Let me tell you a great story…
Once upon a time, there was a nice young man, aged 23, who wanted to explore the world. His name is Jules and he lives in Grône, a charming little village in the Swiss Alps, just a few kilometres from Italy and France. For some time now, he has been saving money but things are kind of difficult at work. Jules is an architectural draftsman. At one point, he told his boss that he would like to go on a long trip. Her answer was: “Why go on a trip? You’ve got Google Maps! It’s a lot safer and . . . it’s the same thing!”
The following interview was made in person on July 22, 2019; I had invited Jules to stay three days at my place.
In this feature, you will read about the first part of Jules’s road trip through the Americas, from his departure point in France to his exploration of Eastern Canada. The next interview will cover the rest of his trip: Western Canada, Alaska, Western USA, Mexico, and South America down to Tierra del Fuego. He spent 10 months touring and rode 78,000 km on all kinds of roads.
Zabel: Jules, what was it that triggered this project?
Jules: I almost had a burnout at work, so I decided to quit. I wanted to leave that toxic environment and experience something else. At this point, I was wondering about my future, not knowing if I should try architecture, or continue as a draftsman. It’s at this point that a colleague offered me the book L’Amérique du Nord à moto – 50 itinéraires de rêve, which you wrote for the most part. I was thinking about leaving, and with the money I had saved, I could either buy a small house that would need renovations, or leave on a trip. The second option sounded way better. I had always wanted to see Canada and Alaska, so I started reading the book and connecting itineraries, and here I am!
Zabel: You decided to live this adventure on a motorcycle. Why?
Jules: Well, I thought America is a little too large to go on foot! And when I started reflecting on the best means of transportation, a motorcycle came out as the obvious choice.
Zabel: How did you choose your machine for this trip?
Jules: In Switzerland, you have to ride for two years on a smaller displacement motorcycle before being allowed to get a permit for all kinds of motorcycles. So I rode a Suzuki Bandit 600 for two years and then borrowed my father’s Suzuki 800 single for one year while looking for my own future bike. For this trip, I bought a BMW 850 GSA 2019. The moment I sat on it, I decided to buy it. I would have preferred an older generation model, though, because I feel the newer ones have too much electronics.
Zabel: Tell me about the logistics for transporting your bike from Switzerland to Canada.
Jules: At first, it seemed logical to leave Europe from Switzerland. So I made dozens of phone calls in all languages (French, English, and German) to various aviation companies (who did not seem to understand what I was talking about), but the rates were so crazy (around $7,000 Cdn plus a $1,000 wood crate) that I decided to try flying from Paris. One phone call was all it took. For €1,000 (around $1,600), I was able to ship my bike to Canada. It would have been half that price by boat, but it’s more complicated: you have to find a container, put the bike in, ship it, and wait a long time. With Air Canada, things have been pretty easy. They asked me to be there one day ahead. So I left home on May 7, 2019, and they sent my bike. And, finally, we both flew from Paris.
Zabel: How were your first days in Canada?
Jules: I landed in Montréal and then rode right to Alma in the fine Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region. It was a strange experience because the lake was still frozen, something I was not expecting at all. I then headed to the St. Lawrence North Shore and Havre-Saint-Pierre. Along the way, there was that memorable day. I had been riding for only one hour or so when I stopped at a wonderful rest area by the river. I thought: “Wow, it’s too beautiful here. I’ll stay overnight.” I did not set up my tent right away. I walked around, read for a moment, and then got ready for the night. When I was about to go to bed, Mélanie and her brother Patrick stopped by for a break. They looked at my bike and saw I was from Switzerland. “What are you doing here?” they said, “It’s too cold! Come to a warm home!” Mélanie invited me to her place. That was a good idea because I must say it was pretty cold in May in Forestville! Later, as we were chatting, Mélanie suddenly said: “Hey, wait, I must show you the book that my friend wrote!” And she came back with L’Amérique du Nord à moto. I said, “That’s the book that I used to prepare this trip.” And then she put you and me in contact. I do not recall exactly how all that happened, but it was crazy!
Jules: I met good people on this trip and enjoyed every minute since I landed here. You Quebeckers are so kind and sweet.
Zabel: And from Forestville to now, what has been your itinerary?
Jules: I rode to Havre-Saint-Pierre. That’s where I had my first set of new tires installed. I then drove to Fermont, where I was stuck for three days because of snow. After Happy Valley-Goose Bay, I took off quickly because the forecast called for an entire week of rain. In Blanc-Sablon, I took the ferry to Labrador. I rode all the way south and saw a few moose on the way. I then took the ferry again to Sydney, Nova Scotia, and enjoyed the magnificent Cabot Trail along with fine weather. I then went through Prince Edward Island (I fell in love with the landscape), New Brunswick and the Bay of Fundy with its tides and great topography. And took some nice pictures.
Zabel: Where were you sleeping at night?
Jules: My plan was to camp most of the time, and book a hotel room occasionally. I also had the chance to be invited home a few times by people I met.
Zabel: What is your program for the next weeks?
Jules: Initially, I thought I would reach Alaska one month after my arrival, but so far I have spent three months here, in Eastern Canada. I would like to see Niagara Falls; in fact, I must see them! It’s a Canadian icon, after all. So my plan is to go through Canada, see Lake Louise in the Rockies and then up to Fairbanks, Alaska. After that, of course, I want to see the western United States. I also want to go to Mexico.
Zabel: Were you raised in a family of motorcyclists?
Jules: Before I was born, my parents were both riding motorcycles. After 25 years without a bike, my father got hooked again seeing me on two wheels and he started buying motorcycles again (various Suzuki models, and then a BMW after seeing mine). But before that point, I never knew that he had been a motorcyclist. It came as a surprise to me!
If I had picked a different type of motorcycle, I could not have followed the same itinerary. For example, I could not have gone to Fermont. Some road sections were very rough. Between Fermont and Manic-5, it was terrible! But otherwise, it was magnificent. Evergreens, mosses and sand were fine adventure companions on my way to Happy Valley-Goose Bay. I also saw a bear from a far distance, and icebergs.
Zabel: Do you have a deadline for heading back home?
Jules: I must be back by mid-March 2020 at the latest.
Zabel: How did you find the eastern Canadian roads so far?
Jules: Well, you do not have many curves in here. It was the first time my tires got worn out square!
That was an inspiring encounter with Jules. To be followed, because he promised he would be back!
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