Tents have been a thorn in our side since we started travelling.
We went through Africa with a cheap dome tent that was heavy & we didn’t use it much so I dumped it in Zimbabwe and picked up light throw away ‘made in China’.
Then we went through Europe with a super light 2 man Vaude tent which was too cramped and Sofia especially struggled with this which meant the battle was on to camp – we did camp, but not as much as I would have liked due to the added stress on both of us. I love the tent though. It is easy packing and setting up, and one I (or hopefully Sofia) will use as a solo #traveller.
After that trip I discovered the perfect tent someone was using at the annual Overland Event. An Exped super light tunnel the only problem was that Exped had stopped production 15yrs ago and refused to sell me a spare.
All hope lost I got a cheap 3 man last year that at least gave enough bearable space for Sofia, only it is heavy (7kgs) and fills an entire pannier, so now we have a packing space issue. Otherwise a good tent that didn’t spark any major issues with Sofia so a big thumbs up on that front.
Canada, however, has to be a purely #campingtrip due to costs but now we have a lack of packing space, & at best there is no room for food negating one of the cost benefits of camping.
So today I started looking at tents again not thinking a solution was out there with only a year since last looking, when Vaude popped up with a super light (4.2kg) 3 man tent with standing room porch.
I can’t begin to describe the relief at finally finding a suitable tent. It’s like a weight of stress off my shoulders knowing that Sofia, who has been amazingly good considering her own battles, will finally have a tent that she will like and be #happy enough to stay in night after night or in wet weather hold ups, whilst meeting our packing needs.
The tent is £419 on sale, so we need your help! Please could you sponsor our tent with a donation (every penny helps!) – we would both really appreciate it!
Please donate to help us raise awareness for autism.
After the last couple of months being ill I am suddenly realising that Easter is here and I have fallen behind on many things!
It has not been an entirely idle period as I have managed to wade through the foggy brain and have started looking into the possibility of making travel opportunities available for children and adults with ASD.
As some may know, I put out a survey not too long a go asking specific questions to understand views towards travel in the autism community.
I am pleased to say that 100% of respondents agreed that this type of opportunity should be available for those on the spectrum. I also received a lot of helpful feed back on what type of journeys people would consider, an insight into support needs and people’s general availability. Thank you to everyone who responded.
I also received lots of feed back raising concerns about needs being met and flexibility to meet those needs, as well as direct responses saying ‘not my child’ or ‘not for me’. Again, thank you to everyone who took the time to respond and discuss further towards helping me understand.
All in all though, it was a positive exercise and I have reflected on how to move forward with the idea and have decided the following:
To move ahead slowly – yes I would like to pursue this concept, however, to start with small adventures in the UK for level 1 and 2 ASD initially before making opportunities available for level 3 ASD (please see note (i) below). If you are a parent/carer or an adult with ASD and you are interested, please use the contact form in the menu above and let me know.
To raise awareness for the benefits of travel within the autism community whilst at the same time for me to gain a better understanding of how best this service can meet needs.
I will pursue grants and funding applications in the medium term, however, I want to start putting greater focus on fundraising and PR this year. Any help in this would be greatly appreciated!
Again in the medium term, I will look into setting up a subscription quarterly specifically on the subject of adventure, travel and overcoming challenges with disabilities as well as the carers who support these inspiring feats. The current title for this quarterly is ‘The Big Challenge’. If you have a story of overcoming challenges with a disability, I would love to hear from you.
‘The Book’ on our adventure through Africa will obviously play into all of this. I am chipping away at it, however, I still haven’t successfully pulled apart the 3 stories (Sofia, myself and the motorbike) to make a single narrative that is readable. As I have also mentioned about a year ago, there is a second book that will be a Fantasy abstract of Sofia’s journey which both Sofia and I are working on, but remains a lower priority and will be many years in the making (it will be really good though!)
In the long-term, I have big ideas for AWA and what we can do for people with ASD but first one has to learn to walk before they can run!
(i) Levels one, two and three is a needs based system to determine the support needs of the individual where levels are clearly defined and we can use this as a guide in understanding needs and capabilities. People may be more familiar with high, medium and low functioning as descriptors of ability level and therefore support needs.
I’m not shy to push the envelope with Sofia to help her move forward in life, to learn through actual experiences and to gain confidence for more. One of the aspects of this is related to physical activity.
