Physically our adventure has consisted of a journey of 1098 days from point A to… point A. But the most potent element in a journey can’t be counted in kilometres; in fact it is something that can’t be counted at all. Our collective experience of meeting a sample of the world’s inhabitants has taught us how to live happily, to appreciate simple things and to see beauty in places we had not seen it before. Our final return to Point A, on 31st August 2013, was the most beautiful of final bouquets, the most authentic reflection of what made the Solidream project so extraordinary.
The key is there. Hidden under the carpet. Brian opens the door of his sister’s house and we follow him in. The silence of an empty apartment is in contrast with the fire in our veins. On the 29th August we are in Lunel, 25 km from the house, three years to the day since we left Port Camargue. Ingrid has left a note for us on the table inviting us to empty the fridge, open the bottles of wine and move into the bedrooms rather than the garden. We quickly adapt to the familiar surroundings which sit ill with our outbursts of enthusiasm, excitement and stress. We are in suspense. On the 31st we will leave here on the final stage to the official finishing post. Together we take a trip in time and talk about our first anniversary celebrated with the forest guards of the “National Park of Amazonia” after 40 days in the jungle, and our second anniversary at the farm of Val and Richard in the northern island of New Zealand. But this time the three of us are celebrating the magic number. We have a short night and set off for the longest day of our journey. It is a a never-ending 30th August. While preparing our speeches for the following day our attention is distracted by other details. What time should we set off? What route should we take? How should we be dressed? Who will be there? Any surprises? Shall we put a flag on one of our bikes? Futile questions followed by equally futile answers, but which nonetheless reassure us. In the late afternoon we are joined by Bertrand and Etiennne, their bikes in the boot of their car, so as to make up a complete team for the first time since the start of the adventure. All five of us are present for the closing of the circle.
Bertrand: “Do you think you’ll shed a tear?”
Morgan: “I doubt it. The day we left I had tears in my eyes at the thought of leaving our loved ones for such a long time, but this is different. The only thing that would have made me break down would be to see my sister from New Caledonia.”
The Big Day has arrived! The date we have all imagined a hundred times over, the moment which was been a topic of conversation for us on the far side of the world and comforted us in moments of doubt, the moment that brings to a close an important chapter of our lives, leaving a blank page to give free rein to our imagination and our ambitions.
It is 10:30 and we mount our bikes once again. We have for hours to travel 15 kilometres. Under normal conditions that would take us barely an hour, but we want more than ever to savour every instant. Slowly does it. We stop; let the excitement mount with every metre we advance. We are all five of us experiencing one of the best days of our lives. What a delight! Until the very end our turning wheels seem to build up the sense of emotion. We go as slowly as we can, without effort, cradled in a following wind. But our hearts beat loud in our breasts. BFM and France TV follow us in their cars to report our arrival and we are delighted to have this moment immortalised. So much had our excitement outstripped our reason that we had not organised to film it ourselves. Then Siphay, bent on making the occasion even more memorable, pulled a surprise from the righthand pannier of his bicycle. It was a bottle of champagne to celebrate the final kilometre. Without stopping he served each of us a beaker, and all five of us savoured the bubbles together with our individual impressions of the occasion.
Siphay: “I enjoy going about on my bicycle without actually being a cycling fanatic, even after the 54,000 kilometres we have just completed. But I seem to have kept in mind the image, in black and white, of when I was a kid and the Tour de France riders passed by with a glass of champagne in their hands. It came back to me every time we tried to second guess how we would feel on this famous 31st August. One day I told the others about my Champs Élysées memory, rather hoping they would forget about it. In the end the surprise was more than welcome for me as well, serving to steady my nerves, calm down my ardour and an uncontrollable shaking.
We passed a round-about where about forty people cheered us, climbing on their bikes to escort us on the final straight. Some ran, others pedalled. It was the first time we had been physically accompanied. Our hearts were thumping, our throats tightened, we could hardly speak… 500 metres to go, we see the crowd, the display of flags, uplifted arms. the sound of fog horns, whistles and cheers growing ever louder.
