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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: Iran, Pakistan & India (May 5-June 11, 2001)

June 11, 2001: Madras, India
Mike reports on some delays in getting the vehicle ready for shipping to Australia.

June 8-10, 2001: Madras, India
A very close call but the Team makes it to Madras. "We're here! Leg 2 over, just odds and ends of PR to wrap up, containerize the vehicle..." Both Mike and George report on the final few days in India.

May 31-June 5: Hyderabad, India
Mike reflects on the the wonder of India...

May 31: Hyderabad, India
George reports on the hectic week through India...

May 30: Delhi, India
The team arrives safely in India but with little time to rest. Pfizer India arranges receptions, rehab tours and much publicity. Add to that, dinner with the Canadian ambassador and a meeting with an Indian hero, Major Ahluwalia...and, of course, more truck repairs!

May 26: Delhi, India
George is thrilled to return to his beloved India...

May 23: Lahore, Pakistan
A few rest days before embarking for the Pakistan/India border.

May 21: Lahore, Pakistan
The Team enjoys beautiful Pakistan as Mike reflects on the 16th anniversary of his injury.

May 20: Pakistan
George reports on Pakistan's treacherous driving conditions.

May 17: Dalbadin, Pakistan
The Team crosses the Iran/Pakistan border smoothly while doing all they can to stay cool in the extreme heat - 50°C+ temperatures.

May 14: Zahedan, Iran

George asks and answers the question "How long does it take you to go through your morning wake-up ritual...if you're a quadriplegic?"

May 13: Zahedan, Iran (Day 55)
The extreme heat, police checkpoints and a hectic schedule are taking a toll on the entire team...

May 12, 2001: Kerman, Iran
"It was an incredibly moving experience seeing children with all types of mental and physical disabilities...."

May 11, 2001: Yazd, Iran
Driving habits in Iran result in a few cuts and scrapes to the truck but the Team receives a warm send-off from the Canadian Embassy. Travelling out of the big cities brings the most noticeable land changes yet..."Beware of camels crossing".

May 11, 2001: Iran
George describes his "Life as a Road Monkay"...

May 7 - 9, 2001: Tehran, Iran
Iran presents increasingly hazardous driving conditions but this is overshadowed by a warm reception - "Iranians are the friendliest people..." And still getting great media response - everyone asking Mike if he is the "guy driving around the world"!

May 7, 2001: Tehran, Iran
George recounts the rather harrowing experience of crossing the Turkey-Iran border on foot...

May 5, 2001: Tabrize, Iran
The Team safely crosses the Turkish border into Iran and visits a rehab. centre in Tabrize.


Read about other legs of the Challenge:

 

 

 

 

Madras, India - June 11, 2001

Mike's Report

We woke early to tackle the task at hand - containerizing the vehicle! The freight company was located a short distance away, near the port. Final odometer reading: 219,566 km. We had made up an additional 1,000 kms in India.

We spent most of the morning sitting and waiting at the docking facility. When you are told in India, 15 minutes, it can mean anything from ½ hour to 3 hours. The runaround we were given was incredible - customs would not accept a photocopy of our passport. We were forced to dig through our stuff to locate the originals, which then had to be run downtown. The heat was unbearable and we had to find an air conditioned place to wait it out. By 4:00 pm we had run out of time and patience.

We urgently pleaded with them that we had a flight to catch and we could not wait any longer. The pressure seemed to work. We were instructed to remove the roof rack and get the vehicle into the container. I lined up the wheels and George jumped into the driver seat to reverse the beast back into the container.

Our plan of putting the vehicle in backwards was to allow easy access to the Customs officials in viewing and verifying the VIN and engine serial number. George and I were getting a little annoyed, the customs people were taking so long and our K&N representatives were trying to do everything they could to speed things up.

India had been a wonderful experience, unfortunately, our last dealings with the country were leaving us with a terrible last impression. The customs person finally arrived and gave us some story about coming from home but at this point we did not know what to believe. So in the end we had three customs officers and one "big wig" and none of them could find the engine serial number. So after all of this, they ended up pushing it through and closing the door on the container.

George and I frantically got back to the hotel to pack and check out. We arrived at the airport at 10:00 pm for our 11:20 pm flight. Luck did turn up on our side. Singapore Airlines did upgrade us to business class - this meant so much to us. We were able to spread out and get comfortable in our nice big seats.

LEG 2 NOW OFFICIALLY COMPLETE!!

George's Report

Would Leg 2 Dublin-Madras let us off easy in the final stretch? Ha no way! We said an emotional ‘till next time' to our camera duo extraordinaire (superstars Gerard & Barbel) and then our jolly crew were two – Mike and yours truly. All we had left to do was containerize da Beast, take a nap, and take a leisurely flight to Bali – much needed chillin time at the midway point, some 19,000 clicks into the tour.

Our man was supposed to arrive at 9:30. Instead he sent a representative at 12:30 – no prior warning. We arrive at the port – no container, a port strike was imminent, and custom officials at the other end of town wanted to see Mike's original passport – "It is the policy - no exceptions." So we waited and waited…and waited and waited, one frustrated phone call after another. Four hours down the line (Meester Mike is overheating and not in the best of moods at this stage in the game – ho no!) container arrives but we're not supposed to load it until the customs man arrives – he's nowhere to be found but will classically arrive in "Don't worry - just 15minutes" for another few hours. Some arguing and negotiating later and we are allowed to load her up … backwards. Who has to load this baby – once again yours truly.

It's hot - severely hot and phenomenally humid. Containers are being loaded every which way by gigantic cranes on wheels, ever present holy cows much on garbage at a nearby dump. Undo the roof-rack and bring it the ground with the help of ever present group of onlookers. Climb into the Beast. Crouch on my left foot and cringe (the day started brilliantly - $100 US missing from my wallet, walked into a beautiful pond that drew blood and caused an egg to swell out of my shin *injury #37*) as I operate the gas and brakes to reverse into the container under Meester Mike's precision instructions. Drenched in sweat inch by inch – climb out the passenger side window – people clap. And then we wait…and wait and wait…

6:30 pm. Our shipping contact comes through…Mike fumes, ponders and fumes. The people arrive. "FIVE HOURS! WE HAVE BEEN WAITING…" Explanations – I stand safely in the background - Mike cruises off…I talk as diplomatically as possible to the officials – who have all arrived on their own time to specifically help us. As gently as possible I explain the situation: Mike's reaction to heat, the flights we have to catch, why we already backed the vehicle into the container...they appear sympathetic and only require confirmation of chassis and engine numbers. The former I find the latter ---no clue…we search and search for 20 minutes. "Perhaps you can overlook this detail under the circumstances?" Waiting, contemplation, waiting. The official makes an exception (very very lucky). Back to the man: "What's taking so long?"…

Out of there! I transfer Mike into the shipping company's vehicle and we rush off to the hotel. Quick pack, pay the tab. We're both filthy, soaked in sweat, tired and miserable. On the way to the airport we spot our only elephant of the trip carrying palms to some location on the streets of Madras…must be good luck.

Airport, formalities, check in, transfer…then waiting in the lounge. We've been bumped to business class on Singapore airlines – a miracle considering our shabby appearance. 11:00 pm we board with the help of the crew. Drape a blanket over Mike's head to keep him warm (airline flights are tough for someone with poorer circulation)…restless sleep in and out…6:00am arrive in Singapore. Fortunately nobody breaks a leg carrying Mike's 200 pound wheelchair up two sets of narrow wet access steps. Four hrs of wandering. Must find a place to change Mike's condom catheter. Rejected by the First/Business Class lounge – not bumped up for the next leg…After much arguing with a elderly health clinic worker we get a small cot for 20 minutes…aimless tired wandering through the duty free…

Fly – up up and away…3 more hours…restless napping…up again – the usual chair acrobatics up impossible steps…clear customs – a sign a van – a hump makes it impossible to place the chair in the back…hot and humid, though not as bad as India…our connection natters away tourist info as we stare vacantly, exhausted to the point of hallucination.

