Encounter: Rene Cormier

Rene Cormier and his four-and-half year trip around the world perhaps epitomises ‘The Dream’ more than most. Surely deep in everyone’s psyche is the thought that the ultimate romance could perhaps begin and flourish in some far-flung land, strengthening regardless of the miles. For Rene that became a reality, and in 2012 he and his South African wife Colette had their first child, Jacques, but the travelling hasn’t stopped. He’s been doing intense multi-venue speaking tours at BMW dealerships across North America in recent years and spends at least six months of each year in Africa. He’s someone permanently adorned with a big smile and the casual self-assurance of one who now knows ‘they can’. Big trips do that to you.

I first met Rene in Edmonton, Alberta in January 2011 and was immediately taken with his pleasant attitude and endearing nature; qualities that make you wonder if the trip maketh the man, or vice versa. He was selling his recently published book ‘The University of Gravel Roads’ which won Bronze medal in the 2010 Independent Book Publishers awards, the 2010 da Vinci Eye award, and was a finalist in the Eric Hoffer Award for Short Prose and Literature.

Rene is a Canadian who didn’t travel much as a kid, other than a parental road trip with his three siblings. He messed around on dirt bikes and then street machines (illegally) until his mid-twenties, but while studying biology at Uni in ’92, he spent some research time in Kenya and spotted three overloaded bikes riding past. It was his eureka moment; witnessing independent travel at its liberated best.

It was another ten years before the enabling catalyst for the ‘big trip’ occurred though. Timetabled for redundancy from RockShox in Colorado where he was working as Comms Manager, he rode to Alaska to think about the imminent change. That was where he met some Colombian riders who urged him to explore South America. It just seemed to make sense and yet as he rode home he thought, why just South America?

He sold all his possessions; his house and even his two BMWs – GS100PD and GS1150 – and determined to go global on no more than $25 a day for absolutely everything. It was a decision that has led to a man who is now very frugal and extremely happy.

Things didn’t start perfectly, when he was shot at in Utah and the long range tank on his F650 Dakar was holed, but having crossed into Mexico things improved as he rode south. A couple of years after setting out he shipped to South Africa, where a chance decision to go to a beach party led to his meeting Colette. They got on well, but his plans were to ride north through Africa and then east to the ‘Stans and Mongolia. For two more years he rode, surprised that despite their remoteness, the couple seemed to be growing closer.

In October 2008 he returned to Vancouver after 95,000 miles having discovered “…the world was full of loving, generous and honest people. I’d learned that the more of myself I shared with the locals, the more they shared with me and the more I rode away with. I’d learned that the simpler my life was, the more I was able to enjoy it.”

He soon returned to Cape town and to Colette and in 2010 they were married. They now run Renedian Adventures, where he leads tours throughout southern Africa. It is perhaps the dream come true and he’s still wearing that big smile.

Words: Paddy Tyson • Image: Glenn Roberts

This article first appeared in Issue 11 of Overland Magazine.