TransAlp, Chapter I


A part of the game

TransAlp by Jean-Marc Joseph, Chapter I

Alpine beauty is pure harmony. Still, you will find enemies on your way. The powerful and heavy rainfalls, the steep paths and the long climbs won’t make your route easier. Indeed, they challenge your motivation and test your will. Jean-Marc Joseph is a freelance documentary photographer and director from Belgium, based in Barcelona. He and his bunch of friends became bike buddies after a journey across the Pyrenees and since then, they wanted to try a tougher experience. In the months before setting off, Jean-Marc together with Alex, Eugenio and David had a few meetings and studied the hard climbs and the easy paths on their route: finally they got in the saddle and started from Salzburg, Austria, all the way to Milan, Italy, crossing high mountains and skirting national borders. This is the chronicle of their journey.


How did the idea for this travel come out?

We did the Trans-Pyrenees last year with the same group of friends. It is a pretty similar kind of challenge, with 1000km / 20.000m cumulative elevation gain. During that trip, we started to make jokes saying that next year we would cross the Alps. And in the end, this joke became a reality.


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Who are you?

Who am I (laughs, ed.)? Like many people, I’m still trying to figure it out… and experiences like “TransAlp” are part of the process… I’ve read somewhere on your website, that “Traveling is taking a journey into yourself” and, well, I guess it’s true. That said, if you want to hear the classical story, at some point in my life I had a good job, my monthly salary, my little routine, I could consider myself as fortunate. But in 2012, the company decided to close the Spanish offices and stop doing film in-house. I didn’t want to leave Spain yet and neither to get back to graphic design again, so I left the company. This ‘crisis’ moment was stressful, but has been actually the best thing that ever happened to me. Since two years I’m freelance and I probably earn one-third of the money I made each month, I had to leave my 75m2 loft to rent a room in a shared apartment, change my lifestyle, but… despite all this, I feel more happy than ever. And I think it’s because I feel more free.



My priorities changed. I started a process of getting more detached from material things. Before this happened, I though it was really important to spend six months looking on the internet to find that exact Eames table and chairs of 1969 for my living room. Now? I feel so happy that I don’t have any personal furniture to take care of, the day I eventually decide to pack and go to live to another country. It’s sounds like a topic, but owning less, means less worries… it’s a proven fact. Of course, I’m not saying everyone has to live like this, but this is at least how I find my personal happiness. I flew to New York initially for a month but a few days before my return, I extended my trip to join the crew of a feature film and work as “On Set Behind the Scene Photo– and Videographer”. It took place during a snowy winter of February, in the deepest woods of Maine, near the Canadian border… There, I had a priceless opportunity to freely develop a passion I had since a long time; photography.


How did you take decisions on the route to take?

There are thousands of ways to cross the Alps. David was the team member that owns a GPS and did the main work of investigation. We have to admit that we were all a bit lazy to make this off-site preparation work. We ended up with two possible tracks that had some common parts. One option had more asphalt and the other more forest tracks. Having two options allowed us to have a B-plan in case we didn’t like it, or didn’t make it.


How planned was everything and how much of the journey did you leave to fate? 

Everything was pretty well planned. We have had various preliminary meetings, months before, to sort out all logistical issues, and of course, have some beers. Fun fact, one of the most complicated issue has almost been to figure out how to get four bike carton boxes to Malpenza Malpensa airport to be able to fly back to Barcelona! Luckily, a friend of David who lives in Milan, brough the boxes to his workplace, located next to a train station at 20km from the airport. Problem solved!



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Where does your passion from biking come from?

I’ve always been a biker since a was a child, but I only had a road bike and I discovered mountain biking quiet late, around age 23, when a co-worker proposed me to go for a week to the Alps with a bunch of friends. I didn’t even own a mountain bike, so my friend lend me an old one, equipped with a 100mm fork and no suspension. The very first day, without any preparation, we jumped on a ski-lift, arrived at the top of a very steep downhill track and I remember my friend saying: “put your weight to the back to avoid falling over your handlebar” and he just disappeared. I looked down and freaked out… but the virus never left me. For many years, mountain biking remained a synonym of ‘sunday fun with friends’, doing one-day routes, looking for the best single-tracks to go downhill. It’s only last year, thanks to my friend Alex that invited me to cross the Pyrenees, that I discovered the concept of traveling long distance with the bicycle, which is a whole different experience.

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How important is to choose the right stuff to bring with you? How do you learn to carry just the essential?

It’s crucial to bring the right stuff with you but equally important to not carry the unnecessary. It’s also very important to know how to pack this stuff properly on the bike and get an easy and quick access to the things you will need during the day. When you travel with other people, every error you make affects the rest group directly. I did several one-week-long trips through the Alps, and Morocco too, but never in full autonomy. Alex and Eugenio are both highly experimented travellers with various months-long trips in South America and Asia (Freewheelin’ Asia, a journey featured on eldoradoexperience). David, did several shorter trips in Europe and Morocco. So, all of them gave me precious tips and tricks, but as Einstein said: “Experience is knowledge, all the rest is only information”. So for me, last year’s Transpirenaica has been a major learning. Despite this, the Alps are not the Pyrenees and we’ve suffered much harder weather conditions than in Spain. As a consequence, I left some important items at home, such as winter gloves and rain pants. Again, it’s all about experience!



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You guys pushed, pushed and then pushed again. How tiring it was to climb those peaks all along? How did you deal with the fatigue?

Of course, the objective in the end is to be on the bike as much time as possible. Our goal is to follow the tracks that are as close as possible to the mountain peaks, for the views, but still remain cyclable. But at the end of the day, when you decide to cross the Alps, you know that pushing will be part of the game. You need to be mentally (and physically) prepared for this. That said, we did some planning mistakes and we have pushed a bit more then expected. The problem is that we carry about 15kg of equipment plus food and water on top of our bikes, so the total weight reaches 30kg. We followed some GR trails that were as steep as stairs and forced us to sometimes carry the bikes on top of our shoulders. One day, we climbed 1000m elevation gain like this. It took almost 5 hours. I guess the best way you can deal with it, is humor. We did so many jokes about the pushing that it really helped to forget about the fatigue. Eugenio even invented the term “pushing-bike”, the next trend after mountain-bike…


*The interview with Jean-Marc follows in the next chapter “Of man and nature”, which will be released very soon.




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Photography. Jean-Marc Joseph
Short clips. Jean-Marc Joseph
Drawing. Ángela Palacios
Interview. Vincenzo Angileri Editor 

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Jean-Marc Joseph

Jean-Marc Joseph

Biker, Photographer and Filmmaker
Actual base camp; Barcelona, Spain. Born and raised in Brussels, Belgium where he graduated in Visual Communication. Buys second hand National Geographic magazines. Travels to Canada for a year of experience and starts a winding career at the international agency 'Basedesign' upon return. After 14 years at the agency, he is head of Audiovisuals and a shareholder, he becomes freelance and leaves on a solo trip through South America. Speaking 5 languages, he combines his passion for travel and adventure with image making and storytelling through film and photography.
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