First meeting with my doctor :

- So, Mr. Gros, what can I do for you ?
- Well, I’m preparing a travel, I will need a few vaccines and I would like to discuss some medical questions…

I saw him frowning, and wriggling in his wheelchair, uncomfortable. Obviously, something was deeply disturbing him. I was already expecting an endless sermon about the dangers of long travels, but instead he asked reluctantly:

 - My secretary told me you were traveling to… Thailand ?

I immediately understood his problem. Thailand… a paradise for sexually deviant bastards and frustrated rapists. For a second, he has probably thought that he got one in his cabinet, and sourly regretted that he does not keep an assault riffle hidden under his desk. I don’t want to imagine what he might have expected from my “medical questions”.

- Err… nope, I don’t travel to Thailand… at least, it isn’t the plan for the moment… let me explain it…

As the misunderstanding dissipated, the tension deflated as fast as a punctured tyre, you could almost hear it hiss. He very soon became unconditionally enthusiastic about my project. He did a great job.

I am an overqualified engineer, I don’t know how to work without pressure. This travel obeyed the rule: some travelers start the preparation of their stroll at least a year before, I hardly gave myself a few months. Working fast, at the last minute, this is my way. At least, there is nothing new here.

I have a good excuse though: the preparation of the patrouille des glaciers and dealing with my little problems completely occupied my mind during this winter. So, two days after we had done our scenic stroll between Zermatt and Verbier, I started running. I ran after my frame maker, who managed to get a heart attack when he was welding the handful of steel tubes that will carry me around. He’s doing better now, but I doubt he will ever forget me.

I ran after my paraplegic doctor, who had to tell me whether it is a good idea or not to travel around in the middle of nowhere carrying an appendix somewhere… on the left side someone told me… or is it on the right side ? I already forgot. I still have it anyway, somewhere.

I ran after information about technical clothes: goretex, paclite, fleece, base layer and soft-shell, this will be precious equipment sooner or later, even if the journey will probably begin with a deadly heat.

I ran after a light, spacious, solid and discreet tent, after a cooker that can drink anything, a digital camera that can saturate the pictures “à la Velvia”, after a light and compact sleeping bag that allows you to sleep at -20°C, a powerful and foldable solar panel that weights less than a dead horse, a comfortable mattress, a water filter that will hopefully save me some pain. 

I ran after bike equipments: a solid gear shifter, hard-wearing tyres, waterproof and voluminous saddlebags, and then after more saddlebags, after reinforced spokes, and brakes that can stop an overloaded bike without bursting into flames…

Overall, preparing has been fun.

In the middle of this mess, I needed to find some more time to take care of my pets (1). They were struggling with derivatives, cracking their teeth with norms and scalar products, and tormenting their mind with optimization. I also had to mark piles of exercises higher than me, to sort oceans of excuses for missing, and above all I had to evade the psycho-rigid dean who drowned me with administrative details. My mind was totally devoted to his problems, of course (2).

I also needed to spend quite a lot of time with my friends, this was my top priority.

I saved some hours per day - or per night I should say - for writing. I don’t know why, I still have this odd habit of building sand castles. Maybe I still need to challenge the immensity of the ocean sometimes, go figure. Obviously, the ocean doesn’t care, and it is right about that: it will have the last word anyway.

On top of that, I still managed to save ten hours a week for biking. A month before the departure, I started riding my overloaded bike, just for the fun of watching people smiling and waving at me. They were probably thinking I was coming from some exotic and distant country, very far away, and I sometimes felt like a forger. to those asking where I was coming from, I had to reply, laughing mysteriously: “Well, actually I haven’t started yet !!”. If someone has seen me several times riding my two-wheeled truck, that person has probably thought: “Wow, this guy sure loves the area: he tried to leave a thousand times, but he always came back !!”

Everything seemed ready, but at the beginning of June, I received a quite unexpected phone call. It was a rainy day, an unknown number rang on my cell phone and added a little bit of uncertainty to my life:

- Speak !
- Mr. Gros ?
- Yep…
- Hi, I’m calling you on behalf of the Airbus company, I have your file here, are you still interested in working for us ? Could you come to Toulouse for some interviews ?

