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In springtime a young man's fancy turns to thoughts of — Cycling around Asia By Chris Woodall In seven years, Pierre Bouchard figures he has cycled 10,000 kilometres along the rivers and over the hills of Asia. Sometimes there's a partner, sometimes he's been on his own. He has quite a collection of photographs that he's sharing at a slide show multi-media event — called "Checkpoints, visas, monks and officers: images from a cycling pilgrimage through South-East Asia" — at the Chateau Whistler, Saturday, March 29. Admission is $7. The 31-year-old from Quebec City can sometimes be found at Mondo Pizza where he's been one of the cooks. But likely as not, he's on two wheels grinding his way through China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia and Sumatra. The Whistler connection has become something of a base camp for his globe wheeling. "It works good as a base because of its outdoors nature," Bouchard says. The money he earns at Mondo Pizza goes together with coin earned from freelance articles in cycling magazines from Montreal to New Zealand about his travels to finance the next big trip. And when he goes, he goes connected to the world through a laptop e-mailable to anywhere. It's all part of being self-reliant. "In terms of comfort, it's a pretty raw life," Bouchard says. Even the kind of bike he rides has to help out. By riding a steel frame Kona bike (24 gears), he may take on more weight, but Bouchard knows he can get the bike fixed by anyone with a welding torch. Leave the space-age alloys at home. He began his two-wheeled odysseys while a philosophy major at Laval University in Montreal, escaping during the summer months. "Philosophy became a natural connection" to long-distance riding, Bouchard says, going from philosophical knowledge found in books to finding philosophy in the world around him. Bouchard says he'll keep at his travels as long as it feels like the right thing to do. "You'd need many lifetimes to check it all out, but even if you see the same place twice, it'll have changed by the second visit," Bouchard says. Cycling as a way to see the sights is the "most harmonious way to have contact with your surroundings and the people," Bouchard says, noting that the people he meets are always curious about where he's from and why he's in their village. But there can be too much attention. "The crowds can get on your nerves after a while. When you're super hot and tired and need a break, the last thing you need is 100 locals staring at you like you're a monkey in a cage." After all that travel, Bouchard has three basic tips for anyone else who gets the wonder-bug. First, take it all a day at a time. "It's you and the land," Bouchard says. "There's an old Chinese saying: the ox is slow, but the earth is patient." Second, prepare ahead of time to some extent, but it's nice to jump and go with the flow. "So many people dream of going on a bicycling trip, but they want to wait until they get $20,000 together and plan all the routes," Bouchard says. "They'll never go, because they're too afraid something will not go according to plan. When I left on my first trip seven years ago, I had $500 and when I got back I still had $500." Third, be very polite to the border guys and be prepared to stick it out if they throw up bureaucratic hassles. If they want a bribe to process you through, be prepared to tell them you'll wait another day. Their price will go down to get rid of you. And one more thing: "Be careful with everything you put in your body and then cross your fingers," Bouchard says of food and drinking water in foreign lands. "Locals are aware of things you wouldn't know about. Go for it and see what happens." Bouchard will be taking his own advice when he leaves for Siberia, May 1, for a trip with fellow Whistlerite Janick Lemieux for an eight-month cycle through central Mongolia, to China, India and Nepal.

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