Steven Le Hyaric, the ultra-cyclist who lives (on) his dreams

Steven Le Hyaric is 35 years old but has already lived several lives! He is now an adventurer, explorer and lecturer.

An elite cyclist, he gave up on turning professional after a disappointing French championship, during which his manager "abandoned" him. He became responsible for the communication of high-level athletes and accompanied the French triathlon team to the Rio Olympic Games in 2016. But in contact with these quasi-professional champions, he discovered the sport business in which he did not see himself continuing. An accomplished sportsman (ultra cyclist, ultra trailer, ultra triathlete), he left to meditate in Nepal in 2017, and decided to embark on personal projects that would fill him up. He crossed the Himalayas by bike on the Great Himalaya Trail in 60 days (5,000 km at over 4,500 m carrying his bike on his back on the climbs). He is cycling from Paris to Dakar (3000 km in 10 days) to raise awareness about global warming in 2019. Since our meeting, he has also experienced adventures as a duo, with Perrine Fages. They have tackled the frozen Lake Baikal, and Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa! And today he has just beaten the record for the North Cape 4000 race, which starts in Italy and reaches the North Cape at the tip of Finland. First, in 10 days and 10 hours, or 414 km per day. 15 days after crossing the Namib desert (1st stage of his challenge, the 666 project: crossing the 6 harshest deserts on the planet by bike (Arctic, Antarctic, Simpson, Gobie, Atacama, Namib), on 6 continents, in 6 months. There's no stopping him!

I met him on February 3rd 2019 in Paris to share his journey with you. I am sure he will be inspiring. Beyond his extraordinary physical performance and his commitment to the planet, I admire his ability to do. To undertake. To make his dreams come true. He is a DO-ER.

YB - Hello Steven, first of all I would like to understand where the flame that gives you this impetus comes from...

SLH - I am inhabited by something that is bigger than me. I always tell the same story. About my childhood, certainly, my education. I'm from Brittany, I was brought up in the 93 in the working class neighbourhoods. In a world where people tell you "we'll try to get by", before knowing how you'll succeed. I have this rage to overcome, to succeed. A tough dad, who has done quite well in life. A guy who is committed, who has values, who has a heart, and above all the energy to do. In the end, I believe that my strength comes from this exemplarity, this thing of not giving up. Everything prepares me for the challenges I set myself. No one is ever where they are by chance. I try to do what I love today with the weapons I have. My benevolence. My courage. I truly believe that these are my most important talents.

You know, I used to say to my mother between the ages of 5 and 8 that I didn't want to become intelligent because when you are intelligent you know, and when you know you are sad! I can tell you that she looked at me strangely. And I hadn't read the books I've read since... But I've always needed to confront myself with who I was, with my own reality. My strengths, my weaknesses.

YB - There have also been key stages that have built you up, or that have corrected your trajectory. And the search for meaning which has always been a compass for your path.

SLH - Yes, I had only one dream in my life. One real dream that mattered: to be a professional cyclist. When I stop that... Imagine! They say that when you're a top athlete, you mourn your sporting career between 5 and 7 years. I've only just finished this mourning phase. I've been through hell. You stop everything, you no longer exist. Cycling was hard. You train 6 to 7 hours a day, and you lose all the time. How many races do you actually win in your life? My manager would come in at the end of the race and say: "Guys, I don't think you ever question yourselves"; whereas during the race I didn't stop! Did he question himself while smoking a cigarette with his arm out the window? But I still have friends in the pro peloton. They don't question themselves. They go on without questioning. It's only when you start to understand things that you finally become aware of them. Like someone who knows that eating a certain food is bad, well he stops eating it. Something you don't see, doesn't exist. That was my first real slap in the face.

