Stoke Mandeville: 7th Nov 2005
2 Land Rovers
Team of six
Cape Town: 17th April 2006
06 November 2005. Pre-Expedition Diary: Colin Javens
Days to departure: 1
I'm sitting here with one night left before we set off on our mammoth expedition with the team still buzzing around me - going over all the final preparations. It is very hard to digest what I'm feeling! At the moment my thoughts are fixed on 'What have I forgotten'. What we are about to undertake still hasn't sunk in but like the swell of a new tide I'm beginning to feel incredibly proud of getting this far. Three years of planning and preparation has finally got me top the point of setting off on a personal lifetime dream. I have thoroughly enjoyed the past year working with all the Driving Home team and trustees and I have learned so much.
I truly believe that I wouldn't be at this point if it wasn't for the fantastic support from my family, friends, my team, businesses and even people who I have never met before. I know it is not much and I wish I had time to thank everyone individually but I would like to say a heart felt thanks to everyone who has shown us such tremendous support to the Driving Home project.
Our prep is done and we can do no more. We have an incredible challenge ahead of us and we aim to take this expedition step by step to make sure that it is a complete success. This definitely is a once in a life-time expedition and I consider myself incredibly lucky.
October 2005. Pre-Expedition Diary: Colin Javens
Days to departure: 5
Sitting in Spinal Research's office with 6 days to go and the team are buzzing around me. I've got Jo and Caroline with smoke coming off their laptops at their workstations Chrissy busily swotting up on her country profiles; Chris is laying out on his back in the Discovery contemplating the best option of stretchering either one of us out if we are in big trouble. Outside in the dark cold afternoon light of a November afternoon Woody is helping to fit and wire in the CB's and GPS's that Land Rover has kindly loaned us….run out of time.
5 days to go. I've got Chrissy sitting here in the sweatbox with me driving down to Stoke and as times so critical my new PA (literally) Chrissy is continuing to write down this diary entry draft while I drive and dictate. Time is so short that all our thoughts at the moment are focused on doing all the finishing jobs to prepare ourselves for Monday.
22-23rd October. 2nd Team Training Weekend: By Val Javens
Val visits the team 2 weeks before departure.
Kiko and Chrissie were busy preparing the evening meal; Ben was assembling the new
dual fuel lamp donated by Dr Anne Griffiths and her husband Richard, the Doc was
practising his surgical skills, using very much more primitive tools than he is used to and
dismembering limb by limb a small oak tree. Woody was setting up the spot light and
Cols was supervising the proceedings. Everyone had their own jobs, but they were all
working together as a team.
The Doc took time out to show us the footage of the film he’d shot during the offroading. J V Like, the Land Rover dealers in Three Cocks had spent the day with the
team donating their time, expertise, off-roading course and several other bits and pieces
for the expedition. Colin at the wheel, we watched as Beryl drunkenly skewed and
swayed as she approached a very deeply rutted track, filled with chocolate coloured
gunge. Gunned by Colin, she ploughed through the mire; slowly, slowly, however, she ground to a halt, water and mud up to the middle of her radiator. Our trusty photographer
revealed that the deeper she had gone, the more her rear tow hook had sunk into the
morass, finally stopping her in her tracks. Greatly excited, I thought we were to
experience some winch practise, but J V Like, in their bright yellow Land Rover, ran a
hitch through the front towing point, and hoiked her out of the mud. Despite getting
stuck, I think that Colin, doing real driving at last, was secretly experiencing a little bit of heaven! His broad grin gave it away!
7th-10th October: 1st Team Training Weekend: By Colin Javens
With the pressure to get the Discovery ready I picked up Chrissy at Hemel Hempstead in Miranda (my van) from where we headed straight over to Steering Developments to pick up the finished Discovery much to my relief and theirs (I had become renowned for my daily 8am calls asking how they were getting on). A hasty trip home to Hereford to set up in time for the team training weekend wasn't to be. I had betrayed Miranda and abandoned her at Steering Developments in the process. Perhaps she put a curse on the speedometer which saw us cruising home at a relaxed 45mph. 2 hours later and halfway home Chrissy duly named the unnamed discovery 'Beryl' as she drove at best like an old lady.
