make your world bigger
It was the start of fall in 2014, when my buddy Jordi and I swiped past a sponsored FB post by Discovery Channel. The post said something like: "Discovery celebrates its 25 years of presence in the Benelux! Make your world bigger is our new slogan. Complete a challenge and win a snowscooter safari to the northern lights!" As most of us would normally react reading posts like these, Jordi and I went: "there's probably a thousand of professional photographers and filmmakers participating.. so no chance of us winning a competition like that. Plus I don't want to go around looking cheap by begging people to share or like our entry." I say photographers and filmmakers since we soon after found out that the competition was build around sending in footage (either a photo or a video) of completing one of 25 challenges. I say cheap because a lot of millennials now see gathering likes on social media as a unhealthy way of building self-esteem. The challenges varied from 'finding gold' to 'fetching the first random train in the morning': they were all build around the new Discovery company slogan 'Make your world bigger'.
So we sat there staring at the screen, doubtful. But when our heads turned towards eachother I signalled a slight smile on Jordi's face. F*ck it, lets just do this. As Jordi had just taken his first big steps in building his film production company I knew the two of us would be able to create something worthwhile. We decided we were in. But not just in, no.. we promised ourselves to make something that would win with a certainty of 95% when compared to the uploads of our competitors so far. We got to work. We spent an afternoon making a chart of all the challenges, matching them up with video content we had already shot on previous trips (like this ski trip in Madesimo, Italy, and this vid of a mountainbike ride in Bergen. Not this one, we had fun making it though.. I hate soccer.) and writing a script for the challenges we still had to shoot. We then planned two days to shoot all the material we still needed. I remember asking an employee of an Albert Heijn bread department for the beastliest loaf of bread he sold (Albert Heijn -or better: de app- is Holland's largest supermarket chain). He recommended tigerbread. That made sense to me. Next thing I know I was tying a loaf of bread to a fishing line and started imitating Discovery's Bear Grylls on camera while Jordi was pulling the loaf of bread through some bushes of a small park in the Amsterdam city centre.
Next up it was Jordi to edit the movie into something that would blow away Discovery and make us the unquestionable winners of the competition. It took him about a week to make all the footage into a perfect 4 minutes. The remainder of the story unfolded quickly. We got called by Discovery soon after sending in our video: "hey guys, we would like to invite you over to the Discovery offices sometime after the competition deadline. You might be one of the potential winners". We cooly answered: "sure". But freaked out completely together after hanging up the call. It actually meant Jordi had to re-edit the full movie for a Discovery branded version of the thing (as shown at the top of this page). Meanwhile we tried to keep down the optimism/expectation that the invitation meant that we were the winners of the competition.
Cool on the outside but extremely stoked on the inside we entered the Discovery office on a Friday afternoon in November 2014. We heard some employees whisper something about winners before we entered the boardroom.. and soon after we were toasting to champagne with a bunch of Discovery managers for winning the trip. But not only did we win the trip: our video would be broadcasted on-channel for about 20 times over the next week reaching about a million people. A dream scenario for Jordi and the launch of his company!
BTW: Jordi did a post on 'how to win a video challenge' that is worth the read. But more importantly we were about to embark on a week full of adventure in the north of Finland. The first week of March 2015 turned out to be one of the craziest cool weeks (quite literally) I've ever lived through. And how to better share this experience than by showing you the aftermovie we made that perfectly sums it up:
Audacious and ambitious as we were, we sent the aftermovie to Discovery along with a proposal suggesting we could become their new-media content creators; traveling the world and shooting content for them. A brief email back said something along the lines of: ...ehm.. no. In hindsight this adventure has been key in the development of D TOUR years later though.
dream come true
Skipping forward in time 1,5 years, I was considering my future options early fall 2016. I had been working on the circular economy at two NGO's in the meantime: at Circle Economy I was part of the team that pushed The Netherlands to become the world's circular hotspot and I worked on creating a European Remanufacturing Network. At De Groene Zaak I managed to gather 100 best practices of the circular economy in The Netherlands. But both a growing hatred for deskwork and a nagging misplaced feeling made me bring back work to two days a week by Oktober 2016. I did not need a lot of time to realise now was the time to dive into the feasibility of one of my oldest recurring dreams: biking to China. I needed time though to figure out why I wanted this. Isn't this an insane thing to want? Were does this wish come from? I soon figured that primitively slow traveling the globe at low cost while meeting its people was a deep longing that among a thousand other reasons made this feel such an intensely logical thing to want to do. Check out a brief 'why' webpage here.
The next steps I took were in the direction of:
- Knowing whether biking from Amsterdam to China was possible in the first place
- Knowing whether I would like riding a bike to China as much as I thought I would based talking to as many world-cyclists as I could and reading as many how-to's as I could (yes, there is multiple books that could be titled 'How to become a world-cyclist for dummies')
- Figuring out whether I actually had the financial means to undergo a trip that I learned would take half a year minimum.