Then I understood that when you are a top athlete, an artist, a singer, a comedian, a humorist, you like to make people laugh but you need love. You have a huge need for love, for affection. You need to exist ten times more than others... and so you dare. My talent was to dare. My energy comes from all this. I also took I'm aware that we live in a world with limited resources, in a world that is perhaps a finite world. So I want to experience a lot of things. I want to live life to the full. I want to pass on to people. To experience everything. And living everything is not buying everything! We confuse having with being. I'm not interested in buying, in owning things. I don't have a house, I don't care. I just crash at friends' houses. I don't even have many friends because I'm very sensitive. I get too attached to the people I like, so I get disappointed very quickly, and so I protect myself from that. A guy once asked me this question at a conference: "Have you thought about saving? So first of all, I have no money, or even less than nothing. And two, I save happiness I save moments I save memories but the rest I cannot do.

YB - You have a lot of energy.

SLH - I don't know if I have a lot of energy. My life energy is limited. However, I use all my vital energy in one direction. At the moment, I am putting myself in danger again. In the gym, I'm going back to my basic physiological preparation. I do yoga, squats. I'm questioning myself on things that were supposedly taken for granted. You have to question yourself every day. So I prepare myself. And I'm not saying it's always easy.

I went for a drive, another 5 ½ hours the day before yesterday. I promise you, after 10 minutes I wanted to turn around. I didn't want to. It didn't make sense. The only sense I had was to go and drink the little coffee I had after 50 km. That's all it was. But I did it for that. I drank that coffee, I set off again and miraculously it started to open up! It's always the same thing, you have to have the courage to go and see what's behind the mountain. You see, knowing how to accept these little sufferings, these little pains, these little headaches, to say in fact it's cool... In the end I experienced something.

When you start to realise that we all have a responsibility on earth, a mission and that ESPECIALLY you are capable of doing it, obviously when you have the character I have, it gives you confidence, power. It makes you want to achieve. It is a virtuous circle.

YB - This is also what I experienced in my professional life. I started my own business because I had lost my sense of purpose. When you go to work just to avoid paying rent on your flat when you retire, you tell yourself that there is something else to do! And in the end I found much more strength in this situation than in the one I had before!

SLH - Because it's you! It's a focus on you. You come back to yourself. Who are you? what do you like? what makes you tick? it's a constant projection. From a very young age you are put into a tunnel: the tunnel of the nursery, the nursery school, the primary school, the secondary school, the prep school, the school and then you have a job. But at what point did you express your true personality? Everyone wants to do the same thing. We all want to do nothing and make a lot of money. But in fact, to achieve something, you have to work to death. And when that doesn't make sense... it's hard. So you have to find the meaning that will motivate you every day. If I didn't make sense of my life, I'd almost be dead. But people have never been taught to make sense.

With all that I see, hear and feel, I see how societies mutate. I tell myself that I don't have the right to pretend to live a life that is not my own. So I go for it. My hobby is to do things, to live moments. It's just capitalising on memories. I saw my manager again three days ago and he said to me: "I have the impression that you are going in all directions". It's true. Everyone has the impression that I'm going in all directions. But in fact I know exactly where I want to go. I would have loved to have had an adventurous dad. I wish someone had told me stories. I want to tell stories because I have the impression that people love to listen to them. People want to discover, to dream. And I find that really reassuring.

YB - So the notion of sharing is very important to you?

SLH - Yes, it is essential. When I cross the Himalayas it's to meet people... Before, during, after the race. Because I want to share everything. I would like to have cameras instead of eyes. Obviously I am able to transcribe things very well. Sometimes even bigger than what they are. I experience such strong things that I always want to share them. I see so many unhappy people, so many people on their sofas, sad. It's not possible. I have a friend who is in a wheelchair. Tetraplegic. He's in Antarctica now. Antarctica! He's the first guy who's gonna ride on the Antarctic. I'm serious! When you see that, you can't complain. Besides, I figured it was just a waste of time. You have to accept reality as it is, who you are. And work from there. By the way, if I go back to sharing, that will be the real difficulty with my next challenge: if I don't meet anyone it's possible that I'll be in great difficulty. Because it wouldn't make sense. You know - it sucks to say this - but when I did iron-man I felt like that. Because I wasn't able to make the event live and share it with people. It was like cycling. Except that I was all alone.

