The fact that Martial and Elisabeth LeBoeuf of France rode their bicycles from northeastern Canada all the way to southwest Mississippi is impressive enough. That they are in their late 50s is even more surprising.
But most impressive of all is that they plan to keep pedaling for two or three years and encircle the globe.
The couple camped at Ethel Vance Natural Area west of Liberty on Tuesday night and in Osyka on Wednesday night before continuing south toward New Orleans.
From there they will fly to Cuba, then to Costa Rica and continue pedaling through Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Chile. Next they’ll fly to New Zealand, then to Australia, then back to Asia, where they will continue on their bicycles to Europe and home to France.
They use the Internet to locate campgrounds, but that doesn’t always work out, as they discovered in Iowa where campgrounds were flooded by the Mississippi River.
When they got to Gloster on Tuesday, the campground they were hoping to stay in had closed, but fortunately they ran into Pike-Amite-Walthall Library System children’s librarian Laura Stokes, who directed them to Vance park. There they pitched their tent and fielded questions from a local reporter.
The LeBoeufs speak English but occasionally consult one another in French to come up with the right English word.
They come from a small village of 200 people in the Pyrenees Mountains of southern France.
Both are retired from the French army. Martial, 59, was a major in the paratroopers and Elisabeth, 57, was a captain specializing in physical training. She’s also an expert in orienteering and twice won the French national championship — which has definitely helped the couple find their way across provinces and states.
Asked what made them embark on a round-the-world journey, Martial said, “Why not?”
They had begun by planning a trip to India but then asked themselves, “Why just India?”
They started their trip in June by pedaling two days to Toulouse to attend their son’s wedding. Then they caught a plane to Halifax, Nova Scotia. From there they pedaled east and south along the Mississippi River.
“North America is a large country and we need to make many miles every day to find a campground,” Elisabeth said. “Some days we find only one supermarket to find food. It’s difficult for cyclists to cross Canada and the United States.”
Added Martial, “The first impression is, we are fragile.”
He cited such factors as weather, traffic, people and wildlife.
“It’s difficult to understand this when you have an RV and a house, but when all you have is a bicycle and a tent...”
Take the weather.
“Here it is very hot,” he said. “In Nova Scotia it is very cold, windy. We are two very small people in the world.”
They’ve met a lot of friendly people along the way, however.
“They give to us. They want us to stay. They’re incredible,” Elisabeth said,
At a stop for coffee along the Natchez Trace, “when we go in, they say, ‘Hello, where are you from?’ They are very nice,” Martial said.
On the other hand, at a coffee shop in Iowa, a group of men wanted to know who they were and then acted brusquely toward them.
The LeBoeufs belong to an Internet network called Warmshowers, whose members let long-distance cyclists stay in their homes,
“It’s very nice to meet the people of the country in their homes, what they do, what they think,” Martial said.
The couple typically pedals 45 to 60 miles a day. In the heat of the Deep South they’re up at 6 a.m. and try to stop at noon or 1 p.m.
“It’s very important to rest,” Elisabeth said.
They eat oatmeal and dried fruit for breakfast, stop somewhere for coffee when possible, eat a mid-morning snack, then lunch on bread, cheese, ham and fruit.
For supper, “we cook like French people know to cook,” Martial said with a grin.
Mosquitoes haven’t been bad down here but were tough farther north, especially Nebraska.
“The worst place for angry mosquitoes was Platte River State Park,” Martial said.
“Oh la la, la la,” Elisabeth said.
“It was incredible,” Martial said. “You had clouds of them. And that night we had a visit from a bear.”
Their bicycles are French-made with German gear boxes. Martial carries 30 kilograms (66 pounds) of gear, Elisabeth 25 kilos (55 pounds).
On Wednesday morning the LeBoeufs were up by 6 and soon pedaling into Liberty for a stop at Miss Kay’s Home Plate. There the owner, Karen Lewis, treated them to breakfast — they chose coffee and cookies.
They settled into a booth to plan their route, occasionally pausing to chat with local residents, like Kevin Pulver, who had seen their bikes and stopped in to meet them.
Google indicated a campground at Osyka, but the LeBoeufs couldn’t pin one down.
They considered continuing on to a campground at Amite, La., until someone got in touch with Osyka Police Chief Brian Mullins, who found them a place to stay — one more example of friendly people helping them along their way.