Coming from a man who says very little to sum up his emotions, it's quite hard to put into words exactly how I feel about the last 18months of my life. What I can describe to you are some of the feelings that hit me when we were carrying out the most challenging and exciting part of the expedition, probably the highlight of the 5 1/2 months for me.
It was our first day into Kenya and what lay ahead definitely was the most challenging part of our route, not only were we about to encounter roads in the worst possible condition but we were also really acutely aware of the dangerous situation we had put ourselves in, due to the amount of Shifta Bandits in the area. For me, unable to move from the shoulders down, it was a fantastic feeling that I was still able to attempt such a feat.
Looking back on it, that day's drive was by far the hardest we did. After breaking my steering it meant that we could only drive at 15mph over corrugated roads, a whole 13hours continuously to Marsabit. It wasn't just the feeling of me being able to drive on the roads with my team but it was the feeling of being able to be in one of the most remote regions of the world, with nobody in sight for miles, just a wide open horizon and up above a massive African sky. The other great feeling for me was that when I had my accident in 2000, I'd always had a considerable urge to go back to Kenya. Six years later with three years of planning and 60 odd days on the road, I'd finally made it back!
The next day when we had to drive over a lava flow it was again quite intense. It felt like we were entering a world that nobody had ever set foot on before and again it hit me how amazing it was that I actually had the ability to do this! After we'd driven for half a day on the rocky terrain, we dropped over an escartment that ended up representing the end of the lava flow and down onto the remnants of what seemed like an extensive dry lake bed, which in fact marked the start of the Chalbi desert. We ended that day, driving in tracks with dust blazing behind us. I remembered where we had stopped. The team were on an incredible high. As the sun was going down, the strong wind that blew in our face felt like it was coming from a hair dryer. We ate veggie curry (again!) that night, we laughed a lot and slept out underneath the stars with plenty of shooting stars to be seen. Even though we hadn't seen anybody all day and we were in the middle of a desert, Ben still armed all of the team with a machetti each with encouraging words of how to use them, in case we were attacked in the night.
Thankfully, we never did encounter any bandits that night and eventually made it out of the Chalbi desert the next day even though the tracks weren't marked clearly on the maps and as such navigation was very tough going. Luckily Ben's phenomenal navigating skills lead us to safety. However, I always expected that the expedition would be tough, especially with a spinal injury. I knew that I wouldn't have access to accessible facilities like I was used to from home. Luckily we'd taken time to choose the right equipment (like a collapsible shower chair and side tent awning that could double as a private toilet) to enable me to adapt to any facility we came across. Again, the difficulty of inaccessibility was overcome thanks to the help of the expedition team. I can't remember the amount of times the team would have to lift me onto a long drop toilet and then squeeze out past me alongside shit-stained walls! I suppose I also expected that the facilities wouldn't be that great and then prepared myself mentally for that. I think the longest I went for without a shower was a smelly 2 1/2 weeks because Woody had regretted to tell me that the portable heat-exchange shower had already been hooked up to the car!
When it came to the driving, I knew that I would be able to complete the whole journey myself. However, on several occasions, once in Sudan, once in Kenya and on the way to Lake Tanganika in Zambia, I surprised myself when I managed to continue to drive on some very difficult terrain.
Having arrived back in the UK yesterday, it's strange to think after suffering a spinal injury in 2000, that the last 18 months have been some of the best of my life. Looking back at the expedition, I can pick out some of what I think our main achievements:
- We successfully visited three projects KPO (Nairobi), KASI (Moshi) and Disicare (Lusaka), considering I had to rest up during some of this time.
- We all learnt a great deal about spinal injuries in Africa and how people almost have to have an added strength to deal with their problems their. I was also inspired by several of the people that we met e.g. Rocky Narangha in Nairobi - a quadraplegic who had successfully set up Nairobi�s largest driving school, an IT college and a big BP petrol station on the way out of Nairobi; Priscilla from Moshi - a C4 paraplegic lady in her 60's who had her accident in 1984. She left hospital three years later to go home to her small farm plot where she has not left since. She has nothing there, no books, no television, no electricity, yet she has an incredibly strong heart and mind; Vanessa Harhoff from Zambia - a C5 24 year old quadraplegic. Her strength and humour are an inspiration to anyone. Her artwork has also definitely inspired me to have a go when I go home.
