Hi there, folks! In keeping with our summer theme — we’ve been talking up the Olympics, in case you haven’t noticed — today I’ll be taking a look at some travely-types who have performed what can only be described as Herculean endeavors.
Which one of these travel worthies would you vote onto the gold medal podium for their efforts? Register your choice in our poll below.
At 45, Jean went through a mid-life crisis with the failure of his neon sign business. In his own words:
“I played the game. It left me empty.”
Jean liked the idea of sailing around the world, but ocean-going yachts cost too much. Instead, he began to imagine running away as far as he could. He started jogging and working out but told no one of his plans — not even his life partner, Luce Archambault. When he finally told Luce, she gave him her blessing — but insisted that he do it for a cause. Jean chose world peace and the safety of children, something no one could disagree with (at that point, he was after some peace of mind).
He began by running south, but by the time he’d reached Atlanta, his knees had started bothering him, so he switched to walking. He waked through the rest of America, Mexico, Latin America, Africa, Europe and Asia — six continents and 64 countries.
His interest in promoting peace didn’t stop him from being mugged, as well as imprisoned (the latter in Ethiopia). But he carried on and eventually even came to embrace his cause, telling people that to achieve peace, we must see the world through “eyes of love.”
It’s an achievement so staggering it begs the question: what can he possibly do next? Where do you go from there?
“Hey honey, let’s celebrate with a holiday…”
“NO! Already been there.”
Another record, of course, belongs to Luce, who has remained loyal to Jean despite his absence of 11 years from their home in Montreal and his falling for a woman in Mexico. Once a year, she would come to him and they would spend three weeks together, in one place.
Jean walked back into Montreal in October of last year. How does the couple find it being under one roof again? Rumor has it, they’re writing a book together! Talk about Olympian challenges…
3) THE PREPOSTEROUS POLYGLOT: Benny Lewis
Brendan (Benny) Lewis is a polyglot who hails from Cavan County in Ireland. (No, “polyglot” isn’t a type of glue; it’s a person who speaks four or more languages fluently.) Benny earned this title — he is also a vegetarian and a teetotaler — after nine years on the road, during which he taught himself to speak eight languages fluently (with more than a smattering of half a dozen more).
I know nothing about Benny’s musculature, but it’s clear his tongue has gotten plenty of exercise.
Benny now considers himself to be a “technomad” — a full-time technology-enabled globe-trotter. His Web site, Fluent in Three Months, is a treasure trove of tips and tricks for picking up languages (called “language hacks”), as well as a tribute to his mind-boggling achievement. (I’m actually surprised that his head hasn’t exploded from the pressure of all that knowledge.)
According to him, it is no big deal — anyone can do what he has done. All they need is dedication, hard work…and more of the same. (Times a million!)
You know, I have to hand it to Benny, he’s the very essence of — sorry, I can’t resist — a cunning linguist. (Well, I said I was sorry! Please stop throwing things at me.)
4) THE MASTER OF EXTREME ENDURANCE: Ben Hatch
The British novelist and travel writer Ben Hatch is the author of a hugely popular (and very entertaining) book about a recent adventure of his: driving 8,000 miles around Britain in a cramped Vauxhall Astra, while researching a guidebook for Frommers.
“But why is that worthy of an Olympics gold medal?” I hear you ask. “Novelists usually aren’t athletes. And he only traveled around his own neck of the woods, Britain.”
Well, there are lots of reasons I could pick: because he practically lived in his car for five months, because he purposefully inflicted dozens of tourist attractions on himself every week, because he had a car crash en route, or because he stayed in a haunted Scottish castle.
But the one I like best is the fact that he did all this with his wife and two children — aged four and two! — in tow.
Can you imagine? While the family was attempting fine dining in a posh hotel restaurant, his children engaged in food fights and eating mashed potatoes with their bare hands. There were tears and tantrums in the car — every single day. For months. It sounds like my worst nightmare! And I don’t even have kids…
The resulting trauma became his best-selling book Are We Nearly There Yet? 8,000 Misguided Miles Round Britain in a Vauxhall Astra — which I can only assume was written cathartically, in a desperate attempt to cling on to what remained of his sanity after such a grueling experience. I think he deserves a medal just for surviving the first week. And of course, once the kids are old enough to read what he’s written about them, he’ll be in for a whole new world of trouble…
* * *
Right! There’s my suggestions. What do think. folks? I just know there are loads of people out there making epic journeys, achieving the unachievable, and generally making the rest of us look like couch potatoes in comparison. Do you know of any? (Olympians, I mean, not couch potatoes — I’ve got enough of the latter in my house.) BTW, I toyed with the idea of including an older traveler, as unlike sport, there seems to be no real age limit on world travel, especially with all the recent growth in the international cruise-ship industry (see photo above).
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