They are the eyes of the Sun Trip on this European edition 2021, Sophie Planque and Jérémy Vaugeois, journalist, image taker, experienced travellers (authors notably of a fantastic Alaska-Patagonia by bike), have been in the wheels of the SunTrippers since the start of the prologue in Lyon, on June 1st.
Of course, they are not following the adventure by bike, but the effort remains intense for them, on board a van of our partner Vanaway, the only vehicle on board the adventure. So after a month and a half on the road, it seemed interesting to take their look, without any tongue in cheek.
Thanks for their commitment and thanks for everything they bring to the project, beyond the images.
How are you doing? A bit tired since the beginning of the Sun Trip in Lyon on June 1st?
Jules Renard said that a well-tended brain never gets tired. For we are talking about mental fatigue, not physical fatigue. Which is more exhausting? Should we even compare? Everyone will decide according to his or her sensibilities and experience. But it is certain that physical fatigue fades away. It is much easier to soften and maintain. When the body is no longer there, the mind remains! For us, it’s rather the opposite, the stress, the need to go faster than the others and the desire to share this journey as much as possible, is wearing us down.
Today, we are in Croatia, on the banks of the Drava river, facing the catacombs. We are surprised every day to see that even in a van it is sometimes difficult, even impossible to catch up with some people. So yes, without blushing, we dare to tell you that we are tired and that it is difficult today to rest. But this is what we have chosen! And we are happy to continue the adventure until the 1st of August in order to follow the physical and mental effort of the Sun Trip participants. By sharing the road, we also have the impression of sharing the sorrows, difficulties and joys of some. Having experienced this on the road on our side, we understand and are full of empathy. Sometimes the sight of our van is a relief, because we don’t just bring a camera, but also kindness, moral support, a bit of chocolate, beer, water, and hugs. That counts too. Hopefully this doesn’t get in the way of the “100% unassisted” idea!
As a bike traveller, what stands out for you the most in your Sun Trip immersion?
Jeremy and I are divided on this point. Following, hearing and seeing the participants evolve, we see both positive and negative aspects.
To start with the positive, what strikes us the most is obviously the speed at which everyone runs! Even the slowest on the tour. We are quite impressed by the kilometres swallowed with such ease, in that it is quite extraordinary. There’s a great point in what you’re doing with the association, the Sun Trip company and all the participants. You build something strong together, each profile brings to the movement its singularity and its vision of this pioneering practice. It’s very interesting to see how diverse the profiles are, the approaches sometimes radically different. It’s also a wonderful social vector, and you can see it in the eyes of the locals on a daily basis. Just like the classic travel bike, there is always a strong interest in asking where are they going? What are they doing? What are they doing?
But as good ‘muscular’ bike travellers as we both are, we especially see the limit of this practice because we are both passionate about getting away! We conceive of travelling by bike off the roads, off the beaten track, to lose ourselves in the paths, the rocks, the remote areas. This is where we find our interest. To go where the car and the engine cannot. And that’s where we find the most valuable. It is also a philosophy of life. What is the point of going faster on a bike when you want to praise slowness in everyday life and not just on a journey? It’s a bit of an allegory of life. It is urgent to slow down. With Jérémy, we don’t choose the bicycle to go faster, like a car, but on the contrary to accept the elements, slowness and redefine our human scale in this great whole.
In the Sun Trip, we almost have the impression of finding a kind of balance. To highlight the soft mobility accessible to all and at the same time to prove the great capacities of these solar machines. Now, we would be curious to see how far Mac Aventure can go with its mountain bike for example! The road is dangerous, we all know that, and unfortunately the Sun Trip proves it too… What if tomorrow we could all have solar-powered mountain bikes? A Sun Trip of great mountain crossings! We want them!
Your 3 best moments as a reporter in this month and a half?
