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Friday, 03 July 2009

Adventures Bicycletales: An Interview with Frédéric Linget

Written by Kristen Hamill
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"Why go on a journey of 20,000 km … when 10,000 km would be enough by flying over the ocean? Why spend 12 months on the road when only 12 hours would be necessary in the air? Why so many efforts, when I could just sit and wait? Efficiency, speed, and very little effort - these are some really trendy values nowadays. By seeking and obtaining everything, immediately and easily, we lose both the taste of things and the appetite for life. In my opinion, we are missing the best of it. Cycling, on the contrary, is getting back to what traveling really means. Cycling is also about holding your own destiny with a firm grip rather than letting it wander; while you sit in the saddle, you are the only captain on board and you can choose to go wherever you want. You are free."

Frederic Linget has been cycling since he was two years old. That's why it was only natural for the 33-year-old Frenchman to opt out of booking a flight home to France from Thailand (his home of the last ten years) in favor of an alternate mode of transportation, his bicycle.

Adventures Bicycletales: An Interview with Frédéric Linget, Frederic Linget's cycling journey, cycled from Bangkok to FranceIn just under a year, Linget cycled from Bangkok to his hometown, Châteaudun, in an effort to become carbon neutral and raise awareness about global warming. By cycling home he was able to avoid the 1.6 tons of carbon attributed to a 12 hour flight, and was able to raise money towards offsetting the 400 tons of carbon emitted in his lifetime.  As an additional part of his pledge to become a better citizen of the planet, Linget gave up flying (his last flight was in June of 2008) and formed a project to promote the idea of a greenhouse gas-free year by cycling instead of driving.

Linget left Thailand on June 29, 2008, with 53 kilograms of gear and over 20,000 kilometers of road ahead of him for Adventures Bicicletes, "a two-wheeled miracle combining discoveries around the world, respect of others, and protection of the environment."

INTRAVEL: What inspired you to go on this journey and how did you plan for it?

I was living in Asia for the last ten years -- in Vietnam and then in Thailand -- working as an expatriate. After ten years I thought that it was time to go home. I didn't want to go back by plane because it's too fast of a way to travel, and it is not environmentally friendly. So I thought that I would find something more in line with my aspirations. I thought traveling by bicycle would be much nicer and it would be a way to discover all the people of the different countries I'd be staying in, including my home country.

Adventures Bicycletales: An Interview with Frédéric Linget, Frederic Linget's cycling journey, cycled from Bangkok to FranceIt took me basically about a year to prepare because I was working as well. It took me a lot of time to prepare my website, work out all the visa requirements, study the route, and get all the permits, like for Tibet- that was quite an ordeal.  And then I left about a year ago.

 

 


 

INTRAVEL: What were you doing in Thailand for work?

I was working as an engineer in a city factory.

INTRAVEL: Had you taken any similar biking trips like this before?

I've taken a few but for like, two, three weeks at a time. Nothing major, nothing with as much luggage. I'd been cycling in Thailand and Laos and it's a very warm tropical climate; you don't need to plan for camping gear, you don't need to plan for winter clothes, you can take very few supplies with you.  But when you go for a year, you have to carry something like 40 kilograms; you need a tent, you need a sleeping bag, pillow, you need a lot of spare tires and tubes for the bicycle because of course things are going to break on the way. So yes, it was really different.

INTRAVEL: Can you describe your route for me?

I started in Thailand, then went through Laos, Vietnam, China, and Tibet.  Through Nepal, then India, through Pakistan, into Iran, and Turkey.  Then Europe: Greece, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, across the French border and home to Châteaudun.

INTRAVEL: So you did you end up traveling through Tibet?

Yes, I did actually, during the Olympics which was very difficult, but I managed to get my permits.

INTRAVEL: And Iran, how difficult was it to get through there?

Adventures Bicycletales: An Interview with Frédéric Linget, Frederic Linget's cycling journey, cycled from Bangkok to FranceYeah, I got through Iran. It was a big, big problem to get the visa. When I left I had all my visas ready except for Iran because [my arrival in Iran] was too far from the date I left Bangkok, so I had to get the visa on the way. It took weeks and weeks and weeks, and because the French president is so talkative and arrogant some times - he said something like "I will never shake hands with the Iranian president - it was not very helpful for me. But then in 2008, it was even worse for Americans.

INTRAVEL: How did you calculate the carbon emissions you'd emitted in your lifetime?

