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LEG 2 was successfully completed on June 11, 2001!

The RWC team have been chronicling their adventures and thoughts as they motor 'round the world. These are Mike and the Team's Challenge entries.

For more, read the weekly articles appearing in The Ottawa Citizen.

Leg 2: France - Turkey (April 14-May 4, 2001)

May 4, 2001: Dugubayazit, Turkey
Curious Turkish children cause a few "false alarms" but all is well as the Team makes it safely to a town near the Iranian border where they receive a welcome from locals and the Chief of Police.

May 3, 2001: Erzurum, Turkey
Mike reflects on an emotional visit to a Turkish Rehabilitation Centre and encounters with the police...

May 2, 2001: Eastern Turkey
As care attendant extraordinaire, George gives some insight into "why this adventure is a challenge and not a mere leisure cruise across the globe...."

May 1, 2001: Ankara, Turkey
After a warm reception in Istanbul, the Team receives great news - Iranian visas have been received...

April 26-30, 2001: Italy to Turkey
Long-time supporter, Roger Greenberg, joined Mike and the road team for the trek from Rome, Italy to Istanbul, Turkey...

April 29, 2001: Istanbul, Turkey
Mike reflects on a couple of very difficult days in Rome - bad news from home and more truck troubles...

April 25, 2001: Rome, Italy
George's reports on the many vehicle headaches...

April 21, 2001: Venice, Italy
Mike reports on a "magical ride through the 'city-on-water'"...

April 21, 2001: Italy
George's first trip to Northern Italy where "the architecture
and visuals absolutely blew my mind..."

April 19, 2001: En Route to Munich, Deutchland
George reflects on the past few days, including Mike's reunion with his old ski buddies in Switzerland and a great reception at a Swiss Rehab. Centre

April 15, 2001: Basel, Switzerland
Christine reports on the Team's safe arrival into Switzerland. Lovely scenery but not a hotel bed to be found!

April 14, 2001: France

Read about Leg 1 (Ottawa to Halifax, Canada) in our Archived Journal Entries


Read about other legs of the Challenge:

 

 

 

Dugubayazit, Turkey - May 4, 2001

Mike and the Road Team

Last night was rather a tricky night. We were awoken at 3:00 am from the sound of the truck alarm. We left the truck parked in front of the hotel in Erzurum.

One of our biggest concerns wherever we are is the safety of our vehicle - we always try to park in a location that is secure so the vehicle won't be damaged or stolen. George raced out of bed followed closely behind by David Hamilton to check on the vehicle.

Around 4:00 am we were awoken to music and prayer chants from a nearby prayer session. The alarm sounded again at 6:30 in the morning and it was determined that curious children were leaning on, looking in and trying the doors of the vehicle. Needless to say, the team did not get a very good night sleep that night.

We left the hotel at 10:00 am and stopped by an Internet café to get a proper e-mail connection. Unfortunately, many of the hotels do not have Internet connections in the rooms.

While we were at the Internet café a couple of young university guys starting calling the local media. They encouraged us to stay a bit longer while a local journalist and tv station arrived. A photographer crawled up a two-storey building to get a better shot. By this time a crowd of 50-75 had gathered in less than 20 minutes - it is amazing how quickly news travels - this is starting to be the pattern for our travels.

Finally at 11:30 we were on the read headed over another mountain pass with an altitude of 2,200 meters. The roads are becoming much narrower now with more bumps and potholes. There are no shoulders and we have to be very careful with the tanker truckers along the road - we have had a couple of close calls.

We had anticipated the drive to the boarder to be about three hours however it ended up closer to 6-7 hours. We pulled into a little town called Taslacy about 100 kms from the border looking for a place to have lunch. Unfortunately, we were unable to find a restaurant.

We continued on a back road into another smaller village of 15-20,000 people. This is the heart of rural Turkey - very backwards, no paved roads. Everyone was extremely curious and we ended up having a crowd of 200-300 people around us. They were fascinated with our names, how old we were and that we were from Canada. We enjoyed a beautiful traditional Turkish meal of chicken shish kebob.

While we were eating the Chief of Police came to our table and said that we are always welcome and that his assistant would be available to provide any assistance we needed. We all felt incredibly warm and everyone went out of their way to make us feel welcome. Our lunch for seven cost 13 million liras = $14 Cdn. As we were leaving, people were making donations to our cause.

We started the 100 km journey to the Iranian border. As advised by our home team, we decided not to cross the border in the evening. We located a place to stay in Dugubayazit and unloaded for the night. Since we have no idea how long the boarder crossing will take into Iran we figured the fresher we felt the easier it would be on us and the Iranian escort team on the other side.

We are now sitting down to dinner and we have made verbal contact the Iranian escort team and we will meet up with them tomorrow.


Erzurum, Turkey - May 3, 2001

Mike's Journal

First thing in the morning on our departure from the hotel the Assistant to the Canadian Ambassador greeted us. The Ambassador was extremely busy but sent a very nice lady named Sima, who stayed with our group for the entire day. Sima had organized a meeting with the Ankara Rehabilitation Hospital.