Getting Sofia to be physically active has been extremely difficult. In Africa it was wonderful to see her come out of her shell a little in this regard. When we were preparing to leave she started trying to tie her own shoe laces, by the time we were in Greece she started using a knife and fork correctly, and by the time we were in Sudan, she was starting to take little risks related to climbing which continued to expand for the rest of the trip.
In Europe too, a little of this returned when confronted with bunk bed ladders, where out right refusal didn’t happen (as is normally the case) but this time a brave ‘I’m going to try, please help me’. Try she did and succeeded much to her delight and she had tried enough times that she by the end of the trip she was starting to feel confident.
So when she started home schooling I decided I would try to make walking more of thing for her. Short walks in nature when the weather approved so that she would not feel any resistance. She enjoyed this, or rather she wasn’t objecting to go out for one, so I started thinking bigger and wondering if it wouldn’t be a good idea to do a proper hike with wild camping, the works.
Long story short this came to fruition this last week. Inspired by a group of Facebook of women who are getting out there climbing, cycling, hiking, biking, or what ever adventure big or small (Adventure Queens), I finally put a plan together.
39km around the Wiltshire country side, with the sell factor being the crop circles. Sofia loved this idea!
To be fair, I was pretty sure, considering our state of fitness, that we would likely not manage the full trip, and that some pain may be experienced and that Sofia may at some point, fall out of love with the idea completely. But as with all the travel we have done, the whole point is being out there and having no choice but to deal with her issues be they internal or external and she will never learn how to deal with them if not presented with them experientially.
And so we set off on a lovely sunny Thursday afternoon in middle England. Our first stop and where we would leave the car, Martinsell Hill. This hill directly overlooking a crop circle that only appeared last week. Sadly, however, the farmer had cut the pattern out, but rather than dampen our spirits it gave us momentum to see the others at Hackpen Hill about 15km away and the site of the White Horse.
It wasn’t long we were off the country lane and into fields and small woodlands. Now it is worth mentioning at this point that in Sofia’s recent assessments dyspraxia and hyper mobility were flagged, and in part I would not have done this hike if I didn’t have these as a source on knowledge for monitoring Sofia. But likewise, it made this type of challenge more important because in truth I have never challenged her in this way as I wasn’t sure what the situation was and it is through challenge that the mind starts to focus and find out what it is made of. She was also wearing a back pack of about 4 or 5kg to promote this need to focus.
The walking for an average person was very easy, maybe a bit lumpy in places, but generally very good walking. For Sofia on the other hand little lumps and bumps and tufts of grass are a challenge. She had to really concentrate and look where she was going and with some weight on her back it was important. EVERYTHING about this experience was new to her. Yes she has walked down paths and over rocky terrain to get to a place not far and never carrying a weight and always reluctantly so, but never for the sake of the body being primary transport over a long distance. She was doing very well.
There were a number of stiles we had to climb over and she demonstrated well how much her confidence in that area had improved by clambering over them with a degree of alacrity (back pack included) that wasn’t matching her confidence in walking. We also made a number or rest stops in beautiful places drinking our water and enjoying the scenery before moving on again.
Finally after clambering about the country side for several hours, we arrived in a small village walked into the first pub we saw and collapsed with cold drinks and our pork pie and fig role dinner. I’ve never liked Pepsi, but this day a cold pint of it was like liquid gold!
At this point there really wasn’t too much left in us, so I made a target on the map of where we would start looking for a place to put down our bivy bags and we headed off around 6pm hoping that it really wouldn’t be too long before we could rest up. It ended up being a 2 hour slog up hill before we stopped. But we managed it and it was a perfect location. A small piece of lawn behind a hedge next to a single horse race track that wasn’t seeing much use. In fact we were on a big horse racing stable/stud farm. On another day, if we were exploring the world of horses, this would have been fun and interesting, today however, we didn’t care much other than having a decent place to sleep for the night.
Sofia had done really well on her first day. I was really proud of her. Whilst tired, her body seemed to be generally coping, however, she did say her ankles were sore, so I made a note to give her more attention the next day about walking properly.
These camp chairs are perhaps our favourite items in our kit!
Sofia processing her day, it was a lot to take in.
We were up early the next morning, and took it slowly watching the sun rise before packing up and heading off about 8am. We hadn’t seen any horses, and as we walked through the main training area, our hearts sank even lower, as still no horses. So much evidence of them but not a single horse in sight. It was only as we were coming to the end of the gallops that suddenly we heard the sound of cantering hooves!