- My personal achievements: learning to take off and put on my own t-shirt which I'd never done since my accident; learning to float and do backstroke unaided in water (Zambia's Shiwa Ngandy hot springs) for the first time.
- We successfully adapted and equipped two Landrovers to complete such a hard journey.
- The last month of the expedition felt like a corporate training session when the team had to devise a way of preventing anymore breakdown to the skin areas of my bum. I was really impressed how six different minds worked together to find several different solutions. e.g. cutting a whole in my driver's seat and designing a pressure relieving ring to go on top of that; designing a pressure relieving dressing to prevent anymore breakdown and adapting the cushion on my shower chair
- Team dynamics: The team have worked so well together, that we haven't had a single falling out during the whole trip.
Once again as I write this, I realise how important the people around me have been in making this expedition a success. Everybody seems to ask us whether we've had arguments along the way. The simple answer to that is no. It's been mentioned before, but the driving home team really seem to handle every problem or setback with a certain type of humour which helps to relieve the situation and not to blow it out of proportion. I can quite honestly say that these guys are very special.
It became apparent to me as I was loaded into the back of the discovery, lying in the fetal position on my travel mattress (having discovered one of my pressure sores had deteriorated and I couldn't drive the remaining leg from Kasama to Lusaka) that I would not have been able to complete this challenge without the help of my very 'unique' expedition team. Each member of the team has brought their own qualities to the expedition:
Ben Matthews ('my brother from another mother'), has been my trusted friend since I was 11. Having somebody on the trip who knows me better than anyone else and being able to fall back on them without even sometimes having to discuss the problems concerned, has been fantastic. Ben has supported me right from my accident up until the end of the expedition. Ben is a natural entertainer and has also got an incredible amount of energy, which often feeds off to the other team members. He once asked me if I thought he was fussy when it came to getting things done. However, for me Ben's constant strive for perfection in everything he does always provides me with great confidence that the job will get done properly. Even though I've known Ben the longest, I've learnt a lot from him during this expedition, mainly due to his attitude to life and his ability to weigh up a situation and come up with compromises that can ease a conflicting moment.
You'd be wrong to judge Woody the first time you meet him. His laid back approach hides a lot more than meets the eye. Woody is probably the first one to lend a friend a hand. He admits to himself that he's more of a pessimist than an optimist. I wouldn't call him a pessimist, but he has added a level headed-ness to the team dynamics. Somewhere underneath his enormous Afro hair there is a logical mind that has helped solve several mechanical problems that we've come across on the expedition. Although his sense of humour is very unique, his shoulder shuddering laugh helps to add a twist in the tale to the comedy on the expedition. From Woody I've learnt how important it is to give an honest opinion of what you actually think. You need to call a spade a spade.
Doc is an incredibly great people person and has been an excellent representative of what we are trying to achieve on this trip. He has a very charming way of talking to people and always puts them at ease. Doc's enthusiasm for his camera-work has been very thorough. He spends many a late night and evening backing up his footage. He has a very active brain and is forever coming up with new business entrepreneur ideas. I've learnt a lot from Chris in more ways than one, especially on how not to grow facial hair. He's helped me to realise how important raising awareness of spinal injuries is and the resulting effect it can have on people and spinal research.
Due to her permanent position in the Defender, I spent less time with Kiko on the trip than the rest of the team but Kiko is absolutely full of energy. To give her credit, when she knows she wants something, she goes and gets it. Her great money skills have ensured the team's kitty has stayed on the straight and narrow instead of plummeting into debt. I think at any point during the expedition we know where Kiko is because her volume switch is a few decibels higher than ours. Her sense of humour shines through and adds another dimension to the crazy team antics. Kiko did like looking after her 'boys' as she called us. Her mothering skills always ensured that everyone's dietary needs were satisfied. Having looked after her five big kids on this expedition, she now is adamant that she no longer wants the seven of her own she once hoped to have.
