Two-wheeled nomads find balance and kindness around the world
DRUMHELLER, AB – Pedalling up a dusty, gravel path, we spotted two tents amid Drumheller’s iconic moonscape hills, flapping in the steady breeze on a late-July day. Two young children were crouched playing in the dirt.
A passerby might conclude this family was random camping for a few days. But we had gone specifically looking for Celine and Xavier Pasche, having heard about the Swiss couple’s decade-long world bicycle travels.
They’d been in Canada since 2019, having hunkered down in Haines Junction, Yukon, via Alaska the previous winter, running a hostel. In spring, they biked to Jasper and down to Banff on the Icefields Parkway before stopping in Calgary and then heading east.
These two professionals eschewed 9-to-5 jobs and a fixed address a decade ago and opted for their freewheeling lifestyle. Their accomplishment inspires admiration and awe.
The couple has clocked 75,000 kms bike-packing in the past 10 years, around Canada, Europe and Asia, including, India, Mongolia in winter and Syria just before the civil war began. Along the way, their two daughters were born, Nayla, 7, and Fibie, 3. They couple headed to Malaysia for the births, taking about five months off before returning to the road.
The Pasches travel heavy (about 275 kg in gear in total), and don’t try to cover a lot of ground in a day – typically around 60 km.
“It’s a good way of travelling because its slow,” says Celine. They have camped in some pretty unusual places (see below). On this day, they had set up camp behind an agricultural equipment retailer with the owner’s permission. That’s just how they roll.
Nayla mostly pedals on her own while Fibie rides tandem with one of her parents or in the bike chariot that doubles as a spot to carry supplies. The family’s gear includes two tents, sleeping gear, dried foods like lentils and beans – even their trusty miniature pressure cooker. On this day, when we asked Celine what was for dinner tonight, she displayed morel mushrooms soaking in the pot, an edible souvenir from their time in the Yukon.
Here are some highlights from our interview with Celine, a cultural anthropologist and Xavier, a photographer, to learn why and how the family keeps doing what they love.
Q: How did you meet and make the decision to be nomads?
A: Xavier and I met at a mountain festival in Switzerland. He already had the idea to cycle to New Zealand. I fell in love with a man who had big dreams and wanted to realize them. I already travelled solo a lot, so for me travelling would always be part of my life. I decided to ask him, once we were a couple, if I could join him. Xavier was happy I was the one asking, because when it was really hard, he always told me: ‘You were the one to decide.’ He didn’t have to carry the weight of pushing for me to come and being responsible for me.
Q: Give us a few highlights of your travels. How do people treat you?
A: Travelling by bike gives us a fabulous reason to be in some places. One day in Iran, we approached a small village. It looked austere, and all the faces turned towards us suspiciously. The women were lined up in front of a small bakery to buy barbari (a type of flat bread). Without our bikes, we would never have stopped here, because the place didn’t lend itself to it. Yet we needed water. “Some water? I’ll show you the well,” replies a woman.
Let me tell you what happened in Syria, two weeks before the first sign of the civil war burst out in the country. We were crossing 600 kms of the Syrian Desert, getting to meet the nomadic Bedouins. And there we got one of our meaningful lessons from two shepherds, who were young boys of 10. When we saw them, they are walking in the desert with their sheep and goats. They came and sat next to our tent, watching peacefully, with no expectations. We were just making tea, but we hesitated to offer them some, as we don’t know if we will have enough water for the next day. But we do, and they refuse. After 10 minutes of silence, they take our pot and went to milk some of their sheep. Filling the pot to the top, they gave it back to us, simply with a smile. These children are masters, old souls of the world. Living in the desert, they are ready to give everything they have now, even if tomorrow they might have nothing.
The hospitality of the people has been incredible everywhere we have been. We are so grateful for it.
Q: We’ve heard you have a wonderful repertoire of recipes. Can you tell us some of your go-to meals?
A: Everything is made with fresh ingredients; we never use canned and processed food. Here’s a sampling of their menu.
- Japanese rice, sesame oil, vegetable sauté, sunny side eggs and seaweed.
- Home-made hummus, chapati (an Indian flat bread), green salad with tomato, cucumber, nuts and cranberries
- Indian dhal, basmati rice, cauliflower and a leaf of salad for the color. (We eat with the eyes)
- Fried potatoes, broccoli and carrots
- Thai tofu with vegetable, and rice
Q: What is your budget?
A: 1,300 US per month for four people, all included, even the times during the birth of our children.
Q: Most interesting place you’ve ever camped?
Q: There are so many! From an airport in Japan, to a madrasa in Iran, next to a yurt in Kirghizstan, near Lake Baikal in Siberia, to Buddhist temples in South Korea, from the Gobi Desert in Mongolia to the human density in Bangladesh and India, From the high mystical peaks of the Himalayas to the red earth of Australia, from the deep wilderness in Alaska to sleeping with the family in a single room in Turkey.
Q: What are some of the challenges of travelling with young children?
A: Imagine diving every day into the unknown and not knowing where you’ll sleep at night. Then imagine you take your five-month-old baby with you… that can give you an idea.
In our life, we don’t have the choice but to take our fear in hand to keep going.
And it is amazing because by trusting life you can surrender and just be. And when you live in the moment, it is just perfect for children because you can really hear what is their need at the time being.
Q: What are your travel plans for the rest of 2020/21?
A: We have cycled all this summer until the end of October. Now with the current Covid situation and the cold coming, we will settle for a few months in Lac St Jean Quebec. In the spring, we’ll decide where is the best place for us to cycle. But if the Maritimes bubble opens, it would be a place we’d really like to explore.
Q: How long do you plan to keep being a nomadic family on bikes?
A: As long as we are in balance. At the moment it is our life, and when one of us needs something different, then we’ll create a new life.
Want to learn more about the family?
Check out their website and their book called Nomads in the Heart of the Elements. The book can be ordered here.
Celine and Xavier are also for hire for online audio-visual conferences for public or private companies. Find our more here.