The main aim of the weekend was to really test our planning, equipment, ourselves and everything we had learned which would then give us the opportunity and time to rectify any problematic factor that we came across before we left. Preparation began early on Friday morning. Our Bargain Hunter (a.k.a. Kiko Matthews) and the Charity Shop King (a.k.a. Ben Matthews) headed out early to stock up on food etc for the training weekend.
For me personally it was going to be a good opportunity, apart from the driving to really test how difficult or easy it would be for me to carry out even the most basic task like keeping cleaning or getting into bed. Prior to the training weekend I had sourced two pieces of equipment vital to the success of the expedition:
Ben and Jo had worked together planning the weekend. It was Ben's aim to get everyone navigation to and in and around Brecon using the GPS and 8 digit grid references. Jo had planned several scenarios, which she hoped would really test the team. However, all Jo's hard work was washed over by all of the calamities that occurred during the weekend.
It all began to happen on Saturday after we had a successful evening setting up camp and surviving the cold night in the Welsh hills evening. The rain and cold on that morning was enough to dampen the spirits of the hardest Welsh rugby team and then the real test started happening. First I bent the key to start Beryl and with no other key we were stranded! Two hours later a re-bent key restarted the weekend. The most embarrassing was when I locked myself in the Land Rover with the heating going full blast. In my wisdom I locked the doors when Jo and Caroline where pretending to hi-jack my vehicle. Thanks to Woody's quick thinking he had a window panel removed and the doors were open. The training weekend was a great chance to test our skills.
Not long to go.
September 2005. Pre-Expedition Diary: By Colin Javens
Days to departure: 36
It seems that the dream of a trans African expedition truly runs in my blood and even better I have it in writing. It was to my great delight, as I read my grandpa's good luck letter from Texas, that at roughly the same age as I am now in 1949, he and a friend had approached Massey Ferguson to try to persuade the company to lend them a tractor, trailer and cultivation equipment to complete the 'Worlds first trans African expedition on a tractor!' They tried to convince Massey Ferguson that it would be an excellent opportunity to promote their new machinery throughout Africa. However, they received a very curt letter stating that the tractor was NOT a Trans-continental vehicle and they were NOT interested. As my grandpa said '…another brilliant idea never achieved!!!' I may hold onto that idea for the future???
The Discovery Update.
August 2005. Pre-Expedition Diary: By Colin Javens
Days to departure: 68
It had been four long and anxious days since the whole team had met on Monday at Steering Developments, eagerly awaiting the moment that I would test-drive the newly modified adaptations in our Land Rover Discovery. However, to the disappointment of everyone it was not to be. Although the steering wheel had been swopped for a lighter, smaller one I was still unable to turn the wheel left through the whole 360 degrees. The brakes had also been lightened but adding to the frustration we found, I was now unable to physically pull back the throttle due to the large robust working parts of the Discovery! I could feel the excitement of the team deflate through the day like a slow puncture as we all realised I wouldn't get to drive the vehicle on that occasion.
Ben, Woody, Colin, Kiko, Chris and Chrissy
I was really impressed by Paul and Grant working on the vehicle. They could have quite easily have given up and fitted an electric motor to enable me to operate the throttle. Thankfully they knew that we where trying to stay away from any complicated electrics that had the potential of breaking in extreme heat and dust, and battled on under the bonnet trying to lighten the throttle. Finally at the end of the day and with no joy we had to leave. I wasn't worried about the throttle, I knew Paul and Grant could fix that. What I was worried about was the steering! During the next few days they where going to lighten the steering again to the maximum level. If I was unable to use it after that it would mean they would have to fit a totally new system with additional motors and electrics and combined with a very big price tag. I definitely didn't want that.
