WHAT DISABILITY?: The toughest challenge

Today marks the first week on this extraordinary trip. I don’t think I can stress anymore how much went into the logistics, sponsorship and PR; before even heading off. Then for Kasia and I to collect our important third team member Martin, before driving over 600 miles to John o Groats; it’s fair to say we were tired before even starting!

There’s so much I want to share with you, and will endeavour to do so in the coming weeks. However this post is a very practical and realistic start.

I think you’ll agree the video post outlines many of the positives; the scenery, the laughs and the exploration. Before we carry on with this very life changing trip, I need to ensure you understand the difficulties, the challenges and don’t think travelling over 1100 miles in a wheelchair is simple. It most definitely is not…

I can see why our vision for this project received sufficient funding and media attention. Even though it’s own extremity gave it its own traction; please rest assured this alone took time, patience and persistence. Thanks to Britain’s Personal Best for their huge support!

Beyond money and PR; we needed a team, a wheelchair, a bike, a car, a route, accommodation, a driver/personal care assistant, expedition clothing and food. Before we set off, despite goodwill, certain items were not in place. My wheelchair manufacturer offered to sponsor my charity Scope, but wouldn’t assist with the expedition chair. We were refused a larger vehicle, despite knowledge that it would be possible to receive a loan one. I could go on. Nonetheless we had enough to give this a good shot.

Upon starting, the smaller vehicle packed with many things made it time consuming and difficult to load and drive. Then having to change our accommodation every night means we’re constantly shifting boxes. Even to get out of the car I have to wait for my hoist, shower chair, tray, bags and the bike to be moved. This is separate to the items in the kindly loaned topbox from Halfords. Thank heavens for some supportive companies! I will also add I’m not a diva, nor is Kasia or Martin. We just have 6 weeks of gear, on top of a disabled guys must-haves.

On the first night my hoist legs couldn’t get under the hotel bed. This meant we had to lift the bed legs with blocks for me to get into bed. Fellow hoist users will know they’re always solutions, but this is the best. On some subsequent nights I’ve then been unable to get into the shower, meaning bed baths and sore joints.

I will add here a big thanks to Dougal and Sheena from Courtyard Cottages for their amazing self catered accommodation and generosity sponsoring our charities.

In terms of Kasia and I riding. She’s seemed tired of a night time, but so strong each day. What a girl! I, having struggled to even balance and drive on day one, have felt pretty rough. Not having done so much rough terrain and hills meant I’ve ached a lot. In the end, a women’s pregnancy belt has secured my balance to the wheelchair and driving ability. I’m also having to gaffer-tape my feet to the footplate.

The roads themselves are bouncy, steep and long. However the sights are beautiful. The other drivers in the north of Scotland were smiling and waving. Now in busier towns, people’s wish to hurry on is reducing total positivity, but goodwill remains on the whole.

A couple of days ago our team of three were tired, cautious and retrospective. A bad sign so early on. Following all of these factors, and a call from the Scottish police, we had a wake up call. The police were kind and good natured, but very concerned to us using main roads (especially the A9). It was time to put safety and wellbeing up on our agenda.

Should this trip be me, myself and I; going hell for leather alone would at best lead to exhaustion and a chest infection. At worst, seeing how we rode into Pitlochry yesterday, it could result in a car squashing me. However having the love of my life by my side, Martin behind us in the car, and other road users everywhere; I have responsibilities. I realised the precise nature of the trip had to change.

Guys, this doesn’t mean I’m quitting. Oh no! I considered splitting this into two, or extending it. Neither work for me though. I came back to the projects core aims:

– a personal challenge for us both
– a positive image of disability
– showing disabled people what’s possible, with planning and determination
– highlighting the Britain’s Personal Best (www.whatsyours.org) project

I realised we’ve already achieved this!

Therefore we will carry on with our roaming circus, stop at our planned accommodations, and arrive in Lands End for the 5th October. Only now if my body is ruined, or the team is in danger; we’ll tweak our route accordingly.

So, the first week is finished. We’ve seen a lot of challenges, a lot of problem solving and a lot of learning/growing.

I wonder what week number two will bring.

In the meantime please comment, email martyn@martynsibley.com or tweet @martynsibley with;

– your thoughts
– your questions
– your blog ideas
– your video footage suggestions

Also please give to our charities www.justgiving.com/teams/what-disAbility

Tomorrow we ride over the Forth Bridge, Saturday we reach England and get to Manchester by next Wednesday.

I’m looking forward to sharing the difficult world of accessible accommodation, public attitudes and wheelchair battery changes with you over the next weeks. It’s all tough but exhilarating!

Thanks for your support and stay tuned 🙂

Martyn Sibley

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  • Martyn, totally awesome. Having done two pony drawn trips, Brecon to Birmingham, Exeter to London, the second with a wheelchair enabled vehicle, I know what unconventional travel is like.
    Please make sure you factor in the rest days. They will make all the difference to a murderous route.
    And try to moderate your language about the traffic. I haven’t actually heard you, just from my own experience, I have the soundtrack running through my head.
    And for any of you drivers, if you see Martyn, slow down, give him space, and smile.
    Simon