LITTLE CURRENT – A five-member cycling team from the tiny hamlet of Panex, Switzerland (population about 150) stopped for dinner at Soldiers’ Park in Little Current last week. The cyclists are all members of the Duquette family and parents Jonathan (41) and Virginie (38) are in the process of creating memories that will act as souvenirs for their three children Nelson (12), Jimmy (11) and Catilou (9) as they travel across North America.
The family set out from Seattle, Washington on the west coast of the US several weeks ago and have since traversed several American states before making their way up into Canada. The family expects to arrive at their destination in Montreal, Quebec in a couple of weeks. Mr. Duquette has family in Montreal that they are hoping to connect with as they end their trek.
“We come from a very small village in Switzerland, less than 150 people,” said Ms. Duquette. “We wanted our children to discover that there is a much larger world out there with much to discover.”
Mr. Duquette had just completed a seven-year apprenticeship as a master roofer specializing in metalwork and the timing seemed right to take on the adventure of a lifetime. “We said to ourselves ‘let’s do something with the children that they will keep with them for the rest of their lives’,” said Ms. Duquette. The couple settled on a cross continental journey of North America. “With part of Jon’s family from Montreal, we decided to come to North America.”
Although they have cycled across the states of Washington, Idaho, Montana and North Dakota, they decided to switch to a train in North Dakota due to safety reasons. “There is a lot of mining, oil well activity in that area and the roads are filled with big trucks,” explained Mr. Duquette. “So we took a train from Glacier National Park and jumped out in Minot, North Dakota.”
“We have travelled 3,600 kilometres on our bikes,” said Ms. Duquette. “We travel around 50 to 60 kilometres a day. Our bikes are very heavy.”
How do their children react to this regimen? “They are not tired,” laughed Ms. Duquette. “When we stop for the day they are up jumping around the playgrounds, going swimming and staying very busy.”
During the interview with The Expositor Ms. Duquette’s words were demonstrated proven as the youngest members of the team scampered over the concrete steps and barriers below the cenotaph in an exuberant display of pent up energy. Their bright smiles and eyes spoke volumes about how they were feeling about the journey.
Growing up in the multi-lingual country of Switzerland (where French, Italian, German and Romansh are widely spoken) the Duquette children speak largely French, but were clearly comfortable communicating in fluent English as well.
“Living in a small country like Switzerland in the middle of Europe, you must learn to speak many languages,” smiled Ms. Duquette.
Asked what their favourite part of their journey has been so far, the Duquettes seemed a bit nonplussed by the question at first, but one of the children quickly supplied the answer from a bit outside the box. “The people.”
“The people,” agreed Ms. Duquette. “Everyone we have met, in the United States, in Canada, all of them have been so nice, so helpful, so friendly. I did not know they would be so hospitable.” It is far too easy to get a warped impression of the citizens of the United States and Canada if all you know is what you see on the evening news.
The couple had come expecting to see incredible landscapes, and that has in fact proven to be the case, but the greatest delight and surprise on this trip has been the discovery of the human dimension. “I did not know it would be such a human discovery,” said Ms. Duquette.
After a short lesson about the Anishinaabe whose traditional territories they were travelling through, and a basic introduction to greetings in Anishinabemowin, the family prepared to restart their journey.
With pots, dishes and cutlery safely tucked away in the plethora of packs strapped to their bicycles, the Duquette family slowly pedaled their way past Expositor Square, making short work of the hill on Manitowaning Road headed for Highway 6 and the swing bridge crossing the North Channel to collect many more memories.