Half an hour passes through palms and statues – same Hindu gods as India but represented in a vastly different, unique manner. Hotel. Sweet blue ocean. Time for a much needed break from the road…
Still surviving!

George


Madras, India - June 8-10, 2001

Mike's report

June 8

Pfizer team in Madras is tremendous. They have done an excellent job with the PR. An exclusive media event was organized at the hotel with 40-50 media people present - "exclusive event" kind of a misnomer. I completed a total of six interviews in a row - media included the Indian Express and the Economy Times. As I've said before the PR days are far more exhausting than the driving days. I am aware of the importance of speaking to the press, but after several interviews the questions start running into each other. I know that with the attention the media is giving us, I am successful in spreading the awareness and the message is getting out there.

We arrived at the Taj Mahal Madras Hotel - one of the nicest hotels in India. Our arrival was amazing with a gallery of 40-50 media people camped out on the front steps. We felt like rock stars with all lights and cameras. They even had a closed circuit TV in place capturing us exiting the vehicle. As we made our way inside and wheeled into a conference room, an additional 200 people greeted us.

George and I took our seats at the front of the room and watched the Regional Contact video. As is tradition, we were presented with gifts of appreciation from the four guest speakers.

I was emotionally touched with being named the recipient of the "Triumph of Human Spirit Award" by the Rotarians of Madras, the Pfizer representatives in India and by everyone in attendance at this wonderful reception. The award is a beautiful plaque with a silver base.

I thanked everyone for the honour and conveyed my appreciation for everyone's effort in India. India has been a truly remarkable experience and I felt that I had given one of my best, most spontaneous, speeches of the tour. I was again honoured with a standing ovation - which in the disabled world is the next best thing to a sitting ovation!

The entire evening was a lot of fun. George even jumped into the action and conducted three interviews to take some of the pressure off of me.

June 9

We finally got the opportunity to sleep in. Met with doctors at a large Government Hospital. Great discussion with the doctors and surgeons at the facility and we were again presented with a ceremonial garland and shawl. The facility has a large ward dedicated to spinal cord injuries and we were given the opportunity to tour it. We met one gentleman who had only been in the hospital for 5-6 weeks. It was interesting to learn that the bulk of their spinal cord injuries are a result of falls and not automobile accidents like at home. The hospital is quite cluttered, smells of urine and we can see traces of blood on the linen. I am quite surprised that a room contains 30 patients. In North America, we see four or at the most eight patients in a room. This hospital receives 60 new patients a month and has no way to keep up with the demand.

We attempted to meet with a quad in a home environment. Unfortunately, we were only able to meet a low level paraplegic, which did not give us an accurate comparison on the independence and accessibility issues I am most interested in.

We had to start repacking the truck for its containerization in a few days. This was an enormous task since we had not had to do this since Switzerland. It was a hot night and we took the opportunity to return to the hotel and the air conditioning early. Before retiring for the night we did a promotional piece into the camera for the GAPC Golf Tournament on June 27th - good luck guys -FORE!!!

June 10

At 5:00 am the next morning, we bid a fond farewell to Grime (our escort driver) and Baboo (personal care attendant), they had to return to Hyderbad.

Sunday morning we gave our final interview in India. It was a time of reflection of all that we had accomplished in this great land.

George and I had a lot of catching up to do in the administration. Emails had to be read, papers had to be filed and things had to be packed-up for the vehicle. The overall administration and communication with the home team is the hardest thing to get done on a regular basis. George and I spent over four hours getting caught up.

Gerard and Berubel took off for Delhi and our team suddenly became 2.

Mike

George's Journal

We're here! Leg 2 over, just odds and ends of PR to wrap up, containerize the vehicle, and get some downtime from the road - hopefully with some help - need some space from the man. In Hyderabad Mike and I had the first chance this trip to do a little reminiscing, laughing at experiences and the various bits of craziness we've experienced to date. And the characters - all whacked in their own little way.

We thought we were in the clear at that stage - we had a close call on the way into Madras to remind us of the dangers of the Indian road. Large truck with a piece of metal siding protruding from the side swerved to avoid a bicycle as we cruised over a bridge. BANG-Ruck-a-tuck-tuck. Heart pounding the hardest this journey, mirror bent inside and up. The damage? Hmm...minor dent in mirror, radio antenna ripped off, plastic scraped off roof rack, minor scratches to body paint, accent grave added to the "z"of the Pfizer logo. The true evidence of our luck came with the puncture in the front of the truck body. One inch to the right and the hood of the truck could have flipped up causing who knows what on a bridge. And one inch up? Damn! Metal pole right through the windscreen, shatter and likely puncture me right through the left lung...so once again thumbs up to that luck angel...

A classic moment: Pull off for chai in the middle of nowhere; "You come from?" ..."Canada"...Out pulls a weathered newspaper from the wallet. A photo of hundreds of nude men and women on a march, Nudists Rights or something to that effect....A wide grin and the classic Indian nod of the head. "Canada?". Sure why not "Canada." Full stop.

George


Hyderabad, India - May 31-June 5, 2001

Mike's Report

Thursday, May 31

We left the Imperial Hotel in Delhi on Thursday, May 31 heading towards Agra. Short drive of 200 km. The town of Agra is famous for being the home of the Taj Mahal. I met up with Rajav a reporter with the AutoClub magazine. Rajav drove with the team for a short distance and was quite impressed with our navigational abilities and will be preparing a feature article for his magazine.

The team spent some time visiting the Taj Mahal in the afternoon. I was blown away by the incredible beauty and calming aura of this magnificent structure. The Taj was built by a man as a tribute to his dead wife. This is one the few times that I have been totally by myself. I enjoyed the solace and spent some time reflecting on the beauty of my surroundings with Christine very much in the forefront of my thoughts.

Friday, June 1

We departed Agra the next morning around 7:30 am. The driving on Friday was by far the longest, most grueling day. As many of the team members have already heard, this was the day the team got split up. I had driven slightly ahead of the escort vehicle, which we had done numerous times in the past, and came upon a fork in the road. Unfortunately, I went left and the escort team went right. Once I became aware that the escort team was not behind us, George and I stopped and waited for some time. The escort team did not arrive and we decided we had to push on to the next town. Considering we have been driving for 2-1/2 months this is the first time the team has been separated due to travel conditions.

George and I enjoyed lunch at a wonderful tourist village in the middle of nowhere. Road conditions are getting progressively worse with no directional signs anywhere. We are constantly being forced to stop to ask directions, with people literally pointing us in the right (or wrong) direction. In some cases we have ended up lost and have had to start over by asking someone else. The potholes are our biggest worry at this point. The vehicle is shaking so much that we cannot even use the satellite telephone while driving.

We have realized the best way to locate our hotel in each of these cities is to hire a motorized rickshaw (taxi) on the outskirts of town. George gets into the rickshaw with the name of the hotel and I follow. This saves us a lot of time driving around and is fairly inexpensive.

Everywhere we had inquired on directions to Sagar we found we were questioned on why we were going to Sagar. Once we arrived we understood. Sagar is very cluttered and not a very nice town. Our friends at Pfizer did not even know where it was. When we arrived at the Hotel, the Manager who was trying to check us in was drunk and stunk of booze. We had a difficult time trying to make him understand why we needed to park the vehicle in front of the Hotel. After about 30 minutes of dealing with him, we were able to secure a somewhat safe parking spot. The staff at the hotel knocked on our door all night enquiring if we needed anything. This became quite a nuisance and in the log book George has noted for that day that he was “almost ready to deck the waiter” - the staff really went overboard with this. Woke up the next morning and the truck was okay which was a blessing since George and I both had had a funny feeling about this place since we arrived.

Saturday, June 2

We made contact with Gerard and the escort team and was given the very sad news that Jason had to return to Canada for a family medical crisis. We departed the hotel the next morning at 9:40 am. George and I were numb from Jason’s news and sad to be loosing him. I spent some time trying to rectify what to do next. With the escort team in another city, we had to rendezvous with them and sort out what had to be done.

