Travelers Confidence | Backpacking in tandem for 38 years

Traveling is like driving on a mountain road. But between the ups and downs, there will always be those indelible memories that you carry with you throughout your life. Monthly, The press tells the big and small adventures of fearless travelers. Today: a newly retired couple who have been traveling the world together for almost 40 years.

Posted yesterday at 11:30am

Laila Maalouf

Laila Maalouf
The press

Josée Blackburn and Robert Bibeau weren’t married yet when they crossed the ocean to tour Europe on two wheels. It was 1984.

“It was, if you will, our first test,” says Robert. In the first month it rained every day, from Amsterdam to Bonn! I remember we pitched the tent on a sodden lawn. In short, a “Make or Break…” scenario.

“And it looks like it happened! he exclaims, laughing.

After all, the two gardeners didn’t just go to Switzerland, where they wanted to harvest this year. They rode bicycles to Egypt and made a small part of the journey by train. And since then they have visited almost fifty countries together.

On road

They left Montreal in late April after renting their home for two years, although they plan to return to Quebec every six months. For questions about health insurance – the sixties don’t help!, ironically Robert – to give a cycling lesson in a high school in the fall, but above all to see their two children and their three grandchildren – with whom they began to record short escapades two wheels in Quebec.

After arriving in Scotland without their tandem or luggage (lost in Toronto!) they were finally able to hit the road. When we spoke to them at the end of May, they were recharging their batteries in an Airbnb in England. A luxury they only afford in cases of force majeure, when road fatigue is rampant, camping isn’t an option, or they haven’t been invited by the Warm Showers community.

“We travel on a small budget,” emphasizes Josée. From $50 it’s now up to $60 a day for both – inflation demands it.

If they don’t hesitate to wild camp where it’s allowed, like in Scotland, they prefer the Warm Showers option because it gives them the most enriching encounters. “We were guests of doctors who explained to us how the pandemic went,” says Robert, while Josée was happy to find out more about how the health system works or about daycare prices.


PHOTO PROVIDED BY nomadesavelos

In Scotland last May

In Mexico in 2018, for example, they slept just as much in sumptuous residences as in houses without running water. Travel anecdotes, they have a shovel, and they enjoy telling them about their hikes on their blog. Like this time in El Salvador, where Robert threw up at the edge of a ditch and a Salvadoran who had been living in Quebec came by to offer help. “That was my guardian angel,” he recalls.

There was also this bike accident in Morocco, in 2009. Luckily they weren’t there, but it was badly damaged anyway… by the police chief of the little village. “It was an event,” Josée remembers with a laugh. Everyone greeted us and invited us. »

And although we’ve already tried to steal their bags in Mendoza, Argentina, “nothing exceptionally negative” has ever happened to them, she says.

The passion for cycling

After experimenting with backpacking in Peru in 2005, Josée Blackburn and Robert Bibeau quickly returned to two-wheeled travel. Why ? For the freedom offered by this means of transport, Robert answers without hesitation.

“But mostly to not have any weight on your shoulders,” adds Josée, laughing.

If they’ve opted for the tandem, it’s because they can talk to each other during the journey, despite some drawbacks – it’s discouraged on certain trains and buses in particular because of its size.

Sitting on a double bike also balances the forces, Robert explains.

Each of us makes the effort we can, and at the same time we reach the top of the hill. And at the end of the day we both arrive as exhausted as the other.

Robert Bibeau

On the other hand, the person who is pedaling in the back – in this case, Josée – has to surrender completely to the rider because she is not in control.

However, for their next trip to New Zealand, scheduled for November, they will set out with two bikes to take advantage of the off-road trails recommended for cyclists.

But until then, there are still many landscapes waiting for you. After covering more than 1300km in the UK in a month, Josée and Robert take the ferry to cycle the paths of the past and return to where their first journey began 38 years ago – in Amsterdam. They then head to Scandinavia, from where they will fly back to Montreal next September, true to their habit of leaving much improvisation to their plans.

The adventure has only just begun (again).

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