What was going on in our heads? While Brian experienced the entire journey in a single flash of conscious memory, suddenly aware of the distance we had covered, and telling himself we were finally there, Siphay and Morgan began to shake and shout out loud, standing on their pedals with their arms in the air, losing all control over their thoughts. At the last minute Morgan then fell silent. They were overwhelmed by this final bouquet of sensations, allowing themselves to be carried away on a wave of emotion.
Morgan: “I am only a few metres away from the crowd but I can’t see anybody. My eyes deceive me. I look for my parents but can’t find them. I pedal slowly allowing myself to be brushed by the crowd, when me father appears running beside me. He catches my arm. “Here! It’s me!” I can’t take it in.”
“I get off my bicycle, make a half turn and follow him. Time passes in slow motion but I still don’t recognise anybody. I have trouble holding on to my bike in my weakened condition and am unable to think clearly. The crowd parts in front of me and my vision is blurred, allowing only one person to stand out in the column of people ahead. She is wearing a black t-shirt with a pink Solidream logo. I let go of my bike drop, trembling. My tear stained eyes impair my sight even more and I walk the few steps that separate us. It’s my sister! Yes, my sister! She throws herself into my arms and our tears mingle as I embrace her. I’m the happiest man in the world!”
Virginie has come with Guy, her husband and their two children, Yoan and Alizée, all the way from New Caledonia, to welcome her brother. The surprise lives up to everything I had predicted.
Sharing with our supporters
Accompanied by more than 400 people we walk the final kilometre to the hall where the festivities are to take place. We did not want too abrupt an arrival and were hoping that the euphoria would dissipate on the way. It was important for us to take time to share this final symbolic procession with the people who had supported us.
After a speech by M.Rosso, the president of the Camargue commune and one by M. Mourrut, the mayor, we gave a press conference to answer the questions posed by people who had followed our adventures on line. It is the first time we have talked about it in the past tense. To see our film projected on the wall, and recount the events with their happy outcome and to hear the laughter and applause of the audience was a gut warming sensation.
Earlier we have recorded how much seeing our loved ones meant to us. This day of celebrations is a concentration of family reunions, including cousins and other friendships from which we had been cut off for too long. Even though we were careful about our alcohol intake, our excitement could not be easily contained and all too readily overflowed.
Brian: “In the evening I am not usually the last to go to bed. But this particular one was a succession of rejoicing, moments of intense happiness which came down in the end to one inexhaustible phenomenon: the long awaited rediscovery of the appreciation of “otherness”- in other words, the simple pleasure of enjoying the qualities of another person for what he is, a celebration of the individuality of the people making up our circle. And for this reason the evening seemed to fly by all too quickly. What is there to add except a thank-you? Thanks for coming? Yes indeed; but above all thanks to life for arranging for our paths to cross and thanks to this party for ensuring that they crossed again.”
It goes without saying that without the dynamic organisation of all those who set out to make this party into the magnificent event it was, these magical moments would never have come about. So, all our thanks go to those responsible this final day for making our trip into a shared experience, an unforgettable and extraordinary round-the-world journey.
Despite the emotional release and a sleepless night the sunrise at Port Camargue will always remain the final overpowering image of this crazy enterprise conceived five years earlier. Is this the end? Not yet thirty years old and physically fit enough for the Olympics Games, we think you already know the answer. Because besides being an adventure Solidream instilled in us a way of thinking, a state of mind, that of the spirit of adventure. This way of facing daily life, and of taking our fate into one’s own hands is not just valid for journeys and adventures. It is a philosophy which can be applied to all walks of life and which should encourage us to live our lives with passion. It will work for anybody who wants it to, to make his existence exciting. In short, to make a dream of his life, and a reality of his dream.