What a joy! Sofia loved it. We sat for a moment as they turned and started to walk down the track to start the gallop again. We were told to move before they galloped up again as we were a distraction for the horses so we moved higher up and out-of-the-way with a good vantage point.
Sofia may be doing some horse therapy at her new school so it was really lovely to see her showing an interest and asking questions about the different sports and what they were like. I think it is now a case of watching this space and see if she develops this.
We developed more of a rhythm as we went, it was hot, so often I was walking ahead and then waiting for Sofia to catch up. Most of the byways were very over grown, and like the day before, we didn’t see a soul! it was wonderful, but tough going for Sofia who was nervous of pricks and stings and not being able to see the path clearly to place her feet. Progress was slow and by the time we were on the Ridgeway trail that took us up Hackpen Hill, we were both pretty exhausted.
In the end we only walked as far as a clear view of one of the circles (and to be honest it looked like the other had been harvested) where we collapse looking over it finishing our water and hitting the pork pies and oranges to find our strength to make it to Avebury. I was by now starting to feel pain in my shoulder muscles, feet, calves and the tops of my thighs. Thankfully Sofia was only feeling it in her feet. But either way, I decided that we should get to Avebury and call a taxi back to the car. Sofia was really tired, and whilst she was happy to see the circle, it wasn’t the degree of happy she might otherwise have had if she hadn’t been walking for 4 hours already that morning.
By the time we got up and started walking the storm clouds were gathering. It seemed as if the universe wanted to make sure that I didn’t change my mind and heading home. But we still needed to get to Avebury. We were in the middle of nowhere, and Sofia was ready to give up. I tried to teach her how to march as a way to focus her brain to get through to the end, but she didn’t want to listen only argue and complain that I wasn’t listening to her and it seemed better to leave her to it and a walked ahead as showers of rain started to pass over us. Perhaps not the most sensible idea as she slowed down even more which I hadn’t thought possible. We didn’t join forces again until the out skirts of Avebury where I sat waiting for her for about 45mins and I hadn’t been walking fast.
I had stopped to watch her a few times from a distance and to make sure she was ok, and she seemed to be taking 3 steps and then stopping to look at something before taking another 3 steps. The main thing though is that she made it, and she did it on her own for all intense and purposes, something that she is now proud of.
We (more me really) staggered into the first pub we saw. I got some cold drinks and then set to task to find a taxi to come and pick us up in the middle of no where and take us to the middle of nowhere, but being Friday the 13th, it took over 30mins to find one available, and many thanks to the lads behind the bar who helped in this mission. Once the cab booked, the heavens opened in happy agreement, the thunder clapped and the lightning flashed in joy, and the possibility of me ever being braver than my body could handle was washed away with it!
When we got home, Sofia jumped in the shower and came out refreshed and all her ‘pains’ gone. I on the other hand will be hobbling to days as the lactic acid clears from my calf muscles and shoulder muscles!
This is the second time she has had this lesson that she may be overstating her condition. Whilst I appreciate that in her world what she is experiencing is a life and death event, I think it is important that she realises the reality that she isn’t even close and proportionalises her response and I do remind her of Peter and the Wolf when this becomes apparent in the hope that gentle repetition will help her to over come it. I think it is in part about fear and not knowing her own body, I’m not unsympathetic, but she does need to get past it. The last time was when she screamed like her leg was broken when in reality not so much as a bruise had appeared the following day. It is something the school she is going to can work on. I’m so happy she has a placement there!
I have been quiet for the last few months as I ferreted away on setting up a new blog (current affairs, political, common sense, non PC – The Hungry Rabbit) that will hopefully sustain us in the future for more adventure travel to raise awareness for autism. I have almost finished with the initial setting up, and my focus is now returning to our next travel project – Europe.
Having decided that Europe was the next destination in the new year, I then had the thought that perhaps we should make it a bigger challenge and instead of a motorbike, that we should try a tandem bicycle. A really great idea and challenge to be done, but I have realised that now is not the time. Sofia is not ready to make that type of journey, coupled with the fact that at this point I think cultures will be a better learning for her than working through a physical punishment – and a physical punishment it would certainly be!
