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Basque Country Resident Cycles around the World on Goodwill Trip

Gwenael Breton on his proto-bike vehicle.

Gwenaël Breton, a military veteran of the French Special Forces and resident of the Basque Country, is on a grueling trek across the United States with his son on bicycle. It’s part of a tour he is making around the world via cycling and rowing to promote a message of hope to wounded war veterans.

His 33,000-kilometer journey began in January 2021 on bike from the Basque city of Baiona in Iparralde. Even though the pandemic had shut down much of the world, he was not about to let that stop him. But it did prove difficult to cross borders in Europe. He managed to cycle through 12 countries from France to Russia.

While Breton is not Basque, he has lived in the Basque Country for a long time, specifically the town of Ezpeleta, and he usually honors his adopted culture with a Basque flag on his vehicle, whether it be bike or boat. He also has the Basque ikurriña on his personal logo and world tour website, Rien que du Bonheur (Nothing but Happiness).

Adventurer Gwenael Breton uses the Basque flag on his logo.

“What motivates me is that I have a cause for my trip — to inspire the war wounded and to tell them that anything is possible and that “la vie est belle (life is beautiful),” said Breton, during a stopover with Euskal Kazeta in Los Angeles in October. He and his 18-year-old son Gregory, who are both practicing their English, also made another stop in Southern California with another Basque American family, the Anemas from Chino, Calif.

“We were so honored to be part of their journey of connecting veterans across the globe,” said Aline (Biscaichipy) Anema. “And also to be sharing with him the experiences of local Basques in the Chino Basque Club who have served in the French military. We were really moved to share the photos and medals of my dad’s with him.” The Anemas invited extended family members who spoke French to share an evening with them. The next morning they took the cyclists on a tour of a local Chino dairy, before the two took off east towards the desert.

Breton travels over land with a vehicle that he calls a “proto-bike.” He came up with the idea himself and hired friends, a mechanic and an electrician, to build different parts of the vehicle. The bike allows him to sit back and is protected on three sides. He also has a solar panel on top that powers a small battery that can assist him. He can also fold down his bike and actually sleep in it, while protected from the elements. His son Gregory, who joined him for this cross-country tour,  has been riding a regular bike.

What he has appreciated the most on his journey is the friendliness and generosity of people he has met. They strike up conversations upon seeing his unusual bike, and they end up helping him by offering him food or a place to park his bike overnight. He’s not that interested in monetary donations and he consciously keeps his expenses low by the way he travels. He also makes a great effort to meet with veteran groups along the way.

From France, he cycled to Russia, which he traversed in the dead of winter in freezing temperatures. His trip has included breaks and longer stops for repairs and restarts. He has been documenting much of his trip so far on Facebook, on Instagram and on his YouTube channel.

After Russia, which he loved due to the amazing Russian hospitality he experienced, he traveled to South Korea and from there left on a boat to row to the United States. However, he had to be rescued mid-Pacific after heavy storms severely damaged his boat. A cargo ship rescued him and he had to simply abandon his boat in the ocean.

“Adapting is one of the values that I want to pass on to the injured in order to “stay the course” that we have set ourselves,” noted Breton, who has had to make changes to his trip due to so many changing circumstances, like adaptations to his bike in Russia due to the cold. He’s especially upset about having to leave his made-to-order boat in the Pacific.

He started the latest leg of his trip across the U.S. in California in September with his son and hopes to make it to the Southern U.S. without mishap. They traveled from Los Angeles across Arizona, New Mexico and Texas and by the end of November had already reached their first goal: New Orleans, Louisiana. During a visit with Euskal Kazeta in October, Breton said if they made it to New Orleans, then possibly they might travel all the way to Miami, to keep open the option of rowing across the Atlantic from there.

An adventurer at heart, Breton was a double Ironman competitor. He was in the French military for 22 years, more than half of that time in the Special Forces. “I understand all the more the meaning of the word “war”,” he said. “I am particularly sensitive to it and the hopelessness many of us experience.”
A News Report about their Trip Across the U.S.

“In 2012, in the Sahel (a savanna region of Africa), during a night helicopter jump in operational training, I myself was injured. I also experienced fierce fighting where friends were seriously injured by bullets,” said Breton. His injuries included four vertebral fractures and a broken jaw and he underwent a long rehabilitation. During this time, he developed a strong desire to support the war wounded by carrying out sporting challenges, he told FranceInfo in an interview conducted last year. He represents the French military wounded organization Gueules Cassees that started in World War I to support men who were disfigured facially, but were initially not considered part of the war disabled. Breton himself suffered facial injuries in his fall.

He had always dreamed of traveling around the world. In 2017, he made a solo trip across the Atlantic Ocean, from Senegal in Africa to Guyana in South America. The two-month trip whet his appetite for his round-the-world expedition.

“Indeed, this solitary and united world tour is very involved mentally and physically. It is, in itself, a bit like the journey of an injured person that we imagine to be insurmountable. It is alone in front of oneself that one manages to overcome the ordeal,” said Breton in a press interview.

Breton notes that experiences he has shared with people he has encountered on his trip is proof that the world is good.

“On this world tour, I have chosen to radiate this joy of living to preserve the hearts and dreams of our wounded souls to, perhaps, restore a hint of hope in humanity, to whoever wants to receive it,” he said.

Their most recent adventures, crossing the U.S.

Crossing Cold, Cold Russia

Breton’s message for the world

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  • F

    FabriceDec 16, 2023 at 11:00 am

    Bravo les Basques et merci pour toutes les aides qu’ils ont rencontrés sur leur périple !

  • M

    Matiu Crusener MatteiDec 16, 2023 at 10:27 am

    Aupa Gwen!

    BAIONAtik segitzen zaitugu eta abentura zoragarria bizitzen ari zira.

    Agur bero bat eta kuraia on lagun!

    Otxoa’s team

    PS : Mila esker kazetariari artikulu honengatik.

    • N

      Nancy ZubiriDec 18, 2023 at 12:04 pm

      Eskerrik asko. It was our pleasure to meet and host Gwenael and his son on their trip!
      Nancy Zubiri, Editor

  • A

    Andre LacoutureDec 7, 2023 at 5:38 pm

    Je me rends compte qu il y a encore des hommes qui me donne encore un certain espoir pour l humanité.
    There’s is still some hope for humanity when you see a gentleman like him doing what he is doing. Mileskera.

    • N

      Nancy ZubiriDec 11, 2023 at 1:15 pm

      Very true, Andre. Thanks for your comment.