One man’s passion turns into the journey of a lifetime.
By J. Ken Conte
It was early 2010, and André Breton had just turned 39. He hadn’t ridden a bike since he was a kid. But living in earth-friendly Fort Collins inspired Breton and he decided to pick up one for his commute to work.
For the next several months, he used his bright orange GT Avalanche (26er) mountain bike to commute to Colorado State University, where he was employed as a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology. He initially stuck mostly to paved roads and city bike paths until friends and curiosity gradually convinced him to venture onto local single track.
It started for Breton where it starts for many Fort Collins riders—at the base of the seemingly endless climb at Maxwell Natural Area and the rocky, flowing trails at Pineridge Natural Area. Breton’s skills developed, his trail use expanded, and he had now become obsessed with the physical challenges associated with mountain biking. He was also just beginning to detect the mental clarity and wellness benefits as well.
A year later, disillusioned by academia and struggling with associated depression, Breton was looking for a way to revitalize the passion for life that he had felt prior to entering graduate school when he worked as a seasonal field biologist and outdoor educator. In the early part of 2012, he saw a documentary about the Leadville 100 mountain bike race, and it sparked in him a desire that had been incubating for the past two years—to race mountain bikes on an amateur level. Although he missed the qualifying cut-off time by four minutes that year, his passion for life was rekindled by the experience. His journey by bicycle towards a healthy mind and body was underway, a journey that he was already inspired to share with friends, family and strangers.
By the end of March 2013, Breton began chronicling his journey and his evolution as a cyclist, assembling what is now AndreBretonCycling.com. He asked a trusted friend and former professional road racer, Alex Hagman, for coaching guidance on his quest to compete in the Leadville 100. Hagman agreed, quickly loaned him a 29er, and Breton set out following just two weeks of training to qualify for the Leadville 100 at the Austin Rattler.
In August that year, Breton realized his dream of racing in the Leadville 100 and finished 64 out of 554 in his age group, and 198 overall out of about 1,600 racers. He has subsequently competed in numerous 100-mile events in the Rocky Mountains, including four more visits to the start and finish line at the Leadville 100.
In 2014, Breton became a member of the Northern Colorado Grassroots Riders (NCGR), a grassroots recreational and racing mountain bike team based out of Fort Collins that was founded in 1992 by Ralph Eberspacher. In meeting with other like-minded individuals at NCGR, Breton was further motivated by these fellow riders and their passion, and he knew that his life in academia was coming to a close. He wanted to pursue his passion—to become an elite, amateur mountain bike athlete. At that time, he had no idea he would end up touring by bicycle all over the world. He departed academia in July 2015.
He has had many accomplishments since then. At the Breckenridge 100, he often finishes at the top of the podium in his very competitive age bracket (age 40 to 49). In 2019, he ended his racing season with an 11th place finish in his age group and 57th overall at the Leadville 100 prior to embarking on his next challenge—a tour from Scotland to Turkey.
During his evolution as a cyclist, Breton become so passionate about his wellness that he was inspired to expand his own horizons, all on his bicycle. It started in the autumn of 2016 when he decided to take a week and tour New England while visiting friends and family, averaging 55 miles per day on his bike. He knew that doing the trip by bicycle would add positive energy to his experience and perhaps encourage others to challenge their perceived limits.
This initial sojourn wasn’t long, but he got a taste for the touring life and knew he wanted more. A month later he headed to Europe and bicycled through seven countries in 16 days. He set a seemingly grueling pace, averaging 97.3 miles per day, but when asked why he made the trip, he responded, “Every day I was filled with childhood excitement to continue my adventure through Wonderland.”
He encountered a group of cyclists in Belgium, integrated into their pace line and rode with them for a while. He was thrilled to be in the company of such accomplished athletes. These and other experiences contributed to his desire to go farther, and to continually challenge his mind and body along the way.
“Riding over a hundred miles a day for an extended period allowed me to really see and experience the world as I was passing through it in enviable doses. It was challenging and spectacular and cemented my commitment to this lifestyle,” said Breton.
Subsequent tours included Germany to Scotland; a trip through New England; and a 2,814-mile trip in 2018 that took him to Newfoundland and then Labrador. They were all amazing, but Breton had already set his sights on a bigger dream, one that would allow him to do a trip that possibly no one had done. He resolved to ride a bike from remote northeast Scotland to Istanbul, Turkey, a complete and unsupported transect of the European-subcontinent.
Yes, many people had biked from London to Turkey, had maybe even taken some of the same roads, but it’s possible that no one had started at the northeastern tip of Scotland and ridden all the way to Istanbul, especially by the convoluted route chosen by Breton, who was dead-set on “celebrating the journey” rather than the finish line.
