He wanted to realize an old dream, despite life’s vicissitudes: in July 2014, Vincent, paraplegic since an accident, traveled from Liezen in Austria to Monaco by paraglider and handbike with four childhood friends – a 1,200km trip lasting three weeks. Definitely an exploit, given the horrendous weather. And a true lesson in life and friendship.
15 July 2014
6 August 2014
3 weeks, 1 day
A COOL BUDDY THINGâ€¦ LIKE THE OLD DAYS
On August 17, 2011, Vincent’s life changed forever. It was a Wednesday, around noon. The young lumberjack was felling trees when a tree’s downward path crossed his own, and crushed his spine. The verdict was stark: Vincent would never walk again. A bitter blow for a 23-year-old with a head full of dreams and a boundless passion for sports, especially paragliding!
“For ten months, I had to learn how to live again. Once my rehab was over, in June 2012, my buddies urged me to start gliding again. I gave it a try, with a seat on wheels, and it was awesome! I got my sensations back, and felt comfortable in space. In a nutshell, I was self-sufficient again!”
Vincent then headed off for a weeklong trip handbiking along the banks of the Canal du Midi, in southwest France. He also went gliding regularly, and resumed skiing…
Then an idea began to germinate: a “cool buddy thing”, “something inspired by the X Alps” – trekking and paragliding across the Alps.
“With Manu, Julien, Raphi and Robin, we thought why not do our own X Alps so we could keep on sharing things together, just like before…”
Vincent wanted to play an active role in the project, and the journey. The team planned to travel from Liezen in Austria to Monaco – 1,200km – by paraglider, bike and handbike, so that they were all on equal terms.
“There’s a line by [French performance poet] Grand Corps Malade about physical weakness becoming great mental strength… And I’ve adopted it too.”
NO BIG FEAT, JUST A TRIP TOGETHER
And so the adventure took shape. The first challenge was to raise money (about €20,000), primarily to buy three hand bikes. The team used crowdfunding, secured backing from friends and family and also from Millet, as part of the MXP project. “Having Millet as a sponsor gives you credibility, and it’s then easier to approach other partners,” notes Vincent.
Challenge number two: organizing it!
“We got quite a bit of information off the Internet – gliding conditions, the best spots, etc. Paragliding was supposed to let us cover the greatest possible distance by harnessing the aerological riches of the Alps. With Manu, we orchestrated the logistics accordingly – route, support van to transport the bikes, sails...”.
But there were no specific preparations: “We’re all sportsmen, so we didn’t need to do any particular training beforehand. And besides, we weren’t targeting a massive performance, we only wanted to enjoy doing stuff together again. We just convened a week before the start date, for some last fine-tuning.”
“Having Millet as a sponsor gives you credibility, and it’s then easier to approach other partners,”
They allowed themselves one month max to travel along the crescent of the Alps. If flying conditions were good, they even hoped to finish the route in 10 days.
Forget that. From day one, the weather gatecrashed the party with an unsavory cocktail of rain, wind and cloud…
“By the third day, it already felt like we’d been going six months. We were soaked all the time. We’d opted to travel self-sufficiently and sleep in tents in the great outdoors, as close to the take-off sites as possible. As a result, drying our gear wasn’t easy! We slept rough, washed in rivers, dined on freeze-dried food, and picnicked on the hoof with sardines, pâté, cheese and processed bread… We also had to load and unload the bikes or sails from the van, every day, and often several times, depending on which option we’d chosen…”.
That might have been part of the initial plan, but the adventure soon lost its “cool” vibe and turned into a trial, and even an intrepid deed, beneath distinctly hostile skies!
“We only had five days’ fine weather in total, and we were all shattered.” And yet, “our goal was to get to Monaco, come what may. We gritted our teeth a bit. There were a few flashpoints, but we’ve known each other since we were kids. The tension never lasted long, and the trip strengthened our bond even further.”
“When you’re flying alongside a guy in a wheelchair, you think ‘Wow, this really is something!’”
GIVING OTHERS THE URGEâ€¦
In the end, they only flew 200km of the 1,200km route, and cycled the remainder… with the two regular bikes towing the two handbikes on the uphill sections! “It created a real spirit of mutual support, like the roped-up members of a climbing team.”
On the way, the team still managed some terrific flights, such as in the Swiss Valais: “We flew over some superb peaks, bypassing two passes that would have taken at least four days by bike!”
And so this “terrific team of loonies”, to use Raphi’s expression, went the distance, as planned, and were surprised by the interest they attracted all along the route!
Beneath a newly clement sky, they recovered from their hardships on the Mediterranean coast, with steak, fries and Clairette de Die [a sparkling sweet white wine].
Their feat is now immortalized in a 32-minute film titled “Incloud, Operation Mutants”, a nod to the superhuman stamina they needed to complete this monster of an expedition, which will go down in history…
“It would be cool if the film makes other people fancy giving it a go.”
SPITZBERG, NEW ZEALANDâ€¦ AND MAYBE MORE
Vincent has since spent a fortnight camping and skiing on Spitzberg, in May 2015. And in December, he will explore New Zealand’s south island by tandem… Fresh adventures, and shared experiences underlaid by friendship, solidarity and mutual support… which also goes to show that life doesn’t stop after an accident, and that “you can still do loads of stuff in a wheelchair”!
Building bridges between two worlds
Vincent and his buddies formed the nonprofit In Cloud to support their project, and for other reasons too. “We realized that there’s a real lack of resources to promote disabled and able-bodied people enjoying leisure activities together. That’s why we want to back other projects with a human dimension by providing our equipment and advice…”. One of their first actions was to design an efficient flying wheelchair that caters to the restrictions of disabled users. It’s currently being produced by the apprentices at the CFA de l’Erier training center in La Motte-Servolex, Savoie. The team is also keen to hold a two-seat paragliding discovery day for disabled people, and wants to join forces with a similar association with a winter sports focus, to run joint projects.