Jo and I met again the following Thursday. Before I knew it Jo and Paul had lifted me into the driving position and after a few tweaks to my position I was driving down the airstrip. To my relief the steering was light enough to enable me to turn left and the throttle and break wasn't a problem to control either. With a few minor alterations all that was left to do now was to get the hoist made and fitted to the Discovery. This meant we would leave the vehicle again with Cowal Mobility to carry out the required work. It is incredibly exciting to think that I will be able to drive the Discovery in a few weeks and get some real practice in.
Colin and Paul on the airstrip: hand-control test
Team Training. 'As they say, knowledge is power!'
The team met on the Friday before at Chateaux Javens. Chris had prepared a very thorough first aid course for Saturday, including a very detailed section on the life threatening tropical diseases that will be a real threat to each of us during the expedition. It was very good to brush up on first aid and learn a lot more from Chris. Ben and Kiko also literally learnt how to set up a drip. By the end of the day there were a couple of hands that looked just like pin cushions and in the excitement of things Ben got a little carried and got dressed up in Resussy Annie's clothes. I think the underlying message regarding the diseases is that prevention is definitely better than cure and will be the rule we all stick to as the preparation and journey gets underway.
On Sunday morning Chris and I discussed with the team the fundamental factors that result after a spinal cord injury. We felt it was important to do because there will be definitely be times during the expedition that my injury will have an affect on the course of the expedition. For example as I have no feeling below the shoulders we are going to have to stop on regular occasions on the road so that I can do some pressure relief to prevent any sores from occurring. Therefore I wanted the team to have an understanding of why I have to do it and as a result hopefully they will not get frustrated with the delay.
That following afternoon Woody took us through how a combustion engine worked and how it's maintained. The afternoon was a brilliant building block to hopefully more mechanical sessions to come on our vehicles.
We are now so close to the date of departure that the excitement is really beginning to build. I hope by next month that I can tell you that I can get into and drive the Discovery and that the support vehicle is prepared and how we got on at Land Rovers off-road driver training coarse. I also hope that the riots have ceased in Khartoum, Sudan sufficiently for the Foreign Commonwealth Office to lift their advice against all but essential travel to Sudan. Also time to start getting immunised and visas underway. If anyone has any up-to-date information on our route we would very much appreciate it. Here's looking forward to next month.
July 2005. Pre-Expedition Diary: Getting all emotional: By Colin
Days to departure: 98
I was once told that, 'If you want to feel as if you are flying as high as an Eagle, make sure you are not surrounded by Turkeys!'. Right now I feel as high as an eagle. Not only have I got a great team supporting me, Jo, Caroline, Trustees, friends, family and some great supporters. I have now got a full and very, very capable expedition team behind me.
Jo and I met a young Australian girl called Chrissy Prydun at Heathrow airport 1 hour before she departed for several weeks of voluntary aid work in Ghana. Chrissy was the final applicant for the role of working with me during the expedition to help me with my everyday needs. Chrissy seems to have all of the qualities we where looking for in a successful applicant, from previous experience with working with people with spinal injuries to plenty of experience travelling abroad, plus a good sense of humour and the ability to fit in with the expedition team.
Since my accident and although I strive to be as independent as possible, I have been thrust into a position that means that I pretty much need somebody to be around me, nearly all the time, just in case I do need something. Generally the way it works now is that a PA will work with me one week and then have a week off. Being reliant on somebody else for even the small things like putting on a jumper does take a bit of getting used to. (Its funny, probably the only thing I don't have to rely on anyone else for is driving, which provides me with an immense amount of independence. Maybe this is why it is so important to me?) I find that in everyday life when making decisions I am always conscious of the likes and dislikes of the personal assistant who is with me for the week or whether they will get on with my friends. For an example, if a friend said lets go camping and I knew my PA would absolutely hate it, I would be reluctant to go or if I went, I would be very conscious that she would definitely not be enjoying herself. Therefore having Chrissy on board who has the same aspirations and who I know will get on with the team will be absolutely great. I think it will be a huge factor of this expedition that I will not have to worry about. Welcome aboard Chrissy.
