BMW Owners News columnist Sandy Borden has more interviews and features on her website, www.adventuretrio.com!
It amazes me how this adventure motorcycle community of ours becomes more of a family than just chance meetings and run-ins. Taking the time to sit and share experiences opens us up to new relationships and an opportunity to increase our family circle. Our Trio family increased by three this summer, as Rene Cormier, wife Colette and son Jacques bunked at Borden's Boarding House a time or two. With two boarding locations to serve the weary traveler, we spent a memorable couple of weeks with the Cormiers in various parts of Northern California. What came out of our times together resulted in a new “honorary” batch of aunties and uncles for Jack and Jacques, and a lovely couple we can truly call friends.
When we first met Rene and Colette, it was Overland Expo 2012 and Colette was pregnant with their little one, Jacques. While Colette attempted to find comfort in a chair behind the author's table, Rene was out in front, his usual boisterous self. Rene's hand is always outstretched, greeting his newest fan with a handshake and a smile, and hugging old friends as if no time had passed. When we met up again at Overland Expo 2013, baby Jacques was five months old and a ball of chunky, giggly cuteness. I mean, you really need to see this kid for yourself. Right off, he reminded Terry and me of Jack when he was a chunky babe. There was the smile on this kids face! While Jack and Jacques had some bonding time, the moms and dads shared a beer or two, catching up on the year, getting to know more about each other. Unfortunately, you don't always get enough one-on-one time at these events. Our solution? Seeing as they were making their way north through California, it was time for Rene and Colette to experience some time off the road. They'd been carrying all of their belongings in truck and trailer for months on end, and it was time for them to live in a house for a bit...a real
house. So, for two weeks, our family doubled in size, spending one week near Sacramento and another week in our tiny home in the Mt. Shasta Forest. It was just what everyone needed.
Days were spent at our respective computers. It was funny, really. With Colette and babe playing in the next room, Terry, Rene and I sat at with our laptops, brains buried in the days' tasks. I had to chuckle when Rene came up for air, looked around and exclaimed, "This is so nice! All of us working on our computers, getting work done." I think he enjoyed the camaraderie. I know I enjoyed having a little one in the house once again. At night, Jack and Jacque would play on the back lawn, the bigger boys swapping stories while Colette and I prepared a meal and learned more about each other. What a special person she is. Actually, they're both pretty unique in their stories of growing up in South Africa and Canada.
It wasn't until our final days together that Rene and I had the opportunity to sit and chat about the four years he spent traveling the globe. I guess we were all enjoying our time together a little too much. Is there really such a thing? It wasn't an interview, really, but more of two friends swapping stories of travel and life decisions, one of us with a few more queries than the other. Enjoy as you are now a part of our conversation on that quiet June afternoon, us flopped on the couch, the squeal of little ones in the backyard as they discover the simple joy of a hose and bucket on a lazy summer day in California.
As much as I wanted to hear extended tales beyond his book, The University of Gravel Roads: Global Lessons from a Four-Year Motorcycle Adventure, I was more interested in what spurred his desire to flee the norm in Canada; what changed him the most, and who he was upon his return. Did Rene travel a lot as a child? No, actually. But, it did spark something in him as well as his siblings.
There were four kids in the family and we were sort of like that 6–12 age group. We took one trip across Canada towing the trailer with the station wagon; the full Griswold experience, which was great fun. I thoroughly enjoyed that trip. The limited travel we did spurred a very big wanderlust. Out of the four children, my eldest sister, was sort of the stay at home style. My younger brother worked for Royal Caribbean cruise lines. My youngest sister has traveled probably the most out of all of us. So, the last three kids have a contest for how many countries they've visited. But, you can't count the countries you fly in and transfer. You have to stay overnight and have a beer. Those are the rules for the country counting. My little sister I think is leading us, as she is somewhere near 100. I'm not far behind and my brother is not far behind me. It's a fun contest. My parents were always very encouraging.
Of course, I have to know the answer to the standard questions, "When did you first start riding motorcycles?"