At the hospital the Chief Physician and the Acting Director of the Hospital greeted us. We toured a large portion of the hospital and saw a lot of patients working in the gym.

One patient stands out in particular - a man in his 30' s who had only been injured for about three months was with his mother doing some physiotherapy. We chatted briefly and he took me back to my time in rehabilitation after my injury. This young man struck a cord - this was a very emotional moment for me sitting on the side of his bed.

We handed out a lot of posters to patients and staff members. Our procession came upon a very bright and intelligent 13-year-old girl. She had heard about my journey and came out to greet me and took the opportunity to discuss her difficulties, her ambition and most importantly her strong desire to live life to the fullest.

We wandered around the hospital for almost an hour and as we made our way outside we came upon the media who had caught wind of what we were doing - there were television cameras and photographers - almost a 100 people had gathered with the patients. There was a great amount of interest and we spent nearly the entire morning chatting and fielding questions. This was another point in the journey that reinforced to me why I was doing this. You know it is a two way street, I in turn feel the energy, which pushes us forward

From the hospital we had a great drive on through eastern Turkey. We started a fairly tricky drive into a mountainous region but we made great time. We completed our drive into Sivas around 9:00 pm and took the recommendation of our Canadian Consulate on a hotel, unfortunately, the hotel was not accessible and we had to search out alternative accommodations for the night.

As luck would have it, David Hamilton had gone into an earlier hotel asking for directions, which we returned to and discovered it was fully accessible and available. We were offered a suite for the night at off-season rates and moved in for the night. A restaurant was found close by for dinner and the group settled in before the crowds arrived. A vivacious lady treated us to a traditional Turkish dance. Everyone enjoyed themselves with the music and food and retired back to the hotel around 11:00 PM

Gerard, the cameramen and myself started Thursday with a Turkish shave and trim. The Turkish shave involves a face massage, lather - the whole nine yards - I even took advantage of this opportunity to have a little taken off the top. By 11:30 we were on the road. The roads were very much up and down again and we hit an altitude of 2,200 meters.

It is now 6:40 PM and we are about to pull over for the night in Erzurum. George never gives me the benefit of doubt on our anticipated arrival time.

In Canada, the police only pulled us over once for going too slow. However in the space of an hour we were pulled over twice in Turkey. The first time, a cop waived us over for going too fast and was prepared to give us a ticket. He saw the newspaper clippings on the seat from a Turkish paper and softened slightly. I offered him two Canadian flags while he was handing me back my driver's license and he graciously waived us through.

A half an hour later, we were again waived over by another police car. This time I could not understand it, we had not broken any law that I was aware of. The officer in perfect English said he had seen us on CNN Turkey and Star TV and he only wanted to shake my hand. I handed him some Canadian flags and was waived on again.

Erzurum is a beautiful mountain city and as David Hamilton pointed out the highest city in Turkey (elevation 1,853). It would appear that there are ski resorts in the area as I see glacier mountains - who would have imagined you could ski year round in Turkey.

Tonight is the earliest we have arrived in the last week and everyone is looking forward to an early dinner. Tomorrow will be a major day of transitions as we approach the Iranian boarder. We will meet up with our Iranian escort team just beyond the border crossing and hope that the border does not bring too many hiccups.

Eastern Turkey - May 2, 2001

George's Journal

Time flies. Our merry crew is currently cruising on the way to Sivas in Eastern Turkey. So much has happened in the past few days or so with various team members arriving and departing, vehicle repair issues and keeping the show on the road……rather than recount events of the past little while I feel it crucial to address the issue of why this adventure is a challenge and not a mere leisure cruise across the globe.

First and foremost: driving is difficult. Driving across every possible landscape, weather and road condition imaginable is difficult. Driving this environment for 8 hrs a day 6 days a week is difficult. Then factor in the fact that our driver is a quadriplegic. The issues increase tenfold.

Muscle spasticity due to lactic acid buildup, a greater concentration requirement due to more sensitive controls, balance issues, no possibility of shoulder checks or scratching an itch……

The pace of the itinerary has been extremely rigorous to date, so much so that we are working on slowing things down somewhat. The long hours of driving are interspersed with countless media interviews and visits to rehabilitation centers, vehicle repairs, communication, documentary shooting and logistics.

Add to this schedule the four to five hrs daily required for Mike's morning and evening personal care routines and the picture becomes somewhat clearer. There have been several consecutive 21 hour days. Getting 4 hrs sleep is nice, 6 hrs bliss……the recommended 7-8 hrs daily is an abstract concept.

What about the personal and psychological issues? Almost everyday we wake up exhausted in a different bed, environment, culture and city. As the road monkey I am with Mike most hours of the day, 7 days a week for over 5 months –– personal space and general sanity become issues. Clearing the mind and savoring those precious few moments of down time squeezed in among the chaos is indispensable.