Caroline was the instigator of the whole idea and it turned out to be a great one. We had both expedition vehicles present, which was fantastic to introduce them to each other. Chris (Dr) had picked up the Disco from Steering Developments and skilfully drove it down with the steering having been lightened and the push/pull accelerator/brake in place. The object of the four days was to increase the awareness about Driving Home, to source the vehicle equipment we need and to build up relationships with a number of key businesses that were potentially going to help or sponsor us.
It was an excellent opportunity to meet Tim, Claire and Phil from Trek overland and David from Howling Moon who have very kindly leant us 2 roof racks, 2 roof tents, 2 awnings and a rear tent that I will be sleeping in for the duration of the expedition, which is absolutely fantastic because they are very robust and great quality. David who manufactures the tents in South Africa is also redesigning the tent so that it will be easier for me to wheel into. Thanks guys.
The dynamic duo from Discoparts, Mark and Robbo have provided us with all the recovery gear we will need. So when we are stuck in the desert somewhere trying to get ourselves out we'll be thinking of those guys back in the UK.
We were able to source most of the equipment we needed for the support vehicle which Paul from Footloose4x4 took back up to Peterborough after the show for all of the difficult bits to be fitted.
It was great to have both vehicles and pretty much the whole team there. Everyone worked extremely hard in the fantastic weather to increase our profile and as a result we met some fantastic people (if any of you guys are reading, I would like to say hello to all you guys). So thanks to the team for all their great work
From my previous experiencing of adapting my van I knew that adapting one vehicle is never the same as another vehicle so I thought that the adaptations may not be ideal straight away so I hadn't set my hopes too high. And unfortunately I was right.
What we found out was that due to my lanky legs, the tight doorway and the lack of room as a result of steering column being in the way it was quite difficult to get me in. That was quickly resolved by Paul saying that we could fit a detachable steering wheel (I was thinking great anti theft devise and we could have some fun with that in Africa). They had also lightened the steering but I found that because my triceps no longer work I had great difficulty of turning the steering wheel at the furthest distant away from me. This should be resolved by attaching a smaller steering wheel to steering column. It seems that they can work around any problem. It is really exciting to think that I may be driving the vehicle in the next week and a half.
Its been another busy month but thoroughly enjoyable. Here's looking forward to our first team training weekend covering first aid, the effects after a spinal cord injury and a self awareness course kindly donated by Objective. Also I have an opportunity to test drive the adapted Discovery on a disused airstrip so tune in next month to find out how we are getting on.
June 2005. Pre-Expedition Diary: By Colin Javens
Days to departure: 129
The excitement of having the Discovery parked outside my house at the beginning of the month, but being unable to drive it felt just like being a small boy who had been banned from opening any presents on Christmas day. The combination of excitement and sheer desperation to drive meant that I wanted to ensure that vehicle adapters were prepared to receive the vehicle to start work on adapting the vehicle to enable me to drive it straight away.
Before any work could be done the one big question was 'Where should I organise the Turney seat that had kindly been donated to us to be sent to be fitted?' The Turney seat is probably the most dignified option of getting into a high vehicle like the Discovery. Instead of being lifted in manually when 8 out of 10 times your shoes fly off and trousers embarrassingly drop to show your bare arse to the whole world (not a great sight). The turney seat is a driving seat that electrically lowers out of the vehicle and down to the same height of the wheelchair enabling an easy sliding board transfer from chair to seat. By a series of conveyer-belt chains and electrics the Turney seat would then lift me straight into the driving position…job done.
My hopes sank when I got off the phone to a company who are the most experienced in fitting the seat having been told that the Turney will definitely not fit into a Discovery due to the small space in the driver's door and the seat physically being unable to turn out of the door. After previously being told by 2 other companies that the seat would fit into the vehicle I had really set my sights on this option. It would have made the support teams life so much easier as well because it meant not having to manually lift me at all, which is OK once or twice but for 5 months, I couldn't ask anyone to help me do that for such along time.
