YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Bicyclist's Quest Became a Major Cycle in His Life


This happens a lot to reporters. Someone, maybe even a close friend or, worse, a relative, calls with "a really great story."

The elderly aunt who believes she can predict the next California earthquake by studying insect behavior; the psychologist who can reveal the identity of Nicole Brown Simpson's murderer because Kato (the dog, not the man) is prepared to tell him what happened; the woman who died on the operating table and, before she was revived, discovered that God looks a lot like Spiro Agnew. . . .

When she invited me to meet Spiro / God at an upcoming seance, I brushed her off.

"Have Spiro give me a call," I said.

And, I now must admit, that was pretty much my reaction to Monsieur Bertrand Boudreau when he rang me up almost four years ago to tell me that he was going to ride his bicycle around the world to raise awareness about children suffering from AIDS.

"Right. Call when you get back," I said.

Well, he's back.

Last week, the 43-year-old French Canadian real estate investor-turned-social activist wheeled into Los Angeles with saddlebags full of dirty laundry and international press clippings to prove that he had, in fact, done what he told me he would do. He had biked around the world, telling anybody who would listen that children everywhere are dying of AIDS.

After 72 countries, 50,000 miles, three years and eight months, Boudreau suddenly was sitting at my desk drawing a weathered finger across a flat map of the globe he had circled, talking about dreams and miracles and other intangible notions that make most newspaper reporters squirm.

"It started here in British Columbia, when my little daughter--she was only 10 years old then--said, 'Oh, Daddy, why are you so sad? Why so unhappy?'

"Gradually, I began to hear myself saying, 'I am going around the world. I am going around the world for AIDS.' It felt so good saying that, and the more I said it the more doors began to open. Air Canada and American Airlines offered tickets. Bicycle companies like Giant of Taiwan offered bikes. People said, 'Go, go. Do it.' I knew if I did not go, I would be an unhappy man for the rest of my life.

"A midlife crisis? Maybe. But it doesn't matter what name you give to it, does it? It was something not right in my life. I was not happy. I had to change my life. I had to change me."

At first, Boudreau changed his life by riding a donated mountain bike from British Columbia to Northern California. He carried dried food and three plastic bottles of water clamped to the frame of his bike.

From the outset, he knew he would be depending on strangers to house him, feed him and believe in his quest.

One night, he dreamed about riding across the Golden Gate Bridge in a golden dawn.

"I started out very early to get there at dawn, but when I arrived, I could not get on the bridge. I was stopped by this burst of panic here in my chest.

"Then, I heard a voice behind me, and it was a kind voice that said, 'Do you need help?' I knew then, there are no coincidences. This was an angel, and it was the start of another miracle, a miracle to keep me going, to keep me alive."

It wasn't the first of Boudreau's "miracles"; nor was it the last of the angels who would watch over the ponytailed biker. Through deadly minefields in the Middle East, past armed bands of robbers in parts of South America, pushing his bike along rough-cobbled passes along the Great Wall of China, Boudreau said he never looked back. Not even when he was hit by a truck in Bangladesh.

"I was afraid sometimes, but I learned to trust my intuition, to take the right path, even when someone told me to go a different way. I was not naive. I knew when I started that when you take a trip like this, you are so vulnerable. You could die in a jungle and no one would know. You could be shot dead by a 12-year-old with an automatic weapon who has lost everything and has nothing to lose by killing you.

"Doors opened for me at times when I most needed them, when I had run out of money, out of food, even, almost out of hope. All at once, someone would appear to help me. But the biggest fear is you might not come back, and when I learned to face that fear, I knew I was changed. I had accomplished what I said I would do."

As I said, Bertrand Boudreau is back. And both of us are changed.

Los Angeles Times Articles