George and I made our way to a small town called Lukhnodan and had lunch. We have received a lot of interest in the smaller areas of India, word seems to have travelled ahead of us and people are curious to see us.

Luckily the roads got better and we arrived at the Nagpur Hotel Pride around 8:15 pm after driving 450 km in 11-1/2 hours. Huge difference in the hotel, the Manager meet us upon arrival and greeted us with 24 roses and a cake in the shape of an eagle with “Where Eagles Dare” inscribed on it. We are constantly amazed by the reception and support we receive along the way. We had thought that the escort team would have arrived before us and we were quite surprised that they had not yet checked in. We found out the next morning that they only arrived at 3:00 in the morning.

Sunday, June 3

On Sunday morning we met up with Jason quite early. Given the situation I don’t think that Jason got much sleep in the last couple of nights. There were lots of hugs, good lucks and fond farewells as we said goodbye to Jason. Jason did a great job and is a real loss to the team but we all understand his feeling with wanting to be with his girlfriend in her time of need. Jason left for his flight from Nagpur to Delhi where he will make a connection to return to Canada.

Now that our two vehicle escort team is back together we departed Nagpur around 10:20 am and found a really, really good road. It was exhilarating to finally drive on good road conditions again even if they were through a windy pass - some of the road I would say was only a month or two old. There was a lot of traffic with oncoming and passing trucks but it felt good to be on the open road.

When we stopped for lunch someone parked right beside us blocking us in, which George did not like very much. We eventually nudged our way out and were able to get back on the road. The gas gauge indicator then started going haywire. We are hoping it resolves itself however, if not, knowing that we have a 115 litre tank, we will start filling the tank every 450 km to be on the safe side.

As we get closer to the Equator it is starting to get dark around 7:00 pm and driving at night, as we anticipated, is chaos. With very few places to stop we are forced to continue on and it is hellish on both vehicles. The weather is starting to become a factor and we have experienced our first premonsoon with torrential downpours, lightening and winds. Very challenging driving given the weather conditions and the big trucks on the road that just leave their bright lights on and don’t care about anything but their own ability to see.

We arrived into Hyderabad, which is a thriving city of approx. 8 million people, which is known as the Silicon Valley of India. The odometer now reads 218,713. Located our hotel the Taj Krishna after driving 500 km that day.

Monday, June 4

Everyone enjoyed sleeping in on Monday and spent most of the day relaxing. George and I found this to be of the most relaxing days we have had in some time. We played some guitar, listened to some music and enjoyed a long, leisurely lunch. Later in the day we wandered down into the lobby to enjoy a game of backgammon. We were just as happy as can be!

Tuesday, June 5

Tuesday we met up with Pfizer rep, Ravi, who is a cousin of our friend Ram. Ravi was able to put us in touch with his brother-in-law, Baboo, who has now come on board to help us out since Jason left. Baboo will provide hands on help and is a welcome addition to the team. The day was a whirlwind of media. I completed a TV interview with the VTV, an international broadcast channel, which is seen by millions in Asia. There was a press conference in the hotel with 40-50 various media people in attendance - we had just about every style of media: TV, photographers, camera, videotographers. I gave a full demonstration of the vehicle and was again overwhelmed with the level of interest. We had to wrap up the media very quickly to rush over to the Government House. It was absolutely crazy.

At the Government House we met with Chief Minister Nidu who is very well known throughout Asia and the world. He is a very progressive thinker and was instrumental in bringing hi-tech to Hyderbad. The economical impact on this area is very apparent. I felt very honoured to be given a chance to meet with Minister Nidu and join a long list of many well-known people (Bill Gates, Bill Clinton) who have been given the similar opportunity. The team was kept waiting for approximately 1-1/2 hours before Minister Nidu graced us with his company. He was very friendly and genuinely interested in what we are doing. His entourage asked Ram of Pfizer to say a few words of introduction and then presented us with 24 roses and a silver plaque welcoming us to the City. He was very accommodating and it was interesting to see how progressive they are with video conferencing. Our entourage was invited into a large boardroom while a videoconference was taking place with their senior managers throughout the state. Very impromptu. Ram was given the opportunity again to introduce me to the group and then the microphone was handed over to me and I addressed everyone via video conference and spent a little bit of time speaking on the issue of universal access given the Minister in charge of disability was participating in the conference call.

When we exited Government House with Minister Nidu there was a mob of media people waiting for us. Minister Nidu was given a demonstration of my vehicle and we thanked him for the wonderful hospitality. The next morning there we were on the front page of every newspaper.

Hyderabad, India - June 6, 2001

George's Journal

A classic memory that illustrate the fates are still on our side...I sit now reminiscing a classic Michean situation.

On the way to Hyderabad we stop for lunch in a local dingy place, people watch us as we eat, dumping the occasional glass of water on the man's head to keep him cool. Upon returning outside, god-aweful ramps bruising my shins, a car is parked outside Mike's door.

A crowd gathers outside to check out the odd character cruising around in his funky contraption. "Lets get everyone to move the car..." Images of a group of six middle aged with field hockey sticks chasing after a character who dinged their car during a previous trip pops to mind..."Man this isn't such a good idea"..."Come on show them where to lift"...I will have no part of this...a challenge is presented - ho no the man can't back down.

He manages to get about twenty men to move the thing....I cringe praying nothing serious is going to happen. The crowd (rather mob) is excited and pushy....over a hundred people crowding around...Mike opens the lift system, Gerard and myself holding the crowd back with our bodies...people are really pushing, the owner of the car arrives looking rather pissed off, perhaps a glint of worry in Meester Mike's eyes...Hot, sweaty, excited crowd I am worried.

Affirmative action time: with dramatic authoritative voice and gestures: " Everyone stand back now. Move back now." Which they thankfully do - mob mentality will always fascinate me. Shaken I get into the truck and we cruise off. Me I'm not in a particularly talkative state of mind.

Thank you fates...keep up the good work.

And yes I did finally see my first monkey. Phew!

*********

I'm grabbing a quick masala dosa snack in our hotel, a relatively light drive for India, reasonable roads, no night craziness. I'm philosophical and pensive - tomorrow is our last day of driving for this leg (da real one) of the journey. I love India tremendously and I'll miss her dearly. Such a tease cruise through the streets - only flash moments to go about and explore...I'll be back (for the fifth?!) time within a couple of years...

Yesterday I saw my kids at the Child Haven orphanage in Kismatpur village. Memories and emotions flooded my mind as beautiful children I haven't seen in three years recognized me and proceeded to jump around.... feel the love! We ran, played, munched on mangos and banged around on the guitar for a few hours...children are the true clocks...three years of growth and maturity - damn!

Cheers

George


Hyderabad, India - May 31, 2001

George's Journal

Chilling at the hotel pool with the American Law Congregation discussing bits of this and that. We had a lovely evening at Peter Sutherland's - the Canadian High Commissioner to India. Lovely family with two beautiful daughters, one of whom, it turns out, I met at a party in Kingston shortly before leaving on this odd adventure...tis such small world. Our Pfizer PR connection, Ram, also knew a friend of mine in Bombay, Pervez Mistry, India's premier karate man, so as you can see the connectivity factor was in full swing...happens all over the world - all the time.

Most of our Delhi days were spent doing PR and garage details...errors with lift system, fuel pumps, air conditioning....

Apologies.... I now return to the keys in Hyderabad June 4th...I was distracted by a few of the American Law Characters and an Israeli guy trying to dodge the army draft. We chatted in philosophized about life, politics and the usual existential questions, went for a midnight swim ...2 hrs of sleep and of course the classic changes of circumstances occurs...the name of the game in this kind of adventure.

The next day...Lose escort vehicle...exchange annoyed words with Meester Mike...get lost trying to find Sagar...and again...exhausted driving...arrive in town...find inaccessible shady cockroach infested hotel...argue about parking with drunk owner...midnight, crowds form curious, excited pushy - midnight, exhausted but must do the evening routine.... must eat 2:00AM all alone....Mr. Jason Liozzo must return to Canada ASAP due to personal issues back home...is this the same life as yesterday? Must get sleep...

