ATV trip of a lifetime

Couple rides from Canada to Mexico in cross-continent journey

Story by Lucas Cooney, Mar. 18, 2008
 

What exactly would it take to inspire a seemingly normal couple to drop everything, hop on a couple of ATVs and ride from Canada all the way to Mexico?

According to Canadian couple Marc Joinville and France Labonté, all it takes is a little craziness and a love of adventure, travel and ATV riding.

“In 2000, while RVing through Utah, we rented ATVs and discovered the Great Western Trail,” Joinville told ATV.com. “Although it will probably never be completed, the original plan for it was to run from Canada to Mexico, border to border. We simply couldn’t wait for it to be completed and decided we would do even better by riding into Mexico’s Baja peninsula.

Organizing, planning and paying for an adventure this kind of adventure is no small task, so Joinville contacted Polaris Industries Inc. of Medina, Minn. and asked for some help. Polaris responded by providing a pair of new Sportsman 800 ATVs, parts and clothing for the cross-continent trek.

“When Joinville contacted us about their idea to travel across the continent, there was no doubt they would be riding Polaris ATVs,” says Polaris marketing manager Jeff LeFever.

Joinville and Labonté began their journey in July, 2007 in Roosville, BC, just north of the Montana border. Besides the typical supplies anybody would need, such as food, water, camping gear and gas, the couple also brought a laptop computer so they could write about the journey on their website, http://www.quadtrek.net/.

They had traveled 6,900 miles when they reached Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, the southernmost point of the trip, in January, 2008. Though they tried to stay on ATV trails and off the beaten path as much as possible, they did have to spend some time on paved roads.

“I estimate we rode about 85% of all miles off pavement,” says Joinville. “We used a lot of rough dirt roads, remote back roads and forest roads. All of these roads, we were legal on, as we made our machines street legal in every state we could.

“A good part of those back roads were designated ATV routes. In Mexico, everything off pavement is considered off-road as the secondary roads are so rough.”

Since this was an off-road adventure, Joinville and Labonté weren’t exactly traveling in the lap of luxury. They stayed in campgrounds or wherever they could find a good spot to set up camp.

“We definitely prefer, by far, camping in the middle of nowhere as our tent/trailer set-up does not give us a great deal of privacy on campgrounds,” says Labonté. “Campgrounds are great for the services they offer—showers, internet access and the likes—but nothing comes close to pitching the tent by a river or lake where you are completely alone. It’s great. You can enjoy the world’s biggest bathtub. It’s all about being out there by yourself.”

All the camping, however, turned out to be the most arduous part of the journey—even more than the 6,900 miles of ATV riding.

“The toughest part of the journey is not the quadding at all. It’s the camping,” says Joinville.” Six months of tent camping is a lot of camping! It would be nice, sometimes, to have a place out of the wind or inside when it’s cooler out.

“Of course, when you sleep in a tent in the middle of grizzly habitat, you don’t sleep all that well, so we can go to bed very early, stay in bed for, say 10 hours, and still feel tired after doing it day after day after day.

Joinville and Labonté rode their ATVs an average of 60 miles a day. That may not seem like a lot considering the thousands of miles they logged on the trip, but both agree that it was plenty.

“When we tell people we ride an average of about 60 miles a day, they seem to think it’s not a lot,” says Labonté. “But with the lack of good sleep and after a complete day of riding, it’s good enough. We would rather do less in a day and go all the way than over do it for several days and get burned out quick. We have plenty of time, why not make it enjoyable?”

Not that the trip was all fun. When you are riding ATVs for months on end, you are bound to run into a few hurdles and perhaps a few moments when you question why on earth you ever decided to do such a thing.

“As in any other trips or anything you do, there are some moments that are not as enjoyable,” says Joinville. “On some of the most rough and technical trails in Utah, France wished we would have done something else with our sabbatical year.”

Also, both Joinville and Labonté dealt with a couple of scary moments—besides sleeping in areas inhabited by grizzlies.

“In my case, I had a couple of scares. One was when I rolled my machine after a stupid driving error. My fault,” says Joinville. “Funny, when it happened I was much more worried about compromising the rest of the trip than about getting hurt.

“The other time was when France lost consciousness and collapsed in a grocery store. Actually, at that time, I was back at a motel room we rented and the scare came when I got the phone call from the hospital asking if I knew Miss France Labonté, that she was in the ER and had no idea how she got there.”

Despite whatever setbacks and trying moments Joinville and Labonté suffered through, it seems it was more than made up for by the great experiences they shared and the friends they made. One person in particular lent them a helping hand in Utah, where Joinville says you can’t make your ATV street legal.

“We were trailered by a now very good friend of ours who volunteered to help us,” says Joinville. “He stumbled upon our web site and emailed us offering to trailer us through.

“Many other spontaneously offered to help also. Some sent us their own maps, others bought maps and sent them to us, free. Another guy sent a CD of maps with most, if not all, of Utah ATV trails on it. Others just emailed us asking if they could meet us along the way somewhere. Another now good friend got busy posting updates about our web site on about 25 ATV related forums. That brought tons of traffic to our web site which is totally cool. Those are just some examples of the kind of reaction of support we got all along the way.”

Both Joinville and Labonté say the people they met, not the places they saw, have provided the best memories of their journey.

“It’s definitely what surprised us and delighted us the most,” says Joinville. “The reaction of the people we met all along the way. Not only are they curious and interested, they offer to help, some invite us for dinner, most compliment us and tell us things like: ‘I admire you guys’ or ‘You're my new heroes.’ We appreciate that very much. We realize how fortunate we are to do this and to have folks say this to us. Not many people will have that chance in life.”

It may come as a surprise to some that even though they have had their trip of a lifetime, both agree that they would love to do something like this again.

“Definitely. We have tons of ideas,” says Labonté. “Some would make this ride look like a day ride.

“Also, to all those who might be thinking of doing something similar, we would say do it. Don’t wait, you’ve dreamed about it, start planning it and do it.”