YB - Sylvain Tesson says that the tragedy of man is to have the choice. When you are in the adventure you regret your comfort and when you are in your sofa you regret the wind on your calves... How do you make your choices?

SLH - The basis of everything is to make a choice and see it through to the end. But the nature of man is to want what he does not have. Tesson says it very well. On the other hand I also have the certainty that there are things written, or that there is always something behind the mountain. You see, I met you in Chamonix. I had just spotted the Evergreen 258 trail course, I was experiencing something great, and I wanted to be there. You make choices and I meet you there. That's how things work out in life. We are interconnected. And I could have made this journey faster and I wouldn't have met you. Everything is like that in life. When I go to the Himalayas. There are people who tell me you could have done it faster, shorter. Everyone sees what they want in life in relation to these filters. I say to myself that I could have done better. Meet more people. Be easier. Not to have hurt my back. You can always do that. But I did! You talk about a doer. A doer is someone who goes for it. You could say he screwed up... No, no. It's just that in other companies (in the US for example) if you haven't screwed up 3 times, they don't put money in your box. I've crashed 1000 times. When I go to train for a 300 km ride in winter I get a round. Except that I crash and nobody sees it.

YB - But it becomes an experience! When you fail, you grow.

SLH - Of course. Everything is an experience. Everything is good for you. You have to go for it. But if you feel that you are not on the right path, then you have to either turn right or turn back. The Himalayas, I wouldn't have done it otherwise. Neither would Dakar. If I did it like that, it's because I don't know how to do otherwise. But before the Himalayas, I was in burnout, and before Dakar I broke my shoulder blade 3 weeks before leaving! People told me you'll never make it... Adventure is a mixture of a lot of preparation that reassures you and a lot of energy to say, now I'm going for it! In fact, an adventurer is above all an entrepreneur and an entrepreneur is above all an adventurer.

YB - Of course. And you function by capillarity. The energy you give, some people take it to live your project by proxy. Because they wouldn't have the courage to do it. Because they have different ties to you.

SLH - Some say, 666 but what a provocation! Of course it's a provocation. But don't we live in a world that is bound to disappear as it is anyway? 666 is hope. I am a great dreamer, a great idealist. And this project could also become 777 if I cross an ocean, right? Of course I have to be in this world to be able to change it... if I didn't see any prospects I wouldn't do anything. I could have stayed in Nepal. I could have done what a lot of guys do who never come back... because they don't want to see the world as it is. The world is what exists. In the silent meditations I did in Nepal, they teach you that. You have to accept things as they are. When you are an entrepreneur, you don't feel like it every day. There are times when you break down. "You have to lie to yourself so much to believe that you're going to make it that at some point you do!" and then everyone believes you! But in fact you've been lying to yourself the whole time! When I set up the 666 project I had no polar experience! If I tell you what I'm thinking about, you'll be amazed: I want a long bike, a cargo bike with more pressure on the snow, a wind turbine on the back of my pulka because I'm going to drag a sled behind me. Bike components that can withstand -50°. But what's the point? Not much. But this I do. An entrepreneur is the same thing. It's a struggle. Plus, as soon as you want to put eco-responsibility in, it's a headache!

YB - I agree, I live it every day! You have several additional complications. You're fighting to set up an extremely imposing adventure in terms of ambition. Then you're going to live it, with a very engaging physical dimension. And you double your wager with a testimony to make people want to change! These are completely different issues. Wanting to change people's habits is almost a bigger challenge than your physical commitment!