So here we are in splendor Hyderabad. The last time I was here, three years back, I slept on a plank of wood with a half-inch mattress, no running water, only sweet thing to eat being chai twice a day, had hair with lice, but felt as loved as I ever have been to date with 150 amazing children. I will see my funky kids tomorrow and I cannot wait. How much does a child grow physically and mentally in three years? Damn.

Things are fine things are crazy in a mere split second. Persistent, constant problem solving and diagnosis 24/7...deal with them issues as they arrive. Two more driving days in India... almost the end of this leg...Istanbul to Madras...the soul section of this tour. Knock wood, don't jinx us - we're not through yet.

Delhi, India - Wednesday, May 30, 2001

Mike's Report

On Friday, May 25 we departed Lahore, Pakistan around 9:15 am and drove about 45 minutes to the Indian border. We had to travel through "no man's land" between borders and met up with Sony from the Canadian Consul on the other side. Sony was very friendly and expedited the process for us to enter India and to obtain the necessary vehicle insurance at the border.

As we were departing the border, I pulled a U-turn in the parking lot and heard a strange popping sound. We quickly discovered a steering house had broken and we had to deal with this right away. The escort vehicle and George drove into Armritsar, India to locate a mechanic. Once they had located a mechanic familiar with a GM vehicle they returned to us to look at the vehicle and then had to return to Armritsar to make a new part, finally returning to install the new part. Unbelievable that this happened less than ½ km into India. Our young mechanic was extremely patient and was able to complete the repairs by 8:00 pm that night. We headed off after that and only made it as far as Armritsar 60 km past the border.

The next morning we hit the road at 9:00 am and decided to push our way through Amballa right to Delhi. Traffic was reasonable, road conditions are a bit better and the drivers are more courteous than in Pakistan. We traveled 400 km and arrived in Delhi at 7:00 pm. Delhi is a hot, smoggy city. Roads are congested with cows and cars.

The next day the team decided to take a well-deserved rest day. A truck washing was in order. Unfortunately, an over zealous washer broke one of the wires for the lift and the entire hydraulic system shut down. Luckily the next day the system worked enough for me to get into the truck and to get the vehicle into a garage to have the necessary repair work completed. Our mechanic, Tutu, was very knowledgeable about foreign cars - imagine GM vehicles foreign!!!

Monday we met up with Mr. Ramkrishna, VP, Corporate Affairs, Pfizer India, who actually flew in from Bombay and had his Public Relations people fly in from Madras to meet with us. This group was incredible! They prepared 500 customized public relations cards for Round the World Challenge in India. They also made up matching t-shirts for the team. Conveniently, and understandably, they dropped the Canadian and Union Jack flag from our logo and the globe mysteriously focused on India.

That evening, we thoroughly enjoyed a nice family-style dinner with Canadian Ambassador, Peter Sutherland, and his family. It was a refreshing change to have a relaxing dinner with fellow Canadians. As a token of our appreciation, we presented Peter and his family with an autographed Round The World Challenge poster. Our conversation centered mostly on activities in the west. We were very encouraged by the level of the Consul's participation in our stay and the support Peter was giving us. Peter and his daughter took the opportunity the next day to join our tour of the rehab facility.

Tuesday, we visited the Indian Spinal Cord Injury Centre and met with Hps. Major Ahluwalia. Major Ahluwalia is the Director and founder of the Spinal Injuries Centre and President of the Rehabilitation Council of India. The Major led the first ever-Indian expedition to Everest in the early 1960's. A couple of years after the expedition he broke his neck while fighting in the war against Pakistan and became quadriplegic. Major Ahluwalia really pushed the envelope and created the first Centre of Spinal Cord Injury in India. This four year old Centre is an Indo-Indian venture and is South Asia's most advanced specialty hospital and is the only one of its kind in India. We hit it off right away as we discussed our many similarities. Major Ahluwalia presented me with copies of his books that he wrote on his many adventures. Ultimately, the problems faced by their centre are similar to those everywhere else. The media was invited to a luncheon reception at the facility.

At 6:00 pm that evening, we joined the Pfizer group at their hotel, the Oberoi, for a small reception. Quite the welcome! They had displayed a Welcoming Board with tributes in the reception room. It was truly amazing how quickly they got organized to greet us. The State Minister of Transport, General Khanduri, was in attendance and I was honoured to hear that he had cancelled another appointment to be in attendance with us. Our group was comprised of mostly local Pfizer representatives. During the formal portion of the evening, I did a keynote address to the group for approximately 20 minutes. Again there was media present and the evening was well documented.

Wednesday was officially media day! The "proof is in the pudding" - we appeared on page 2 of three national newspapers. I was interviewed for Star TV in the early part of the day and completed a couple of other TV interviews in the afternoon. This was a very physically exhausting day. The vehicle had to be taken in for repair work early in the morning and we had to shuffle between other vehicles to complete our prearranged media engagements. Very stressful and hectic for the team having to physically lift me into vehicles to move me from appointment to appointment. At the end of the day, we picked up the vehicle and were all ready to hit the sack early, suffering from exhaustion.

We are welcoming the change of scenery as we depart Delhi, Thursday morning for Agra.


Delhi India - May 26, 2001

George's Journal

Wassssssssup from India! We chill now in a considerable degree of luxury after a few days on the road - New Delhi. Last time I was here I was 14 years old travelling the north with my paros. Last time I was in India (1998) a song called "I Love My India" charted near number one. I love my India. Of the 25 or so countries I've had the fortune of popping into at some time or other, India remains my absolute favorite...hands down. What a land....one fifth of the world...every geography imaginable...every extreme of humanity imaginable...a microcosm of the world.

We broke down after a amazingly straightforward border crossing.... popped a fluid line of the power steering ...customs right outside the border... As we waited for a mechanic to arrive (Jason on a mission), I took a four-hour nap on the steel rollers of a conveyer belt at India customs - catch them much needed zzz's where one can. Gerard and Barbel (our superior film crew magnifico - Red Mango for all your quality filming needs) observed a border tradition, soccer without the ball...Daily people sit in stadium like seats at opposite sides of the border and cheer the superiority of their respective country. Borders -Baaaaaaah!

The heat has been relatively mild lately - low forties, but more humid than before. Our hotel, The Imperial, is hands down the nicest hotel we've stayed at on this journey, what with its marble and serpentine tiled bathrooms and elevators, fountains, and works of ancient and modern art. The Italian restaurant serves better Italian food than we had in Italy...what's scary is this place isn't even in the highest class of hotels in town - I'd hate to see what the "deluxe" five stars are like.

Meester Mike and Jason are off trying to get the catalytic converter refitted onto da Beast as rumor has it we're in "unleaded" land here on in...(I remain skeptical...but apparently the stalling problems we've been having lately are somehow related...so be it). The lift system for the chair went haywire after a scrub and wash...much agony alleviated after a nights rest when the mysterious gremlins in the machine suddenly disappeared. Tonight we have dinner with the Canadian High Commissioner ... if the lads return in time that is...tick tick tick we're meant to leave in half an hour and still no sign.

As usual I'm trying to track down blasts from the past...somewhere deeply buried in High Commission land may be a girl with whom I went to high school in Kenya...

What more? In a few days we shall arrive in Hyderabaad where I'll (time willing) have a chance to see the kids I worked with for several months 3 years back...the most amazing kids in the world and I can't wait to see them...images of making kites out of plastic scraps and flying them in the spectacular sunset of a giant boulder laden land pops to mind...don't forget the wandering water buffalo, nor the palm wine man that every day would pop by, scale a palm tree in a few seconds, then drink wine that was fermenting on the top of the tree, grinning slightly more as he slid down to ground...hopefully Meester Mike will get a chance to check the place out - stories would be told for years to come.

