By Peter Vankevich
Tomas and Sylvaine of Lyons, France, and their two children stopped in Ocracoke for a few days on the way to fulfilling a lifelong dream of bicycling around the United States and Canada.
Sylvaine, who is a social worker, and Tomas, who works in cyber security, are taking an 11-month sabbatical from their jobs. They requested that their last name not be revealed
Lean and fit, the couple and their two children, Theo, 9, and Elsa, 7, began traveling mostly back roads in June across North America usually doing about 30 to 40 miles a day on two special bicycles not widely available in the United States.
Their trip began in Vancouver after a flight from Paris.
Crossing the Canadian provinces, the group descended into Montana and pedaled throughout the state. Then they took a train to Minneapolis and continued around Lake Superior eventually reaching New York. They followed the Erie Canal then came down the coast.
The bikes, called Pino Tour, are manufactured in Germany by the Hase Bike Company which builds specialized cycles. They are a hybrid with traditional and recombinant features that have front seats for the children. The adults pedal upright while the children in the front recline and can also pedal.
The bikes were shipped from Paris to Vancouver as-is, Sylvaine explained. “They don’t collapse,” She said.
And they ride in all kinds of weather.
“We have rain gear,” Sylvaine said adding that a drizzle doesn’t daunt them, but if it’s a driving rain, they’ll stop and find cover.
The family met Dolores and John Gilbert Oct. 10 on the ferry to the island when the campground on Ocracoke was closed due to the recent heavy rains. The Gilberts invited them to “camp” under their house in Oyster Creek and use the showers until the campground reopened.
“The kids were laughing and smiling in the pouring rain with all of their rain and camping gear in tow,” Dolores said about meeting the group on the ferry. “Amazing!”
“But then we brought them inside,” John said, laughing.
One of the ways to bike tour with as little travel luggage as possible they said is by participating in a program known as Warm Showers. Warmshowers.org is an on-line hosting organization. Founded in 2005, cycle tourists can enjoy a warm welcome from their fellow cyclists which could be a couch, a place to pitch a tent, or even a guest room.
Hosts can provide accommodation in the four corners of the world and is particularly popular in Europe. There are more than 5000 participating members. In North Carolina, there are only a few participants throughout the state. The family has used it on their journey when it has been available.
The childrens’ schooling is not being neglected.
“Home schooling is not as popular in France like in the United States,” Sylvaine said. “We worked with their school and set up a curriculum for the children to ensure they covered the requited courses of mathematics, history, citizenship, French, geography and English.”
The next leg of their journey will be to Memphis and then follow the Mississippi River to New Orleans. From there, they will head to Florida and the Everglades and then return to Europe either by air or possibly a cargo ship.
“When we leave the U.S., we will go to Spain to cycle up the coast back home,” said Sylvaine.
“I find the Outer Banks, with Hatteras and especially Ocracoke, to be the best part of the East Coast,” said Tomas. “It is the most natural area. So many areas we’ve seen are so developed.”
The children have been fascinated with the wildlife they have seen, particularly the bears in Montana and their first alligator in the Alligator Wildlife Refuge, outside of Manteo.
“The alligator was huge,” said Tomas. “I would guess about 12 feet long.”
“The people we have met, including on Ocracoke, have been so friendly and fascinated by our trip,” he said before the family pedaled off to the Lifeguard Beach.
One islander they enjoyed meeting was Daphne Bennink who gave them the opportunity revert to their native language, French.