So yes, I soon found out that actually a lot of people ride bikes round the world. I found out my dream is certainly not unique, and is possible for sure. I spoke to all time bike legend Eric Schuijt and to Theo Jorna who runs the Benelux's largest annual hike 'n bike fair. The thing got a lot less scary straight away, especially when I found out that additionally there is a ton of online resources that guide you through your preparations. So all seemed smooth until I ran into the monies-part of things. With the limited amount I saved it would become an incredible harsh trip, meaning that with 2nd-hand gear and daily wild-camping I would perhaps make it to China. Perhaps. So I figured I needed sponsors to ease my budget. I started probing local bikeshops to see whether sponsoring had any chance of succes. After getting yet another 'no' over the phone, I remembered Discovery's by then two-year-old slogan: 'Make your world bigger'. It hit me that 1) this slogan was pretty applicable to what I was about to do, 2) they might still sort of remember me from the competition and 3) I still had some contact details of Discovery managers.
So I send an email. And it pretty much changed everything so far.
Two days after having send an email that in short said "hi, I'm Bas, remember me? I'll bike to china, perhaps you'll like that. Bye" to two Discovery email adreses (of which one bounced), I got called by Discovery's Marketing Manager. He thought it sounded like a pretty damn big adventure and wanted to talk about it face to face. So a week after, I re-enter the building were I had been before once (good memories) and I chat with three young Discovery gents. Their words enter my head but only get to me once I get home. They told me that they are not interested in having their logo on my amateur personal website visited by only my mom (hi ma! I'm doing good! at the time of writing I'm actually still at home, not all alone biking a 50degrees remote desert... yet! Oh and sorry Bas! I don't actually think this website is amateur! *Bas is a good friend of mine who wholeheartedly helped me out with this website. Yes he has the same name as me, I'm not talking to myself on my own website. That be weird. 7lab is his awesome IT company btw and this text in parenthesis is getting way too long). They told me I was potentially going to be their first Youtube 'star', if I choose to collaborate with them on making my trip a public Youtube show.
.. wait, say that again?
They asked me to film the whole trip to make it into a Youtube show. I told them I had to think about it. I told them that I wouldn't have time to edit the show on the road. They said they would take care of the editting of the show in Holland. They asked me whether I made vlogs already. I told them I hated vlogging. We laughed. Awkwardly. I also told them I didn't like Discovery Channel anymore because it only broadcasts scripted unnecessarily-sensational American sh*t shows. We didn't laugh. It was just really awkward. I told them I had to think about it. They told me that in case of succes people could be waiting on bikes in capital cities along my route to join me for a little while on my way. I told them that was the most absurd thing I ever heard. They told me to think about it. I told them I would think about it.
I thought about it.
I thought about it. I tried to consider the potential consequences for the rest of my career. I couldn't. I tried imagining biking to China while trying to film the whole thing. I couldn't. Was it practically doable to carry loads of film gear along? I didn't know. I spoke to bikepacking guru's. They didn't quite know either: "It would probably be possible, but I don't really know anyone that has made a trip like that." I tried vlogging with a lot of people around. It gave me the most narcissistic feeling I ever had. I made a list of all the hurdles I would encounter on the way. The already existing list of the general hurdles of biking to China without making it into a Youtube show now expanded to 237% the size..
So here I am following a rather bizarre dream of wanting to cycle the globe with zero experience in bicycle touring; considering to make video for Discovery Channel along the way, while neither having any experience in film-making or vlogging.
In the end I simply stopped thinking about potential consequences and started considering the most important thing: does this opportunity feel good? And: would I have fun filming myself and my adventures? I let it rest for a couple of days like I do for most major decisions I make. Meanwhile, the Discovery team was internally doing their side of the research necessary to see whether this plan was feasible, which probably revolved around estimating reach & my filming abilities, defining target audiences and convincing budgetkeepers that the pay-off of the show would extend far beyond the investments.
By the end of 2016 I had the combination of my ratio and my gut-feeling decide that I was game for this crazy and publicly visible adventure. Discovery got back to me around the same time with the news that there was enough internal support to push the project forward. And now about 2 months later I've signed a singable contract (that leaves enough flexibility for a trip that is as uncertain as predicting next year's weather in The Netherlands), Discovery has just decided on a name for the show - D TOUR -, I've got my gear complete, gave a presentation to all Discovery employees on my plans last Friday and am really really really exited to depart. Which was due on March 4th, but due to some delays in setting up a PR campaign, and the Dutch elections overruling non-news like 'another no-life millennial does something completely useless to attract attention', Discovery has postponed my departure to the 26th of March. Which I am completely OK with since it actually gives me some time to realise what I'm about to embark upon. Plus you should be happy since else there was no way for me to take time to write extensive posts like this one, that you've actually fully read through
unless you miss these final words: cowdung, airfryers, bloatware, electrical equipment, engineering skills, dog.
It is interesting how irrationality truely touches something deep inside and how it is such an attractive thing in this hyper ratio-driven world. BTW.
-2018 AFTER TRIP EDIT- Halfway down my trip I wrote about how I experienced the D TOUR project here.