I didn't really contemplate before I left how important Chrissy's role on the expedition would be. But looking back at it I consider myself very lucky that Chrissy came with us. If you can imagine that you'd have to spend everyday with somebody for 164 days in any ordinary situation, let alone driving to the otherside of the world, you would have thought you would have had to of known that person very well. In my case I'd only met Chrissy once but for some strange reason instantly felt at ease with her and for an even stranger reason knew that everything would be ok. It never ceases to amaze me how optimistic she is and although she is here to help me because I am unable to do everything, she makes me feel very normal, (like I haven't got a disability) Also I must take my hat off to the way she has dealt with my burns because on occasions they have been very unsightly and due to the weeping it has created a lot of extra work, which has always been done without battering an eyelid. Chrissy has also played a very important role of keeping the team together and additionally she has inherited the Australian habit of taking the piss out of everyone! Like Ben, I've learnt from Chrissy that it's very important to weigh up different people's personalities and to treat them accordingly.
However, it's not just my team that I have to thank for making this trip such a successful expedition, so I would like to take this opportunity to thank:
- Derek Breed - the founder of the expedition for his generosity
- My Family - for their continued support
- Richard Pirouet, Tony Wright, David Croisdale-Appleby our trustees for guidance and support
- Jo and Caroline - our project managers for their behind the scenes hard work
- The people of Hereford - for all their generosity
- The Winston Churchill Memorial trust - for backing our expedition
- Spinal Research for their encouragement and office space for Jo and Caroline
- Cranfield University for all of their technical support
- Stoke Mandeville Hospital for their ongoing medical support
- Spinal Research for their encouragement and office space for Jo and Caroline
- John Lloyd and Colin Green at Landrover Experience and those at JV Like for training the team in off road driving and sponsoring us for some of our equipment
- Charlie McGrath at Objective for the expedition team safety and survival training which fortunately we did not have to use
- David Constantine at Motivation for introducing us to our African projects and for his guidance
- Trek Overland, W&H Safari Equip, Discoparts, Footloose 4x4, Fleetguard, Devon 4x4, Pentagon Glass Tech, Optima, Conrico, Allisport, Kelly Kettle, Keith Gott, General Ecology, Exmoor Trim, Mobile Storage System, Condor Ferries, Atlas Fire Protection, McConnells, Coxlease School, Butchers Pet Care, Brecon Pharmaceuticals, Gordon Foundation, Pegasus Ltd, Chartwells Insurance and Gerald Simonds for all your expedition sponsorship and belief in us.
- Avanade, Kroll International and ISB Design for continuous web updates, location mapping and diary publishings - thankyou for your work
- Molten Rock and Chris for your immense effort in flying the off-road wheelchair to Kenya. It was a superb few days whizzing around so independently - good luck with it in the future
People we need to thank en-route
- Stoke Mandeville and staff for their kind send off
- Genevieve and Paddy Matthews for a delicious pre-departure dinner
- Susan and Peter for a generous meal in Portsmouth
- Derek, Hillary, Hillary and Pauline for your hospitality in Jersey and the school community of Jersey
- Condor ferries
- The Lions Club of Jersey
- Stan and Neji for introducing us to Africa
- Tom from Norway for your wisdom
- Tequila and Mr Neji for their crazy antics
- Yaya the owner of Adams House and staff in Aswan for their Nubian hospitality
- Manon and her dutch crew for the experience
- George and Egg-heart our great travelling companions and hopefully friends forever (you crazy South Africans)
- Crazy Dan the cyclist for the entertainment
- Craig the manager of the only Landrover dealer in Addis Ababba who fixed our vehicles
- Rocky and Colin for our first welcome to Kenya
- Flash, Sarah, Nikki and Jojo Barlow for a warm welcome home, their overwhelming generosity and using their house as a base at the halfway stage
- The community of Gil Gil for their fundraising and generosity
- Pembroke and Greensted schools for inviting us to come and talk to your students
- Mike and Debbie Ghaui for their hospitality and continued support (and for not laughing too much when I fell out of my wheelchair)
- Ron and Pauline Beaton for our fantastic stop off in the Mara and their fundraising efforts
- Susie, Yan and Erin Allan for their warm hospitality in Nairobi
- Isabella Iems for inviting us to Sotik
- Martin and his wife for looking after us at Sotik Tea Estate
- Ezekial, George and other staff for showing us around the tea estate and factory in Sotik
- Members of KPO, KASI and DISICARE for your warm welcome and knowledge
- Gazza for his superb photography and party shorts!