SLH - What happens very often with me is that I put so much meaning into my adventures (and I put so much pressure on myself with that) that the meaning goes beyond the movement. And people forget that the Paris by Dakar in 15 days, even for me, is not easy. It's not easy to do 300 km a day, to ride in 45° temperatures, to walk with a bike and a bag on your back at 4500 m or 5500 m altitude. It's not very human but at the same time I did it. And these are unique moments. It's not a race to be the pioneer, no. It's just a childhood dream come true! I was up there, I was riding on that. I did it! That's what's so crazy. You see I was talking about my dream of doing the Tour de France. Finally you see, I think I prefer to do that ! Because it's me. It's not thousands of guys who have done this thing. It's pure! Wow. In my adventures, there are 50 messages. It can be spirituality, it can be displacement, realisation, appeasement, climate change, the reality of the terrain. Everything! In fact, adventure is a life on the fast track. I'm always asking myself. There are days when I have established certainties, great confidence in myself... and they are broken the next day! If you write down, with dashes like this, all the key points you experienced in a day, it's super rich! Everything is like that. Everything everything. And that's what I like. It's adding life to life! with common sense.

And there are people who come along and try to make me understand that I won't be able to do it, and I still doubt it because it's argued... In fact, you are the only one who knows. The others have a point of view. But only you know. And nobody else believes in you as strongly.

YB - That also echoes what I'm experiencing. The need to forge a strong conviction about the direction to follow because it's your project, your certainty. And the need to always listen to the remarks of others because they make sense.

By the way, how do you feel about the notion of risk? I've seen you descend crazy slopes in Nepal, super narrow, super steep, super long... You're crossing limits here that you didn't suspect... Is this part of the flame that drives you?

SLH - Yes I love it! I am afraid of my limits every day. It is to know this frontier that I am embarking on these adventures. I love this feeling! Mind you, I'm 33 years old, so I've been cycling for 28 years. 22 years in competition. When I tell you that I've had runs like that, I've had them. And when you're 5 or 6, 8, 10 years old and you're with 8, 15, 18 year old guys in your cycling club because you're too strong, you do 40 km instead of 20 km, you do runs that are not at all suitable for a kid of your age, you crash, you start again, you crash... and that's it ! that's how I learned. It's the repetition that creates the experience. I'm not oblivious. I am ambitious. I know I can do it. Everything brought me here. I used to freak out sometimes, it's true. I was screaming because I had extraordinary sensations. That's the thrill. Feel the sensation! When was the last time you felt it? In Nepal we went down for 7 hours!

YB - Precisely, you couldn't make any runs like that here?

SLH - That's why I travel! To experience things that I can't experience here. In real life it's exactly the same. It's just longer, that's all. It's like a sailor doing his rounds in the Gulf of Morbihan. When there's no wind. But learning the technique is the main thing. It's going back to the basics. When I coach someone it's key for me to get back to basics. Perrine -Fages- who came to ride with me from Lhasa to Kathmandu in the Himalayas, who dreamt of understanding my love for this country. I told her. Concentrate on your practice. There's no point in complaining about the stones. There's no point in getting worked up about everything. There's no point in fighting with yourself, with others, with the goats that are looking at you innocently. Don't fight with anything. Let it go. Concentrate on your breathing, on your pedalling, on your ventilation. You cover yourself, you uncover yourself.

YB - How do you live your adventure then in the end, if you concentrate on your practice during the effort?

SLH - You live it, it's obvious... because it's this discipline that will help you to see it through! During the Great Himalaya Trail, I had a sherpa who wanted to do the beach kéké. I kept telling him to concentrate on his practice: there were 1.20m steps that he went down with his bike equipped with 110mm forks. He broke his two hubs, his chain once, his two brake pads and in the end he had to return to Kathmandu for 4 days to repair his bike! He does what he wants. But I was always on the road... You mustn't get carried away! Because the penalty is immediate. Every time I've started to get intoxicated in my life, I've been slammed! Mike Horn says it: "I really prefer moments of intense suffering to moments of happiness, because I know that after a moment of intense suffering there is a moment of happiness. It's hard to think that! But being able to manage the adventure over time sometimes outweighs the immediate pleasure! And being focused at the right moment often saves you too! Finally, I think that you have to live things with a bit of distance. If I live things as I really am, with the intensity I have inside, with my chronic hypersensitivity... I die! I fall in love with all the Nepalese women I meet on the road. I want to stay with the cows or with a donkey because I want to do everything. You see, if I listen to myself in the Himalayas, I stop the bike, I climb the mountain, and I do that 150 times. Because that's how I am. But at the same time, I had chosen this path! So I went back each time. That's consistency.