Its been back to the drawing board this month, which has been a little pressurized as we are on quite a tight schedule regarding getting the vehicles prepared and testing in time for departure in November. The problem of getting into the vehicle has however now been sorted. I've found a company could Cowal Mobility who will build a hoist that will mount on roofrack of the vehicle. The team will then be able use a sling and the hoist to lift me into the vehicle. Its not ideal but as Derek would say 'It's a solution to a problem!'
(I wonder if anyone is still reading this or am I boring everyone to death? If you are dropping off fancy dropping me a note on the message board and coming back to this later?)
Today I had a strength assessment by Peter from Steering Developments (another conversion company, who were one of the pioneers of hand control design in the UK). He came out to my house to test my strength in my arms with a portable steering wheel, hand-control throttle/brake and a computer programme to access exactly what hand controls I would physically be able to use. I have been so impressed with this company that I've now asked them to covert the Discovery. So here we are already 4 weeks behind schedule but we are making progress!
Summer Ball 18th June
Yet again this event was a fantastic tribute to our friends, family and the people and businesses of Hereford who are continually supporting us and being incredibly generous. The night would also not have been possible without the hard work from Ben, Kiko, Barrie, Woody, Lloyd and Luke. Therefore I would like to say thank you to everyone and well done for helping raise an amazing £8000, which will go a very long way at the projects in Tanzania and Zambia.
I never forget what a wise man once said to me 'You can't Hoot with the Owls and Scream with the Eagles my dear boy'. Well, we seem to be doing a bit of both at the moment. IT'S ALL GO!
By the way if anyone is reading this you have noticed my diary is getting a little more flowery it's due to Caroline and Jo urging me to get 'All Emotional' in my diary section. I don't know whether it is working?
May 2005: Pre-Expedition Diary: By Colin Javens
Days to departure: 159
The difficulty of getting into the high 4x4 vehicle was overcome by Ben and John lifting me; one under the arms and the other under the legs into the passenger seat. The course was a great insight into the worst case situations we will face on our expedition - from deep rutted roads to steep descents and climbs. The G4 Discovery coped with the course excellently; however it did come to a grinding stand still at one stage. John's colleague Jon was our driver but even his blistering driving skills were not enough to overcome the deep-water course. The bow wave he created by driving through the water was equivalent to a tsunami, but as it started to glide away, the wheels began to spin and as we were no longer following the wave, I knew we were must be stuck (much to Ben and my delight). Stuck in a six foot ditch in 4 foot of water, between two trees there was only one option; an embarrassed rescue call from Jon to his head office.
It was probably the best thing that could have happened. It was a great opportunity to learn how deceiving water can be. For me it was a little frustrating to be stuck in the vehicle and not able to help in anyway. I would have been first to strip to my boxers, get a snorkel on and jump in. Probably not the brightest idea as a rescue vehicle had been called to tow us backwards out of the water. Although having to ask for help is often very difficult it is something I'm beginning to get used to doing since my accident but it made me realise how much I'm going to have to rely on my support team and the support vehicle if this expedition is going to reach Cape Town.
It was an absolutely great morning, thanks to both Johns at Land Rover Experience. We hope to get all of our team and both of our vehicles up to Eastnor for training before we leave to ensure we are prepared for what lies ahead.
Although I'm no mechanical expert I would have loved to get my head under the bonnet with the others to add to all the other suggestion flying around, including Ben's- 'I think you should cut the Red Wire'??? Not too worry lets hope all the breakdowns happen in this country. It turns out it was only a fuel blockage in the sediment trap next to the fuel tank, nothing major and she's back on the road. I am absolutely dying to drive her, however she is now has to go off to get converted, so I'll just to continue being patient. Exciting times.
The Sports day in Gilgil, Kenya was also a great success raising £2,375, which was down to Sue and Ricky Brendon, Rob Hart, Sarelle Barlow, Udume Ltd and Lets Go Travel and all of the teams involved. A big asante sana goes out everyone and I look forward to seeing you all in January.
Gowrings Mobility Show
Summer Ball 18th June in Aid of our African Beneficiaries
April 2005. Pre-Expedition Diary: By Colin Javens
Days to departure: 186
We've now re-advertised the role everywhere we can think of and have set a closing date of the 13th of May for any applications. If anyone would like any more information about the role please email firstname.lastname@example.org Fingers crossed now.
