The Life Changing Power of Choosing Challenge
Nicaragua, Coast to Coast, differently abled.
Check out this excerpt from Belinda Kirk's book Adventure Revolution. Drawing on lessons Belinda learnt from more than two decades of leading groups into the wilderness around the globe, her own research with modern hunter-gatherers, and the latest findings in neuroscience and psychology, Belinda uses Adventure Revolution to show how adventure has the power to transform the timid into the confident, the addicted into the recovering, and the lost into the intentionally wandering.
To read the full book grab a copy of Adventure Revolution here and to meet Belinda in person, join us at The Armchair Adventure Festival this September where she will be talking about her many adventures!
‘Not because it is easy, but because it is hard.’ - John F. Kennedy
Two thousand feet up the side of Concepción, an active volcano in central Nicaragua, the mud-spattered wheelchair lay on its side, its green frame glinting in the unforgiving sun, the metal too hot to touch. Climbing karabiners and straps lay abandoned around it; a coil of rope hung off the seat. Not surprisingly, given its extraordinary location, this was no ordinary wheelchair. It had four equal sized wheels with thick tyres to navigate the rock-strewn terrain, wide handlebars at the back for pushing and brakes at the front for the user to control the speed. This beaten-up piece of equipment looked like it had been somewhere and meant something. And it had: it was currently twenty-seven days into a coast-to-coast crossing of Nicaragua. The clinking of karabiners against the frame, the creaking of rope under tension and the audible straining of human breath no longer surrounded it. Now, in the hot still air, there was only silence.
The chair had been abandoned by Ade Adepitan, who had lost the use of his legs to polio as a child and had become Britain’s best-known wheelchair basketball player. After winning a bronze medal at the 2004 Paralympics, he and his mane of long locks had regularly appeared on TV. And now, his wheelchair defeated, he was half the way up the volcano on his hands and knees, making a bid for the summit with Karl, a one-legged amputee he’d met just weeks before.
I have only to gaze into the distance for all the years to drop away, and I see them again, these two men struggling upwards together. I have many adventure tales to tell, but this became one of the most important expeditions I’d ever participate in. For it wasn’t just my life touched for ever by these five weeks in Central America; the journey had a profound impact on the whole team – novices and experienced adventurers alike – but also, crucially, on everyone who witnessed it.
In late 2004, several months before we faced the volcano, I had been invited to join the expedition, named Beyond Boundaries. Expedition leader Ken Hames, an ex-major in the SAS, was planning to lead eleven people across Nicaragua from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific Ocean, a 220-mile crossing. The entire expedition was to be televised on prime time BBC TV. However, not only did the selected explorers have zero expedition experience, they were also physically disabled. The team included two wheelchair users, Ade and Sophie; Jane, who had lost both her lower legs; and Karl, Lorraine and Glenn, each of whom had one leg. Then there were Warren and Toby, each with one arm; Daryl with spina bifida; Amar, who was blind; and Charlie, who was deaf.
By the time we reached the volcano, several team members had dropped out for different reasons. Those remaining had crossed hundreds of miles of thick jungle and dry savannah. The physical effort of pushing wheelchairs through sticky mud and clambering through uneven terrain would be difficult for anyone. But in doing so without being able to see or hear, and with extraordinary strain on muscles, tendons, prosthetic legs and arms, the remaining team members had already overcome what had seemed impossible.
Yet summiting the volcano would prove to be the toughest challenge yet. From its base, the volcano filled the entire sky, obliterating the landscape all around; its sides rose ominously above us and stretched in every direction, overwhelmingly everywhere. The team rigged the wheelchair to straps and pullies so it could be manhandled up the slope by a three-man team and held from rolling backwards after each push. The hauling team of Karl, Toby and Amar worked together to help Ade push his wheelchair nearly halfway up the volcano. That in itself was a seemingly insurmountable challenge. However, the already treacherous rocky terrain suddenly changed from a thirty-degree to forty-five-degree incline. Over the next two exhausting hours, the team covered just 600 feet. The incline had become too steep; the painfully slow progress was just too much to bear. They reluctantly agreed it wouldn’t be possible to take the wheelchair any further. Ade needed to find another way to reach the summit.
It was too much. He broke down and cried. Ade is so strong I couldn’t bear to watch this happen – none of us could. It was soul destroying, and yet completely and utterly human. I cried for the first time on that expedition too. It was the only time I’d witnessed Ade to be anything but determined to get to the top. Seeing his face show a hint of defeat knocked the whole team for six. Ade had been the driving force and morale booster of the team throughout the entire expedition due to his unstoppable, positive energy. Nothing had dented his ability to dig deep and fi nd more reserves, until now.