Paul has had extensive spinal surgery after fracturing his neck at the age of 13. He talks to Sundried about his life as a 'spinal fusion adventurer' and cycle touring the world.
What first inspired you to become a spinal fusion adventurer?
I got my first proper bike at the age of 11. When I was 13, I fractured my neck at C3 and subsequently wore a collar for close to two years. I started losing feeling from my waist down and in 2000 had a surgery called a corpectomy – a corpectomy or vertebrectomy is a surgical procedure that involves removing all or part of the vertebral body, usually as a way to decompress the spinal cord and nerves. Fast forward to 2013 and I was having problems walking and had a lower spinal fusion.
Cycle touring is a “freedom”. I have also walked a Camino in 2017 which was a distance of 942km (585 miles). While living in New Zealand, I cycle-toured the length of the South Island. In 2014, I met the most amazing lady, Elizabeth O’Connor, who had cycle-toured solo across a great deal of the world. She inspired me to look beyond what I thought possible. My intention before meeting her was to give up work and circumnavigate New Zealand, but she inspired me to think much bigger. Now I have toured over 20 countries and cycled over 20,000km.
How is your spinal fusion adventure experience affected by your spinal surgery? Have you had to make any adjustments to your bike?
I cycle in a more upright position, I have a more padded gel seat cover and a rubber suspension post. I also use “butterfly” handlebars.
What has been your favourite spinal fusion adventure and why?
I have cycle-toured twenty countries including New Zealand (South Island), half of Japan, across Europe from Istanbul to the UK, Morocco, Spain, France, Ireland and Norway.
If I had to pick my favourite countries, they would be Japan, Ireland, and Norway. Norway being the most spectacular, Ireland being the most friendly, and Japan being the most amazing country I could not believe existed.
What's the hardest setback you've had to overcome throughout your journey?
Pain is a 24/7 issue. I do not take pain killers; I gave them up before my circumnavigation of Ireland in 2017.
How do you decide the routes that you will cycle?
Generally, it's a daily choice. First, I choose the country to visit, then I make a rough plan or an “end” goal. Take Norway for example; I'd decide to start in Oslo and end in Nordkapp. The route can change every day.
How do you fund your travels?
Save and live frugally. If you desire to do something that much, you will discipline yourself on spending and saving.
How do you fuel yourself when cycling for extended periods of time? What do you eat?
Anything! During my Ireland circumnavigation, a good “Irish Breakfast” was enough to see me through. My staple food on most of my trips is porridge and coffee for breakfast and pasta when I finish. In-between I just eat what I can grab. I have never counted protein, carbs, calories etc.
What would be the ultimate adventure for you?
Each and every adventure is my “ultimate adventure”. With my condition, I never know if something will go drastically wrong along the way. I have a reliable bike but not a reliable body. Pain and stiffness are a daily challenge
My ultimate goal in all my adventures is that hopefully I can raise awareness about my condition to others. In the Japanese language, there is a word “Ikigai” meaning a “reason for being”. Such a beautiful, meaningful word. By doing what I do, I hope I can inspire and motivate even just one person.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of embarking upon a similar adventure?
Start small: cycle to work every day no matter the weather. Each and every one of us is capable of doing things way beyond what we think we can do.
If you desire to do something, it will cost you financially and maybe even friends and family.