The first one that comes to mind is our shoot in the Białowieża forest in Poland, on the Belarusian border. We joined Pirmin and Alessandra there in the heart of the national park of the same name, Białowieża. This park is home to the last primary lowland forest in Europe. Sanctuary of the wild bison of Europe. The Polish part of the national park has 800 of them, there are slightly fewer on the Belarusian side. We went to film this corner of paradise with the Swiss couple and then, when they left in the morning, we decided to stay there and wait for the night to go on the lookout. We didn’t want to pass by without trying to observe the kings of these woods. So we got up at 2am and set off with Radek, a guide and biologist from the national park. It only took us 20 minutes to start seeing shapes moving across the fields at the edge of the forest. Deer, about 15 of them, then bison. The sun rose at about 3:30am, casting an unreal golden haze over the fields. Fullness. The moment was magical, so fleeting, we engraved every second of it in our memories and our hearts. The scenery, the trees, the shadows, the velvety wheat, and the breath that could be heard so clearly only 15 metres away. Their smoking backs. The hundreds of mosquitoes that devoured our uncovered skin parts were only futile details. It was beautiful. It still is.
Secondly, it is a fresh memory that we have just experienced with Stéphane Bujadoux in Alba Julia. We arrived on Saturday 11 July to edit the new episode of the week with the idea of spending our weekly day off in this old fortified and listed town. Editing problems, bugs and fatigue meant that the editing lasted all weekend and spilled over into the rest day and Monday! BUT! Stéphane chose to meet us in Alba Julia and on Sunday morning, before resuming the editing, we went for a walk in town, camera under the elbow. You never know. On the way, we passed an orthodox church, mass was being said. The songs echoed throughout the neighbourhood, people were praying everywhere, we felt enveloped, we felt so lucky to be able to witness a very powerful moment in life. Stéphane is moved to tears, and so are we. We hug each other, we share this moment together, the camera drops. We’ll pick it up later. Time for the moment.
On the fly, out of the church, I briefly interview Stéphane, still moved. The sound is not perfect, but it’s beautiful. And then I go back to my editing and my bugs. It was ephemeral and grandiose. Happiness when it is shared has more meaning, always!
And finally, since you asked us to name three, we obviously think of the official start in Brussels. Not so much for the official aspect, but for the emotion it generated. Everyone with their dreams, their objectives, their convictions. It was magical to see such communion and solidarity. When we left and returned from Alaska Patagonia, we were alone on the road, alone on the start and finish line for two and a half years. There, the strength of the group resonated. This is what keeps some people’s spirits up at the moment and who we are thinking of very strongly. To those who are finding it difficult to move forward today, think of these moments of sharing and think that you are a group! Despite the distance, despite the georacing that can disturb, you are together! And that is wonderful. Take heart!
A word about the Europe you see?
It is somewhat difficult to answer this question as we are travelling so fast! We crossed Slovakia in 2 hours, Hungary as well as Serbia in this way. We have a biased view, from a van, cut off from a certain reality. However, what we see is a Europe cut in two. One part very concerned about the health situation, the other, very much at peace with the virus, which has not been so affected. The farmers, the villages, the mountains, but where is the virus? In the hospitals, certainly, which we did not visit, but not in the mouths, not in the daily lives of the inhabitants who have been living for a long time with little, from agriculture and not from a service society.
We discover a Europe via the main roads and axes, very agricultural, very (too) cultivated? We did not see a single tree in northern Serbia. Only fields and the beginnings of a future desert.
Concerning the natives, we sometimes show suspicious looks, the covid is always there. Our French number plate can be frightening. And sometimes, the virus fades away and relations are like “before”. Frank glances, simple exchanges, and the desire to always say that we are neighbours and friends. Europe is an opportunity, fragile and perfectible, but it is still standing.
Finally, tell us about your life on board the Vanaway van?
This is the first time we’ve lived in a van for so long, and for work. We are very happy to have a fully equipped van so we can work anywhere and sleep relatively peacefully. However, it is not easy to find an adequate and quiet place to sleep in our working conditions, it sometimes takes us an hour to find a sleeping spot. But that’s part of the journey!
As convinced bike travellers, we have the impression of being cut off from the outside world with our air conditioning that we sometimes turn on and the lack of feeling for the elements. When you enjoy cycling, it is difficult to travel otherwise. But it would have been impossible to keep up with the pace of the suntrippers on their bikes! So the van is a great tracking tool! With it we have seen bison, bear, elk, deer, foxes, filmed a good number of cyclists, endured some heavy storms, crossed many borders and cooked some wonderful meals! I have some potatoes in the fridge that I’m going to brown with a bit of tofu and some tomatoes from Romania! We might have to take a break from cooking when we arrive in Italy to celebrate Aosta ham, prosciutto, burrata and other divine pizzas!
Thank you and good luck!