And what of accessibility? Negotiating curbs and doorways in a wheelchair is challenge in the west that gets significantly magnified as we head on east through Asia.

Imagine lifting and swiveling 200 pounds of wheelchair plus 150 pounds of Mike up 5 cobblestoned steps in Venice……poetry in motion! While life on the road is not easy, we do the best we can to make a "home" in the seats of "The Beast" as we circumnavigate the globe. We are all tough, focused and determined individuals and will prevail! Until next time, may peace be with you!

Cheers,

George


Ankara, Turkey - May 1, 2001

Mike's Report

Received the best news today - Iranian Visas received - this was not an easy process. We found out that a French cyclist was also attempting to drive through Iran and had been waiting for his Visa for two weeks. Our timing was perfect, we arrived to pick up our Visas at 10:00 am and were on our way to Ankara by 4:30 PM

It is now 11:30 PM and we have just arrived in Ankara. It felt great to leave Istanbul after three days and it was especially nice to have people honking and waiving as we made our way out of the city. We received fabulous publicity in Istanbul - a spot on CNN Turkey; an 8-9 minute profile on STAR TV; an article on page 3 of the national Turkish magazine, The Republican (where a great photo of Christine and I was used); as well as a piece in the magazine Tempo.

I feel that we are leaving a trail of awareness of the difficulties facing the disabled behind us and that a wave of interest is pushing us forward. Tomorrow, we are going to visit the largest Rehabilitation Centre in Turkey with the Canadian Consulate and the Turkish Paraplegic Association. We will be generating wonderful goodwill at the Centre before we head off on our journey eastwards towards Sivas.

The truck is performing well and we are only one day behind our original schedule!

Mike

Istanbul, Turkey - April 29, 2001

Mike's Journal

It's now Sunday afternoon, April 29th and day 41 of the 'Round the World Challenge. We have finally made it into Istanbul, Turkey late last night and I am typing this entry from the 11th floor of our hotel overlooking the famous Bosporus Strait which is significant as the setting for the battle portrayed in the WWII feature film, "The Guns of Naverone".

As I've mentioned before, I can't get over how quickly the days and weeks go by and how many significant events have taken place. When I last submitted my journal I mentioned how lucky we had been and the serendipity we had encountered on the way. Well, in Rome it seemed like our lucky streak had come to an end and we have been through some of the most challenging times I could possibly have imagined.

Last Sunday, I received the news via e-mail that Garry Sowerby - our Technical Advisor and team member on Leg I (Eastern Canada) was unable to participate in leg II (Middle East and the Indian Subcontinent) part of the "Challenge". Garry sighted that he had been feeling incredibly stretched recently having just completed the launch of the new GMC "Avalanche" truck and torn between his commitment to our project and his family in Halifax, Nova Scotia. This was a very disappointing blow to the team as Garry had brought his vast past experience and resources to the project having successfully driven around the world twice and being the current holder of the Guinness world speed record for circumnavigating the globe by a gas powered vehicle. We quickly convened a series of team meetings to discuss our options and who would take Garry's place on the project.

On the same day we received the news from Garry Sowerby we received good news in the form of a long awaited rendezvous with the Canadian and International "cavalry" who would be escorting us in their van and Audi sports car from Rome to Istanbul. The new team members included: Roger Greenberg (Businessman/Community Leader) David Hamilton (Businessman/Film Producer), Gerard Dolan (Cameraman) Barbel Helmet (Camera Assistant), Karl-Heinz (Businessman) and Archana (Publicist), Peter Stewart (Musician) and Lee Greenberg (Journalist). It would be momentarily before we realized how timely our latest team members' presence would be needed to help out.

At the risk of slowing down our aggressive itinerary, we decided to do the smart thing by getting the vehicle into the garage in Europe in preparation for the most difficult phase of the challenge which would begin in Turkey. The work to the vehicle included: front end and brake inspection; regular oil change and replacement of the seals on the steering box. After considerable research and phone calls, we located the only GM garage in all of Rome which was appropriately named "American Car Company" and promptly made arrangements to drive my truck to their garage some 40 kilometres south of Rome. Since Rome and for that matter, most other cities around the world, are not served by accessible transportation for people with disabilities, Peter (van driver) and George Swinimer (teammate) drove in convoy to the garage so I could transfer into their vehicle in order to return to the hotel and thus, leave my truck overnight with the repair shop.

Fortunately, a very friendly and knowledgeable mechanic named Roberto (Proprietor of American Car Company) and his son, David had lived and worked in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and consequently spoke fluent English. The good news was that the work appeared relatively standard and I should have had my vehicle back later that evening or at the latest, the following day.

