Like Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, Bruno Sans relies on the kindness of strangers.
The 41-year-old Frenchman rolled into Moretown on Sunday, August 1, and on through Waitsfield and Warren on his way south on Monday, August 2. Sans, who hails from the south of France, near Toulouse, is a paraplegic who lost the use of his legs in a climbing accident when he was 15.
He recently completed a biking expedition around the Gaspe Peninsula in
Quebec and, prior to returning to France, decided to ride his recumbent
27-speed handcycle from Montreal to Boston. He travels between 10 to 12
kilometers an hour when biking. On the lawn of The Valley Reporter this week, Sans sat in his bike and chatted about his trip.
SMALL SAILING VESSEL
His bike is like a small sailing vessel in that it is meticulously organized so that everything he needs can be easily reached. He sits in the bike, steering and pedaling with his hands and arms. His feet are strapped in front and the two back wheels of the bike convert to the wheels of his wheelchair.
To move from bike to wheelchair, he employs a small, folding camp chair that he stows behind his back on the bike. He lifts himself from the bike to the chair and then transforms the bike wheels to his wheelchair. That process takes at least 30 minutes.
"I am always asking people to help me," he said, explaining that asking for help was part of the process when he travels on his own.
He said he rides up to grocery stores and asks people to buy him food and water, trusting that they will. His willingness to ask for help is seldom abused, he said.
As he travels south to Boston, he is camping as he goes, carrying his tent and camping supplies (neatly stowed, of course) on his bike. Because of his disability, things take a long time he said, hence his willingness to ask strangers for assistance.
He began riding his handcycle five years ago and regularly travels with the Association Adventure Handicap as well as traveling on his own. He has biked through the Pyrennes Mountains, the south of France, along the Atlantic to the Mediterranean and on through Morocco, Senegal, Burkina Faso and points southward. He has traveled through Chile in Patagonia as well.
When he was in Waitsfield, he was 10 days into a trip that will hopefully get him to Boston by August 10.
When he left Montreal, he crossed over the Concordia bridge and made his way south to the U.S. border. There the border agent asked him to come inside for identity verification and Sans said he would be happy to, if the border agent had an hour to deal with him because of the time it would take him to get out of the bike and into the chair.
"The agent was very surprised to see a guy like me, but when I said it would take an hour, he told me to come in with my bike," Sans said with a laugh. His bike did not fit completely through the corridors, but the border agents made it work.
"I like to travel with a group, but when I travel with other people, I lose the ability to meet people. My bike is like a passport for me. People are interested in what I'm doing and often pose for pictures with me," he said.
He spent a couple of days getting from the border to Burlington, stopping in Isle La Motte for some live music and sailing with some people he met. While sailing, he moved wrong and pulled a muscle in his chest - not a good thing for a man whose mobility depends on his upper body muscles.
He made it to Burlington with a very sore chest last Monday night in the rain and, just south of Burlington, stopped at a lawn/tractor equipment business, where, considering it an emergency, at 8 p.m., he stopped and went through the process of getting off the bike, into the wheelchair, pitching his tent and getting into it.
He was awakened the next morning by someone from the business asking him to leave.
"He could see me and could see that I could not move easily. I explained what happened and that my chest muscles hurt so much it hurt to breath. He told me to leave, and I said it would take me some time. It took me an hour to get from the tent to the camp chair because my chest hurt so much. The guy came back and said he was going to call the police. I asked for help and he said no he would not touch me. That was the only bad meeting with someone that I had on the trip," Sans said.
"The guy was stupid. I asked for help and because he wouldn't give it, I ended up there for four hours in my little chair. Finally a girl came by and helped me. I went to the emergency room and saw a doctor who gave me some anti-inflammatory medicine and told me to take two days off. So I went to a hotel and waited until I felt better," Sans said.
From there he made his way to Moretown where he befriended people who let him camp and swapped stories with him before making sure he stopped at <MI>The Valley Reporter<D> on his way through town.
He travels without a cell phone but has a small music system mounted on the handlebars of his bike. He keeps in touch with his wife and stepdaughter and family via email and a phone card while traveling.
Sans rolled out of Waitsfield headed towards Rochester and points south at 11:30 a.m. on August 2, undeterred by the bad behavior he encountered, ready once again to rely on the kindness of strangers as he continued south.