I've yet to see a monkey on this trip - besides the hairless upright variety...this bothers me...is it an omen? I've spent hours watching monkeys...they play the same silly political and power games as us, with less gadgets and overall violence. You want to understand people? Understand monkeys and it all becomes clear...anyway I digress...one will pop up sooner or later (likely run off with Mike's legbag - mischievous buggers).

Evidently I'm getting tired so enough discombobulated rubbish for now...

Cheers,

George

Lahore, Pakistan - Wednesday, May 23, 2001

Last couple of days spent setting up in Lahore and resting whenever possible. Team has decided to spend Thursday as a full rest day and will not be answering telephones or emails unless it is urgent.

Mike reports that they were able to have the a/c fan in the truck repaired. However, given the heat, the fan and a/c unit are not very effective.

The Team visited the Pakistan Orthopedic Hospital for the Disabled. Mike was prepared for the worst but was pleasantly surprised with the conditions of the facility. Overall very well run with a lot of private funding. Apparently a lot of successful Pakistan immigrants send money back to fund this facility. The Hospital has a waiting list of 150-200 people. They are currently working on building a new unit for the production of orthopedic and prosthesis. Mike was very impressed with the level of prosthesis work he saw. This Hospital is the largest facility of its kind in Pakistan and it is quite apparent that the disabled or those requiring these types of facilities have to gravitate towards the larger urban centers to receive specialized care.

The team visited local gardens to see some rare trees that are sheltered from the city. Unfortunately, most other tourist sites were not accessible for Mike. George and Jason did take an opportunity to visit a fort.

While they were having the vehicle repaired at a shop located next to a military base, a young disabled Captain caught wind of what was going on next door and came to visit. He was quite proud of his flashy wheelchair from the US and the vehicle that he drove. It is quite obvious that there is a huge discrepancy in the funding levels between military and civilian disabled persons. The military funding seems to be proportionate to the time of service and overall they are much better treated from ground zero. We were introduced to the Captain’s Major who had a very good understanding of the issues faced by the disabled. The team was invited to an impromptu lunch with the Major and they headed out to a local Chinese restaurant. Very funny to think, here we are in Pakistan eating lunch at a local Chinese restaurant.

The team was meeting up again tonight with the young Captain and some other disabled people from their Association or Society for the disabled. It would appear that they have something similar to the CPA that offers peer support. Mike was keenly interested to find out how this organization works and to find out what other services are offered to its members.

Mike has decided that the worst drivers so far have been in Iran, Tehran specifically. However the worst roads are in Pakistan.

One of the escorts made contact with a friend of his, a dental surgeon, who facilitated the tour of the Rehab hospital as well as two newspaper interviews. One magazine was a glossy newspaper called the Friday Times and the second was a local magazine. Unfortunately, there has been no television coverage at this point in Pakistan. Hardcopies of both articles will hopefully be sent back to our office in Ottawa.

The team is looking forward to their day of rest before they head off early on Friday morning for the Indian border and maybe some cooler weather. They fully anticipate an easy transition into India. Until India … hello from Pakistan!

Lahore, Pakistan - Thursday, May 21, 2001

Mike's Report

May 18th was a day of reflection on my injury - I shed a few tears and did a lot of soul searching. Even with the reflection it was a good day. We stayed at a beautiful hotel on the other side of Quetta in a nice little enclave - it was not the oasis we had in Dalbadin, but it was peaceful. George and I were able to jam for a while - George on guitar and I on the harmonica. It was a lot of fun and we spent the night chilling out. Later on, the team enjoyed a traditional Pakistani meal of chicken and mutton with rice. I found a great deal on an Afghanistan oriental rug. This is my one and only major purchase - I wanted to have a keepsake from my journey in the East. The 18th was much more reflective than I had expected.

We departed Quetta around 7:40 am on Saturday. We found out quite quickly that there was a gas strike in the town and we were unable to locate a gas station to fill up at. While we were trying to locate an open gas station, the entire area experienced a power outage from what we thought might be a local storm. So here we were no gas/no power - quite the norm for this part of the world.

Sidebar: As many of the Ottawa team members may have read or heard over the weekend, Iran experienced wide spread power outages due the heat over the weekend. Mike may not know this and the power outage he was in may have been a result of this or the storm he speaks of later on.

The roads are unbelievably terrible. They have become progressively worse since we left Iran. Potholes are everywhere and the truck is rattling away. The heat is still extreme. Lots of trucks on the roads and we have learned very quickly that when you come to a blind corner, you honk your horn to warn anyone coming in the opposite direction. It takes a lot of maneuvering to get around some of these corners. We have had to stop and back-up to let trucks through on many occasions.

While we were at the top of a mountain pass, we stopped the truck to watch an incredible storm in the distance over a remote village. It was absolutely magnificent - I have never seen anything like this.

The odometer is now reading 216,005 km. Over the last few days we have driven approximately 500 km in 15 hours.

That night we stopped in a small town and stayed at the Hotel Shalimar. It was not very nice and our room was sparsely decorated. The town was a typical small town in Pakistan - it was crazy with activity and smelled very foul. The team decided to sleep in the next morning to make up some of the sleep deprivation from the last few days.

We departed refreshed around 12:30 pm and decided to drive through to Lahore. We had made it further west than we had originally thought and the idea of staying in another small town for another night was not all that appealing. We arrived in Multan around lunchtime where we enjoyed a short lunch break. The roads started to become a lot better after Multan. We finally hit a super highway, it wasn’t the Trans Canada, but it was better than anything we had driven on in a long time. We managed to reach speeds of up to 100 km per hour. We are finding that the maps are not correct in their distances.

Road conditions alternated between good and bad - double lanes became single lanes but we managed, after 451 km and 8 hours, to reach Lahore.

We checked ourselves into the Holiday Inn Lahore and it felt really good to finally stay at a nice hotel for a few days. It was a welcome relief to finally have a hot bath - it is hard to remember when I took my last hot bath.

We will be staying at this hotel until Friday morning.

Pakistan - 20 May 2001

George's Journal

I've been hanging out with goats the past little while - and some of the interesting characters that shepherd them around. With long sticks we wack bits of fresh leaves of the tops of trees after which our four legged friends come scurrying along, the larger ones shoving the smaller specimens aside.

Kind of like the driving here in Pakistan - #1 rule of the road - might is right all of the time.We cruise a beautiful 4 lane highway into Lahore right now. The roads weren't always so nice, generally a single strip of tarmac that can accommodate a single vehicle with traffic flowing both ways. Honk loudly at the bend. Flash lights a few times...proceed with caution. Pull over when a vehicle larger than you comes your way, plow forward in the case of a car. And of vehicle of similar size? Chicken is the name of the game - may the man with the most guts survive...or perish depending on the particular situation.

We crossed the Iran-Pakistan border relatively little fuss - a mere hour, a joke in comparison to the Turkey-Iran situation...We had to do the camera gear super swap-around in the direct midday sun, in a dusty barren land ... nothing grows in this dessert, the odd truck tire dots the landscape.

And the temperature was what? Hottest that this monkey has ever been: 52 degrees boom-shack-a-lack. It was fortunately a dry heat - not quite the pea-soup coastal feel - but ya man use the imagination. "Meester Mike", lacking the ability to sweat, was needless to say a little uncomfortable.

Border "customs house" were gracious enough to allow him to sleep four an hour and even provided us with a lovely lunch. Thumbs up and appreciation all the way round.

As we cruise these hot lands, our latest core member Jason "Gastuous" Liozzo (nurse extraordinaire), and yours the truly (da Road Monkay) simulate sweat for the man whose temperature has fluctuated as high 39 degrees C.

We have a vaporizer with which we spray every 15 minutes or so, a sopping ice cold towel around the neck, the occasional bottle of mineral water over the head. Sometimes we stop in the shade and wait as Mike catnaps to regain strength. Determined the man most definitely is.

