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MONTREAL—There are several traits Montreal’s Jean Béliveau shares with Jack Kerouac, that celebrated American writer of Canadian descent who made an uncertain life on the open road seem inspiring.


The most obvious is that of a thirst for adventure and desire to keep moving.


Kerouac, in his book On the Road, explained how he wrote his mother a note and “like a veritable Ishmael with fifty dollars in my pocket” headed out west. Béliveau told his family, including life partner Luce Archambault, just three weeks before his departure about what would be a walk around the world.


Perhaps what makes Béliveau, 56, the Kerouac of our times are the emotional imprints his travels have left on his mind and personality, something he’d like to share with the world — you guessed it, through writing.


Béliveau has taken the idea of being road-bound to a whole new level. On Oct. 16, he will make his triumphant return to Montreal. That is, after an astonishing and unprecedented 11 years of uninterrupted walking.


He walked through America, Mexico, Latin America, Africa, Europe and Asia. Through dozens of pairs of shoes. Through doubt. Joy. Imprisonment. Culture shock. Even, for a time, through puppy-dog love.


Forced to reckon with constantly changing worlds, walking simply with a three-wheeled stroller that carried, like Kerouac’s canvas bag, a “few fundamentals,” Béliveau says he has learned many lessons.


Especially about the concept of wealth. Having seen so many so-called “poor” people in so many countries, like Mozambique or Peru, Béliveau realized that it is us who are truly poor.


“We say these people are poor but they are happy and know the real values of life,” Béliveau said in an interview last week. “They have a sustainable way of life. Who are we to teach them? We are destroying our planet, putting so much stress on our society.


“It’s time to learn from them.”


Béliveau began this improbable trek after his neon sign business fizzled. But, he admits, his mind was already elsewhere, a mid-life crisis looming: “I had other things in my heart to fulfill before I died.” To battle a depression that set in, he started to run. Soon he hauled out his atlas and decided to combine the two.


It would become a test of his relationship with Archambault. They would both risk drifting apart.


About six months into his trip, Béliveau fell, for a short time, for a woman in Mexico.


“It was very possible that he would fall in love with someone else, or that I would,” Archambault says. “He did, but it didn’t continue. It was normal. I could fall in love with an actor on the big screen.”


But to one day announce to his family he was leaving on a decade-long trip, was there not resentment?


Archambault says she just wanted reassurance he wasn’t trying to leave her.


“We are each responsible for ourselves. He didn’t leave me in misery with no means. I had my work,” Archambault says. “I didn’t see him as irresponsible.”


Archambault ended up visiting him once a year, every year. “This walk distanced us physically,” Archambault says, “but we got closer emotionally and intellectually.”


Along the way, Béliveau relied on the kindness of strangers for food and shelter. He was helped along by money Archambault sent to him.


Africa was perhaps the most difficult. In Ethiopia, he was detained — from a mutual lack of cultural understanding, he says — and nearly gave up. The desert in Sudan was harsh, but the Nubian people of the northern desert were some of the warmest he met.


He met Nobel laureates along the way, including Nelson Mandela. He ate exotic things, like insects and snakes. He learned some Spanish and Arabic.


His walk quickly came to promote the cause of peace, particularly for children. It gave him further purpose.


A relentless walk — more than 4,000 days — would change anybody. Especially months in the desert, mostly alone, he says. But it forced his family to grow as well.


His son, 31-year-old Thomas-Eric, an industrial designer, remembers walking with his father with thousands of others in Manila. He says his own opinions are more “global” in outlook because of his father. Often, without travelling, the media can impose a point of view, he says. “So in seeing things as they are it gives you a different image of the world.”


Béliveau made it back to Vancouver in January and has been walking through Canada ever since.


Will he be able to settle down, finally? “I will look back with nostalgia, about all the beautiful people I’ve met, and beautiful experiences I’ve had,” he says. “But I’m also excited to be home and to be happy. To have a bed forever!”


He is writing a book with Archambault, telling of his enriching experiences.


In this way, Béliveau is the opposite of Kerouac. A “lonesome traveller” he is no longer.




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I heard a similar story, not sure if it is the same guy. I think he landed up in Africa or something and asked if he could spend the night in a prison so he could sleep. The next morning the prison guards didn't want to believe his story, luckily some prisoners helped the guy out and told the guards that he was telling the truth.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I just thought his story was so inspirational and unique. How many of us would benefit from a global perspective like his? Maybe some people demonstrating about insubstantial issues would put their grievances to rest if they encountered people persevering in much harsher conditions.

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