UK to Timbuktu By Road Challenge
PS I am a bit rubbish with technology – I try to thank all donors but I'm not sure if I am succeeding so please know that we are incredibly grateful for any help!
I and fellow journalist Nick Redmayne are heading from the UK to Bamako, Mali; we expect the journey to take about a month. We’ll be driving down through France, across the Pyrenées into Spain and, from there, by ferry to Morocco. We’ll carry on down through Western Sahara, Mauritania, Senegal and, finally, Mali.
Our Timbuktu Challenge is due to depart the UK 26th Dec 2018, heading south across Europe, through Morocco, Western Sahara and Mauritania, crossing the Sahara Desert and ending in Mali’s capital, Bamako – a journey of approximately 4100 miles.
Our vehicle, a former British Transport Police 4x4 (presuming it makes it) is destined for donation to the Rotary Club Control Committee in Mali. Funds from vehicle and parts sales support the important, on-going work of the Eden Medical Centre in Dinfara, where medical provision, though basic, is crucial.
In early August 2018, I was on holiday at my brother’s house in a tiny village high in the Pyrenées when I began to experience severe, extremely painful chest pains that caused me to break out in a cold, clammy sweat. They went from three or so per day at the start of the week to as many as ten by its end.
After landing at London Stansted, I toyed with the idea of going home, but on balance took myself straight to Whipps Cross Hospital in east London.
It’s just as well that I did. After an immediate ECG, I was taken straight to the front of the queue of about 50 people, put into an ambulance and “blue-lighted” to Bart’s Hospital in central London.
I was already having a heart attack when I had turned up at Whipps Cross; it seems the chest pains were likely to have been a series of minor heart attacks. And I was having another heart attack when we arrived at Bart’s. I was taken straight to the operating theatre, where they attempted and failed to insert stents. I then had a massive coronary, leaving them no option but to carry out open-heart surgery, using a vein from ankle to thigh to graft triple bypasses.
During surgery, I suffered a stroke and they found a blood clot on my brain. There were serious complications with my lungs and kidneys.
My body shut down and I stopped breathing; I was on life-support for about ten days, unresponsive.
The surgeon later described the events as “catastrophic” and said they would not have been “survivable” had I not been at a hospital – given I was in a tiny village in the Pyrenees 12 hours earlier, it is a miracle I am here.
Those who know me won’t be surprised to know that during a bout of “delirium” (basically, hallucinations) I shouted at nurses, called the head of press to complain about a dirty tricks campaign by the hospital’s “managing editor” (I have since apologised profusely) and had a huge row with my ex-wife and daughter for not taking my account of having been shot in New York seriously or being mugged the next day in Rajasthan. I also insisted that my friend, whom I told I had terminal cancer, find a bookshop to buy me a copy of The Time Traveller by EJ Thribb. Needless to say, he was unsuccessful.
Three weeks later at time of writing (October 1 2018), I am in recovery.
Three days after my own attack (hereditary and lifestyle-related coronary heart disease, CHD) my poor brother, only 48, suffered a wholly unrelated sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). He remains gravely ill and unresponsive six weeks later. We don’t know what will happen next. To have two of three sons on life-support with both cases looking unrelentingly bleak was a cruel trick of fate for my elderly parents; I came round eventually and now I want to put something back.
Since I am freelance and have been told not to work for 12 weeks minimum, money would have been a problem. A closed Facebook group for freelance journalists (A Few Good Hacks) read of my plight and created a fund-raising page that topped £2,500, largely from people whom I have never met, an incredible display of solidarity.
The journalists’ charities, The Press Fund and NUJ Extra have also been remarkable, giving me financial assistance in this life-changing scenario.
Consequently, we wish to raise funds for three charities:
• The British Heart Foundation (especially to fund more research into Sudden Cardiac Arrest, SCA, because of my brother’s terrible situation)
• The Press Fund
• NUJ Extra
(Any revenue to be split three ways, though we will need some money to cover rent, bills and on-the-road expenses in the month that we are away.)
Thanks for reading!
This journey wasn’t conceived as a fundraising charity event.
I was 52, fit and healthy. An occasionally sore knee didn’t point to any particularly worthy cause.
I couldn’t claim a motivation any higher than the fact an independent overland journey across north and west Africa still carried a sense of adventure, and I liked that.
The last ‘long drive’ I attempted, in November 2011, started in North Shields and ended in Amman, taking in Aleppo, Damascus and Beirut along the way. In Aleppo I slept in Lawrence’s room at the Baron’s Hotel – they were understandably quiet and offered a ‘special’ rate. Despite having given the barman ‘a holiday’ the hotel still managed a couple of tins of beer, and boiled eggs for breakfast. I was probably one of its last guests.
When I first mentioned the possibility of this Timbuktu Challenge, Eugene was immediately enthused. His proceeding, in-depth exploration of NHS emergency services was not part of the plan. I assumed I’d simply be looking for a new co-driver. Not so.
The journey of over 4,000 miles will have its travails. If Eugene shares just some of his obviously immense reserve of resilience, any difficulties relating to mechanical failures, digestive uncertainty, bribery, bandits and minefields will be as nought.
Look out for postcards from Bamako.
Any little helps… whether it is the price of a latte, a sandwich, an after-work bottle of wine, dinner out, we would be hugely grateful for your help. You know what to do…
We are seeking one overall sponsor whose name and logo will be prominently displayed on the side of our vehicle. We will also put together reports, podcasts a video for YouTube and so on, all of which can be used on your website. Please get in touch if you think your company might help or if you know someone else who might be able to!
Existing sponsors offering some support are:
• Bradt Travel Guides (leading travel publishers championing unusual destinations, sustainable tourism and high-quality writing)
• Kamageo (African adventure tourism experts)
• Undiscovered Destinations (adventure travel specialists)
• The Narrow Nick micro-pub, Rothbury, Northumberland
We are now seeking a headline sponsor to act “in association with” to help fund this huge challenge!
The trade publication for journalists wrote a very supportive piece on October 15, which was very kind of them:
Former president of the NUJ Tim Dawson wrote a lovely piece for the NUJ website:
We have decided on a motto for our adventure. Our "determinate voyage is mere extravagancy", said by Sebastian in Twelfth Night. 'Extra' is Latin for "outside" and 'vago, vagare' means "wander". So it's a posh way of saying, our plan is to just wander about outside. We laugh in the face of itineraries. A sleeping bag in the Sahara under the "this most excellent canopy the air, look you, this brave o'er hanging firmament, this majestical roof, fretted with golden fire" (OK, that bit is Hamlet, to be fair) – what could be more liberating?
Plus we can't be bothered to plan distances and where to stay.
So to keep a promise to my dad, I contacted my surgeon to ask for his view. Here is what he said:
It was with great pleasure that I read your email, I think this is a great initiative and I am fully supportive of it...
From a medical point of view, I think you should be fine.
The most important thing is to enjoy this trip and don't over do it.
This is my email to feel free to ask me anything or send me some updates from your adventures!
So to all those who have sought to persuade me to cancel this trip, I say "Pah! Fie 'pon ye, piff and tosh!"