So we remain on the motorbike for this journey and will cover approximately 1000 miles a week, hoping to camp the entire way (peek season availability allowing) and taking in as much of the various cultures of Europe as possible.
As I think about this journey and I start to plan, I can feel that there will in fact be an enormous challenge in it for both of us and I wonder how I thought that it might not be enough! Not only will we dealing with many different languages yet never staying long enough to really get to grips with them, but cities will most likely become a major feature of our travels. This will present a challenge for me driving as I don’t like cities and have a propensity to get lost (yes really! if it wasn’t for basic navigation knowledge of North and South we may have ended up in the Arctic in stead of Africa!), but also Sofia, who will now have an opportunity to develop her map reading skills, and her camping skills, both of which she was only just starting to get to grips with on our journey through Africa.
The Plan of Action:
We do our first event of the season next week at the MCN Show at the Excel in London (17th-19th) where we will hopefully pick up some kit sponsors for the trip and sell our T-shirts and stickers. Expect a blog post, as this will be first time for me driving with a trailer and no doubt I will find myself in a pickle somewhere in London!
Start detailed planning – border controls for Ukraine and Russia; peg the definite destinations with time scales and sections where we can go off the beaten track. Ensure that I have Ural knowledge bases fully mapped on the route as well!
Start planning kit – we will have to halve what we took with us to Africa, partly because Sofia has grown and partly because in hindsight I think the Zambian bikers were right, we were too heavy in Africa. With Sofia also being older now, it may be easier to achieve this as well as I will feel less need as a mother to horde food and clothing!
Fundraising – This year I have set up an account on Patreon so that supporters can subscribe $1 per month (or more if they so choose). Through this I hope that we achieve a regular support base upon which we can plan future events as well as start creating grants for other children with Autism and Autism organisations. Please visit us on Patreon and become a patron now – https://www.patreon.com/AfricaWithAutism
Recording the event – This time I will be investing more time into planning the video recording and picture taking and hopefully get Sofia involved in the effort. It was my biggest regret in Africa that I hadn’t had time to do this before hand and made more of that aspect of the journey. So in Europe, I plan to make up for it. I have also found a great app for turning speech to text and will make an effort to create book as we go. I am currently using this for the book about the Africa journey, but sadly with so many other things on my plate it is not happening at the speed I would like!
2016 has been a remarkable year with many changes that will reverberate for years to come. It feels like what ever follows this year will have its roots in this year and as we say good bye to it, I can’t help but appreciate that significant effect that it has had.
For Sofia most notably it has been a year of expansion of awareness and confidence. The results of which I got to experience full force at the schools parents evening a few weeks ago. Every teacher was so complimentary of her, her enthusiasm, her engagement, and her manners. It was such a joy to hear that she was doing so well. She is not ‘cured’ of autism, there is no cure, her brain still functions in particular ways that is obvious to those that have experience, however, her ability to cope and function in the world is allowing her to experience it more positively and to interact with out fear of failure.
For me, the change has been one of liberation. We don’t realise how much our environment in the western world erodes our confidence and prohibits us from experiencing life to the full. It was a huge step for me to drop everything and embark on adventure that showed a completely different side to life and prove how safety is one that we create for ourselves rather than an existential given that can be taken away. I stand in a place of appreciation for all the people on our path who helped us realise this truth – and I particularly appreciate Sofia for coming into my life and being my inspiration to do something that added value to so many others as well. It has been wonderful to hear how we have inspired people to travel or make changes in their lives or do things they didn’t feel able to do before.
For 2017, whilst there is plenty happening on the home front, I am hoping that we will get an 8 week ride in the summer. For now the decision is definitely Europe which will see us travel up into Russia and then down to Gibraltar and back again (map embedded below). The world of Europe is becoming dangerous and it may not even be viable by the time we get to summer, so the USA is our back up plan and we will do it 2018 if Europe is a go for this year. I wish I could be more committed, but things are changing fast and it is impossible to have a crystal ball to know how things are going to look in 6 months time. All I do know is that once Europe starts to collapse into violence, it will be a long time before travel is going to be possible with any degree of realistic safety. The violence is inevitable now, it is just a question of when.. this coming year, the next year, or the year after – all are possibilities. So I think we go now whilst the going is still good.
Thank you everyone for following our adventures this year, and I hope you stick around to watch us in 2017! if you would like to donate, please feel free to do so at the Virgin money giving link on the right had side of this page.