- Anthony and Anthea Rowan and family for putting up with us so long and Anthea for her kind words
- Bill and Claire, always good for a laugh
- Nikki Ghaui for inviting us to stay at Kisolanza
- The Foxes in the Ruaha for a delicious lunch
- Mark and Mel for your hospitality at the Hot Springs were I learnt to swim and Boris and family from Switzerland for your company there
- Vanessa, Amanda and Quentin Harhoff from Kasama for your incredible hospitality and putting up with the guests who never left
- Zambian Phil for your scuba diving lessons and humour
- John and Kirsten Flinn from Lusaka for allowing us to descend upon your abode for so long
- Nikki Bauster from Francistown for your donation and kind words
- Peter Hemingway for taking the time to meet us and share your knowledge
- Eckhard and sister for letting us crash your beach house in Hermanus
- Tony and staff at the Capetown Backpackers for your overwhelming generosity and Friendship
- Ari and Members of QASA for your inspiration aod hardwork
- Claire Taylor for your hard work and friendship
- Richard and Sheela Pirouet, Old Mother Wood, Susan and Peter for your friendship
- Landrover Convoy for your great welcome and for being there on our last day�s trucking
- Ashburton for supporting CJSIT as your charity of the year in South Africa
- The Carver Brown's for your friendship
- Dr Bruce Caven and The nursing staff at Cape Town Medi Clinic 'hood donkey' for looking after me!
- The Lions Club of Cape Town
- Finally I would like to thank everyone who has emailed the expedition team for their words of support and I hope to be in touch with all of you very soon
- Erica at International SOS for getting me home safely
Somebody said to me very recently that the most important thing in life is not actually finishing something, it's actually starting it. That's what really counts. The Driving Home idea was my dream since I was a boy. I feel like I've put the wheels in motion but I could definitely not have done it without so many peoples help and I feel that because of the support that everyone has given me, it has given me and my team an amazing opportunity of a lifetime. We've seen places and faces in this world that many will never set eyes upon. We've seen landscapes change from Mountain to Savannah and back to Mountain again. We've all learnt so much and we've met some great people but most of all we have obtained some fantastic memories. In the wider picture, I hope this expedition has helped raise awareness of spinal injuries and I can admit myself that before my injury I knew nothing of the subject and I hope we've made a little difference. It's also opened my eyes even more to what is actually possible in this world if you set your mind to it.
Right now I am resting up in Stoke, but when I return I shall divulge details of future plans for Driving Home and the CJSIT so stay tuned-
SOME INTERESTING STATISTICS AND GIGGLES:
Ben (Sandy): Mr Bi-iiin; Benjimund; Little Lady; Chopper; Helicopter, Snowflake, Chuck, Sandy
Chris (Shandy): The Doc; Dr Sticky Pants; Dr Turd; The Dark Destroyer; Tripod; Parsnip; Hemmingway; Shandy
Chrissy (Candy): Prundi; Prund; Crispy; The Nutritional Terrorist; Baby Doll; Little Old Lady
Kiko (Gandy): Mummy Matthews; Gandolph; Lloyd Christmas (after Chrissy cut her fringe); Saki; Kikes; Flora
Woody (Handy): The Wood; Ricko the Sicko; Slimer; Oglebey; Peeler; Woodmeister;
Col (Randy): Gayvens; Shavens; The Shave-inator; The Queen; Hank; Hank-on; Grandma; Nicky; Boing-deckster
Col's tactful one liners: Ralph, didn't you have more hair last time (He hadn't lost any and was always semi bald); Kiko, in this light you look great! (It's dark)
Chrissy: Doc, you know, you need to get out more
Doc: I'm in the middle of the Sudan for gods sake!!!
Flash Barlow to Kiko after her and Ben cancelled their wedding: Do you want some slippers, cos I hear you have cold feet?
Woody (at the start of the expedition in reference to a previous family holiday): I promised myself when I was 13 that I would never go on a driving holiday again!
Ben: (pointing in the blatantly obvious direction of the only route in the middle of the otherwise isolated Sudanese Nubian desert) Hey Swiss Robert we're going this way!!:
Ben: Am I right?