Like a lot of our friends growing up, we always rode bikes, not legally, as we didn't have licenses, but we'd borrow the bike of kids down the hall and ride the dirt bike in the backyard. When we grew up, our house was just at the end of town, so there were farmers’ fields and forests, which was great; so we could just go out and fart around in those areas. Then I rode illegally for a while. No one's going to hear this, right?
Of course not, Rene! This is completely between you and me.
I got my proper license probably in my early 20's. It wasn't until I was in my late 20's that I could afford a motorcycle of my own. It was a 1986 BMW R100GS PD, red and white, big tank, awesome thing. I sold it to do this big trip around the world. So, I had that bike and an 1150 GS. I sold both of them to downgrade to the 650GS, which was the bike that I was going to take around the world. I thought it was a downgrade, but in actual fact it was the best choice for the trip.
I had to know when was the moment Rene decided to do this around the world trip.
It was when I was deciding I was going to do a year in South America. This was the initial trip parameter. In some moment of lucidity between Washington and Colorado Springs, I thought, ‘Why am I not thinking bigger?’ The decision making went from South America for one year to the world in one year. Quickly looking at an atlas, I decided it would be stupid to go that quickly, that fast. That's not traveling, that's racing, really.
The money question always seems to follow the decision to hit the road. Even Terry, who was quietly sitting in on this conversation, leaned in to hear how Rene was going to answer the question with regard to funding this now multi-year trek around the globe.
"I had to sell everything I owned. I had a little bit of equity in a house and I had saved a little bit of money, but I had accumulated a lot of crap as well. I was amazed. I got $40,000 dollars for the trip. From my internet homework, I realized people were traveling for $30 a day, camping. In my little optimistic brain, I figured if they could do it for $30, I could do it for $25. $25 a day for a year is $9,100, so I had enough money for three years and a bit of money for one-time expenses. So that's how the trip started three years around the world.
When did you realize, "Oh crap...I'm really doing this!"
"As soon as I started selling stuff. It's the most liberating, awesome, terrifying feeling ever, because you are intentionally jettisoning your life away from you. You are chipping away at that base that you have worked so hard to accumulate. Most people work their whole lives to build that castle with the moat around it so their life can survive. Now, you are blowing it up for something that you think will be awesome, but you really have no idea what it's going to be.
Oh, the people you meet. Tell me about how you were received when rolling through countries.
For the most part, about 90 percent of the people are mildly amused by what you're doing. We (I and the motorcycle) have never had a fuel stop where people wouldn't come up. With the Iranian visit, everyone wants to stop and have a cup of tea with you and tell you that they get BBC and CNN and, by the way, what our government says in the news is not what the Iranian people want. That was repeated half a dozen times. It was interesting to hear.
These are the stories I want to hear. Is it true that the media in other countries is trying to scare their residents as much as ours? Simply put, yes.
Not everyone expects to meet his or her future spouse while halfway around the world. Funny enough, Rene is not the first to tell me the tale of meeting said spouse while on the other side of the planet. It was 2006, and Rene had now spent a year off the road, having returned to Canada to earn some much needed travel money. He landed in South Africa in August of 2006 and met Colette three months later.
I met her at a party. She lived in a very beautiful part of South Africa with a lot of great roads and mountain passes. So, we took the bike out and went to see how many passes we could go over, and it turned into a date. That date turned into another date and another date, and we were just having a lovely time together. I knew at that point it was a personal trip for me. I wanted to be selfish about this experience and have it entirely for myself. So we just continued emailing and SMSing and it was like wow, this relationship isn't cooling down at all. So I finished that leg through Africa to Russia and Mongolia. That was two years. Then I returned to Canada and flew down to her to figure out what was going to happen here. Were we going to give it a go? Were we not? I couldn't have picked someone to date that lived in a less opportune place to get to. It's literally on the other side of the planet from us. If we could've dug a tunnel, it would've been great.
They got married twice? Rene had to explain this one to me.
