FORT KENT, Maine — While many people dream of traveling the world, there probably aren’t many who would do it in the ways Zoe Agasi and Olivier Van Herck have for the past three years.
The couple, who visited four continents and 20 countries since leaving from The Netherlands in 2016, recently arrived in Fort Kent via the Northern Forest Canoe Trail.
What makes the pair’s expedition unique is that Agasi, 27, and Van Herck, 31, have only journeyed by means of human-powered or nonmotorized travel: biking, sailing, hiking and canoeing.
They plan to add cross-country skiing to the mix when they leave Fort Kent for Newfoundland by way of Quebec in a few weeks.
It is by all means fortuitous that the most recent leg of their journey has brought Agasi and Van Herck to the Fort Kent home of Carl and Pat Theriault, since both Theriaults are heavily involved with the Fort Kent Outdoor Center, and Carl Theriault was recently named Nordic Ski Coach of the Year by the Maine Principals Association.
While traveling through Rangeley on the canoe trail, the couple met up by chance with Andy Shepard, who is a friend of the Theriaults’. Agasi and Van Herck asked Shepard if he knew someone in Fort Kent they could stay with for a few days once they completed the canoe trail. Shepard contacted the Theriaults who were more than willing to help out.
“We always like sharing our home with travelers and young people that need a reasonable place to stay while chasing their dreams, be it Nordic skiers, biathletes or world travelers,” Theriault said. “They have been great house guests. They are very helpful with all the chores. They cook great international meals that they have learned in their travels. And it has been a good chance to give them some coaching on skiing and equipment needs for their next phase of travel on skis pulling their gear in a punk.”
The couple have bicycled through Europe, sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to Africa and then to Brazil, and bicycled again through South America, Central America and Mexico before crossing the border on their bicycles into the United States, where they cycled some more before hiking a third of the Appalachian Trail, and then heading north on canoe.
The couple estimates they have bicycled between 16,000 and 17,000 miles along the way.
Agasi of Amsterdam and Van Herck of Belgium are both engineers who met on a ski holiday in France eight years ago. In 2012, they began saving money for their mutual dream of a human-powered world adventure.
Agasi, who is also a former professional rugby player, said she and Van Herck shared a common interest in wanting to take the journey.
“We are both athletic people that need to move our bodies,” she said.
“We want to explore the world,” Van Herck added. “I had colleagues who are older and they dreamed of doing things after retirement but then got sick. Now we’re young.”
The couple rationed in their savings plan $20 per day to spend over the years, and brought along a tent to sleep in, but found it was not always necessary.
“We would never expect so many people to help us,” Van Herck said. “We ended up sleeping more in people’s houses than in our tent, so that’s how we survived. We only met nice people. There are many more good people in the world than bad people.”
“We have never, ever felt threatened in someone’s house,” Agasi added. “It shows the world is very trustful.”
That’s not to say they didn’t meet some challenges along their way. Both Agasi and Van Herck were bitten by wild dogs in South America within a matter of weeks.
“Going to the hospital there was worse than being bitten by the dogs,” Van Herck said, explaining that there is limited availability to see doctors and an extreme wait time at the hospital.
Olivier also became seasick on the sailboat. “He said ‘I’m never, ever, ever going on a sailing boat again,’” Agasi said.
The couple has maintained an online travel blog throughout their adventure on which they explain their motivation.
“We want to inspire and convince other people to discover the world on their own. We are convinced that this is the best way to travel. It is a sustainable way of traveling, healthy for the body and the mind, and close to the local culture and nature. By setting an example and telling stories ourselves, we want to show that this way of traveling is possible for everyone. We want people to be aware of the beautiful nature and culture on this earth. The consciousness to protect and care for this earth.”
The couple agreed that they feel at home in Fort Kent, and it is one of the places they have most enjoyed visiting thus far.
“For the first time in three years, I feel that I really could live here,” Van Herck said. “I really liked Argentina and Colombia for lots of reasons but would not stay there.”
Pat Theriault was in full support of the couple’s project.
“We love what they are doing and admire them for their strategic planning, dedication, endurance, and tenacity to accomplish their adventures,” Pat Theriault said. “Our personalities easily clicked, and we are inspired to offer a place for them to regroup and plan their next amazing human-powered adventure with their message of peace and concern for our planet.”
Agasi and Van Herck said they will most likely take an airplane from Newfoundland to northern Europe, where they plan to rollerblade back to the Netherlands.