Sometimes a man (or a woman!) has to break free of life’s shackles and hit the road. Peeling away from the city he becomes energised as the traffic lights fade in his rear view mirror. The tarmac becomes the anvil, the engine the iron, the right foot the hammer. As the wind rips through his hair and The Doors blasts from his car stereo his spirits soar, the possibilities blossom and his soul is repaired.
A day or two later he’ll ease back into his suburban parking spot with a bag of groceries … and it’s back to the treadmill.
But not Wiebe Wakker. When he hits the road he means it – with a purpose and determination that saw the 32-year-old Dutchman spend 1,119 days winding his way from The Netherlands to Australia’s east coast, all in the cause of spreading the good news about electric vehicles.
“It was great, the trip of a lifetime,” Wakker tells EcoGeneration after reaching his final destination, Sydney, in April. “You wake up and have no idea where you will sleep that night or if you will get some food. You just go on an adventure. That’s been the most interesting aspect of my trip.”
Wakker left home in March 2016, driving a borrowed 2009 Volkswagen retrofitted with a 150kW electric motor and 37kWh battery. “That’s the only thing I know about the car,” he says. He also had no money in his pocket, the idea being that kind folk who’d heard about his plight would go to his website and offer to put him up, feed him and let him plug in and charge up – before rolling on in the morning.
Thirty-three countries and 95,000km later he is a man of the world. “I met a lot of interesting people, very random people, different kinds of characters – I didn’t expect so many people to sign up,” says Wakker, whose usual gig is events management. “I was not in a race; I wanted to enjoy this trip, take time to see places, to meet people, and take time to promote electric cars. I just travelled from plug to plug and lived day by day.”
When it came time to cross bodies of water Wakker would put down roots and earn money for a ferry ride to the next landmass; so it was with three months in Dubai, four in Malaysia and three in Indonesia, when the car needed some repair work.
The start of the trip was the hardest stretch, he says. “Mainly in Europe it was tougher because not many people had signed up yet. I spent a lot of time knocking on doors, asking if they could give me a charge or to share a meal. Sometimes I have to ask someone for toothpaste. I’ve been using a lot of fast food restaurants to go to the toilet. Road houses in Europe often have a shower as well, and I’d use that if I had not had one for a few days.”
Were there times when he suffered ‘range anxiety’? “Only in Australia, because the distances are vast over here. There were times when I needed to cover a bigger distance than the range of my car.” (We’re not sure how he managed that.)
The nicest people were encountered around the middle of Wakker’s circuitous route, he says. “The hospitality in Asia is from a different level. Countries like Iran, India or Indonesia are some of the easiest places to travel around. People are so hospitable and friendly and generous there.”
Halfway around the world on four wheels is a major achievement, so why not ship the VW to San Diego and whizz across the United States and make it a world tour? “No, I think not. I’ve been on the road for three years and it really begins to take its toll. I really want to do something different.”
It’s time for a recharge…