When the phone rang later that night, I was anticipating good news that my truck was ready only to learn that I would likely have it back by 12 noon the following day. The following Monday morning we elected to pack the van and the car in addition to a taxi (carrying our mountain of gear) and head to the garage. It would then be on the road to work our way into the south of Italy to catch a ferry over to Greece ... so we thought! We agreed that Christine and Lee would jump in the car with Karl-Heinz and Arcana in order to leave for the south of Italy ahead of us and scout out the route and an accessible hotel.

Upon arrival at the garage, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the repairs to my truck would be completed momentarily and we would soon be on the road again. Much to my dismay, I learned that Roberto unilaterally decided to replace the steering box as the seals that were sent for installation were the wrong part and not compatible with my part. Unfortunately, Robert did not realize that my steering box had been modified internally to allow me to steer with very little effort. As I was about to embark on a test drive I could barely turn the wheel and it was apparent even before leaving the parking lot that my original steering box would need to be reinstalled. Unfortunately, Roberto pointed out that this was an impossibility as my "old box" had broken internal seals and oil was leaking out at a rapid rate ... what to do now?

After 8 hours of phone calls back and forward to Canada seeking professional advice on the best course of action and Roberto mixing and matching internal components of the two steering boxes, I was finally ready for a road test. Fortunately, in addition to working in the US Roberto had also worked for the famous Italian Car maker - Ferrari. He was not phased by my modified steering or any of the other challenges that faced him. With baited breath, I carefully headed out to test the steering. I sighed with relief as the steering performed well and it felt like the old truck that I was so very used to over the past years.

Once again, the team and I awoke the next morning with renewed energy and optimism. The truck was completely packed and I was about to get into the vehicle on my electronic/hydraulic lift when I heard a sudden noise "pishhhh" like a tire suddenly losing pressure to then discover that the lift was losing pressure and didn't have enough power to lift me and my chair into the truck. We quickly surveyed the situation to discover that hydraulic oil was rapidly rushing out from a hose directly under the vehicle. Again, we got on the phone to Roberto and 1 hour later David came to the rescue. We managed to get two jacks under the lift and with quick blasts from my lift controller I was able to get the lift into the driver's position and it was back to Roberto's garage. I really in my wildest dream never imagined that we'd be back at the garage ever again. Despite it being a national holiday Roberto was congenial, understanding and quite willing to do whatever it would take to get us mobile again.

As I was unable to get out or into the truck using the lift, I sat tight in the driver's seat as the vehicle was hoisted 10 feet into the air. As suspected one of the main 6' long hydraulic lines running under the truck had split due to wear and tear and needed replacement. Generally getting a new line would be relatively quick and easy were it not for the fact that it was a holiday. Finally, Roberto got a hold of the daughter of a local guy who owned his own hydraulic repair business. His daughter assured us that getting the repair completed was not a problem but that her father was at the beach relaxing and not due back until 6 PM ... it was presently 2 p.m. After waiting it out (still in the driver's seat) 5 hours, Roberto diligently replaced the hydraulic line, topped up the fluid and gave us a spare line to boot. With the team and I profusely thanking Roberto for helping us yet again we were finally on the road at 9 p.m. for the Southwest coast of Italy. Fortunately, 2 relatively uneventful days ensued before arriving at the port town of Bari.

Our new road team comprising 11 people in 3 vehicles checked in to obtain our tickets and enthusiastically made our way onto the "Fast Ferry" on route to Igoumenitsa, Greece. On board the humongous ship, we enjoyed a group dinner reminiscing about the past 5 days and then settled into our cabins for a very short sleep. Awaking at 5 a.m. we all went on deck to enjoy a spectacular view of Igoumenitsa Harbour just as the sun was rising.

Back on land in our next country, Greece - it was quickly back to the business of driving. We very carefully worked our way up and up and up over the coastal mountains only to drop down to some valleys for a short reprieve and then back over yet another and another mountain Pass. The highest and most challenging stretch was the Katara Pass which peaked at an elevation of approximately 2000 metres. We even stopped for a photo in front of the "Katara Ski Area" with some patchy areas of snow in sight! This must have been where all those Greek Olympic and World Cup champion skiers trained!

After a long 14 hour day behind the wheel we pulled into Thessalonika, - a thriving cosmopolitan port city of approximately 1 million inhabitants nestled on the Mediterranean. It was a welcomed sight as we finally made in to the Electra Palace Hotel located in the heart of the city. Christine and I enjoyed a rare dinner alone at a nearby café and at last it was sleep sweet sleep.

On Saturday, April 28th and Day 40 we enjoyed a very scenic drive along the Mediterranean coast, painlessly crossed the border into Turkey and arrived some 700 kilometres later in Istanbul. After visiting 13 countries over the past 41 days we have clocked 8,229 kilometres ... just over three and a half months, 8 more countries and 31,771 kilometres further to go!


Frankfurt Airport - April 30, 2001

Roger's Journal

It is 10:15 am on Monday, April 30th and I am sitting in the Frankfurt airport in Germany enroute back to home base in Ottawa. As I write this final entry describing my recent involvement in the "Round The World Challenge", it is hard for me to find the right words to describe my feelings on what I've experienced in the last ten days. To say that I've been overwhelmed by what Mike Nemesvary is attempting to achieve is a mild understatement. But more on that later.

