Jean-Christophe, 46 years old, is a fireman. He lives with his wife and their six children in the Grenoble region. What sets him apart? He commutes daily by kayak and bike.
Jean-Christophe, who is approaching 50 years old, discusses his kayak-bike system enthusiastically. He devised the system to get from his home in Saint-Egreve to his work at the fire station in Sassenage, located in the Grenoble region. A five kilometer commute that allows him to get regular exercise and spend more time with his wife and six children. He also uses his bike to run errands or pick up his children from school.
Even if he does not consider his lifestyle to be a form of political engagement, Jean-Christophe is respectful of the environment. Above all, he needed to give more meaning to his life. Educated in the computer sciences, twenty years ago he decided to give up everything to become a fire fighter. Close to people and close to nature, he feels in his element. He shares his experiences on his blog.
Can you tell us about yourself?
I am originally from Lyon where I lived until about twenty years ago. I then went to Grenoble to study computer sciences. I worked for five years. However, I grew a bit tired of the atmosphere at work, the pressure to create software in order to make money. I decided there were more important things in life. In order to make sense of it all, I became a fire fighter and have been doing it for the last twenty years. I live in Saint-Egreve in the Grenoble region. I am married and have six children.
You commute to work by bike and kayak. Can you tell us more?
I am a fire fighter in Sassenage. My house is two kilometers from the fire station as the crow flies. I could have commuted by bike, but there were two obstacles: the Isère river and highway A48. Whether I approached from the north or south, I had to cross two bridges and felt like I was backtracking. That was not enjoyable.
I already kayaked in my free time and towed the kayak with my bike, so why not do it daily?
I leave my house. I bike 2.5 kilometers, kayak and then bike again. There is a dam downstream, so the water is pretty calm. The current really depends on how the wind is blowing. The trip takes a total of thirty minutes, and by bike it took twenty minutes. But the experience is incomparable! Doing it year round is really nice because you see the seasons change, the flora and fauna evolve, the rabbits grow, the ducks, the beavers, the swans… life happening before your eyes!
And you place the bike in the kayak?
In the beginning, I used a mountain bike. I locked up my bike along the Isere and headed upstream. Once I was close to the fire station, I took my kayak and walked the rest. But I never knew if I would find my bike near the trees at the end of my shift! The deciding moment was when someone severely damaged my padlock by throwing rocks at it, without successfully breaking it open. I thought to myself “I have to find another system.” So I switched to a folding bike. The idea was to put it in the kayak so that I would have it on the other side.
Did you create this solution yourself?
A friend who welds installed the bike rack system. The requirements were that it needed to be efficient, not too heavy, easy to remove and able to hold a foldable bicycle. I have a two-hulled unsinkable kayak. There are holes so I can easily attach wheels and tow the kayak.
In order to finance the bicycle, which is the best in its category but a bit expensive for me, I used a crowd funding website. I publicized the story. There was a story on France 3 and articles in the local press: Le Dauphine Libéré, Isère Magazine, GreNews…
What motivated you?
I had two goals: to no longer view transportation as a constraint and to exercise during my commute. With six children, my wife is a stay-at-home mom. Before, when I kayaked in my free time my wife managed our home life. It was also a choice to provide her some relief- I am more present now.
It was a challenge to keep it up year round. In the beginning, I only did it once a week and chose the day with the best weather. When summer came, I started doing it everyday. Then, I thought to myself I could do this all year long. It has been three years. I no longer need to exercise in my free time because I treat myself by kayaking daily to work. It has become a transitional moment, a time to breath on my way to work or my trip back home.
Is it in some ways an environmental gesture?
It is not about environmentalism, in the political sense of the word. It is more natural than that. For example, paying attention to the lights is a small everyday gesture. I find it normal when we are living on this earth that nourishes us, and that we are currently destroying.
What forms of transportation do you use in your day-to-day life?
I try to do everything by bike, including school and my children’s activities. In the beginning, I used a child seat but the kids could not see anything. One day, one of them fell because the bike was not stable. So we switched to a bicycle trailer. They can be inside it, sleep peacefully; we can hull material in it or remove it if we need more freedom.
I attach bicycle bags and go grocery shopping three kilometers away twice a week.
I use the minibus for bigger trips. Outside of that, twice a week there is a market 100 meters from our house where we can buy local, seasonal products.
Do you go on vacation?
We do not always go kayaking (laughs)! I also have other interests. I visit my family, my wife’s family, or friends several times a year by minibus. Outside of that, we do not travel a lot.
At home, the garden is adapted to both the young and old, with a rope course, an above ground swimming pool, a trampoline, tons of games, chickens that give us fresh eggs. The house we rent is located on a family plot. The spaces are not closed off. We get along very well with our neighbours and offer each other a helping hand regularly.
Last April, our family travelled with friends to discover the Loire castles by kayak. We had the opportunity to visit and camp. The other family had an RV. During the day we explored. In the evening, when we arrived at the campsite, I would get on my bike, go get the camping car, bring it back and we had food, tents, blankets. The morning after, we travelled further. Each stretch was about thirty kilometers. But that was the first day. After that there was some complaining (laughs). We travelled a little less far. This year, I plan on kayaking from our house to the Mediterranean sea, alone this time.
What do you like about this way of living, of getting around?
In life, we cannot expect other people to find solutions to our problems, so I found a solution that fits me personally. I am in contact with nature every day, I exercise, I am autonomous. I think we can take care of a lot of our problems like that. You have to take charge of your own life.