Our situation yesterday. Mike was determined to push on to Dera Ghali Kahn and so we went. Four hundred clicks took how long? Fifteen hours - full stop. One particular mountain pass 23 Kms in length (or rather "coil") took 2 hours. Let me describe the scene. Darkness. Tarmac for one vehicle, rock ledge one side, plunge to certain death the other. Turn turn, hairpin loop, hairpin loop, turn turn, hairpin loop, turn. Repeat 400 times. Add to the mix: Honk, flash, pull to the side, honk, flash reverse reverse, miss a motorbike by inches. And oh yeah there was an electrical storm with flashes of lighting and strobe action ever which way - nice. We even stopped to watch the shop for 15 minutes.

So far things this end of the world have flown by phenomenally smoothly ... and just as I type a truck cruises past us on the wrong side of the dual carriageway ....knock on wood. There have been a few close calls here and there but the man's evasive driving skills are right on the money, as are his ability to adapt to the road excellent.

Oh yeah and he bought a new rug from Afghanistan, a nice silk-wool combo, a commemorative treat to celebrate surviving and thriving 16 years after a serious spinal cord injury. So if you happen to check out Meester Mike's pad in the near future and spot a funky rug on the hardwood floors - you be with history! Off to Lahore!

George

Dalbadin, Pakistan - Thursday, May 17, 2001

Left May 16 from Zahedan, Iran towards the Pakistan border. Arriving around 1:00 pm after a very bumpy drive. A very emotional goodbye to our Iranian escort team. These guys were amazing and had pulled strings everywhere for us including at the border crossing. The heat was unbelievable and we were quite nervous about crossing through customs into Pakistan. The Custom Post was beyond belief. We were actually invited inside the Post to cool down and to have a tea. Who would have thought! We casually asked what the temperature was outside - 52 degrees celsius. Wow!! The border area had gunmen to protect the tourists, such as ourselves, from potential rebels.

After completing our transition to Pakistan, the guys doused me in water and let me have a great 1-1/2 hour nap while they enjoyed lunch. While we were in Iran we had made a custom cover to keep the vehicle cool when we stopped - it is proving to be worth its weight in gold.

The driving is incredible - not only do we have to get accustom to driving on the opposite side of the road again, but most roads are single lanes with the biggest trucks getting the right of way. Paved roads become gravel roads instantaneously and some areas almost feel as if you are driving off into nowhere. Driving overall was good or at least acceptable until we hit Dalbadin - then the roads became winding and in worse condition as we made our way through the mountains.

Our Pakistan escort team, that was arranged by David Hamilton, had made contact with a place for us to stay in Dalbadin. An unbelievable oasis - beautiful palm trees, quiet, bright stars - the team enjoyed long walks, had the most amazing traditional meal and a fabulous night sleep.

Today’s drive (May 17) was the most challenging; we covered 300 kms in 8 hours - driving through a desert on a single lane, broken road with large gravel sections. The transport trucks in Pakistan are amazing, each one is colourfully decorated. Pakistan is a beautiful country.

Everyone is trying to keep as cool as possible by regularly spraying each other down and wetting towels for around our necks. We have purchased an additional cooler and more water for in the truck. Since it is cooler in the morning, we are attempting to do the bulk of the driving in the morning.

On a more reflective note, tomorrow, Friday, May 18, 2001 is the anniversary of my injury. Even though this day will have an emotional side, I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to spread the word about spinal cord injuries and the need for spinal cord research. It will be very therapeutic for me, being in Pakistan, on this day, doing what I am doing.

As I think ahead, three more weeks until we are out of the woods - June 6 Madras, India!

Zahedan, Iran - May 14, 2001

George's Journal: Waking Up Mike - Chapter 1

How long does it take you to go through your morning wake-up ritual, from that vile alarm clock to breakfast table? If you're like me, depending on how many times you wack the snooze button, it takes about 20 minutes tops……jump out of bed, stagger into the bathroom, brush the teeth, shave, pop in the shower, dress……tada. And if you're paralyzed from the nipple line with no use of your hands? Welcome to chapter one: the morning ritual.

Like yours truly, Mike is one cranky incoherent SOB in the morning, so creeping and stealth are indispensable. First you fold the duvet from the bottom of the bed so that you can reach under and "tap" the abdomen by gently thumping a hand against the bladder. This is done in order to stimulate the bladder muscles to contract gently and, by intermittently pushing a fist against the gut, expels any excess urine into the night legbag. Mike constantly wears a legbag strapped around his right leg which is attached via rubber tubing to a medical condom glued to Mike's penis (see Putting Mike to Bed). The legbag is then unstrapped, the hose detached from the condom and exchanged with the smaller day bag. At this stage Mike generally starts stirring and mumbling something incoherent.

Next come longjohns (not moving means poorer circulation which means keeping warm is more of a challenge), roll them up like stockings and slip them over the ankles of both feet. One arm is extended and I roll Mike over on his side tug the longjohns over the buttock, repeat with other side. Every time Mike is rolled to one side he needs to be brought back up the bed to regain his balance. To do this I stand over him on the bed, lift him up by the buttocks and thrust his head and body towards the banister.

On go the socks. The legbag is next fed through the hole in the longjohns and attached to the right leg. Trousers are placed on in a manner similar to the longjohns. Boots go on. The duvet comes back on. Rinse the legbag with warm water and vinegar. Set up the toiletries: Cologne, electric toothbrush, toothbrush grip, water with straw, three tablets of Baclofen (anti-spasmodics), hairbrush, hair drier (?! The man loves his hair……). All set.

Putting on fingerless weightlifting gloves is the most challenging part of the routine (ironically the one article of clothing that Mike can take off by himself). Toneless curled fingers must be gently placed inside the glove, each finger individually fed through their respective hole, after which the glove must be tugged and velcroed shut. Repeat with other glove. There is definitely an art to this –– one glove used to take me five minutes, now I can get both on under in under two.
……to be continued…….na na na!

Zahedan, Iran - Sunday, May 13 (Day 55)

We departed Kerman around 9:15 am. The extreme hot weather is starting to affect us, making everyone a bit short-tempered; the heat and our hectic schedule are pushing us to the limit.

The landscape is now exactly the same in all directions. Jason noted in the logbook that the desert was littered with garbage. We had originally thought we would stay in Bam for a rest day but decided that we would need the rest closer to the Pakistan border. We enjoyed a nice lunch and signed a couple of posters for the manager of the restaurant.

As we were leaving Bam on our way to Zahedan, we came across a police checkpoint - there are a lot of checkpoints throughout Iran - this one was approx. 10 kms outside of Bam. The police officers were totally indifferent to everyone's situation and my disability. Due to the extremely hot weather, we were anxious to keep the motor running in the vehicle to increase the function of the air conditioning unit. They actually made us get out of the vehicle and we were asked not to go anywhere. During our detainment, I showed the officers a letter from the Canadian Ambassador in Iran - they would not even look at it. We originally thought they might have pulled us over to provide a police escort - a strange concept in this country.

We eventually got back on the road. All along the road we see desert, camels and carcasses of dead animals. This is a major crossing and we peaked around 12-13,000 feet. The vehicle is working very hard with the heat and the load - not a major problem. Our three vehicles are driving convoy. We are receiving more recognition during our travels. Some flashing lights came up on us and I thought we had done something wrong - it would appear that they recognized the vehicle and wanted to show their support. The television exposure seems to be far reaching.

We have stopped in Zahedan for the next three days at a beautiful hotel. The facility has wheelchair ramps, elevators, accessible rooms, secure parking and, best of all, not too expensive. We drove a total of 540 kms today and the odometer is reading 214,750.

The next few days in Zahedan will be spent relaxing, working on the vehicle and doing a few media events before we head off on the next long leg of the journey into Pakistan.

Kerman, Iran - Saturday, May 12 (Day 54)

We met with a few local disabled people - one gentleman had a spinal cord injury and another had polio. They put on a great show of their own mobility - one rode a motorcycle with a sidecar that he threw his chair into. Another person transferred himself into a car - the car was push/pull that is common in Canada - but what was truly amazing was the fact that he was driving a standard vehicle with a clutch. This was really cool! They were quite happy to be showing off their mobility.