It's quite simple. You take your passport, look at the stamps, figure out how many flights you've taken and the mileage and you submit everything into this calculator. Enter the number of millage of your flights and you get a number- I think I had 160,000 tons of carbon from transportation alone. There is a website where you can receive a spreadsheet of your carbon emission. And depending on your lifestyle and the carbon you emit for transportation, you also should compound that number to make up for the time it has already spent in the atmosphere. So all together I reached a number of 400 tons and so far I have compensated for 300.

(find out how to calculate your own carbon emissions at http://www.aventuresbicycletales.org/english/becomingneutral.html)

 

 


 

INTRAVEL: How did people perceive your journey? Did they understand your mission?

Starting from Iran, I found that people had heard on the news about global warming and the things we need to do to prevent it from getting worse.  It wasn't something completely new for them and when I explained what I was doing they'd understand. Before Iran, it was a bit difficult sometimes.  Some people thought I was doing it because cycling was safer than taking a plane. During that year, in nearly every country I was in, a plane had crashed.  When I was in Turkey there was a crash in Turkey, when I was in Nepal there was a small crash there as well. People thought, "oh yes, a plane is very dangerous, it must be better to ride a bicycle."  Which, of course, is not true, but it was a coincidence.  My mission is a bit technical, so when I started to explain about the carbon credits and how I'm trying to buy back all the greenhouse gases I've been emitting in my life, it was a bit too surreal for them to understand.

INTRAVEL: Did anyone come with you or did you make the entire journey by yourself?

I was mostly by myself but when I arrived in Bosnia, I had a friend who came from France by train to Bosnia. I wanted to cycle around Asia with my friend from Asia, and I wanted to cycle around France with my friend from France, because it would have been quite a pity for my friend to fly all the way to Nepal or India to ride with me since I was riding back to not take a plane.  It would have missed the philosophy of my trip.

INTRAVEL: Did you manage to take the entire trip by bike or did you have to take any cars, buses, etc.?

Adventures Bicycletales: An Interview with Frédéric Linget, Frederic Linget's cycling journey, cycled from Bangkok to FranceJust once in Iran.  At the top of Iran there is a portion where bikers have been kidnapped and this area between Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran there is a lot of drug trafficking.  The traffickers capture somebody and claim the equivalent amount of money.  So right now when you cross the border between Pakistan and Iran the Iranian police stop you and you have to stay in a police car all the way to Bam, a city that was destroyed by an earthquake, so I stayed in the car for nearly 300 kilometers. Also, for some very small parts of Turkey there was too much snow and I couldn't ride.  But apart from than that, there was no car, no bus, no train.

INTRAVEL: Did you make the journey on one bicycle?

Yes, and my bike could have lasted much longer! It's still like new actually. The paint is still shiny! I cleaned it before I arrived in France, and people were saying "Wow, there's no way. You didn't ride the trip, you took a bus or something." But actually, you damage your bike more when you carry it in a car, or a plane or a train.  If you just ride it, and you don't fall, then you don't damage your bike at all.

INTRAVEL: Which country had the most hospitable people?

Definitely the Muslim countries; Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey.

INTRAVEL: What were your favorite countries to travel through and which were your least favorite, if any?

Adventures Bicycletales: An Interview with Frédéric Linget, Frederic Linget's cycling journey, cycled from Bangkok to FranceThat is quite a difficult question to answer because I enjoyed myself in every country.  If I had to pick one I'd say that Pakistan for me, was a very big surprise. Because I was staying in Asia for such a long time I thought I knew Asia pretty well.  All the way from Tibet was quite familiar in some ways, and around Europe was quite familiar as well. Pakistan was midway, and it was just so exotic to me.  Because I knew all the cultures from Europe and Asia, but Pakistan was just so different. It was very exciting to ride over there and the people were extremely friendly. I had absolutely no problems no security problems, nothing that you could read in the paper. I didn't go to the most dangerous areas in the north.  I really enjoyed myself over there; there were very friendly people, no fanatics at all.

 

 


 

INTRAVEL: Where did you stay while on the road?

I stayed in quite a lot of hostels, but in some places I would just ask where I could sleep, and sometimes people would take me to their home, sometimes they would direct me to a mosque. Where I stayed with people the most was in Muslim countries and in France, because I knew a lot of people.

INTRAVEL: Were there any countries you didn't get to visit that you wish you had?

Not really, I followed my first itinerary and I was granted access to all the places I wanted to go. You know, on a bicycle, you can't see everything, you have to make choices. It's the same as if you travel by train or by bus, you have to make choices. I've been to many places people never go because they are difficult to reach.  So no, there is no place that I wanted to go to and did not go.