YB - And what does physical performance bring you? For example, I do sport to keep my freedom. I tell myself that tomorrow, if I want to climb a mountain, I'll still be able to do it. Does the same logic apply to you?

SLH - u know, I find it hard to look at myself in the mirror when I have a big belly, because I don't feel good...and yet I never wanted to chase the perfect body. For me it's not about being beautiful, it's about being strong. Because I know that at some point I will need it for my adventures. I always put myself in condition to leave. That's the spice of life. Being able to leave at the drop of a hat. Life is like that. It's being ready every day. It's having the capacity, at any moment, to undergo mental and physical difficulties that can totally turn you upside down. And if you have that, you already have that mental and physical structure to deal with it... and that's good. Because doing sports to look good is cool. It's very 2020. It's even very 2010. But I've seen guys who looked like nothing who were war machines. One example! The only one who crossed the Simpson desert was Louis Philippe Loncke. Louis Philippe is a Belgian with a big belly. That didn't stop him from being european adventurer of the year 2016 ! That doesn't mean anything.

YB - And who are your inspirations?

SLH - Wow. It's a mixture of Mike Horn, Sylvain Tesson, Mathieu Ricard, the Dalai Lama, the enlightenment philosophers and at the same time some very benevolent guys. It's going back to simple things. The great explorers, the great aviators in history. Things that are beyond me.

YB - Do you need these anchors?

SLH - Yes and no. In fact, it's there. I just think, as people say sometimes for me, if he did it, it's possible. And in life, you obviously have to have hooks. BUT FOCUSING ON OTHERS WHEN YOU DON'T KNOW YOURSELF IS USELESS! I also focus on what I have already done. I gain confidence from my own experience. Sometimes announcing it is more anxiety than anything else. Because when you're in it, when you're injured, when you have two tendinitises in your knees after three days to go to Dakar, you start to think that it's hot. There are people who have told me, you have to rethink the project. It would be nice to say that we don't care, that we'll do it in 60 days. Well, no, I've left it at that because I'm not impotent yet. Maybe one day I will. Maybe one day I'll say I'm doing a transatlantic race, I'll take 20 kids with me and we'll do a transatlantic race and they'll pull the boat. And we do a total sharing thing. We don't care about speed. But today I still need to erase this ego. To think of myself as an adventurer is a totally egocentric thing. It's telling myself that I'm a bit unique. It is then effectively a filiation with the people I admire. Like Tesson, like everyone. Because the explorer leaves alone! And who's going to check what really happened? I try to show everything. People can come, I'm open to that. But those who have spent time with me know that. I still push a lot. Because I need it. But it's always rich, it's strong, it's intense. Yes, I live extraordinary things!

YB - You know that at some point you will stop?

SLH - Yes, yes. I've said that. You see, at the moment I'm preparing the 666 project. I'm looking for funding to make the 6 episodes. But at some point I'll just want to leave! Just want to have fun! This is not fun. I could take it as a game, but I don't have fun every day. Because I have the frustration of every day having to beg and prove to the world that I am great. And finally that I am better than the others. It's always saying: look at me, how strong I am, how good I am... I gave up on that four years ago, precisely because I wasn't enjoying it. And I'm back to it! In fact, when you have a big project you are obliged to return to the world you have rejected a little. It's not that I reject it, it's that I can't do it! I don't know how to talk about money, I can hardly negotiate. I know I have media value. I try to sell myself and my projects. But it's heavy! You see, November and December were very hard, after we met. I always have lows around the holidays because you're moving on to another year, There's this thing about families, about time passing that you haven't exploited, and I realise of course that I've decided to be alone. So it's harder. But I also see this kind of constraint: you have to have the Christmas tree, you have to have the turkey, the baubles... And then the inconsistencies: be careful, there's no climate change, but you have 50 Amazon Prime packages under the tree... It's this thing that revolts me and that I have to deal with...