Biking through Scotland
To put his undertaking into perspective: It lasted 63 days. He bicycled 4,392 miles and gained 230,751 feet in altitude (equivalent to eight times up Mt. Everest). He took a minimal amount of gear, which weighed between 50 and 65 pounds, depending on the day, and was completely unsupported. He rode a 2016 Fort Collins-made Niner Bike. When asked why he didn’t take extra gear, he said, “I didn’t even pack a pair of pants. I instead dual-purposed some of my cycling gear. When I was climbing yet another steep grade in the Alps, I was very grateful I didn’t have that pair of pants!”
It took Breton nine days to get through Scotland, along an impressive and difficult route that included the rugged northwest Highlands. “My mother’s side of the family is Scottish and I had also discovered a resonance with Scotland on previous visits including a short bicycle tour in 2017,” he said. “These observations gave me some comfort at the beginning of the tour because I was undertaking a journey that was full of so many unknowns. I started at the northeastern tip of Scotland and headed west to the northwest Highlands and then to the Outer and Inner Hebrides, the remote archipelagoes off the Scottish coast.”
He continued on to Ireland, taking several days, sleeping on a beach for a night and enjoying the conviviality and conversation in local pubs and elsewhere that the Irish freely share with travelers. As Breton stated on his blog: “I’m going to miss the Irish! They touched my heart with their smiles and their words. I hope to visit again soon, to the land of green fields, fat sheep and ancient stone walls.” Breton’s cycling journey had just begun, but he already felt a kinship with the people whose towns he was pedaling through.
He continued on from Ireland, via ferry, to Wales, and then through the lush, green English countryside. A mere four days later found him on another ferry, this time bound for northern France, the city of Cherbourg, a coastal town in Brittany where his great grandfather Henri had resided.
Biking through Turkey
Biking through Scotland
He visited both Utah and Omaha beaches, paying his respects to the thousands who had lost their lives there in WWII. He spent six days in France and totaled 620 miles, thanks to the mostly forgiving terrain. As he neared the border, the terrain became decidedly less forgiving, as he approached the Jura Mountains. A series of steep climbs and one windy descent later, he found himself in Switzerland overlooking Lake Geneva and Mont Blanc to the east, the highest mountain in the Alps.
Above the shores of Lake Geneva, after an unfortunate incident with his equipment that rendered his bicycle inoperable, he found himself delayed. But through the kindness of several locals, who guided him to the right bus, paid for his ticket and gave him parts off new bikes to get him back on the road, he soon resumed his journey.
These gestures touched him deeply and affirmed his belief in the goodness of humanity across the globe. He traveled east through the rest of Switzerland, deep into the Alps, alongside the Bernese Oberland mountain range, then crossed the Rhine into Balvers, Lichtenstein, where he was inspired by his hosts to take a much-needed rest day.
Austria, Italy and Slovenia followed, each acquiring a special place in Breton’s heart and memories, but the true test of his mettle would come toward the end of his journey, when he came to Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia. Numerous people had warned—and even pleaded with—him not to ride through countries that had been at war in the not-so-distant past. It raised concerns for people close to Breton, and it definitely put him on alert, but his route necessitated it, and he wanted the experience to include the ride through the heart of the Dinaric Alps.
What he found in Bosnia, from the time he crossed the western border and made his way to the east, was a welcoming and friendly people. There were, however, about 20 tunnels that were, at best, concerning and, in some cases, harrowing. But he finally entered Sarajevo and discovered the Green Gate guesthouse through the Airbnb app.
Over the next couple of days, he got to know his hosts and soon found that he had “discovered a mutually respectful and curious friendship, and each person added valuable perspective to my life. Their kindness is a reminder that…this is the way it is, on all continents, across all cultures: people have love in their hearts, and they want to share it with others.”
Breton has stayed in touch with them, and many others from his journey. Beyond Bosnia, he bicycled through Serbia and Bulgaria, and he did reach his ultimate goal of Istanbul, Turkey. But the highlight of the trek was the generosity and kind hearts of the people he met along the way. For Breton, 2020 has started with hundreds of miles of training in the San Juan mountain range of southern Colorado led by Elite cycling coach Rick Crawford, with the goal of winning races. To follow up his 2020 race season he will be doing another tour in the fall that will be announced soon.
To see Breton’s complete travelogues of past tours and to follow along with him on future journeys, follow him on Instagram at @here.by.chance or Facebook at facebook.com/andre.breton.7.