Cycling / Bicycling Adventure Comes to Central NY
Story & Photograph by Emmanuel Vaucher
When was the last time you rode a bike?
It might take most of us a while to accurately answer this simple question. To French firefighter, Alain Soulat, 43, wife Sylvie, nurse, 45 and son Ulysse, 8, it wouldn’t take too long before they said, “Yesterday!” with a large smile on their face. This is indeed the way this young family of 3 has chosen to live for the past 17 years.
It all started back in the early 90’s when the couple from Angoulème, France decided to make a short one-day trip to discover a region nearby. Pleased by the marvel of their discovery and the pleasure of tandem riding, they soon started to ride farther and farther away from home. Before they knew it, they were pedaling themselves through 56 countries of Europe, China, India, Indonesia, Australia, Africa and the Americas!!!Thanks to the solidarity between firefighters worldwide, the Soulat’s were able to spend last Friday and Saturday night in Camden’s fire station. “Firefighters understand the price of effort and life,” says Alain Soulat. “Wherever we go, we know we can count on their support. It’s been a tremendous logistic help to us from the start and now more than ever since September 11, 2001.”
“For now, we’re on a tight schedule,” he adds, “We have to reach Chicoutimi before winter sets in…otherwise we might encounter hard times like we did in the past.” The past he’s referring to dates a few months back when they were crossing the Oregon state and had little more than a few weeks in order to reach the Canadian border before their visa ran out. These special conditions forced them to take greater risks. “We found ourselves caught in one of the worse wind storms we’ve ever known!” he adds. “It took us days to get over it and allow the tension to leave our muscles.”
Challenges… they know the meaning of that word: It starts with 360 pounds of the fully loaded tandem and custom car. This 12 foot long vehicle has been their means of transport through highways, dirt roads, jungles, deserts, mud holes, plateaus, mountains and other nerve racking passages where even 4×4’s commonly fail. Nothing stopped them. Not even typhoons, sand storms, rain seasons, blizzards, heat, fatigue, military conflicts, night police inspections, menacing shadows in the dark, mosquitoes, spiders, snakes and the like. “Not too long ago, we woke up and discovered a bear’s bite mark on the tandem!” chuckles Sylvie. “But we’re not afraid, it’s our lifestyle! We chose it this way!” “Our planet is absolutely gorgeous!” she adds, “but most people are not aware of it,” she adds regretfully.
“We’ve seen panda bears in the wild!” says joyfully young globe rider Ulysse and the whole family suddenly commemorates the incredible amount of wild animals they’ve ridden by and sometimes posed with for a photo or two. Ulysse amazes us with his outgoing and well-spoken personality. Full of life and wide-eyed, he’s the reflection of the breathtaking vistas he’s discovered all his life with his parents. What an education! At age 8, he can speak three languages and switch from one to the other in a blink of an eye. French laws require that he follow a strict educational curriculum. That’s why, for the past three years, Sylvie and Alain have gradually shortened daily distances from one hundred down to thirty or forty miles. “The afternoons are dedicated to schooling,” she explains. “Just like his sedentary French peers, Ulysse regularly takes tests that are corrected in France. It’s a very demanding program, but we have no other way around it.”
As I was waving goodbye to them on Route 13 this past Monday morning, something struck me: I had just asked Alain how many miles they had covered since they started this life. “About 70,625 miles,” he said without hesitation. Somehow this number made me smile for it’s probably the average number on most cars we drive back and forth to work everyday. For Alain, Sylvie and Ulysse, I’m sure these 70,625 miles made a whole world of difference!