An hour and a half. This is how long our interview with Louis-Martin Gignac lasts. The Montrealer is in the Netherlands, where he is spending a few weeks before returning to Quebec, more than 600 days after leaving it. His great accomplice has meanwhile decided to stay in Argentina for a while.
An hour and a half, then. This is the time it will have taken to relate the main lines of this adventure more human than sporting, more spiritual than physical. Let’s try to summarize it in three chapters…
It all started in 2018, in philosophy class. Newly friends, Thomas Julien-Courchesne and Louis-Martin Gignac – also nicknamed Thom and Lou – preferred to discuss rather than listen. That day, Thom told Lou about one of his previous cycling adventures; a crossing of Canada, from Vancouver to Montreal, with his father.
“You, would you like to go from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego with me? “, he launched to him spontaneously.
Lou didn’t sleep a wink that night. The proposal, evoked in a somewhat banal way, ran through his head.
“Hey, about yesterday, were you serious?” he asked his friend the next day.
“I was serious,” Thom replied.
“Okay, me too! »
For three years, the Montrealers planned their adventure. They read a lot. They researched equipment. They saved money and looked for sponsorship.
“Obviously, all our relatives had every reason in the world to believe that it was a whim, because it was,” remembers Louis-Martin with a smile.
Initially, they were supposed to start their journey in 2020, but the pandemic changed their plans. During their additional preparation year, they learned Spanish and saved more.
Still to this day, Louis-Martin struggles to explain the purpose behind this long journey. “That’s a huge question! This is a question we asked ourselves throughout the trip. It remains that this trip was born in the belly and, precisely, it was like a quest to unravel all that. To try to find out what that instinct meant. »
Over the months, the motivations of Louis-Martin, who prefers to answer this question only in his name, have evolved a lot. If he first wanted to “flee, leave, relax”, other motivations arose over time: “understand myself better, forge someone, travel, open my mind, discover the world”, he lists.
“It was to go to the end of the world to go to the end of myself. »
On July 22, 2021, Thom and Lou left Prudhoe Bay in northern Alaska. Their 26,000 km adventure would last, according to their estimates, between a year and a half and two years. In their luggage: camping equipment, food for 10 days, tools and spare parts for the bike, a first aid kit, some clothes, books and a removable guitar that resists temperature changes.
“You have to bring comfort because this is going to be your house. Books were a bit like that. It was extra weight, but we were really stubborn. Now I have an e-reader, I finally capitulated! »
The accomplices first traveled through Alaska. Their Instagram account (@twentyfivemillekm), which is absolutely worth the click, allows you to relive part of their adventure through their photos and their words. As they crossed the Canadian border to skirt the Yukon and British Columbia, we can read the following.
We feed on mountains, streams and dehydrated pad thai. Silence too. Despite a floor mattress that we had to patch three times, a stove that no longer screws onto the tank, Lou almost burning his face in a nice explosion of isopropane (it wasn’t that bad ok), despite all that we survive by being content with charades at length of day.
Excerpt from an Instagram post
There are so many anecdotes and unforeseen events that it is impossible to relate them all in this article. Louis-Martin tells us an anecdote that happened in British Columbia, when a problem with his bike forced the duo to hitchhike. As anything can happen on a trip, their driver offered them a job as assistant geologists.
“Every morning, we were picked up at the camp by a helicopter. We were taken to a mountain ridge. All day, we walked in the mountains, we followed rivers. We took rock samples, we analyzed the terrain. »
The friends spent a month there before hitting the road again on their bikes. Next stop: the United States. At our neighbors to the south, Thom and Lou were hosted by locals almost every night thanks to the application Warmshowers.
Already, during these two months in the United States, Louis-Martin felt himself changing.
I knew that life wasn’t fair: high school, CEGEP, university, work. I knew it, but to see it… How exploded it can be! It could be: CEGEP, helicopter pilot for ten years, mechanic, master’s degree in literature.
Louis Martin Gignac
After traveling along the west coast of the United States, the accomplices arrived in Mexico. They spent five months there before moving on to Guatemala, then to El Salvador, where “there was a state of emergency because of the murder rate”.
The two men showed great vigilance, but were scared. “It gave rise to several discussions around death between Thom and me. I remember, in El Salvador, how much I thought about death. I thought about it every day. »
Over the months, the cyclists have created a “kind of instinct, a routine, a confidence, a look” which makes them “alert at all times”.
It happened during this year and a half that Thom and Lou separated. A first time in Mexico, a second time in Peru. “It’s normal, we’re not fusion either. It was important to remember that we are two whole people. »
A little step back in time. In 2019, as they began their process, Thom and Lou posted on their Facebook page a screenshot taken from Google Maps Street View : we saw a small hut located on the edge of the road in the town of Tolhuin, 115 km from the point of arrival. They had then promised to take a picture of this barn one day.
“We said to ourselves: we are going to make something grand out of this ugly old cabin,” recalls Louis-Martin.
The hut had fallen into oblivion… until the two cyclists reached Argentina. A week before arriving in Tolhuin, Louis-Martin remembered it.
“I was like: ‘Oh my God, Thom, the cabin!” We would get there in 500 km. We were flipping. We could have missed it! »
“When we arrived, we were euphoric. It could have been demolished. […] She was all there, all beautiful with the sun! »
Even if the real point of arrival, Ushuaia, was still only 115 km away, it was in front of this hut that the two acolytes felt this feeling of accomplishment and pride. They had.
Louis-Martin Gignac and Thomas Julien-Courchesne arrived in Ushuaia on February 11, 2023. At the time of our interview, 12 days had passed.
The encounters, the adventures, the unexpected, each part of this long journey has changed the two men, even if it is still difficult for Lou to explain how.
“I’m still the little kid I always was,” he says. At the same time, I say that, but I know that thinking back to who I was before, it’s someone else. »
“I’ve seen every inch that separates Prudhoe Bay from Ushuaia. I have a visual memory of those places. That alone is super valuable. It’s something I have in me right now. I say this without pretension, I don’t think it elevates me compared to other people, but I feel like I have a big secret inside me. »
The Secret of the Americas.