What has really amazed me is the intensity of warm feelings that I've developed for the other nine team members who participated in this leg of the Challenge. First, there is Christine. She has been travelling since the launch from Ottawa on March 20th and is returning to see her two children for a couple of months before rejoining Mike on the final leg of the Challenge in July. Then there is Mike's personal assistant George - a man of patience and internal fortitude, if ever there was one, with a fascinating personal history. The two-person camera team - Gerard and Bearbel and their driver Peter - did so much more than just filming for a documentary. They helped whenever they could. Then there was the team that I brought along with me - the so-called "cavalry". My cousin Lee (son of Lawrence) the journalist, David Hamilton, the Chairman of our sister companies Bradson Technology Professionals and Spherion together with two of his friends from Germany - Karl Heinz and Archana. All were amazing.

In our ten days together, these disparate personalities came together as a family, united in their desire to help Mike achieve his remarkable goal. As we sat together last night in a restaurant on the Bosporus in Istanbul watching the big ships pass in front of us, we all remarked on the incredible closeness that had unexpectedly developed. Perhaps all the adversity we had faced in the last few days brought us together.

A more likely explanation, though, was the realization that we were participating in something much bigger than just driving from one place to another. We were participating in what will hopefully become something historic for Canada, comparable to Terry Fox's run across Canada and Rick Hanson's "Man In Motion" tour. In my eyes, Mike is a true hero as he attempts to raise people's awareness to the problem's faced by the world's disabled, the power of technology to inspire their lives and to raise money for spinal cord research and rehabilitation. In his own quiet unassuming way, Mike Nemesvary is the most inspirational person I have ever met.

As we finished dinner and I began saying goodbye to my new friends, I must admit that a big part of me regretted not being able to continue with the team as they embark on what will undoubtedly be the most difficult part of the Challenge - traveling through Iran, Pakistan and India. However, after discussions with Mike, I realized that there is much that I can do to help Mike from Canada. And help him I will! I wish the whole team the best of luck and wish Mike a safe return to Ottawa at the end of August.

Istanbul, Turkey - April 29, 2001

Roger's Journal

I am leaving this message at 11:15 PM The team experienced a very lengthy day. We departed Thessaloniki at 9:30 am. Lunch was enjoyed at a quaint restaurant along the roadside. After lunch, we started a very long flat drive towards Istanbul. The lead group of David Hamilton, Karl Heinz, Lee Greenberg and myself jumped ahead of Mike’s vehicle on approach to Istanbul.

We were totally astounded by the size and magnitude of Istanbul. Istanbul has a population of 12 million people – the size blew us away. We had great difficulty locating a local map of the area and called the hotel to provide directions to their location, they advised us to go to the airport and request the assistance of a policeman. Istanbul is much like Toronto, lots of activity and traffic even on a Saturday night.

The team was a little frazzled and testy by the time the hotel was located and we were settled in. Mike was feeling the effects of the very long drive and the strain of moving around on unfamiliar roads. It was too late to get a proper meal at the hotel and everyone disbursed into their sleep quarters not long afterwards.

We awoke the next day to a beautiful, sunny day. Several people from the team left the hotel in search of a restaurant to have our last meal together. Mike took care of his personal needs in the morning while others spent time doing their own thing. I hung around the hotel and prepared for a video interview at 4:30 in the afternoon by the GAPC team members.

We had a very sentimental last dinner at a restaurant along the water – this would be the last time the eleven of us would be together as group. We relaxed and enjoyed each others company while watching huge boats and tankers at the docks. Everyone agreed that the last ten days had been an incredible journey (or should I say challenge!).

Roger

Igoumenitsa, Greece - April 28, 2001

Roger's Journal

Yesterday the team awoke on a ferry at 6:00 am entering the port of Igoumenitsa to make the difficult mountain top crossover to the northern part of Greece. Enjoyed lunch at a roadside restaurant around midday. After lunch traveled between Larisa to Thessaloniki.

Mike experienced a severe allergic reaction while driving and team had to pull over. Mike’s face had swollen up and he had difficulty breathing. The Team sat on the roadside for about a ½ hour allowing Mike to cool down which restored his breathing.

As we drove into Thessaloniki (population approximately 1 million people), the size, vibrancy and excitement of the city stunned us. The roads were jammed with people and traffic and the sense of light and beauty of the city at 8:30 PM assaulted us. After locating our hotel, we enjoyed dinner at a small café.

Everyone enjoyed a great night sleep and we met for breakfast at 8:00 am the next morning before heading out to Turkey.

Roger

Thessaloniki, Greece - April 26, 2001

Roger's Journal

When I told friends that this was a “Round The World Challenge” and not a Round the World Vacation, I had no idea how prophetic those words were about to become.