The file he was talking about, I could not even remember when I sent it. Six months ago ? A year ? In another life maybe. Yes, I would have been interested. But why calling me now, a few weeks before the big departure, why that late, when this wish has already been put away in the “dead end” drawer a long time ago.

- … yes… I’m still interested…
- Sorry, am I disturbing ?
- No, no.
- Ok. Could you come over here after the 16th of June ? You live in Switzerland, right ? By plane, we could do this over a day… can you choose a date ?

Why, yes, I can come over there. Why not. Why refusing to set once my feet where some time ago I badly wanted to get in. But since then, so many things have changed. Why is life so complicated ? A question that keeps falling on my head whenever I manage to forget it. 

The morning of the 23rd of June, I packed a tooth-brush and a freshly bought suit and I jumped on a plane to Toulouse. Upon arriving, I was surprised by the discretion of the giant company: apart from the four Belugas – spreading their huge and improbable shapes on the Blagnac airport – the Guynemer-Breguet-St-Martin complex was quite invisible though it is as big as the airport itself.
Toulouse, southern city, singing accents, such beautiful women, I spent the afternoon watching and getting lost in lovely narrow streets, feeling the heart of the city pounding. I love being lost, anywhere.
I had the interviews the next day. Putting the suit on, I discovered for the first time the magic power that the clothe gives to the monk: the hostel manager whistled respectfully when I asked her the best way to get to my host; the taxi driver almost stood to attention when I asked him over my tie to drive me to the “Breguet” security check-point. For once, I amusingly endorsed the role that people seemed to be willing to give me.

I was expecting to meet the cold and well-oiled machinery of the hiring interviews, it did not happen. Instead, I discovered a joyous improvisation and a sweetly untidy structure. The chief engineer had not seen my file and described to me - with an obvious lack of comfort - a job that was not matching my expertise and a company somewhat devoid of hierarchy. We have had a great talk for almost two hours.  I got my “HR” interview with a charming woman, I confided everything to her with an enthusiastic smile: my stories about sport, about the patrouille des glaciers, and about traveling by bike. Quickly, her eyes became lit, magically shining: she was no longer interviewing me, she was just sitting back, listening. I discovered with pleasure that this huge machine had human faces. She wished me a great journey and gave me the famous “We’ll call you back”, but she quickly added “if you don’t get news from us before your departure, call the chief-engineer… I hope to see you around in 2009.”

Hence these few months before my departure were rich but chaotic. I have been feeling calm and enthusiastic about what lays ahead, but I sometimes had this slight knot in the stomach reminding me that this solitary adventure is ambitious. I still have it. I wanted to prepare this journey with a peaceful mind. The peace of mind could have been better, but I did my best to keep a clear spirit. For that matter, I had to invent a new style of swimming, in rough water, with no lifebuoy. I had to get used to the bitterness of salted water, because honestly, my technique can be perfected.

And you know what ? I hate swimming.

I must confess that the winter was harsh. It was the final act of an incredibly intense but difficult story. I was deeply in love, I am afraid I still am. I was responsible for what happened: by living too fast, there are things I understood too late, things that were buried deep inside, whispering or roaring, but kept silent, unheard for obscure reasons. Reasons that were in turn buried even deeper. An absurd hide-and-seek game, where the only chance to stop it was to rest for a while.

I did that, and the rest took the form of a revelation: a puzzle miraculously built itself, cumbersome pieces at last found their place, and a luminous path progressively emerged from the shadow. At the heart of the winter, I followed it.

In the wake of a fierce battle, when at last the smoke of the fighting slowly clears and lets devastated villages, mutilated bodies and mass graves appear, one finally understands that the cease-fire comes too late. At the dawn of a long and cold night, as I tried to follow the lights of the path, and murmured at last my wish to make peace, I understood - too late as well - that there was nothing left to save.

In the heat of the summer breezes, as my departure is imminent, I still have regrets for what flew away, and remorse for what I wish I had done better. So many sad things I am still trying to acquit myself of. It is easy to be completely wrong, and even if now everything has changed, somehow - in some ways - I received more than what I gave.

Today, a form of hope has deserted my life, for the sky tries its best, but its immensity betrays it: the real sky is as small as a hand (3). The hand is gone and - as Nadj would say - the firmament is no more. Some sorrows are to heavy to be told, but as time passes pain becomes surrendering, and as I am writing these lines, I am filled with a calm emptiness. Actually, I feel strangely happy.