Africa was an idea, many years ago.  I wanted to go on a major trip back home; I thought

it would make sense to travel through Africa.  But I think that could be the next trip in ten

or twenty years. You can't go on a trip for a year every other year, you have to wait some

time in between. My trip could have actually taken less time, I really did not ride fast.  I was

riding something like six days every ten days on average, so I had time to rest and visit the

area. It was a relaxing pace, you don't want to rush through this type of trip, you would not

enjoy it.  It would get to be too much.

INTRAVEL: What was the hardest part of the journey for you?

Adventures Bicycletales: An Interview with Frédéric Linget, Frederic Linget's cycling journey, cycled from Bangkok to FranceMaybe Tibet, but not because of the mountains, not because of the attitude,

but because of the Chinese police. They would check you every day, twice a day sometimes

-your documents, luggage, everything. It was harassing. I didn't feel comfortable after a

while.  I felt like a criminal; like I needed to report to the police twice a day.

INTRAVEL: Was weather ever an issues on the road?

Adventures Bicycletales: An Interview with Frédéric Linget, Frederic Linget's cycling journey, cycled from Bangkok to FranceNot really, a bit of snow. There was quite a bit of snow in Turkey actually. It was not so bad, but when it becomes icy on the road, you just can't go on anymore because it is so slippery that you keep falling all the time.  You cannot make it uphill because the wheels spin, often you need to push, and even pushing is difficult because it is very slippery. So snow is a bit of a problem, and then it gets all in the the gears, you can't change gears, and there is a lot of ice on the bicycle (which is already heavy).  You'll get an extra five or ten kilograms of ice on the bicycle. It's not very comfortable, but it wasn't a major issue, just more of an annoyance.

INTRAVEL: Do you speak any other languages besides French and English?

I speak Thai, which was helpful for Thailand and Laos.  I speak a little bit of Chinese, a little bit of Vietnamese, and I learned a lot as I went.  I learned the basics to be polite, "hello," "thank you," "goodbye."  Words like this so people will feel like you aren't so much of a stranger.

 

 


 

INTRAVEL: Did you have any problems with the communication barrier on your trip?

No, no.  Of course, you can't discuss philosophy in every country, but if you can at least make yourself understood for the basics like you need to sleep somewhere, you need to eat some food, drink some water, it's very easy.  Just with your hands and arms you can make the sign of what you need and people will laugh or understand or both.  Usually people are very keen to try to understand what you mean.  It was never an issue.

I remember in Turkey, when it was snowing, a lot of vans would stop on the road and propose me a lift and I would say "No, it's ok, thank you."  It wasn't easy in the snow, but my bike was still working so I was going to ride. Once there was a guy who was really scared to let me continue riding because there were wolves in the area.  He saw that I was not understanding what he was trying to tell me, so he got on all fours and started to imitate a wolf, which was kind of funny on the side of a road.  When I finally understood I said ok, and got in his van because he looked really scared to let me back on the road.  I thought, my god, maybe some people were eaten by wolves.  Maybe it was in the paper and since I didn't read the paper I wouldn't know about it.  So, people are always keen to communicate and go all the way so that you understand. Even if we didn't share the same language.

INTRAVEL: The journals on your website are great, really informative and full of details and stories for each country you visited. How did you keep a record of your trip? Were you keeping journals each day?

Yes, just a few words at a time though. And then once a week I would sit down and do it a bit nicer.

INTRAVEL: What are your plans now that you are home? Will you miss Thailand?

Yes, I will miss Thailand, definitely.  I'm going back to work; going back to a normal life. I'm delighted to be back home in France, France is not that bad you know? But France is the most visited country in the world I've heard, and I didn't even know it. I really enjoyed the last month I did on my trip. I arrived at the Italian border with France, then I went up to Lyon, and then all the way to my home town.  I saw a lot of things on the way that I had never seen before. So my next trip will definitely be in France so that I can get to see it closely.

INTRAVEL: What would your advice be to other people thinking of doing a biking journey like yours?

One big thing is to prepare the visas carefully in advance. Physical training is not an issue at all. You can train on the way by starting slowly if you are not in good condition, and you will pick up endurance; it's very easy. And of course, pick a good saddle. That is quite important!

To find out more about Frederic Linget's cycling journey and to read his journals, visit his website at http://www.aventuresbicycletales.org/englishindex.html

©Kristen Hamill

Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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