If I was a regular TV viewer I might have been prepared for the sight that met me driving down the Kaikoura Coast in late-November. I was in the Nissan Pathfinder, i-Pod plugged in, listening to some vintage rock and roll, minding my own business and trying to work out how many times I had driven this route in the past two years when I saw this sight — almost an apparition really. It was south of The Store at Kekerengu, but north of Ohau Point where there’s a major seal colony and right on the coast.
Coming towards me, on my side of the road, marching at a brisk pace, was a tall man pushing what appeared to be a modified baby buggy — the three wheeled type with big wheels favoured by modern jogging mums. Instead of a baby, he was pushing a big, blue haversack. If I’d seen him in a city I would have thought he was a streetperson with his worldly goods in the haversack.
I stopped, did a u-turn, went back, did another u-turn and waited for him to come across a bridge.
I got out, leaned on the front of the Pathfinder and waited. I saw he had a small, tattered Canadian flag on the buggy.
He smiled. I smiled back. He peeled a glove off his right hand and extended it in greeting even as he walked towards me.
Showing my superb powers of observation I said the obvious — “Good afternoon, you’re a Canadian.” Not a question, a statement. “Oui, I am,” he responded with an accent that showed his natural language was French. “Aha,” I responded being a know-all. “You are from French Canada — and are you walking the length of New Zealand?” — the thought of which made me feel very tired.
“Messieur,” he said in that terrific accent. “I am 55 years of age, I left my home in Montreal when I was 45 years of age. I have been walking for ten years. I have walked through 63 countries. I have walked 64,000 kilometres. I have worn out seven pairs of tyres on my buggy. I have worn out 143 pairs of shoes. I still have to walk to the top of New Zealand and then across Canada. I have another 15,000 kilometres to go. I am very tired — I want to go home. . . .”
I couldn’t say I blamed him.
After I picked myself up from the ground, Jean Beliveau from Montreal and I had a good long yarn, standing there as the traffic roared by and the sun beat down.
Basically what happened was that he had a mid-life crisis, decided he needed to do something other than running a successful neon-sign manufacturing company, sold it, gave away the money and started walking.
There is a charity — just walking for some sort of self-satisfaction wouldn’t have cured his mid-life crisis, so he decided to raise money “for children” — Barnardos Homes specifically.
If you feel motivated enough by Jean’s efforts, you can go to www.wwwalk.org to make a donation.
Life’s not always been easy on the road — he’d slept the previous night under the Clarence River bridge and was heading for an historic stone church north of Kekerengu that night.
There’s no point in me trying to tell you of his adventures, the countries he’s visited nor the people he’s met, Jean tells it all on his website. But it’s been an incredible trip — tough, hard and soul-destroying often, but, boy, he’s seen a lot.
Jean showed me photographs of his family back in Canada — grandchildren he’s never seen and his beautiful wife who flies to meet him on his journey once a year.
Just half an hour before meeting Jean, I had called in to the East Coast Inn in Ward to say hello to Jim and Amie McDougall. Jim was home from Iraq where he works six weeks on and three weeks off in security. He’d told me that five weeks previously a gang of armed men had attacked him and abducted him — “I tried to fight them off, but I gave up when I had an AK47 poked into me and I saw it being cocked — I thought then it might be wiser to surrender.” After some negotiations with his employer, Jim was released.
Jean’s walking adventures and Jim’s abduction and suddenly my “exciting” life became very dull and unimportant!