I have just returned home after my trip away with Bike Tours for the Wounded (Bt4tw) and I can’t quite express just how amazing it was. Obviously it was great to ride someone else’s Harley around the Wild West under a blazing sun in a cloudless sky but there is so much more to it than that.
My PTSD started causing anxiety attacks as my train neared London Paddington and they grew worse as the flight drew closer to America. I was having trouble with the noise of London, the amount of people around me, the thought that I was meeting a new group of people and whether I would get on with them. We arrived at the hotel and got given our bike for the week and as I lifted it off of the side stand, it was so heavy and unwieldy that I felt sure I wouldn’t be able to ride it. We left the carpark on a familiarisation ride and I was utterly convinced that I had made a bad decision, I wouldn’t be able to ride the bike, let alone carry a wounded pillion passenger safely. I was going to let him down, let the tour group down and make a mess of the whole trip. My role as a Search and Rescue captain in the RAF would regularly see me confidently striding out to the aircraft at 03:00 in bad weather after receiving a call about someone missing in the mountains or at trouble out at sea. I was a very confident and self assured person but as I wobbled out of the carpark on the first evening, I had absolutely none of my old self with me for the ride.
Needless to say, I soon got a feel for the bike and when I met my pillion Eddie and had him get onto the back the next day , we set off with no trouble at all and had a really great week, riding through some of the most stunning scenery America has to offer. As the week progressed I could feel myself becoming more confident and some of my old capable self seemed to return. We were hosted by a group of bikers from the American Legion in Springerville and along with the group, and later on my own,I began to sing at karaoke, something I have not had the confidence to do since before my PTSD diagnosis. I used to be the singer in a rock band and even won a few competitions back in the day.
On one of the days, we were riding through Phoenix Arizona and the temperature began to steadily increase to over 120 degrees Farenheight which is 48 degrees Celsius. One of my triggers from Iraq is from being trapped and helpless while under bombardment. The heat from the sun, the road, the engine and the wind rush began to take me back to that trapped feeling and my anxiety started to increase to the point where I had to ask the leader to let us pull over for a while. The heat during the period of out trip was unprecedented in the history of it being recorded for that time of year. We pulled over and I was able to realise through some of my coping strategies that although my PTSD had flared up, I had managed to take some charge of the situation and make a decision to make it better. A small step but progress nevertheless I feel.
As the bike tour neared the end of it’s 8 days and 2400 miles, I felt more comfortable, more calm and capable and happier than I had in a long time. I had the opportunity to speak with other wounded pillion riding servicemen as well as civilian riders. I have heard some of their stories and made some lifelong friends and I have seen a change for the better in myself as well as a change in some of the others.
One young lad in particular was in the Parachute Regiment and is about 25. He suffered a parachute malfunction shortly after returning from Afghanistan where his vehicle got blown up. He is now in a wheelchair with no sensation below his stomach and he suffers short term memory loss as well as regular seizures At the start of the week he was incredibly angry, sullen and prone to a nervous tick that became worse as he tried to speak to anyone. Whenever a seizure took him, he would become very embarrassed afterwards and demand to leave the area where anyone may have seen him. Towards the end of the week he was joining in with the group, talking freely with little stuttering and hardly any visible ticks. His seizures became less frequent and when they did happen, instead of being so embarrassed he wanted to leave, he would rejoin the group as soon as he was able to do so.
There are many stories like this from the 13 wounded guys that were on the trip including myself. This bike tour isn’t the answer and it isn’t a cure but it has made an incredible impact on the majority of the people that it was intended to help. I was funded for my place on the tour by the charity Bt4tw for the sum of £1700 and I paid a further £2000 to upgrade to a rider position. An outright civilian rider would pay nearly £4000 to go on this trip which partially subsidises the pillion passenger.
I know that this trip and others like it are very expensive but I also feel that it has been incredibly worthwhile and I would ask if you might be able to forward this email on to someone in SSAFA to see if there is any way to financially support the charity. They are really struggling and although they have been running for 8 years, they may not be able to continue for much longer. The guy who runs it is called Darren Clover and his email address is: [email protected] if you think there might be any way to help. I will do the best I can, I have already offered £3 from every sale of my book Charlie and the Dragon and I will do more as I think of things to do because this charity and it’s tour has widened my horizon in ways that I can’t even measure just yet.
I look forward to seeing you soon, take care.