Beyond the miles: Arnaud GILLES’ cycling odyssey, in partnership with All4trees

Arnaud GILLES’ 4-month cycling trip across Europe was all about pushing back the limits and tackling the unpredictable. A 3rd-year student in the Grande École program on the Lille campus, Arnaud GILLES decided to support the All4trees association, which aims to protect forests, through his courageous journey done during his gap-year.

©Arnaud Gilles

Arnaud GILLES, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what motivated you to undertake this cycling trip?

I come from Eure-et-Loir. Ever since I was a little boy, I’ve loved getting on my bike and going out into the countryside. Every year, as I grew up, I went further and further away. Three years ago, when I was in my first year at IÉSEG, I realized that I could really take on a big project with my bike, and that I had the physical capacity to do so. So, I decided to start with an initial trial ride: from my home near Chartres, to Mont Saint-Michel. It was a dream for me, it seemed inconceivable, but I did it. I was on my own for 4 days, and it was a real test that I passed.

How did the idea of cycling around Europe come about?

After that first trip, I wanted to go even further and set myself an even tougher challenge: to cycle around Europe. I knew this was what I wanted to do. At first, I thought I’d do it for myself, without necessarily talking about it or getting sponsors. But when I started bringing it up around me, some friends and acquaintances showed a real interest in my project. That’s when I realized it could be more than just a personal challenge. I joined forces with the All4trees association, which is dedicated to protecting forests. Together, we worked for almost one year to prepare the project. In concrete terms, I helped them with communication activities, notably by raising awareness of their mission through my social networks and by carrying out a fundraising campaign.

The route ©Arnaud Gilles

How did you go about financing your project?

Financing is an important aspect of this kind of project. With All4trees, we launched a fundraising campaign and managed to raise almost 3,000€. About a third of this was used to finance my project, and the rest went directly to a forest preservation fund. We divided the money between several projects and associations, such as Cœur de Forêt and HUMI.

Can you tell us more about your experience during the trip?

I crossed 10 countries in total, starting in Lille and ending in Milan. I left during the summer to adapt to the climate, going up towards the Nordic countries first, then going down south to avoid the heat. I covered around 6,600 kilometers, averaging around 100 kilometers a day. I spent 51 nights sleeping in tents, and I stayed 25 nights with local people. Whenever possible, I used an app dedicated to finding homestays, but in the countryside, I often had to go door-to-door and ask people if they could host me for the night. Everywhere I went, I was very well received: I was pleasantly surprised by everyone’s hospitality.

©Arnaud Gilles

What route did you take exactly?

I set off from Lille in the direction of Northern Europe to quickly reach countries with milder temperatures. Passing through Belgium, I crossed the Netherlands, then made a quick incursion into Germany, where the weather wasn’t ideal, before heading up to Denmark. I made a sort of loop, skirting the east coast of Denmark, then crossing over to the west coast, before heading back down to Germany up to the Austrian border. There, I crossed the end of the Alps, which was really great. I met some Belgian hikers there by chance and hid my bike in a bush for a few days to hike with them. After that, I went back in the saddle of my bike to go to Munich, then rode along the Danube to Vienna, Austria. I took a 10-day break in Vienna, then crossed Slovenia to Croatia, in Zagreb. Then I headed for the Croatian coast, skirting it all the way. I took a ferry to Italy, then cycled to Venice, and finally to Milan. I had planned to take a bus to Lyon, but in the end, given the difficult weather conditions at the end of October, I decided to take a bus directly to Paris. The roads were impassable due to the relentless rain, so I decided to shorten my journey.

©Arnaud Gilles

Did you encounter any difficulties on your journey?

Oh yes, there were days when everything seemed to go wrong! The rain, the wind, the loneliness… It wasn’t always easy to get motivated in the morning. Sometimes I even wondered why I was doing it, but I knew I had to keep going in spite of everything, to see it through to the end and meet the challenge. Along the way, I learned to appreciate the little things in life and not to give up, even when conditions became very difficult. And for every difficult day, there were so many incredible and rewarding moments, that it was more than worth it. Meeting new people, discovering magnificent landscapes, pushing my limits… All this made me grow and feel stronger.

How did you feel after returning from this extraordinary adventure?

It was a bit strange at first. After devoting so much energy to this project for months, returning to the daily routine was a difficult adjustment. I felt like I was losing some of my freedom. But I realized that the experience had changed me in a positive way and that I now had a new outlook on life.

Upon my return, I was contacted by several people who were interested in similar adventures. Some were a little lost and didn’t know where to start. I decided to help them by sharing my experience and giving them practical advice. It gives me great pleasure to be able to inspire and help others realize their dreams.

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