Marlies Fennema and Diego Yanuar aren't the first people to dream of hitting the road in search of adventure. But they definitely took the idea further than most. The couple, Marlies is from the Netherlands while Diego is from Indonesia, decided to ride their bikes for more than 15,000 kilometers from the Netherlands to Indonesia—an epic tour that, after nearly six months on the road, they are only halfway through.
The entire trip, the couple told me, will likely take another year to complete.
“Or more than one year, if need be,” Diego said in a voice note he sent me—the couple's preferred way to communicate with the media while on the road.
"The only constant thing on the road is that our plans change,” Marlies explained. “I am now afraid to open the excel sheet that I had previously planned this journey on because our plan has changed so much. As in life itself, we don’t have control over what is going to unfold during the journey, and we just have to be flexible with it."
When their journey is complete, the couple will have rode from Nijmegen, in the eastern Netherlands, to Jakarta, the Indonesian capital—a trip that will take them on a long tour from Western Europe, through Eastern Europe to Central Asia, where the real difficulties of the trip began.
At the border of Tajikistan to Kyrgyztan they hit a 20-kilometer stretch of nothingness and three straight days of snow. Those days were grueling, but then, one day, the daughter of a local farmer offered them a place to stay. They were able to ride out the snowstorm in the comfort of a home, and were deeply touched by the family's kindness. "It is very eye-opening," Diego said of the experience. "We wouldn’t have encountered people like that in a city."
“The farmer’s family gave us their limited supply of food amidst the storm," Marlies said. "They work hard everyday yet they have very little to live on, especially compared to my family back in the Netherlands, my family has everything they want—it’s just so unfair.
"The mountain is a harsh place to live, yet perhaps it is actually better to live there. They are very content, very satisfied, very loving people. The mother of the house works all the time for so little, yet she always does it with a smile."
That snowstorm was just one of a growing list of hardships the two have faced since first riding out of Nijmegen all the way back in February. They were scammed by fake money changers, searched for drugs at border crossings, delayed by bad storms, and laid up with repeated bouts of food poisoning.
But there were also so many moments of joy and wonder as well—especially at the awe-inspiring views of nature.
"There were times when I felt like I could not take it anymore, especially when I got sick, but then there came times when I witnessed the beauty or the magnificence of nature and felt empowered to go through," Marlies said.
But getting both Marlies and Diego out of their individual comfort zones was one of the reasons they decided to take this trip in the first place. The two first met at a running group in Jakarta back when Marlies was doing volunteer work. Diego and Marlies bonded over their shared love of adventure, the outdoors, and exercise—a bond that eventually blossomed into a relationship.
They did the long distance thing for a few years, catching a flight to meet whenever they could, before Diego packed his bags and moved to the Netherlands to be closer to Marlies. He worked at a furniture company while Marlies held down jobs as a copywriter and a teacher for refugees.
But, eventually, the cultural differences of life in the Netherlands started to weigh on Diego. That stress soon turned into fights, and eventually the two of them reached an unexpected conclusion: if the hardships of life in the Netherlands were driving them apart, maybe the hardships of life on the road could drive them closer together.
“We had a really good time together,” Marlies said. “But it is hard for Diego to live in the Netherlands and I don’t want to live in Indonesia because it is going to be hard for me… but on the road, we both are not accustomed to our surroundings, so we have to band together to overcome a common challenge."
Diego jumped in, adding, “We have to rely on each other and find our way together both on the road and as a couple. So the journey has definitely made our bond stronger."
They still fight—about Diego's haircuts or who has to open the door next or go pick up their pizza for dinner. And the journey has, so far, been far more physically taxing than either one of them ever could've imagined. But slowly, kilometer-by-kilometer, they were building something stronger, whatever it turns out to be in the end. Or, as a farmer they met in Iran once told them, "Whatever you guys decide in the future, to marry, or to not to marry, to stay together, or not, you have to know that you should be thankful to have each other.”
You can follow Marlies and Diego's adventure on their blog Everything in Between, or on their Instagram @everythinginbetween.journal. You can also donate some money that will be given to three charities in Indonesia at the end of their ride. They hope to raise 15,000 Euros, or about 1 Euro for every kilometer they plan to ride.