Pedaling Around

A Frenchman with a dream propels himself across the Atlantic — in high hurricane season

"I think it must have been a large whale," he says. Within a week, though, he had a new rudder and a renewed passion to pump his calves across the current.

He also had his share of quasi-crazy moments on the water, he says. Early in the cross-Atlantic journey, four small fish started following his boat. He could look down into the clear water and see them first thing every morning. He began talking to the fish, naming them Andy, Charlie, Bobby, and Teddy. "They thought I was the mother," he says. They were small when he first saw them, but as the weeks passed, he says, they grew to three times their original size.

Every person at the dock eventually gets around to asking Chelala the obvious question: Why do you want to pedal around the world?

Pedal, pedal, pedal your boat!
Tara Nieuwesteeg
Pedal, pedal, pedal your boat!

"Is it just cheaper than plane tickets?" a woman asks.

"I want to remind people to dream," he says. "Critics told me I couldn't pedal across the ocean. If someone sees me trying and they try to accomplish a dream of their own, this whole thing will be worth it. This is a human adventure — challenging myself against the elements."

Chelala, who says he plans to write a book and make a documentary about his adventures, would also like people to think of ecology and the ceaseless possibilities of man-powered travel. "I want to sensitize people," he says. "If people like me don't talk about it, who will?"

There is no way to verify Chelala's tales, though a blog on his website recounts them in three languages, complete with photos from the middle of the ocean. And French and Spanish newspapers have written about Chelala's extensive training and his European departure. He has a weather-beaten look, and he speaks with the hyperanimated cadence of someone who's been alone for weeks at a time. Everyone at the dock is convinced he's telling the truth about his adventures.

Soon, the waitress brings Chelala a sparkling glass of ice-cold cola. It's just what he's been waiting for. He takes several large gulps, swallowing almost half the soda in his glass. Then he looks down at the cup in his hand. "Oh, the incredible things humans can do."

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