Mike’s vehicle was soon crippled by two major mechanical failures.

Firstly on Tuesday morning, four members of the team left Rome to scout out the location and time of ferries that would take us from Italy to Greece. The remaining seven team members, including Mike, piled into the second vehicle and two taxis to make our way to the garage where Mike had left his vehicle the day before for what we thought was relatively routine maintenance.

To our dismay, we discovered that the steering box on Mike’s vehicle was broken and had to be replaced. On a normal vehicle in Canada this would be an uncomplicated repair – but for Mike’s heavily modified vehicle, in Rome, nothing could be further from the truth.

With team members anxiously waiting, ‘Super Repairman Roberto’ worked feverishly until 10:00 p.m. to complete the repairs. By this time, it was too late to try and catch the ferry, so we made our way as far as Anzio where we stayed the night.

We awoke to a spectacular day on Wednesday and after breakfast, we piled into our vehicles, anxious to join our other four team members already in Bari, Italy.

As Mike’s hydraulic system was lifting his wheelchair into his Blazer, fluid suddenly began spitting out from underneath the lift and the hydraulics quickly lost all power. Unfortunately for us, Wednesday, April 25 is a national holiday in Italy and all stores, including garages, were closed. As luck would have it, we were able to track down ‘Super Repairman Roberto’ once more who in turn had a friend make a new hydraulic hose to replace the one that split.

We were not able to get underway until 7:00 p.m. and we were now two days behind. But at least we were finally on the road! We drove for about 5-1/2 hours until we joined up with our four teammates who had backtracked from Bari to our location. At least we were now a complete team.

On Thursday, we awoke to a cloudy overcast day and made our way onward to Bari (or back for some team members) to take the overnight ferry to Igoumenitsa, Greece. We landed at 5:00 a.m. to begin our journey through Greece to where I am now, Thessaloniki.

Two things stand out in my experiences of the last five days:

  • The courage that one single, disabled human being can exhibit despite tremendous personal challenges - but more on that later.

  • The incredible kindness and generosity, not from just team members, but from everyone who has learned about or come in contact with Mike and his dream.

Roger

Italy, 25 April, 2001

George's Journal

OK so were am I now?……. Craziness. I'm stuck in da Beast, lifted up in a platform at the American Car garage outside of Roma……Mike is next to me Santana's Oye Como Va on the box……we're trapped.

We've had many vehicle issues since the "arrival of the cavalry'‘, evidently one of them is carrying a curse of sorts but we have yet to figure out whom. I'm inside to operate the manual overide of the lift system which has started giving us serious trouble since this morning…gushing Dexdran 3 Transmission fluid in front of our hotel on the Mediterranean. Roberto, who helped us out yesterday by fixing (at least temporarily) issues with the power steering system……another long day in a garage yesterday……wrong parts, issues, grinding noises, classic moments where absolutely everything seems to be going wrong but you end up cracking up in the end because for a split second it feels like you truly recognize the ironic absurdity of life, the universe and everything in between.

Its Independence Day in Italy now……although the people I ask don't seem to know from whom the independence was obtained. "Biga daya –– like the fourth of July in the USA!" something along those lines. We were supposed to have the vehicle all set and ready to go yesterday but the effortless power steering wasn't quite so there you go.... yet another late night with the wonders of sleep appreciated again.

I'm babbling and tired at the moment, so bear with me as I drop down details as they pop to mind. "The Cavalry" are an interesting crew, making us a road team of eleven as opposed to three, completely changing the dynamics, politics and general situation. The personalities are all strong and unique including professional experience from the business, sports, music, film, journalism to international bumming fields. We have them for a week or so till Istanbul…… so we hope to enjoy the company and help while we can……some of the crew including Christine are in Brindisi without their luggage since yesterday, hoping to scope out the situation ahead of time before the vehicle issues arose. Here there and everywhere, but we are definitely not bored.

Have I seen any of Roma? No time …….too much craziness with the exception of St. Peter's Cathedral –– but this one –– mindblowing. Every which way, detail, painting, sculpture jumps out at you and screams for attention. How many years, how much time to build this wonder……does such religious dedication exist today? Down the lift, I'm no longer captive……time to stretch in the Mediterranean Sun.

Cheers,

George

Venice, Italy - April 21, 2001

Mike's Journal

Despite driving along at a healthy clip, I was repeatedly being passed by Porsche, Audi, Ferrari and BMW sports cars. From Verona we headed east to our next destination, Venice, or as the Italians say "Venezia". Cruising in at around 7:30 p.m. we promptly located a secure parking spot on the mainland and hopped (wheeled) onto a water-bus on route for the famous St. Marco Square. Despite a bit of a chill in the air, it was a magical ride through the "city-on-water" and both Christine and George seemed enchanted by the whole experience of the lights, the boats and the architecture. In a small restaurant next to the Square we enjoyed a long overdue meal of fish soup, pasta and red wine in celebration of our safe arrival in Venice.

