Journal of a Land Voyage III

Back again to my hand written journal from September 2014
……. now long past:

The Fifth Day


I am 1580km north of Paradise, in a tiny 8 sided cabin we have christened ‘The Yurt’. This is the furthest I have been from home since I last visited the Gibson Desert in 2010, travelling about double the length of my current trip. My very dear eldest daughter and her family joined me here yesterday morning for one night and two laughter filled, blissful days of talk and all the fun and exhaustion that two little boys bring with them. My grandsons, four and six, are such a delight. I love them all dearly and would miss them achingly right now, if their voices and their presence weren’t still echoing around me here in The Yurt some hours after their departure.

I am elated not simply because we were together, but because I am able to be here. When my daughter first asked months and months ago if there was any possibility of me visiting it seemed to her and I both that there probably wasn’t.  It was an impossibility in my mind, no matter how often I approached the idea. From mid 2010 onward B4 and I had accomplished so much together, goodness knows how far we travelled; but late in 2013 we abruptly parted company. The partnership had ended. I was making a simple bus trip to town when breathing became rather restricted, feeling it would soon be near impossible. It was one of the few times I have had to ring to be rescued. An unpleasant moment, and for several weeks after that I only left our home if my Favourite Wife was home from work and able to drive me in our van. I consulted with a physio, an occupational therapist, and a wheelchair specialist. The problem was simply posture. So much technology is crammed into every spare inch of a power chair that it leaves room for only one position for sitting, one that becomes confining as far as breathing is concerned. The exact opposite of the inflexible posture provided by the ridiculously expensive, custom designed power chair seat is the limitlessly flexible and more physically engaged posture of my faithful old Manual Chair, known far and wide as Bugger. Of Gibson Desert fame! The advantage it gives is being able to lean and twist this way and that, and tuck your feet and legs right under the seat – just where the batteries would be on a power chair.  There was an even greater advantage to ‘going manual’ that I was not expecting: a far more energetic lifestyle. I’m certain that this transition back to a manual chair was one of the big factors contributing to my climbing of our hills that I wrote about a while ago. I realise now that I had become trapped in B4, and it was good to get out.

But, in returning to good old Bugger there was still a problem.  Even around the house a manual chair is limiting: there are only so many times that I can push it from one end of house t’other!  After a couple of weeks of this contained style of living (which goes very much against the grain), I began to wonder if I couldn’t somehow pull my wheelchair around with a motor of some sort.  Finding nothing very effective for sale (I checked with my wheelchair expert, and google, of course), I took the seat off a small, older style power chair; leaving just the wheels, motors and batteries in the base of the chair; with the electronic joystick controller on its cable, unscrewed from the arm of the chair. I then tied a rope between the wheelchair base and Bugger.  Holding the joystick in both hands I set off up the hall on a maiden voyage.  It was a funny sort of test flight, jerky and difficult not to crash into the power unit in front of me, or indeed the walls of our hallway, but it was definitely a drag in the right direction.

Chug Mk I, on a road test around Sydney's North Head lookout.
Chug Mk I, on a road test around Sydney’s North Head lookout.

Having tested the prototype around the house I started to build some additional features onto the power wheelchair base.  A tray, a shelf for the second ventilator, a transformer drawing 12Volts from the 24V power system, and importantly a rope with a hook.  A couple of weeks later it came away with us on our annual holiday, where I couldn’t resist a road test!

Possibilities suddenly abounded, and soon I had taken my invention, now christened ‘Chug’ (Char+Tug=Chug), on a trip to the city by train, a tour of the old convict shipyards on Cockatoo Island, aboard the Manly Ferry, and scariest of all: a Sydney Bus.  The bus was nerve wracking, because I didn’t know exactly how or where we would fit on the bus, and the early evening crowd was somewhat intimidating. But, without shadow of a doubt, the wide and wonderful world was once again accessible, and open for business!




Chug Mk II sitting companionably beside Bugger, aboard the Brisbane train.
Chug Mk II sitting companionably beside Bugger, aboard the Brisbane train.

My current trip has been accomplished with Bugger and Chug Mk II, which I can see over in the corner of the train carriage as I write.   Compared to the roughly $12,000.00 price tag on B4, Chug Mk II cost $400 for an older power chair on eBay, $20.00 worth of

plywood, and a few other odds and ends.

I will devote another post to the numerous features of the new Chug – which is now in it’s second year.  It has proved so incredibly useful …. but I will save that for next time.

Drop me a line!