N.B. school bus driver gets hero's welcome after returning from Everest base camp
Luc LeBlanc came home to a hero's welcome this week after fulfilling a life-long dream.
The 56-year-old from Atholville, a small community that's now part of Campbellton, reached base camp on Mount Everest, the Earth's highest peak above sea level.
He travelled half way around the world and then spent nine days of strenuous hiking just to reach the camp, an elevation of 5,364 metres or 17,598 feet.
But as exhilarating as that experience was, it's the welcome he received upon his return, from the children of Le Galion des Appalaches school, that really moved him.
On Monday morning, the school bus driver was met by the students of the francophone K-8 school in Campbellton.
"The entire school is outside and waiting for me with all kinds of big cards and billboards, welcoming me back and congratulating me on my trek," recalled LeBlanc.
The students waved handmade signs and cheered for Monsieur Luc, as they call him.
"It was just overwhelming," said LeBlanc by phone on Tuesday morning.
And it wasn't just because he was still exhausted and jet-lagged after getting home on Sunday evening.
"I'm pretty sure if I would have been in really good shape and everything, it still would have been overwhelming."
"It's been like a wild ride," LeBlanc said.
WATCH | Meet the bus driver who went up a mountain and came down a hero:
The trek was both a lifetime in the making and last minute.
Since he was a "little kid" he's wanted to climb Mount Everest in the Himalaya mountain range, and has been drawn to hiking and climbing his whole life. Ten years ago, he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa.
Worth every penny
In January, when he talked about Everest's base camp, his girlfriend told him not to put it off any longer.
He said the trip was planned in about a month, and he left on March 3 for Nepal. He went alone and hired a team to help him accomplish his dream.
That's the reason it's a "once-in-a-lifetime trip," he said.
And it's not cheap.
"I don't even think I'm going to look at the total. I'll just say, well, it's over and it's gone and that's it."
But it was worth every penny, he said.
He knew it would be physically tough, but he was surprised at the number of people that had to be lifted from the mountain by helicopter .
The closest he can come to explaining how tough the lack of oxygen makes the hike is to compare it to jogging with a straw in your mouth as your only source of oxygen. The further up the mountain hikers go, the less oxygen there is.
"If you don't want it really inside deep, you'll not make it, but if you really want it deep inside and push yourself to the limit, you'll make it," said LeBlanc.
"Every little move takes an effort. Just tying your shoes takes an effort."
After nine days, LeBlanc and his guide made it to base camp. Since everything is so carefully planned and guided, LeBlanc said he only had about 10 or 15 minutes to enjoy the view before they had to head back down.
Nine days to get up and only three to get back down.
'It's another world'
LeBlanc took about 2,500 pictures — and not a single one does the mountain justice, he said.
"No pictures can really truly show you what it is like there. It's another world. You feel like you're not even on this planet," he said.
"It's surreal. It's so big it's surreal."
LeBlanc figured he should finish unpacking before deciding on what his next adventure will be.
"Well, if I'd be a millionaire, I'd go up to the top of Everest, but I'll never afford to go up there."
Although the summit is only another 3,500 metres in elevation, conditions are a lot tougher at the top. It's a lot colder, there's much less oxygen and the whole trip requires a lot more resources and therefore, a lot more money.
LeBlanc said money is the only thing keeping him from his dream adventure.
"Right now, I'd go tomorrow morning again."