The next day we were heading south through Padova and Bologna before taking a break at one of the many roadside service stations. Upon finishing our lunch, these three strangers stroll up to our table and David Hamilton proceeds to say "we found you"! David had just flown over from Canada, had rendezvoused with two friends from Cologne, Germany and were driving through Europe in order to join us in convoy from Rome to Istanbul, Turkey. We all couldn't believe our luck that we'd both pull off at the same service station, on the same autoroute and the same time and somehow met up! The serendipitous meeting reinforced that we are being looked out for and that, so far, luck has been on our side.

We've just got back from a little sightseeing at the Vatican and we're all looking forward to rendezvousing with the rest of our support team in the hotel tonight as tomorrow we depart Rome on route for the overnight ferry that will take us from Brindisi, southeast coast of Italy across to Igoumenitsa, southwest coast of Greece.

After visiting 10 countries over the past month we have clocked 6,536 kilometres ... just less than four months, 8 more countries and 33,464 kilometres further to go!

Mike

En route to Venice, Italy - April 21, 2001

George's Journal

We're on the way to Rome where we should be staying at a hotel just outside of St Peter's Square...I'm excited...Saturday Night in Rome and we're not cruising anywhere tomorrow - the mischief angel is sitting on my shoulder..

We've been cruising through Europe. Zurich to Munich where we arrived late at night, I walked the streets in the rain and grabbed some Punjabi cuisine in a combination Italian/Indian (!?!) restaurant. Architecture..art..vibe. 'Tis a cultural city with so much to see and explore but the show must go on, better luck next time. To sleep at 2:30 AM, up at 6:30. The drive the following day met us with snow, lots, flurries all around..pop into Austria...cruise through the Brindisi pass in the mountains. Then northern Italy - my first time..beautiful hills with houses along the sides, churches and cathedrals absolutely everywhere..the snow disappears as we cruise over bridges, streams and brooks, eventually into the lowlands where we are greeted by the Mediteranean sun.

Outside Venice early evening. Everyone's tired a bit burnt out. I have to get into Venice. Full Stop. Mike asks if we really want to go. Yes, dammit!. Accessibility is a serious issue. Rain drizzles as I run along bridges watch the waves of the "streets" lap up against the stone pathways. Find a potential route with a steep angled ramp. Mike parks. We get on the local "bus", a small ferry boat that motors through the water. The architecture and visuals absolutely blew my mind, novelty stimulation novelty, huge spectacular cathedrals, the Venice casino, the main square. A fine meal later we were off to find a location with a more convenient hotel..back to reality but those four hours were a magical dream that will forever be imprinted in my soul.

Synchronicity-Serendipity. The dynamics of the Round the World Challenge road team are about to change yet again. Since the UK it has been just Mike, Christine and yours truly. Come Rome tomorrow, we will be joined with Roger Greenberg and three of his friends..fate would have it that we just "bumped" into them in a restaurant outside of Bologna..you tell me. Also some of Christine and my filming duties will be relieved as we are joined by our director of photography, his assistant and a driver so until Istanbul our little threesome becomes a little tensome, just like that. Let's see how it unfolds..one step at a time.

George

En Route to Munich, Deutchland, April 19, 2001

George's Journal

En Route to Munich, Deutchland. Time flies..where were we last? Mmm cruising to France via the chunnel? Don't look for accommodation in France during Easter weekend, a lesson we learned rather quickly, pulling off toll highways perhaps a dozen times..finally around 3:00AM in Dijon, we find a single tiny room...Exhausted we squeeze in a pre teen slumber party wake up mid morning for..tsk tsk Easter Menu a nice little taste of French cuisine, lots of smoked salmon, fine cheese and mousse before us three beached whales roared off to La Suisse.

We hooked up with one of Mike's old skiing buddies in Basel. Back in the day Mike Abson used to be the freestyle man on the slopes of Ottawa..a twelve year old Mike Nemesvary began sharpening moves and picking up tips around this time. Reorganization, repacking, logistics, and a whole lot of chillin' to a stellar music collection, good food.etc. Mike's wife Esther invited me to jam at the palliative care clinic she works at, a beautiful converted mansion, let loose for a bit on the strings while twelve people of varying ages lay in there beds preparing for their final exit from this world..

The following day Mike and Christine went off to a rehab centre, supposedly one of the best in Europe and had an absolutely fabulous time. Footplate issues were taken care of, lots of press, cash donation and spectacular reception. These two were positively glowing when we reconvened later that evening. Even this monkay had a great day hanging out in Zurich cruising the cafes.

