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Tilmann Waldthaler interview

October 26, 2009

I’ve decided to try to interview a couple people who I admire. That could be quite lengthy so I’m sticking to people who have taken trips and done adventurous things that I think worth of more praise and press. My first attempt at this was with Tilmann Waldthaler.

Having a shaveTilmann has been touring on a bicycle for 32 years and seen and done things that most people can never imagine. His first trip lasted 4 years and took him from pole to pole between 1977 and 1981. This alone deserves a lot of admiration but that was only the beginning. He’s originally from Germany but is now residing Australia. At 68 he’s about to embark on Norway to New Zealand tour. He’s written several books and done some speaking engagements in several countries. He was gracious enough to answer a few questions for me. I’m not the best interviewer so bear with me, hopefully my interviews will improve with time.

First off forgive me if I’m asking you questions that you’ve already answered on your website but I just want to get some early stuff out of the way.

Q. How old are you and how many years of your life have been spent cycle touring?

I am 68 years of age and I have spent 32 years cycletouring

Touring the Himalyas 1977

Touring the Himalyas 1977

Q. How has this lifestyle effected your interpersonal relationships. Did you want to or do you have a wife and family?

I have met my wife cycling in the Sahara. She`s been on her cycletrip of a lifetime, it seemed the perfect match for both of us. However  we decided only 3 years later to live together and we have been together ever since.

Q. What is your favorite touring experience?

There are just  too many but my favourite experience has been travelling through India for  18 month on a pushbike.

Q. what’s your scariest touring experience?

Being shot at in Iran and in Guatemala.

Q. Which of your long trips is your favorite and why?

My very first trip from the Antarctica to Spitzbergen in the Arctic, because I see this trip from todays viewpoint as a 4 year apprenticeship on a bike through many cultures and experiences. I had the best chance to get to know myself much better.

Q. What is the one piece of equipment you never expected to need and now will never leave home on a trip without?

The Internet

Q. When touring Africa how much of a concern was Malaria and what kind of precautions did you take against that threat? How did the medications effect you?

Africa is very adventuresome, because of that I have been living, working and touring in Africa for 5 years. I had Malaria 7 times but did not worry too much about it, because if you know your body and can afford medication, Malaria can be cured effectively. Most people in the tropical regions of the world cannot afford medication that is the reason for so many deaths annually.

Q. How did you go about getting sponsorship for your trips?

The first  10years of my biketravels I worked as a qualified pastrychef and as a cook, later I started to work as a photographer and Journo. It was easier as a Journalist to convince people to receive something back from me during and after my trips. As a pastrychef   all I could offer my sponsors were maybe  some “strawberry tarts” which didn`t interest  most potential sponsors.

Q. Do you have someone assist you or do you handle all the visas when traveling from country to country yourself?

I am a self made man and do everything myself

Q. When will you be shipping off for Norway? Does it ever become easy and routine to prepare for a long tour or are you just as nervous now as you were 32 years ago before embarking on your between two poles tour?

For me it has become a routine to get going. But the world and its people are an ever changeing lot. The adventure starts the minute I leave my wife and my home.

Q. What’s your favorite adventure book?/ Who, if anyone has influenced you to take up such a lifestyle?

My favourite adventure books are the ones I write myself (17 in all) A very good old friend Jean Pierre Valley has helped me to get going because I bought a bike with his help.

Q. When are you going to have your book translated to english? I’d really like to read it.

As you know yourself publishers will only publish books if there is a market out there and if the writer is well known or has a fantastic subject. There have been many propositions but none has eventuated

Q. Imagine if the bicycle had never been invented, how do you think

The Arctic in 1981

The Arctic in 1981

your life would have gone differently?

I`d most probably be dead by now!!!

Q. What are a few things about your bike that are different than most?

It is Koga Miyata with a Rohloff Hub thats reason enough

Q. What are a few touring related products that have left you terribly disappointed or weren’t actually built for the rigors of real touring?

I only had very high quality bikes. That`s most probably the reason why I am still cycling. The weak points on a bike can be replaced or one could and should buy quality. The weakest point during every tour are body and mind  because they`re very vulnerable and must be much  stronger than the bike, otherwise we`re inviting problems for the tour.

Q. I just touring China last summer and was disappointed I wasn’t able to do so 10 years ago or longer due to the rapid development and loss of culture of the country, what places do you wish you could have visited earlier and why?

I have been in China and have come to the same conclusion, but even so I will go back because there are still so many things to see.


Q. Do you prefer to be alone or do you love meeting new people in new places?

I love to meet people

Q. Anything you’d like to add or ask me?

I will start my new trip from Norway to New Zealand  on 28. May 2010 and hope to be in Invercargill on my 70. th birthday. A long trip with many highlights en route.
Thanks and best regards Tilmann

Tilmann in July of 2009

Tilmann in July of 2009


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2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 27, 2009 5:14 PM

    Great interview, Sean.
    Regarding his early sponsorship question. I would sponsor him today if I could receive strawberry tarts in return. I’m just sayin’.

  2. October 31, 2009 2:22 AM

    Nice interview! Thanks for posting it.

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