On 1st of June it is booked in at Jim Doran's in Coventry to have the hand controls fitted and following this it will go to Footloose4x4 in Peterborough to be prepared for the expedition.
The Ladies Night
The Hereford Lions Club
Summer Ball 18th June in Aid of our African Beneficiaries
March 2005. Pre-Expedition Diary: By Colin Javens
Days to departure: 221
18th March, Charity Dinners in Aid of our Beneficiaries
The first, Cranfield University Sportsman Dinner, was organised by a committee from the MBA rugby team. Charlie, Alex, Jono and Robin did a fantastic job (good luck on rugby tour boys!) and with their great effort and with some very, very generous donations of auction prizes the night raised an excellent £18k.
The second, a Dinner, Dance and Auction at the Radisson Marble Arch Hotel organised by Caroline and Jo and a determined committee consisting of Jonny, Will, Charlie, (togged up in Lion outfits) Lucinda and Magda. Freya Mitton the auctioneer from Sothebys did a great job. The night was a tribute to the whole team as well as Caroline's family whose decorations ensured there was a distinctive African theme to the night, and raised a staggering £17.5k.
I met some great people on the night and I would like to thank everyone for coming and being so generous and to thank all the individuals and companies (http://www.drivinghome.co.uk/html/ballsponsors.shtml) who donated a prize. The night wouldn't have been possible without them.
February 2005. Pre-Expedition Diary: By Colin Javens
Days to departure: 251
Similar to opening exam results I received a letter from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust on the morning of the 10th of February. The nerves rose! The news? There is no bad news! We are all delighted! Out of 1072 applications we are one of 107 to have been awarded a 'Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship'.
We have had some people apply for the role of the medic and we hope to interview them in April at Stoke Mandeville. Expedition planning continues. Kiko has been working on our contact list through Africa (if anyone has any useful contacts along our route can you please email Kiko, email@example.com). Woody has been looking into vehicle documentation. Footprint Travel Guides have kindly donated several country guides for along our route, which has really helped Ben and I plan out our contingency route plans.
We are still trying to find a vehicle sponsor. Although this is in aid of a good cause vehicle manufacturers are bombarded by charitable request, which has made it very difficult to get any vehicles for free.
January 2005. Pre-Expedition Diary: By Colin Javens
Well the year started with a Bang!
The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Interview for Expedition Grant.
The Adventure Show, Olympia London.
'The Best, Worst Joke Award' of the month has to go lift attendant. When I ask him how his day was going, he replied 'Oh, Up and Down! (I thought he was funny, especially after surviving a whole day in his lift!).
Prior to the trustees meeting I met with Caroline and her good friend Lucy Rivers-Bulkeley who gave the both of us some great advice and ideas with regards to fundraising. She also performed one of the best wheel spins in the mud I have ever seen. Thank you.
Project selection at the Trustees meeting, 27th January.
All the trustees for the new charity, 'The Colin Javens Spinal Injury Trust' (CJSIT) where present at the meeting. Dr Tom Meagher was there representing Stoke Mandeville Hospital and Jonathan Miall represented Spinal Research. Both gave very good presentations on the projects they would like the CJSIT to help fund. I also updated everybody on the projects in Tanzania and Zambia we would like to fundraise for (details will be on the website in due course).
We have got a huge challenge ahead of the whole team, but I am really happy in the direction the Driving Home project is taking. We have had some truly great support in terms of encouragement and fundraising from friends and family ( past fundraisers) so I would like to thank everybody for their support.
Hopefully February will see the arrival of the expedition vehicles and we may get lucky with the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust. Keep logging on to see how we get on.
Funds Raised So Far
Stoke Mandeville Hospital
Kenyan Paraplegic Organisation
Kilimanjaro Accociaton for Spinal Injuries
Quadpara Association of South Africa
The Players Fund
Stoke Mandeville Hospital
The Julia & Derek Breed Foundation