four months combing the stubble plains until her funds ran out again.  She decided to return to Ireland for employment.  When she was flush again, by cyclers’ standards, she returned to Canada and pedaled the scenic spaces of British Columbia.  From Vancouver, Mirjam crossed by ferry to Vancouver Island.  She began pedaling up the west coast but was stopped by storm damage to the roads and stayed in Port Renfrew for a week.  When the roads reopened, she pedaled to Tofino.

She next went to Prince Rupert, Price George and then back down to Vancouver.  Fiscal pressures took her back to Europe for a few months and after the coffers were fattened, Mirjam returned to Vancouver.  From there she hitch hiked to Whitehorse, where she caught a plane to Inuvik.  She cycled from Inuvik to Tuktayuktuk on the ice roads then turned around and cycled back, using the Dempster Highway.  She pedaled into the Yukon and part way into Alaska, then over to the Queen Charlotte Islands.  During her time there, she volunteered at a music festival and was a deckhand on a tugboat.  She pedaled back to Victoria then ferried to the USA by way of Port Angeles.  She cycled the bike trails of the San Juan Islands, then into the Cascade Mountains, Glacier National Park, Idaho, Montana, Yellowstone, and Colorado.

Because Mirjam enjoys traveling during a country’s off-season, I asked her about the dangers of freezing weather.  I was told, unsurprisingly, that the answer to hypothermic conditions is more effort on the pedals.  However, while she was bicycling in the Arctic she thought she had frozen her lungs.  She found herself coughing uncontrollably in the frigid air.  But then Mirjam read an article about how a small percentage of people react to extreme cold with symptoms similar to bronchitis.  The cure was simple enough, --more effort on the pedals until she crossed a southern latitude.

As I listened to the geographic itinerary with widening eyes, the parts that stood out were the abrupt interruptions caused by dwindling financial resources.  I asked her if she had thought of seeking some kid of sponsorship.  She replied that she did not actively solicit sponsorship but a few equipment companies had found her through her blog ( and supplied various necessities, including tent, bicycle, clothing and such.

The thought of bicycling up the steep facets of Tibet or Colorado oppressed me with the sheer energy involved and I asked her about it.  She said when the going is dramatically rampant, she literally ties herself to her bike to gain more force from her body motion.  On a keen slope, her 65 psi tires are straining to achieve 2-3 kilometers an hour.

During her forays into the hinterlands of Canada, Mirjam sensibly added a few extra items to the already camel-esque panniers of her bike.  Bear Bangers, capsicum spray and flares are decidedly Davidic pebbles against a Goliath grizzly, but they are psychologically reassuring and might confuse a breathing taxidermy enough to allow a discreet escape.

Mirjam prefers an unhurried landscape.  A car windshield is just another form of television, but a bicycle is only one idea away from a pair of shoes.  It doesn’t passively convey you, like a car.  It makes you work for scenery and because of this effort all the intervening mountains, rivers, hills, farms and towns present themselves in a way that leaves deeper incisions in the memory.

During her years on and off the road, Marjam has found ways to make her resources stretch and sometimes to repurpose themselves.  For her, every day drudging in a menial job is a loss of a hundred miles of new geography.  So to keep the gyroscopes of her wheels spinning, Mirjam has learned to economize.  She even gets mileage out of a regular size business card, which she has printed in such a way that cutting them along their equator renders two cards.  Perhaps like a highway, she has grown to see things in terms of two lanes.

Although she is certainly no stranger to supporting a spangled night sky with her tent poles, Mirjam, like many other pedal pushers, is linked to an online cyclist community. is a network of global touring cyclers, along with people willing to host them as they pass by.  An interactive map shows bikers hosting locations along their route and they can privately contact the potential patron who in turn decides whether to offer a room, a couch, or even a place to camp.

Mirjam started her blog in 2007.  It is informative and full of useful travelling tips, appropriate for the country she is cycling.  But the thing that makes the blog shine is the photographs.  The scenic shots are full of expansive skies with sweeping clouds that converge on a distant focal point.  The camera Mirjam uses, a slender and compact Lumix with a 12-32mm Leica lens, has such an amazingly wide angle that nearly all the pictures are panoramic and iconic.  Many look like an establishing shot in a John Ford movie.   A pilgrimage through the bog’s various albums creates an itch to visit the countries that have been rendered so decorative by her photography.

The blog intentionally lags in reportage.  Mirjam is not interested in real-time updates because she values her solitude and privacy.  When her many fans read about her ‘latest’ campaigns, she is already in the heart of a new one.

An interesting synchronism that seems to happen a lot within the subculture of incurable cyclers is how often they tend to cross paths in the remotest of locations.  “Small world,” is a greeting heard far too often as the front tires of two heavily laden touring bikes converge at some unidentified speck on a locally scribbled map in, say, Tajikistan or the Australian Outback.  Mijam’s blogs are replete with anecdotes of repeated encounters or near misses with people she has met in the past.

Valley of the Giants
Valley of the Giants - photo by Mirjam Wouters

This morning Mirjam has a problem.  San Felipe is a shopper’s definition of inconvenience.  Nobody, especially anyone with specific needs, can ever find what they want.  She had hopes of locating some fuel for her cook stove.  When she described the device, I suggested isopropyl alcohol.  The store we were in had a few small inexpensive containers so she bought one and happily it worked very nicely.  Hot food was back on her travel menu.

I took Mirjam to see the Valle de los Gigantes, only a handful of miles south of San Felipe.  This forest of giant Cardon cacti casts a web of fractal shadows across much of the desert west of the campo called Poncho’s Place.  It is the location where, in 1992, Mexico extracted a four and a half storey tall Cardon from the desert and shipped it to Expo ’92 in Seville, Spain to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the discovery of the Americas. 

Mirjam leavinf for Loreto
Mirjam leaving San Felipe

Mirjam was impressed by the vegetables' stature but seemed to have something else on her mind, something she was both reluctant to reveal and yet desperate to unburden. Then she told me in strictest confidence that she was pregnant.  She’d just found out that morning.  The conejo had died, as the saying used to go.  And now Mirjam was utterly panicked.  She dreaded the idea of her cycling career rolling to a stop.  On the other hand she considered the father of the child, her boyfriend of two years, a good fit.  It was useless to deny the biological inevitability (aborting the pregnancy was out of the question) so she tentatively began to entertain a vision of family life.  She was still young enough to have years of cycling ahead of her after children were able to govern their own velocipedes.  Or, because of advancements in bike child seat and trailer design, she might not have to wait that long.

On the day of her departure, Mirjam pedaled her Multicycle away from the ejido’s sandy roads and onto the paved surface of Highway 5.  She was reconciled to her new destiny.  The following few weeks would take her to Loreto, where she intended to camp and kayak with a group she met online.  She had some time to pass while the father of their child, excited by the news, arranged a flight to Mexico.