YB - I'm convinced that it's a question of timing. There is a gap between what you had imagined and the time it will take you. But you'll get there! You talked about the Alpsman in one of your films. But you can see that on an event like that, you have ups and downs. But you start again. It's the same here. This is the example of your life. Your experience proves that. If you are bad in December, you will start again in February.

SLH - The questioning sometimes goes further. Am I in the right place? Am I too big for France? Is the project too ambitious for a country that thinks small? There are big entrepreneurs here, but they are not necessarily the ones who will put money into Steven Le Hyaric. And yet climate change is a real emergency. It's happening every day. I said that again on social networks recently because I had a criticism related to Canada Goose which helps me a little bit. The critics had Porsches, Nike, Netflix on their profile pictures. And they were criticizing me for being helped by Canada Goose who still makes real fur? What's dirtier? Canada Goose still using fur, which I obviously don't wear? It's a world of communication. The little foxes, the coyotes, you shouldn't touch them. Polar bears are not to be touched either. But on the other hand, if it's a shark, it doesn't matter, because it's mean. We are in a world of communication. It saddens me, because we don't all have the perspective. People never look in the mirror to understand how their habits position them in relation to the environment! I never buy anything, I don't eat meat, I only travel by bike and there are guys who came down on me for that! It really offended me.

YB - Yes but Steven you can't get everyone behind you! That's the difficulty of your projects. You were talking about prism and experience earlier. You have to accept, from the moment you are a public man, that you can't get everyone behind you. The important thing is that you feel consistent with your values.

SLH - Of course. But it was just an education thing. You see what happened when Australia went up in flames. People are sad because there were millions of cute little animals that disappeared... But what's the most important thing to remember? It's not the consequence but the cause! It's that Australia has the most disgusting fossil index in the world and they're still consolidating their coal industry! My aim is just to put references in people's heads and say "step back, take a step aside, look at things differently, and try to see how you can change things at your level".

YB - You are right. It is education. But it's complex! I live this contradiction of ecology in textiles. If everyone had the same level of knowledge and if there were absolute truths, it would be easier.

SLH - There are always people who like you or who don't like you. But this wasn't that. It was, "I don't want to hear your arguments. You can tell me what I want, proven or not, I don't care. And I never want to know. The number of these detractors is microscopic compared to the encouragement I get. But there are people who don't want to know. Because otherwise we all want to die, it's too big an effort. That hurts me. Because they are at the same intellectual level as I was when I was 15, and they cut themselves off from any prospect of change. But, guys, we have things to do! And we can do them together. Let's shake hands and act. Maybe we can teach each other stuff, pass on stuff. But having such sclerotic value judgements... I'm already fighting myself for that you know!

YB - You are an adventurous entrepreneur and educator!

SLH - But today I have approached almost all the manufacturers. If Patagonia says to me tomorrow we'll give you €150,000, of which €50,000 is for clothes, then we'll go ahead, that's great. But they don't even answer me. They don't say it's hard, it's not the time, we don't know how to put it together...but it's what you do. They get thousands of them. But it can still be interesting to see how you touch people? it's a lot of energy and my energy, whatever people say, is still limited.

YB - But you have a project that is super ambitious Steven!

SLH - I know. I was once told that I had to lower my emotional level. A psychologist told me that. But she didn't realise that this is what kept me alive, even surviving!

To follow Steven's news and support him in his projects, here are the websites where he shares his adventures!