Driving through 14 capitals in 14 days with a disability

Driving through 14 capitals in 14 days with a disability

New Disability Horizons contributor, Mark Pattenden, who became disabled after an accident in 2009, recently undertook an extraordinary challenge to drive through 14 capitals across Europe in 14 days in order to raise money for BLESMA (British Limbless Ex Service Men’s Association).

Marks account will be published over a series of articles in the next few weeks. In this first part, Mark talks about the inspiration behind taking part in the ‘14in14′ challenge and the meticulous preparations that were required.

The inspiration behind 14in14

With 8,500 miles of roads and tracks to cover, through Brussels, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Berlin, PragueVienna, Bern, Rome, Monaco, Madrid, Lisbon, Andorra and Paris, all in a fully laden Land Rover and with only one disabled driver to do it all, the 14in14 challenge seemed crazy. Most people have asked “why?” Some have said it’s not possible. But when you read about this challenge it may answer some of your questions and, I hope, inspire you to go beyond your comfort zones and try something new.

After an accident that left me unable to walk for the best part of 18 months, post-traumatic stress, which made me lose my hearing by more than 50% and then facing the reality of having to lose my left lower leg, life looked rather grim leaving me with that ‘why me’ feeling.

But back in June 2009 I was fortunate enough to be introduced to some injured service men that, despite having disabilities that were far worse than my own, had all come through their trauma and were living their lives to the full. I guess if you have a fighting spirit then one way or another you come through those bad days and toughen up. It was then that I decided I wanted to make a difference to those whom, in most cases, are forgotten heroes left with no support.

At the same time I started reading about special projects involving Land Rovers, which encouraged those who had become amputees to get back into the driving seat. With the support of a good friend of mine David Lovejoy, owner of Off Road Preparation, which works to train people in off-road driving and help with car adaptions, the initial idea of ’14in14′ was born.

BLESMA

BLESMA (British Limbless Ex Service Men’s Association), a local charity to where I live, was formed in 1932 by servicemen to support those injured. After a meeting with the fundraising manager, Tania Monroe, she was more than happy to accept the challenge on their behalf despite never having heard of something so crazy before!

So it was agreed. I was to drive in one car across 14 capitals in 14 days, with only my partner for support, in the hope of raising £10,000 and to repeat this challenge every year with the aim of eventually raising £2 million in total.

The preparations

Next came the hard bit: trying to secure funding. Sponsorship is vitally important to challenges like this as the costs of adapting a vehicle and recovery funds for any issues along the way can be steep. I had anticipated that there would be more people saying “no thank you” than “yes we would love to help,” but was undeterred, emailing and ringing anyone who might be able to support this venture. I finally got a yes from Alpine Rovers Adventure Safari who were willing to help with their expert knowledge of the Alps, which formed a major part of the trip (as you will discover later). This was closely followed by an offer from a company in France called The Green Lane Company.

In addition, I needed to drum up publicity and support, which involved digging around on forums and emailing pretty much everyone and anyone. I thankfully managed to secure Land Rover World magazine to cover the story, a major achievement in my opinion as I’m not a PR person or salesman. However, I was unable to secure fuel sponsorship, so this bill fell to me.

Everyone knew that travelling off the beaten track and without a support team or vehicle carries certain added risks, such as breakdowns and punctures in the middle of nowhere. In addition, my partner and I planned to sleep rough throughout the journey and being an amputee this brought new challenges. So equipping myself with the knowledge and skills to deal with all these issues was vital.

Thanks to the Land Rover community spirit and some help and advice from well-known companies and respected individuals, I was supplied with vital equipment and access to reduced cost parts for the vehicle. David was instrumental in securing this help, so I am indebted to him for everything he did.

So from June 2009 to April 2011, the car underwent a transformation from a standard vehicle into an overland independent vehicle, where nothing was left unturned. It included modifying the engine, tyres, safety equipment, under body protection, self-recovery and much more.

The route

The plan was to not use motorways but instead only minor roads and tracks. To make life more difficult I would cross the Alps and the Pyrenees without using tunnels which was costs effective and meant that I could experience scenic routes. In order to finalise the exact route, I travelled to the Alps to meet with the owners of Alpine Rovers Adventure Safari, and spend a few days with couples already on their Alp tours. Eventually we found a suitable route that provide an appropriate level of difficulty and challenge, but at the same time was a route that was theoretically feasible considering the terrain and weather.

Final preparations and testing the vehicle

As this trip would class me as being a competitive driver, I had to face stringent UK tests to the car and my driving ability, such as completing timed exercises in which I would have to escape from a vehicle, something that is quite difficult if you are an amputee. It was an added stepping stone in working out how I was going to make this challenge an annual event under motor sport regulations.

As a last shot of inspiration, BLESMA secured a meeting with one of their famous members, Steve Gill, who is a double amputee and lost his right eye during the Northern Ireland conflict. He kindly agreed to help us launch the challenge in the months to come, along with an agreement to do a least one joint challenge, which would further push the boundaries for both of us.

So after the best part of 18 months preparation, checking, double checking and then checking for the hell of it, we were ready…

Read about the first few days of Marks fantastic journey next week on Disability Horizons as he crosses Europe and ticks off Europes capitals one by one.

For more incredible travel stories visit our Travel section. If you have a story you’d like to share, get in touch by emailing us at editor@disabilityhorizons.com, tweeting us at @DHorizons or messaging us on Facebook.

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