Stopped for the night in Yazd and stayed at the best hotel so far of our journey. The team was treated very well. The Hotel had kept our passports overnight and we forgot them when we departed in the morning. The Manager luckily realized right away and called us on our cell and was kind enough to drive them to us about five minutes out of town.

We are now starting to drive through real desert country. It is so hot - unbelievably hot. Better preparation will have to take place to deal with the heat. Due to my disability, I don't sweat and have to be kept cool by being watered down, sprayed regularly with water and drinking more frequently. We arrived in Kerman around 2:45 pm and had a little lunch and took the opportunity to have a short nap to rest and recharge our batteries.

We met with a doctor, his assistants and a few PR people from a rehabilitation home that was next door to where we stopped. In was nice for a change not having to drive over to a facility. It was an incredibly moving experience for everyone seeing children (up to 14 years of age) with all types of mental and physical disabilities - some were ambulant, others could not move or speak. We reached out and held fingers with some of the newborns. The woman running this home was a saint - very, very kind who went out of her way to make everyone comfortable. We spoke to a gentleman with a spinal cord injury who was coming over to Canada to pursue a PHd at McGill University. After a question and answer session, we departed for our next destination.

We had driven approximately 386 kms more before we started looking for hotel around 8:45 pm in Kerman. The suggested hotel was not accessible - no ramps - at the top of the first flight of stairs the door was locked. George ended up having to piggyback me up two flights of stairs. As we travel further east, accessibility issues are become a bigger problem.


Yazd, Iran - May 11, 2001

Mike and the Road Team

Met with Terry Colfer and his wife, Lynn, of the Canadian Embassy. I presented them with a framed, autographed poster of the Challenge as a token of my appreciation and to say thank you for all their assistance. My vehicle fascinated them and I gave them a demonstration of its lift system. We were preparing to depart and they gave me a beautiful memento to take with us. We started to pull away and as we were chatting out the window, they commented that it was not every day that they receive visitors at the Embassy in Iran. We were able to extend our Visas for an additional eleven days in less than one hour.

In Tehran we met up with a German artist who was exhibiting some of his works there. We found out he was quite a famous artist in Germany and had done the artwork for the skier postage stamp for the Lillehammer Winter Games - what a coincidence, a friend of mine was the gold medallist in freestyle at those games. The artist kindly signed an original envelope that contained the stamp for us - we all thought this was quite neat.

In general, the driving and parking are terrible in Iran - we have been nudged twice. Once someone scrapped up against the mirrors - no damage and on the second instance a car rubbed along one side of the vehicle - leaving a long scrape over some of the sponsor logos.

We left the hotel and made our way towards Esfahan. Jason got thrown into the traveling aspect of his responsibility right away and got to spend some good quality time with me during the drive. He rode shotgun and worked on updating the log and assisting me with drinking fluids. We bonded quite nicely.

We stopped in Quom, which is the most religious city in Iran. They had the most amazing mosque that was lit up. I would say that it was almost more impressive than St. Petersburg's Square. Many of these religious cities have areas that you cannot access unless you are Muslim.

A gentleman named Masoud met us as we entered Esfahan around 9:00 pm. He is the World Champion Weight Lifter 230 Kg Category. Masoud was such a big man we nicknamed him Massive for the balance of our time together. At this point we were so burned out that there was little we could do. We slept a bit and met up with Massive again in the morning. I found out the next morning that Massive had polio and was not a paraplegic. We transferred Massive into my vehicle and we drove around a beautiful public square. Esfahan is similar in beauty to Ottawa in that it has a canal system. Unfortunately due to the temperatures the canal is dry (and probably unlikely that you will every be able to skate on it!). There were bridges that were over 500-600 years old. We again started to attract a crown and soon 5-6 cameramen were taking our pictures. Between our parking and the crowds, we caused quite a disruption. Jason was quick to jump out of the vehicle and started passing out Canadian flags to the young children. The crowds starting pushing into the vehicle and we had to be careful with the size of the crowd. I think Jason learned very quickly how these crowds grow very quickly and we have to be careful with how we distribute flags/pins.

We left Esfahan around 2:30 for Yazd. Best drive we have had in a week. We felt strong from a great meal and a restful night. Biggest noticeable land change since the beginning of the trip. In Canada we see signs for Deer Crossing - we are now seeing Camel Crossing signs. We arrived in Yazd around 6:00 pm and had clocked 600 km. Have now settled into a nice suite for the night. Accessibility is always an issue but we manage with suites and ramps wherever possible.


Iran, May 11 2001

George's Journal: "Life as a Road Monkay"

As we cruise the highways of Iran on the way to Yazd I feel inspired to tell our noble audience exactly the duties I perform on this strange voyage around the globe. While my official title states I am the On Road Communications/Aide-de-Camp man I prefer to be known as the "Road Monkay". So what is life as a road monkay like you ask?

First and foremost I'd like to clarify that while I am paid a token wage for the 4 hrs a day I help take care of Mike's personal care I am otherwise a volunteer...pat me on the back and give me a big thumbs up. As Road Monkay I work insane hours getting at times as little as 2-3 hrs…I am normally the first to rise and the last to go to bed. I function as Mike's hands and legs and provide varying degrees of personal assistance where required.

There have been times in the Beast's copilot seat where I have balanced a laptop computer, logbook, map navigation and documentary video camera duties at the same time passing Mike's oh so beloved chicken flavored crisps into the man's mouth. You could say that I have multi-tasking down to a fine art.

Who unloads the truck when we stop at a hotel? –– the Road Monkay! Who scouts out the rooms to see if they're appropriate for Mike's needs? –– the Road Monkay! Who caries the man down three floors on his back when the power cuts out and kills the lift in a small town at the Turkish-Iranian border? –– the Road Monkay! Everybody praise the Road Monkay! Repeat after me: We all love the Road Monkay!

The Road Monkay often makes first contact with new connections –– strong interpersonal skills are a must. Communicate with the media, clear paths through crowds, serve as a larger target for vehicles to miss as Mike cruises the streets in his chair.

The Road Monkey is inevitably a dirty phenomenon, often covered in grease, motor oil, and transmission fluid, and until recently carried in his clothing the stench of a Punjabi curry eaten in Munich all the way to Tehran……now that's dedication.

Politics mediator, good vibe instigator, the Road Monkey irons wrinkles before they become creases, keeping safety and sanity of the team on par with reality……think of the Road Monkay and give us a thumbs up, we'll send the good philosophies right your way!

Cheers,

George

Tehran, Iran - May 7-9, 2001

Mike and the Road Team

May 9, 2001

Very, very tired. Whirlwind of activity - good whirlwind however extremely busy. Meeting after meeting - the "pr" days are more tiring than the other days.

Went today to another welfare organization in Tehran. Meet with the Director and some doctors from the facility. They presented us with beautiful gifts including a local tapestry. It seems to be a lot easier facilitating our visits on a provincial or local level than at a higher level.

Went on to visit the Sports Federation for Disabled Athletes and received a great reception. They were very proud of the international success of their seated volleyball team.

In the afternoon we went to an all women's rehabilitation center that had beautiful gardens. I was glad to hear that our Canadian Consulate does a lot of fund-raising for this rehab center through their Women's League. I was expecting to see some poorer conditions in this center but I was inspired and uplifted to see the great condition of the entire facility, including the occupational therapy rooms and libraries.

We meet up with Andre of the Canadian Consulate as well as with the Managing Director and Director of Tourism for the Iranian Auto Club. We conveyed our appreciation to them for being great hosts and in orchestrating our hotel accommodations. They commented that my vehicle blew them away.

May 7, 2001

We set off from Tabriz at about 10:00 am with a very nice send-off from our hosts, the local welfare organization. Welfare organizations in the Middle East appear to be a catch all for rehabilitation facilities for the disabled.

