Q&A with adventure cyclists Janick Lemieux and Pierre Bouchard

On Friday, Nov. 30, adventure cyclists Janick Lemieux and Pierre Bouchard will give a special multimedia presentation on their 24,000 kilometer "volcano-hopping" mountain bike trek from Jakarta to Vancouver.

Pierre and Janick descending Novo Tolbatchik cinder cones in Northern Kamchatka.

Part of our 2012 Bicycle Film Series, the presentation, titled "Cycling the Pacific Ring of Fire part 3...Full Circle”, will feature stunning images, several original video excerpts, and animated maps and graphics portraying the third and last leg of their decade-long, 40,000-mile adventure that started when they set off on their immensely loaded mountain bikes in the spring of 1999 and headed south.

As we lead up to their presentation, here’s part 1 of a Q&A with the Canadian cyclists:

- The stories, pictures, and the feat of the travels in itself are astonishing. How and when did you two decide to embark on such an incredible journey together?

Janick and Pierre:  It all started with a conversation in the tent, during another freezing night on a winter mtb traverse of the Tibetan Plateau. Giardias’ despotic protozoa, high altitude thin air, and chronic insomnia having a strong grasp on us then:

-“If we make it out of here alive, it’ll be pretty good!"
+"Yeah, hope it’s soon too! But if we do, then what?"
-"Hmmm, we’ll probably be human again, so we could keep on riding and travelling, keep this existence program of ours going. Checking our planet out on our bikes..."
+"Yeah…but where to this time?”
-“Well, mountains usually fulfill us beyond our… "
+"Yeah, yeah but mountains where we won’t be freezing our butts off like these ones!"
-"Hmmm… mountains, heat, fire, mountains of fire, volcanoes… the volcanoes of the Pacific Ring of Fire!”+"Yeah… travelling around the Pacific, pedaling from one volcano to the next! Yeah!”

This exercise, aimed at exorcising our little ailments at the time, took place in January 1998. In May 1999, we were riding out of Vancouver to undertake the first stage of what will later become a trilogy, our "cyclovolcanic" quest: Vancouver/Santiago de Chile, Santiago de Chile/Jakarta, and Jakarta/Vancouver!

- What were the ultimate goals?

Kilauea volcano's lava delta. Hawaii

Perfect pretext, excuse to launch ourselves on another big adventure, by “volcano-hopping” around the Pacific, meeting its peoples along the way, climbing to the summit of some of its “live” volcanoes, and trekking around others while getting acquainted with local cultures and familiar with foreign landscapes. We set out to learn more about volcanism, one of our very dynamic planet's constant mode of formation, and its multifarious manifestations along the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire.

We visited with volcanologists in every country, spending time in their observatories and getting briefed on their studies and research projects. Armed to the teeth – several SLR and digital cameras, miniDV video camcorder, mini-disc digital audio recorder, laptop computer, notebooks, all of our senses and both our memories! –,  we documented and recorded the daily life of the people and the behavior of volcanoes encountered along the way, so we could share the adventures and little discoveries as the expedition unfolded and afterwards in the form of published articles, multimedia documentaries, and blogs. We're currently working on a pictorial book about the whole expedition.

- Why did you choose to travel by bicycle?

Simply because to us, it is the most harmonious way to travel over land. We can talk about advantages of using bikes to get around on our planet for hours, even days. So let's keep it short!

Besides allowing us to cover a considerable distance in any given period of time, having a minimal carbon impact, keeping us in great physical condition, being economical, above all it really connects us intimately with our surroundings, both natural and human! Without being caged in a glass and window box, travelling at a more down-to earth-scale and reasonable speed, all of our senses are solicited to participate in the discovery of a place, a region, a country or a continent. One can take the time needed to see the features of the land he or she is going through, and can even stop to get closer; hear animals, water, leaves; smell (though this is not always a treat ); and  feel with the skin, thus recording essential elements that make the land we're riding in. All of these for some anatomical and everlasting memories!

Local kids enjoy a spin with the maily tricycle on ash tracks at the foot of Mayon volcano. Philippines

As for the people, the bike works like a passport. We are convinced that showing up on a loaded bicycle in a foreign community is the most pacific way of presenting oneself. People don't feel threatened and are rather curious about the rider burdened with luggage. They come to greet us, ask about our whereabouts and, when realizing we're far away from home, start to invite us for a hearty meal, a warm shower or a comfy bed. As if a "human solidarity" reflex was stimulated and triggered, responding! It's like this that we often found ourselves adopted by individuals and families for days, well installed behind the scenes of their daily lives, exchanging too, telling them about ways and customs of our own cradle, and creating links, building bridges between here and there...or vice versa! It's a goal we were hoping to attain when setting off and reached...thanks in great part to the bicycle!

- I'm sure planning the logistics was difficult and time consuming. What about physical training - did you do anything fitness-wise to prepare for the journey?

Although we strive to seize every opportunity to play outside when we're off the road for a while, we don't really have the time to embark on a training camp. Since we usually leave for extended periods of time, we simply take it easy for the first two weeks. We start with shortish rides, take breaks and progressively increase the daily distance until we feel like homo-velocipedus again! It's probably the best form of training, too, to just ride your bike in real travel/expedition conditions!

- I guess many people are envious of the adventure and wonder how you were able to afford traveling for that long financially, as well as just being able to be away from “normal life”,   friends and family?

Janick at the summit of Gyatso La, Lhasa; Kathmandu road's highest pass.

To see the world from the saddle of our bikes, to live on the road is a project that became a way of life for us a long time ago. It's the result of a very short series of conscious decisions we made in early adulthood. We got there by choice and found ways to sustain this clearly marginal lifestyle, mainly by sharing scenes we witness and experiences we endure while on the road. In order to achieve this, we had to give up a lot of securities, comforts, and "advantages" a more sedentary life seems to offer. We believe that anyone who has a particular idea as to how to spend his or her own life, even if it’s far-fetched or against the current, can implement by really dedicating time, creativity and energy to it. It's definitely worth a try.


Janick and Pierre will give a spectacular multi-media show at REI - Seattle on Friday, Nov. 30. 

Come back next week for Part 2 of the Q&A but in the meantime, visit Pierre and Janick’s Facebook page for more information.