Bates Alumnus travels the world by canoe and bike

Developing a love and appreciation for challenge was the main message behind Zand Martin’s presentation titled “Around the World by Human Power.” Assistant Director of Campus Life and the Director of Outdoor Education Ryan Linehan and the Colby Outing Club (COC) brought Martin to campus on Sept. 9.

Martin majored in History at Bates College and was the Vice President for the Bates Outing Club. He was known around campus for his passion for the outdoors.
After graduating from Bates in 2008, Martin decided to canoe across North America. “Talent is bullshit. What defines you is effort,” Martin said during the introduction of his presentation at the College. He proceeded to show a slideshow of the “America’s River Expedition,” his canoe trip across North American.
“In 2009 and 2010, I paddled 4,300 miles from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine,” Martin wrote on his website. “I gained a new connection and a strengthened appreciation of America and Americans, and was lucky enough to travel by my own power through some of the most beautiful places on Earth,” Martin wrote on his website. Following Martin’s trek across America, he was named the “2011 Adventurer of the Year by Outdoor Magazine.”

Martin immediately began planning an expedition through Europe as soon as he returned from his year-long North American trip. “Upon the successful completion of one challenge, it makes you thirsty for another,” Martin said. The “Trans-Europa Canoe Expedition” was the second trip that Martin discussed and showed images of during his presentation.

Martin’s pictures demonstrated his love for history and what drives him to complete these large trips. From seeing “the Romanian Mount Rushmore” to canoeing on the Black Sea, through his travels Martin has clearly expanded his knowledge and gained appreciation for many countries of the world through a unique perspective.

“We paddled the river of history, always in awe at the peopled histories that faded in and out of the fog,” Martin conluded his online Europa expedition write-up.

In addition to the rich history of Martin’s destinations, he made it clear that his trips were filled with humorous and frightening experiences. In Serbia Martin and his travel partner were arrested and put in jail. During his presentation at the College, he played a song that was the ringtone of the Judge in the Serbian court; during their court trial, Law and Order was playing on a television.
In the same trip, Martin and his partner canoed across a body of water to find that the land on the other side had warning signs about land mines in the area.
In 2013, after the Europa Expedition, Martin decided to tackle the Silk Road. Martin works for the National Outdoor Leadership Schools (NOLS), a non-profit outdoor education school. NOLS leads most of its trips during the summer, so Martin decided to bike across the Silk Road during the winter.

“The subtle temperature fluctuation that in a few days time you just won’t notice anymore. The empty food bag, and the empty fuel bottle; the full memory card. The last camp is the pivot on which the experience turns, from internal to external; you will lose yourself tomorrow, so today, look at the peaks around you, at the river current folding gently around the bend, at the tanned cheeks and dirty hair of those who lifted to this point,” Martin wrote about the close of his Silk Road expedition.

Upon finishing, Martin went on an Asia Rivers Expedition during which he traveled through Mongolia, Siberia, Russia and East China by boat. At one point during the trip, he paddled across a river that was so polluted, it was illegal to swim in the water because it would burn the hair off people’s arms. The river was so toxic that while paddling across, Martin’s canoe changed from dark green to white.

“Reentering the Pacific Ocean was an extremely culminating event,” Martin said in his presentation as he reflected on the kilometers, time and energy that he put in to his great accomplishment of canoeing and biking across the majority of the world.

Throughout the presentation, Martin discussed the challenges and memorable anecdotes from all his adventures: from the language barriers and multiple arrests—one in Kazakhstan during which the police asked if he knew Jessica Alba—to going down a German canoe waterslide to watching a whirlpool lift a 40-foot tree into the air.

Martin remarked on how receiving his degree at Bates has allowed him opportunities he wouldn’t otherwise have and repeatedly emphasized how important it is to cultivate a love for challenge.

“Big goals are insurmountable. They seem too daunting. It is important to take a larger goal and break it into smaller pieces,” Martin said. As a metaphor for this concept and his own expeditions Martin said, “Nobody sets out to build a career. A career is really a series of small goals successfully achieved.”
Going around the world by human power is an extremely daunting task, but Martin just took small trips in certain regions that peaked his interest and eventually found he had tackled most of the globe.

“There is nobody in this room that could not do this. You could do it,” Martin said to the room full of over 40 students, “It is all about achieving small goals. Failure is fun, you just need to think, ‘What can I learn from this and what can I gain from this.”’

For those interested in Marin’s adventures and expeditions please visit his website:

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