We got married on the first day of spring in 2010 in Edmonton (Canada), which is normally when we still have snow. Then we got married the first day of spring in South Africa six months later for her family.
Now, I get it. I wasn't thinking about that whole "the family is on the other side of the planet" aspect. Then, baby Jacques makes three.
Ya, baby was born in Cape Town, and that was on purpose. People ask me why, with Canada's free health care, why would you go and have this baby somewhere else. We talked a lot about that, and it was a desire of mine to have baby born in South Africa because we would likely have more of a connection to Colette's family and to the Afrikaans side of the family that you cannot have other than being born there. So, it was more expensive for us to do, maybe a bit riskier, but it was well worth all those risks. We had an awesome midwife. When the baby was born, she allowed me to cut the umbilical cord with my Leatherman.
Oh, hilarity ensued at the mental image on that answer! It took a bit for Rene, Terry and I to compose ourselves from the fit of laughter. No, I didn't ask to see the Leatherman.
With a little human in the picture, this changes how one thinks and plans for the future, right?
We think quite a bit differently. So baby was born in October, and we flew on Christmas to Canada when baby was a few months old. Baby now has two passports and he's been to three or four countries. He is a traveling baby and he doesn't know any different, which I think is going to help us a bit in our unusual lifestyle. We travel all the time. Our world is a funny world. Now he is starting to crawl, soon he'll be walking. But we just keep thinking of the upside. I mean, baby has eaten dirt from three continents.
I'm a sucker for before and after stories, how a life experience can give you fresh eyes as to how you view your personal bubble and life beyond the usual. What was Rene like before and who is he now?
Now, I'm a cheapskate. I'm value priced. Before I left, I was a 9–5. I was in the default world. Here's my vacation; my weekends start on Friday at 6:00 p.m. and end on Monday at 8:00 a.m. That world terrifies me now. We don't own a home, and we talk about getting one at some point. But in serious talks about getting a mortgage, that weight goes right to my throat and it sits in my throat. We've done without it for so long, and it's not normal. But, our life is not normal and our life situation is not normal. Maybe we get away with not having that. I don't know if we can or not.
You've heard of Rene's tour company, Renedian Adventures, right? Of course you have! A little background...the name Renedian came out of Rene's Canada-speak when it came to certain words. You know which ones I'm referring to – aboot, oot, and so on. During a business meeting, one of Rene's good friends exclaimed, "Rene's talking bloody Renedian again!" There you have it. The moniker became a business entity that published his book in January 2010, as well as the company name for his South African tour group.
2010 was our first South Africa tour, and I didn't know if it was going to fly or not. Would people be willing to go to South Africa? The travel there is quite hectic and an expensive flight. People are sometimes afraid of new places and Africa has an added mystery about it. But we had a great first year. We ran two trips that year and three trips the next year and five last year with eight as a goal for this year.
None. Okay, I regret that I didn't have better language skills.
I have to be honest, this is not the first time I've heard this answer. So many travelers I chat with have the same two regrets – more time and better language skills.
Where are Rene and family now? It was time to get back to work in South Africa and time for Colette and Jacques to spend time with family. Though not looking forward to the flight schedule, they couldn't wait to go home, if only for a brief period of time. Rene will be back in the States beginning in March of 2014, sharing his tales of travel at various dealers, spreading the gospel that is adventure motorcycling.
As much as we miss our friends, we know that our time apart will be short-lived, as those who travel are destined to cross paths once again. Jacques will be walking, an adventure in itself for those in the parental know, and Jack will be there to help guide him along. The honorary aunties and uncles will enjoy a cold brew as tales of time spent apart fill the familiar scene. When will that be? Who knows, but we'll be there eager to catch up all the same. Till next time... Cheers.
You can read more about Rene Cormier, his upcoming speaking gigs, and Renedian Adventures at www.renedian.com . Rene's book, The University of Gravel Roads: Global Lessons from a Four-Year Motorcycle Adventure, is available on the website as well.