Our hosts were terrific - they took us out for dinner and picked up our hotel bill. Five or six hosts were on hand to see us off. We quickly realized our escort team's (Mohammed and Manchehr's) vehicle was too small. You do not realize how much equipment cameraman need until you start loading it into a vehicle. We were able to get an additional vehicle - an old Mercedes truck, which we quickly loaded up with the equipment. The every changing team dynamic always amazes me - we now have a couple of Iranian women along for the journey.

In an escalating way, the driving is getting harder and harder - driving habits are so erratic relative to Canada and North America. On the roads we are used to, you may have a close call once or twice a year. Between blinding curves and oncoming traffic, I am experiencing close calls as much as once or twice an hour. As I become more accustomed to the ways of the road it is becoming a little less erratic - I must be getting into the flow or the mind-set to understand their aggressive ways.

We initially drove through mountains and high hills and about 150 kms beyond Tabriz we hooked up to a motorway and did not have to worry as much. All in all the drive to Tehran was good and we arrived at approximately 10:00 pm. Our goal had been to get as far as Tehran and we achieved this in about 11-12 hours (650 kms).

We met up with a young blind man name Davood who was doing English translation for me. We hit it off right away and it reminded me of the movie "A Scent of a Woman". I compare our relationship with the scene in the movie when he gets behind the wheel of the sports car - I am the driver and he is my eyes. I can understand and appreciate his issues with being blind and discuss my mobility impairment issues.

Getting great media response - everyone is always asking if I am the "guy driving around the world"!

The Team will be going through another transition this week with Jason Liuzzo joining us from Canada. I think Tehran is going to feel a lot like London and the other larger cities we have visited.

Iranians are the friendliest people - the people give you all the time in the world - and they are not letting us pay for anything!

Tehran, Iran - May 7, 2001

George's Journal

Greetings once again people, monkeys and souls in between! It's been a long time since communications from this end have been presented by yours truly……but I sneak a few moments to capture some much needed "space" from our main man. I am sitting here now in a busy lobby in a large hotel in Tehran.

The hospitality we've received here to date has been nothing short of spectacular. I type now on our main communications machine –– the supposedly indestructible Panasonic notebook, with a character curiously reading what I write over my shoulder. Many people prance too and fro, tourists, women of all nationalities wearing the required head scarves –– failure to do so is punishable by 70 lashes.

As usual I am exhausted, in spite of the magnificent five hrs sleep I obtained last night. Various members of our "cavalry crew" of 12 has departed since I last wrote from the "Beast" in a vehicle lift outside of Rome. We now consist of our noble camera crew couple Gerard and Berbal, quality people filled with special life spirit and tales, our "Iranian Connection" Monacher and Mohammed, the main man and myself.

The pace has continued to be hectic, more social obligations to attend to but we are surviving and coping well with the various conflicts and challenges as they arise.

Shall we recount some tales of late? What pops to mind…. hmmm…the border crossing Turkey-Iran, definitely an experience that will stick to mind for a bit of time.

After a half hour wait for the border to reverse, we squeezed past hundreds of trucks exporting various bits of this and that under the shadow of Mt Ararat where Noah's zoo supposedly unloaded bits of cargo several millennia or so ago. The atmosphere in that part of world? Definitely a mystical biblical vibe.

Imagine scorched desert hills, bordered by a few snow peaked mountains, wind carved giant rocks that resemble gargantuan dinosaurs buried into the earth. The sand and soil is layered, multicoloured bringing to mind of surreal landscapes concocted in the twisted mind of the late Salvador Dali……

We get to the border post expecting to cruise through without the necessary paperwork, documentary camera equipment stashed away, overloaded onto the roof of the beast.

Lots of trouble leaving Turkey. We required 6 different stamps, a task made particularly difficult by the fact we were missing vehicle carnet forms while entering Turkey… negotiations, waiting in, lines, back and forth to unmarked stations.

While waiting in one line a man came through a metal door screaming. Border guards arrived followed by pleading and angry words. Then came the blows; five guards pummeling the poor man after which he was thrown back into the room and the door was closed with a resounding clank. Some people watched with mild curiosity, but on the whole it seem like it was just another day at the office.

After finally getting the vehicle cleared we were told that only Mike could cross the border in the vehicle and that Gerard, Berbel and myself would have to pass through the border tunnel on foot. We soon discovered that this was the very same entrance that the poor fellow I had witnessed earlier was gently coaxed into entering.

The metal door was opened and we stepped inside. Clang –– the door closes behind us. Imagine the scene. Very dark room with a tunnel made of boxes, full to the brim with people perhaps 200, standing shoulder to shoulder almost one on top of the other.

Some men stood on top of the boxes staring down in intimidating fashion at everyone. The air saturated with humidity and sweat, people yelling talking, pushing shoving, complete chaos, no forward movement. A few minor scuffles broke out up ahead. An imposing portrait of Ayatollah Komenei stared down at us from the Iranian side.

We stood all 200 of us pushing and shoving and waited… and waited…and waited…we managed to move a few feet in an hour…then over the chaos we heard a faint "canada".

We raised our hands and yelled and were motioned forward, but had to plow our way through a see of impatient people…. then fresh air… our Iranian contact had managed to pull a few strings… otherwise we may have been in there for several more hours. Another experience to stash away –– fortunately none of us were claustrophobic…

We were greeted by a smiling Mike who cruised through the border and hour or so ago with no immigration or custom hassles whatsoever…"How goes it?" …"Put it this way man –– I know what a cow feels like when he is led to the slaughterhouse tunnel with no idea what's at the end"….so continues the journey…

Getting our Iranian visas. Istanbul –– what a wonderful town…The Iranian consulate informed us that visas could only be processed between 8 and 11 am. We arrive at nine, and I am given the task of getting things sorted.

In spite of having approval numbers and documentation for the necessary visas, I am told that we visa processing requires a minimum of 8 days. The clerk wants nothing to do with the official invitation we have from the Iranian Auto Club…"Please, check these numbers we have the required documentation. It is imperative that we leave Istanbul tonight".

My papers are pushed aside…waiting…waiting. Once again I gently insist that we need our papers as soon as possible. The clerk finally decides to examine our invitation and confirmation number…he speaks little English…"Fill forms –– give now, come back at three". New forms to fill.

I scramble back to Mike start scrambling with the new forms, send David off to photocopy passport pages…return with the necessary cash……but off course money must processed at a bank 3 blocks away. Time is running out…mad scramble to the bank…get lost, ask directions…find the bank, hop the queue apologetically, scramble back to the consulate…."Forms must be filled in double" mad scramble get Mike's signature (via splint), return to the consulate……hop the queue (young french guy cycling from Paris to China?!!)…Forms in at 11:05…"ok come back at 3:00"

I return with Peter at 3:00pm. All doors are locked. The guards tell us to go away, the consulate is closed come back tomorrow…try a different entrance, sent back the other way. Run into the French cyclist who says he's been coming back every day for the last few weeks, each time the same story "come back tomorrow"…contemplation, deep thoughts, knock on the doors again. Back to the first gate…"ok someone is coming" ….waiting, pounding, waiting….the door opens finally, "what do you want?", gently explain the situation…"wait here"…door closes… wait…wait…door opens, we are let in…wait wait wait, will we get our visas or be told to come back tomorrow…wait wait wait…an official arrives with a hand full of documentation…wait wait wait…"Mr. George?" …"yes?"…pause…"Your visas are ready."…

I examine them excitedly……hmm only valid for one week but we can probably get them extended once in the country……another battle for another day –– two points for the Road Monkay!

Tabrize, Iran - May 5, 2001

The Home Team

Roger Greenberg reports that he had a good conversation with Mike on Saturday. The team was preparing to sleep for a second night in Tabrize. They took approximately four hours to cross the Iranian border, which was not bad considering some trucks were stuck at the border for 7-8 days.

Getting very positive response from Iran. Young man in wheelchair gave him some flowers while local camera crew was taking pictures. Visited a rehab center in Tabrize as well as stopped by two or three centers that employ people with disabilities - very encouraging to see this in Iran.

Heading out to Tehran on Sunday - may stop for night in Zanjan.

Read about other legs of the Challenge:

 

  
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