Chrissy: Are you wrong?
Ben: I am right!
Chrissy: You're not wrong
Doc: Knock, Knock
Chrissy/Col: Who's there
Chrissy/Col: Doctor who? Ha ha ha
Kid to Col at Pembroke School Talk, Kenya: How did you get your wonky eye?
Kid to Col at School in Jersey: How did you get that bump on your head?
Doc: For ****s sake!; Should I be filming this? I am going to do some damage; yeah baby yeah! I suspect; If I was being honest.
Col: That's nice; and things like that; Safety never takes a day off;
Ben: That's right!; Don't worry I can get by; Un momento (usually to Arabic speaking border officials)
Woody: How many eggs do you want'c'mon!!; Can we eat yet? Can we have sausages? Where are we? What are we doing? Who are you? Hurry up!
Kiko: (in a cockney accent): Ya wot?
Chrissy: what's for lunch little lady (in a bullying tone); that's a nasty little habbit/I don't like your attitude (pronounced li-il 'abbit and -a-ii-tude in east London gangsta accent); you are in my hemisphere now so from now on you must follow my rules (after crossing the equator)
Tequila (our Libyan guide): Why? Beeeee-caaaause.; Libya has the best
Favourite made up songs:
Woodywall (to tune of wonderwall)
'It doesn't matter if your granny's black or white'
Three Little Fishies
Countries visited: 12
Vegetable Curries: 1 trillion, 2 naans and 1 grandpah
Vehicles stuck: 2 (Woody driving Brenda en route to Khartoum in some sand and Col driving Beryl in our first day in Zambia becomes stuck in a muddy car park)
Piss stops in one day's trucking: 8 in 2 1/2hours
Return visits to guests: 11
Times falling out of the wheelchair: 1 (Mike Ghaui's Place, Kenya)
Animal Carcasses picked up: 11
Hottest Place: Lake Turcana, Kenya
Muggiest Place: Moshi, Tanzania
Coldest Place: French Alps, France and Simien Mountains, Ethiopia
Wettest Place: Zambia!
Windiest Place: Chalbi Desert, Kenya
5 Best Camping Spots:
Camping outside under the stars in the Chalbi Desert, Kenya
Camping high up in the Simien Mountains around a fire, Ethiopia (New Years Eve)
Camping in the remote Nubian Desert with trillions of stars, Nile Route, Sudan (Christmas Eve)
Camping by Lake Lagano, with views of the lake lapping from my tent, Ethiopia
Camping on a windy fishermans beach with an awesome sunset, Gabez, Tunisia
Most unusual camping spot: Mc Donalds Car Park, Rennes, France
Worst Toileting Experience: Squat toilets, Wadi Halfa, Sudan
Most challenging Toilet Experience: Battling with temperamental showers At Derek's house in Jersey
Longest time on the Toilet: 5hours
Shortest time on the Toilet: 1hour
Annoying ways to ask for tea and coffee
Colin: M,n,o,p,q,r,s.what's the next letter?
Colin: Tea? Why yes I'd love some - milk and two sugars
Chrissy: What's the first name of the guy who heads the UN
Chrissy: Coffee-yeah I'd love some thanks, milk and two sugars
Ben: Whose the guy who Rocky fought in Rocky 5 - Mr who?
Ben: Tea-yes please-milk but no sugar
Favourite meal: Tasting meat for the first time in ages at Ol Malo, Kenya: fillet of Steak on the BBQ
Worst meal: Cold Injera, Gondor, Ethiopia
Winner of the weetabix challenge: Chrissy ate 24 weetabix in 45minutes!
Longest truck: 810km in 13hours
Best Truck: Chalbi Desert, Kenya and Nubian Desert, Sudan
Worst Truck: Kasama to the Forrest Inn en route to Lusaka, Zambia
Most difficult Truck: Kasama to Lake Tanganika, Zambia
Number of muggings: 1, Cape Town, South Africa
Number of car break in's: 1, Cape Town, South Africa
Number of car accidents: 0
Number of gear crunches: More than we told Woody about!
Best swim: Shiwa Ngandu, Hot Springs, Zambia