I imagined, I dreamed of the journey for so long, at a time not yet distant but so different that it already seems to belong to another life. The wound gave it a new dimension. Nicolas Bouvier once wrote: "One expects a lot from the journey, but often forgets what the journey expects from him". This journey expects me that I enjoy life as it comes, and that I give, unrestrained, to those ready to receive. It expects that I embrace some form of carelessness and derision again. In this sense, the journey has already begun, because I already started walking this path quite some time ago. Some may see it as a form of despair, but it is merely a matter of welcoming whatever life has yet to offer.

I tried to share this with the person I wanted to have by my side, but I did not find the way to her, so instead, I shared with everyone else. Some have enjoyed it a lot, hence somehow this ordeal did not happen in vain: I probably had to fall in pieces to rebuild better, and sometimes I feel thankful for this turn in my life.

At the end of June, I unluckily made a discovery about my past that gave the final blow to my idea of the couple. I had believed in this third dimension of the man and the woman more than in anything else, but I realized that despite the clarity and the sincerity, a dark and murky side can be concealed. I cannot allow myself to say more about that. Anthony Loyd wrote: “One think he has touched the bottom, but one day he realizes that the bottom is a height he dreams to be able to reach again”. Firmament had disappeared for long, but lately, the earth itself has started to move.

At the same time, I received the last echo of my firmament, the kind that makes the curtain drop. I would have traveled anywhere, to the other end of the world just to be with her, but she decided differently, so instead I am readying myself to travel to the other end of the world without her. I guess it had to end this way. The day after, I was strolling in the sunshine, through the old streets of Bern, Palahniuk was whispering: ”Loosing all hope is freedom” and I realized that something had been shacked and awakened inside me. Lets call it a surviving impulse for since then, melancholy has disappeared, stifled by the deep rumble of what has awakened.

Does hitting the road still means anything at all ? Maybe not, but for the first time in my life, the true question is to know whether something can have a meaning again. I want to bet that the answer is “yes”, and to discover it I have to keep carrying this body, to feed it, to maintain it, to keep it alive. I have to, because this answer, whatever it is, is ahead of me, somewhere. This is where I am going.

I look upon these past few months and take the measure of the pain and misery that have filled them. I have been carrying heavy and useless bags for too long, it is time that I throw them away. Hence, I will leave alone, and even though I still sometimes catch myself dreaming when I read Olaf Candau’s most beautiful passages - those dedicated to Marianne, of course, his road and life companion - I feel complete. Everyone carries his own bag, everyone walks his own path: I no longer wish to have a Marianne at my side.

Hence, I am readying myself for a different path. Different than the one my apparently well planned existence was supposed to follow. There is nothing dramatic to seek here, because there is nothing dramatic in following the path drawn by the heart. But it requires a bit of the courage and abnegation one finds sometimes when asked by life to take a look deep inside.

Since the partrouille des glaciers, more and more equipment accumulates in my room, maps with strange outlines cover the walls. Amusing encounters happen all the time: the preparation requires that an endless list of details is taken care of, and each problem to solve provides opportunities for exchanges.

Because the town secretary is curious about my wish to disappear administratively, because the nurse is surprised by the endless list of vaccines she has to inject in my body, because the local platoon commander would like to understand my mysterious notice of leave devoid of any destination, because the pretty blue eyed shop assistant is amused by me joyously piling up equipment on her desk, the conversations flow easily. Shining eyes and sincere smiles: "You’re headed for the silk road ? This is my dream…". And I discover that my rather unoriginal project somehow moves everyone around me.

Technology - despite its cold appearance - opens up a variety of possibilities for sharing. As in a Spanish hostel, one gets what one brings, and technical means might easily vanish, replaced by magic. So, because an adventure is meaningless if not shared, I hope to relate the path I plan to follow through the dance of sincere and simple words on the keyboard.

Because somehow, this goes beyond traveling...
Welcome to

Lausanne, July 2008



(1) I have been a math sub at the “Auguste-Piccard” high school between January and June 2008.

(2) Actually, I am somewhat unfair there: he stopped chasing me as soon as I managed to understand what he was really expecting from me.

(3) Paraphrased from “Clair de femme”, R. Gary


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