Martin Symons

Promoting Challenges for Disabled People

Journey Across England

In 2001 I had a major health scare which stopped me in my tracks. At the time I was relatively active but this bout of illness put paid to any thoughts I may have had of outdoor activity. It took me nearly 8 years to recover sufficiently to even contemplate an adventure. However over the last couple of years the thought of another challenge gradually grew. why? Because:

Ø I was beginning to get bored.

Ø I was more dependent on people and I felt was’t having much of a life.

Ø I wanted to help the Lane Fox Unit Patient’s Association charity which had helped me so much in my recovery.

Unable to do any mountaineering, climbing or long distance walking as in the past, it was deciding what to do that caused me problems. Then I saw on the local news a piece about the ‘Boma’ and this started me thinking.

In January 2008 I went to Dublin with Colin and met up with Sandy and John from ‘Spirit of Adventure’ who were exhibiting at the Royal Dublin Showground. I have known John for over 20 years and Sandy for at least 15 and over the years they have supported me in most of my adventures including Nepal, Ben Nevis and canoeing in Spain. Someone asked me “did I have a challenge in mind?” I replied “uhm, well I did but it’s probably a long way” and told them of the ‘Boma’ and the idea of going from one side of the country to the other. Sandy replied “Ok, I’ll help you”. I was slightly taken aback.

What route should we take? Looking at the map the shortest and probably the most interesting route was across Hadrian’s Wall, but we had many questions:

Ø Would I be able to ride and control the ‘Boma?

Ø Would I have the energy and strength to complete the 100 mile across England?

Ø I can’t afford to get cold and wet so was Cumbria and Northumberland the right choice?

Ø I would need vehicle support, where would this come from?

Ø I could not afford a ‘Boma’ so would Molten Rock sponsor me?

Ø Could I gather a support team to assist me?

Ø I needed electrics each night for my ventilator would I have to stay in B&B and set everything up each day?

The list just went on and in addition I had to get my mother and family onboard as I could not do this without their support.

In April I had a trial of the ‘Boma’ and found it to be fantastic – ‘Yes!’ This machine would work for me. It was at this trial that I first met Lou and Paul who asked if they could make a documentary of me culminating in the challenge. They talked with such enthusiasm that I thought it would be a good idea. Once they had gone I suddenly thought I am now committed and the challenge suddenly became a reality.

Chris Swift from Molten Rock immediately agreed to sponsor me with their demonstration model. Spirit of Adventure came forward with mini-bus support, Powder Mills Pottery offered the use of a caravan and Mike and Debbie from Tailventure offered clothing advice and sponsored me with some clothing to keep me dry and warm on the Challenge. Environ sponsored me with the loan of a wifi computer so that I could blog on my journey. My family were very supportive as were my doctors and The Lane Fox Unit lent me a second back-up ventilator. So after 18 months of planning I’m finally doing a major challenge, my first big one in 10 years.

I had a great nine strong team consisting of Sandy, who planned everything for me, Gilly his wife, their son Matt, Steve (works for Spirit of Adventure) Tony (one of Sandy’s daughter’s father in law) and John (Gilly’s brother). Last but not least was Colin who looked after me medically and he regularly accompanies me on my excursions. Without him I would have struggled.

Paul and Lou, the film crew, had filmed me throughout the previous 12 months, at home, at the hospital and whilst I did my other activities (Tai Chi, sailing etc,). I had become used to having a camera poked at me and on the challenge they not only continued filming but became very valuable members of the team. We hope to see the documentary ‘Being Martin’ on television in the not too distant future.

We all gathered at Bowness-on-Solway on Saturday 25th July and stayed in the Village Hall. That evening we went to get our feet wet in the Irish Sea but the tide was out so a walk on the wet sand and a splash in a sea water puddle was the start. The following morning before we set off we had a visit from the local publican’s son who gets spinal tumours and is in a wheelchair. He was well impressed with the boma and we let him have a go around the village hall on it. It seemed ideal for him and it would enable him to play with his mates on the farm.

I felt quite at home with the boma but did keep going from one extreme to the other, speed wise. The Boma goes at about 9mph flat out but can be governed down to 4mph if it is driven on the pavements. I preferred speed max!! I had Matt leading me in front. He was also the battery engineer, looking after them and making sure they didn’t conk out on me. Having said that we were barely 9 miles into the journey and they did. (I think I had been driving with the hand brake on but I was not going to admit it!!)

