Brownstein: Unlikely nomad on the move again at age 72

Brownstein: Unlikely nomad on the move again at age 72

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“My plan is not having a plan; I go where the road will take me,” says Micheline Lupien, who’s on her way to Spain for a 222-km “mini hike.”

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A nomad can be defined as a person with no fixed residence who roams about the land. A wanderer, if you will.

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Micheline Lupien has no fixed address, other than her trusty Dodge Grand Caravan, in which she lives, cooks and sleeps on the road, and she has a case of seemingly unparalleled wanderlust. A modern-day nomad, to be sure.

When not cruising around this continent in her van — be it odysseys through Quebec, B.C., Nova Scotia and the U.S. — she likes to go for walks. Long walks, that is. On this continent and in Europe.

In the years prior to the pandemic, Lupien had twice trekked over 500 kilometres, following an ancient pilgrimage route leading to the sacred Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela, where according to legend the remains of James the Great, patron saint of Spain, are held. Those hikes took her less than three weeks each to finish.

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On Saturday, Lupien heads off to Spain again — on an airplane — for what she considers a more mini trek, a 222-kilometre pilgrimage from Malaga to beyond Cordoba. She estimates it will take her nine days to complete this mission.

Lupien is 72 years young.

“I’m not a religious person at all,” she says in a phone interview, on her way from Drummondville to Montreal. “I see this really as ‘une grande promenade.’ I just love the fresh air and the sights, and the opportunity to meet interesting people.”

Lupien has never seen the Oscar-winning film Nomadland, or even heard of it until the question is posed to her. But her coiffeuse daughter, Chantal Paradis, who has a fixed Montreal address, insists Lupien’s life has to be more dramatic and inspirational than that of the lead Nomadland character (played by Frances McDormand, an Oscar recipient for her work.)

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“Nomadland was too sombre,” Paradis says. “My mother lives a truly joyous existence.”

“I was born the fourth in a family of 12 children — and that should explain my need for liberty,” Lupien jokes.

But no joke, Lupien was left virtually paralyzed at the age of 25, due to a congenital spinal issue. She underwent a major operation, and doctors feared she might never walk again. But she was absolutely determined, and after two years of intense therapy, she beat the odds. And then some.

“I had to learn to walk all over again when I was 25,” she says. “It wasn’t easy. The rehabilitation process was very hard. But the doctors told me I would have to keep moving constantly, or I could suffer a setback.”

She took heed.

Lupien, mother of two daughters and divorced when her kids were young, had lived a non-nomadic existence up until 24 years ago. She had owned a fashionable boutique on St-Denis St., had run a restaurant in Nicolet and, somewhat ironically, had even toiled as a real-estate broker.

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“I started to suffer from (the excruciating pain condition) fibromyalgia, so it was necessary that I change my lifestyle,” she says. “My kids were grown up, so I decided it was time to see the world, whether by driving around or walking.”

Lupien had big plans prior to the pandemic. She wanted to do Cape Breton’s 300-kilometre Cabot Trail, mostly by foot, and take another hike through the Pyrenees mountain range between France and Spain. But Paradis insisted she stay grounded and safe during the height of the pandemic, and not in her van, but in the Drummondville home of some friends who were living elsewhere.

“She had really felt shut in,” Paradis says. “Her walks would kill me. But she lives for them. Still she did manage a little bit of exercise just before the pandemic, like walking 145 kilometres from Nicolet to visit me in Montreal.”

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“It really wasn’t that much of a walk,” Lupien protests. “I even stopped twice along the way to sleep.”

When Lupien returns from Spain, she will touch base with her daughters and two grandchildren. Then she’ll hit the road for a four-month odyssey. She’s not sure where she’ll be going.

“My plan is not having a plan. I go where the road will take me. That’s the beauty of being a free spirit. You just never know what kind of adventure can come your way. It’s never boring, that’s for sure.

“People may think I’m a little hard-headed and stubborn at times — and really I am, although I like to think of myself as simply a person of character,” she says, before breaking out into a big laugh.

“While it may sound like I’m living a solitary existence, the reality is that even a nomad like me is never alone. I see so many people. I’m surrounded by all kinds of life. I wouldn’t trade this life for anything.”

[email protected]

twitter.com/billbrownstein

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