As you can imagine the cruise into the chalet was seriously sawa sawa, sunroof of Mike's Alpha Romeo down, fat deep house pumping through the box as the Swiss Alps shimmered in the sun. Nice imagery no? Big social gathering followed, fifteen freestylers from the past and future with a fine feast, watching Mike appear on the news every hour on the hour. Picture the situation..a room full of gold medals, ski-masters to the extreme and then this monkey, with his African baked brain never once brandishing a pair of downhill skies figuring out the situation. If progressive learning can at all be aquired through osmosis, when I eventually hit the slopes and try out snowboarding I'm gonna fly! Aiiiiiit navigation duties a-call as we head into Munchen. Cheers!

George

Basel, Switzerland, April 15, 2001

Christine's journal

Here we are once again, touring down the A36 cruising along to Basel where in about three hours we'll hopefully meet up with Mike's good friends - the Absons. It's uncertain at this time if they'll be around since we are about two days ahead of schedule and they aren't expecting us until the 17th.

Once again, the traffic is very light and is making for a less stressful drive for Mike. But as far as finding accommodations this holiday weekend, that would have to be one of the challenges we had to deal with. Every hotel we stopped in at was full and as the night wore on we became more and more determined to find a place to crash. There was actually one place we went where the front desk clerk offered us the lobby with blankets and pillows because she knew we had to at that point drive another hour and a half before getting to the next hotel. Finally we made our way to the town of Dijon and, voilà, a room! At that point, we didn't care about anything but having a bed in a quiet dark room. And at 2:30 a.m., the three of us we tucked into the smallest room I have every slept in, with literally enough space to walk/wheel in and crawl into our beds which were lined up side to side, no space between. And sleep we did indeed. Mike was the first to wake to find that it was already 11:00 a.m. so we started the morning routine right away and in an hour and a half we were washed, dressed, truck packed and sitting down to our Easter meal.

The little piece of France that we have experienced has been very memorable. From the delectable cream sauces of our meal, the romantic sound of the language to the spectacular scenery.

It's now 6:00 p.m. and from the backseat of the truck I peer out the windshield to get my first ever glimpse of the Swiss Alps. We are about 20 km from Basel and now in Switzerland. I am the only team member who is on a maiden voyage from France here on in. Both Mike and George have been to the countries en route. Mike says that everything is perfect in Switzerland and from what I am seeing so far I can't disagree. We are driving along side the city tram as we weave our way along a main street here in Basel. This is a perfect place to spend a little time and get around and explore.

Christine

 

 

France, April 14, 2001

George's Journal

Bonjour! We are just about to exit the Chunnel after crossing under the English Channel, a new country driving again on the "right" side of the road, heading east after our quick loop through the British Isles. Christine hangs out the front window while filming the compartment doors as they open. Various details have been sorted out and we are, quite miraculously still on schedule.

The roads are eerily empty, everyone presumably takin' it easy for the Easter weekend. Mike's wheelchair footplates have been temporarily fixed with one monkay's greatest inventions since the wheel – duct tape. With a reasonable degree of ingenuity I am convinced that anything, absolutely anything can be fixed with the stuff. Stay tuned for treeplanting tales in the near future!

Our transmission box? Apparently fixed! The classic last minute connection came through. We woke up at the vile hour of 3:30 AM to do some press, discovering later that our original mechanic bailed from the repair job ("sorry man … Easter weekend you know" …too say nothing of Mike's reaction at the breakfast table…ho no!). Fortunately someone passed us a contact of perhaps the only garage in London with the necessary part … and was willing to squeeze us in the Easter Repair Rush. Had we not found this guy we would have been stuck in London for the entire Easter weekend, which in my book would have been sawa sawa, but would have driven a precision-minded individual such as Mike… "ape".

The garage was quite the surreal environment with neighboring mechanics working on a variety of Rolls, Porches and my classic favorite: the Cobra. We had a crew from Reuters television conducting interviews, while I watched Da Beast get its new transmission box fitted – vowing someday to fullfill my dream of fixing up a motorbike and doing an extensive cruise across Eastern Europe. Life flies by far to fast for my liking, must squeeze these things in while you still can.

Back into London I had my first bit of time off in two weeks – an 8 hr afternoon/evening stretch … oh the wonder of having time to do one's own thing! I hooked up with my cousin Ira, who now acquired an amusing Manchester tinge to her Russian accent, my aunt Natasha, recently flown in from Moscow and Evelyn an old family friend from Kenya of Chinese heritage – quite the motley crew. We did the Italian lunch thing and soaked in the atmosphere around Trafalgar square. A church in the area had an orchestra rehearsing Handel's Messiah, which blew my mind – first piece of live music I've heard for some time. A great many laughs later, it was time to head back to work. Such a tease to see people for such a short time…Before departing my cousin slipped me a few tins of beluga sturgeon caviar (definately food of the Gods) along with old photographs of my late grandparents to take with me on my journey. I committed to seeing my cousin in London, my aunt in Moscow, and Evelyn in Jerusalem and some stage in the not so distant future, cash time and situation allowing of course.

Mike has just informed me we've just completed 4000 kms, one tenth of our journey as we pass Arras 180 Kms north of Paris. Time flies – vive la France!

George

 

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