The boma was a comfy machine to sit on, although on the second day I decided to use a gel cushion from my wheelchair which made it that bit more comfortable. The wheels are the same as a mountain bike but the rear wheels are bigger. I was able to have complete control, but every time we stopped, someone had to do the handbrake for me. A couple of times I forgot so Tony was delegated ‘handbrake reminder’! By the end of the week I also had someone designated as my suntan lotion applicator and someone else as my dresser! (fleece, waterproof and windproof, that is)

Steve rode right behind me (he was the only one who could keep up with me on the very steep hills although Matt was there most of the time ) making sure that I was safe and instructing me to keep to the left and to slow down when there were vehicles coming up from behind. I did have to be asked to slow down a few times.

Much of Hadrian’s cycle route was quiet country roads and the downside for me was I couldn’t see anything because there were hedgerows and they were too high for me to see over (I was lower than the cyclists) but when I was able to see, there were some stunning views.

Along the route we stopped at a few roman forts including a roman supply fort. We also stopped and looked at the statue of King Edward who died not far from Bowness.

One of the things I did along the cycle route was to collect stamps for a passport. These are collected at six different points along the route to show that you have done Hadrian’s Wall.

We stopped at the café in Birdoswald Roman Fort to get my second stamped. The lady pointed to a far wall where there was a shelf with the stamp mark to do it yourself. I looked, and thought. ‘blimey, I’m gonna have to stretch’. I wasn’t very impressed and didn’t think it was disabled friendly environment. Needless to say, once we all settled down to have lunch, we were told we couldn’t eat there unless we brought tickets from them, it left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth, so off we went down the road.

At times we were on some very busy roads which were a bit daunting to start with. I could not see behind and having not been a cyclist or car driver I was unsure sometimes what was going on. However with Steve and Matt looking after me I soon became confident and came through unscathed.

The cycle paths were good, not too bumpy and the Boma had no problems with hills. However when I was going uphill at a leisurely pace the rest of the group were panting away!! That’s the beauty of having an engine!!

There were some access issues though. On parts of the cycle pathways there were some chicanes and kissing gates were slightly narrow and I had to be bumped around. There was bit along the Tyne where the boma had to be lifted a couple of times over some low bars. On one section there was some sort of anti-cyclist campaign going on as someone had thrown down a load of tack across the track to cause punctures. The Boma was lifted over this area.

John was a great support man, he drove the mini bus each day. He would leave the campsite at about the same time as us each morning and tow my caravan to the next site. He would then pick up some lunch for us and meet us after we had been on the road for about 2 or 3 hours. He then remained close by to render assistance if required. We did call on him on more than one occasion, a couple of times to replace the Boma batteries and on 2 or 3 times to get me out of the rain. He even drove us to the pub in the evening – great man! After each day in the saddle, the batteries from the Boma would be removed and taken in to the caravan (my home for the week) and be charged. I also recharged my batteries by having an hour on the ventilator in the evening to give me more energy to get to the pub!!

There started to be a time towards the end of the week when I was losing concentration momentarily. I was becoming tired but the last couple of days were slightly shorter than the middle section and I seemed to get my second wind. We were achieving about 20 miles a day, the route was challenging in parts for the cyclists and the weather was generally kind. The views in the central section were stunning and then once we picked up the Tyne we followed it all the way to the coast for about 40 miles. Saturday 1st August was the last day, we started by going over the Tyne Millennium bridge in Newcastle. A great sight back up the Tyne to the seven of so bridges which span the river. We then crossed back over to South Shields by a ferry where John met us. From the bus he brought some golden helium balloons which were attached to the Boma. The last 2 miles to the beach I had these bobbing all over the place hitting my face and flying in the wind – whose idea was this? Hadrian’s Cycle route ended in South Shields at the Roman Arberia but this was just the first finish, my goal was to cross England and to get my feet wet in the North Sea. All day I was slightly emotional because we were getting there and I actually didn’t want it to end. Then it did get emotional (but I kept my sunglasses on).

Finally we arrived, the North Sea in front and 118 miles of land behind. I had done it and jumped off the Boma and whizzed down to the water – well I struggled out of the Boma, I was lifted down the sea wall and I slowly went to the waters edge and paddled! Yippee, I had done it and I felt in pretty good shape.

It was an amazing week, something that I’d never thought I do. We all had barrels of banter, laughs and humour. The whole team mucked in and gelled. Someone commented that it was rare for a whole team to work so well together and get on and that was an important factor to get me from one side of England to the other.

So my grateful thanks must go to my support team; Sandy and Gilly who helped organize this challenge (or most of it, anyway). Also to Matt, Steve, Tony, Colin, John, Paul and Lou.

Without their support I wouldn’t have been able to do this challenge


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