Jean Beliveau: Long-distance walker

A profile of Long-distance walker Jean Beliveau. This amazing Canadian left Montreal in 1998 to walk around the world and came back 11 years later.

When the infamous ice storm of 1998 bankrupted Jean Beliveau’s small neon sign business, the 45-year-old Montrealer was already contemplating a change of life. He had toyed with the idea of sailing around the world, but ocean-going yachts cost too much. Instead, he began to train for the first time, running and walking. He wondered how long it would take to run to New York City. Then he thought, Why not Mexico? For eight months, he didn’t tell his plan to anyone, not even his wife, Luce.

In August 2000, Beliveau began running south. He reached Atlanta and then knee problems struck. So he started to walk. And walk. Eleven years later, on October 16, 2011, Beliveau walked back into Montreal, accompanied by 100 well-wishers. He had walked around the world, covering 75,000 kilometres, through 64 countries.

Travelling on the cheap—less than $5,000 a year—Beliveau billeted with friendly families, camped by the roadside in a tent and sleeping bag he pushed in a cart in front of him, or simply crashed wherever he could. Over the 4,077 days and nights, he had plenty of hard times: fending off bandits in South Africa and enduring three months of water shortages while trekking through the interior of Australia. Most difficult of all was adapting to the constant change: “You’re always in culture shock,” says Beliveau. “No sooner do you get used to a place and fall in love with it than it’s behind you.” But there were glittering moments too—meeting Nelson Mandela and four other Nobel Peace Prize winners, and spending time with the inspirational Iban people of Borneo, who have managed to preserve many of their traditional ways.

Perhaps most incredible of all, Jean Beliveau has stayed married. Once a year, Luce would come to him and they would spend three weeks together, in one place. And now that Beliveau’s walk has ended, the adaptation continues, as he gets used to a settled life under one roof, and walking only one or two hours a day—for exercise.

This profile is part of our top adventurers feature, The Elites, from the Spring 2012 issue.