Around the world. By train.
This is the route that I had planned to follow in my 2013 attempt to travel around the world by train. The journey that I was in the middle of when ataxia first struck. And a journey that I will never personally complete now. Well, not physically.
Instead, I am now completing the trip virtually.
With the collaboration of train-loving friends who have made individual train journeys more recently.
A series of single train articles which, when combined, will make up the entire “round-the-world by train” journey.
And I am now also doing this to raise funds for Food Share UK (a UK charity which collect surplus food from various sources and redistributes it to local charities). So if any of these articles inspire/help you in some way, please donate a few pennies to help them help others.
So what happened?
In 2013, I had gone as far as Novosibirsk (Siberia) when I was forced to abandon my real-life journey, as I had mysteriously started to fall over for no obvious reason (and I thought that it might be a good idea to return to Scotland and find out why).
17 months of medical tests followed until I was eventually diagnosed with spinocerebellar ataxia. A very rare neurological condition which would eventually put me in a wheelchair (and since has).
This wasn’t the end of my plan to complete this journey though. Oh no.
But RTWbytrain? Why?
I’ve always travelled.
Museums and art galleries just don’t do it for me though. For me, travel is all about people. And experience. Sharing knowledge, so that everyone learns from each other (I see how other people live, and use the lessons learned to shape my own life – and the people who I meet, hopefully learn something about how I live too).
Like many people, I want to meet “real” local people when I travel though.
But how “real” are the “real local people” that you meet while travelling?
No, I didn’t just want to meet people who had some tenuous link to the tourism/service industry. People, and smiling/happy people at that, who really only wanted my custom. I mean “real local people”. People just going about their mundane daily existence. And to see how these people lived their lives (some friends of mine think that this is weird/boring, but people doing normal “boring’ stuff fascinates me).
And there was one place where a local interaction was pretty much guaranteed. And a place where local people would feel relaxed and have the time to interact with “strangers”.
A local train journey.
Trains are pretty unique in this regard. They are set up in such a way, so that some passengers/strangers sit facing each other. And if you sit two human beings together, face-to-face, eventually they will “converse”.
So, in 2012, I started thinking. “As each of these smaller , local, train journeys had been so personally-rewarding, would it be possible to link them all together into one, rather epic, journey which would take me right around the planet?”.
My initial research indicated that this was indeed possible (except for the blue bits on the atlas of course). So I spent the next 18 months poring over train routes, maps and timetables.
But to make my task even harder, I had decided that I didn’t want to travel on just any old train. No, I would travel on the longest, the highest and the most iconic trains on the planet.
And so on August 12, 2013, I started out on what would become my final RTW journey.
So what now?
For the two years that followed my diagnosis, and knowing that my wings were slowly being clipped, I indulged in the one thing that had fulfilled me all through my life.
This was only as far as mainland Europe though, as I wanted to be relatively close to medical help in Scotland.
I had also come up with a rather clever way of combining my travels with fundraising for Ataxia UK (the UK charity who are funding the research into a cure for this, pretty rare, neurological condition).
Although any cure would come too late for me personally, I had learned a lot about ataxia after my diagnosis. And I had learned that it also affects young children. Young people who will never have the chance to see some of the wonderful things that I have seen, nor do most of the amazing things that I was lucky enough to do. Things that we all, pretty much, take for granted.
In the back of my mind though, I always had the dream of completing my 2013 RTWbytrain journey. Although I was now waiting for that wheelchair to actually appear (it since has). Train travel is mostly a sedentary business anyway (probably part of the attraction for me – the world comes to you), so it would now need to be a much-simplified route if required. The continuation of the journey would also now be a continuation of my charity fundraising efforts (a “round the world by train – in a wheelchair” journey would attract so much more attention, and so donations).
But it has recently become very evident that even this will not be possible now. For as well as losing the ability to walk, it is also expected that I will have problems with my throat (which I have already started to experience). The problem is due entirely to my throat muscles becoming gradually weaker. So this affects talking (I am now rather hoarse at times – it’s not painful at all, just bloody annoying), and swallowing, especially when eating or drinking (I have choked a few times recently, and always only when drinking cold water on its own – but the signs are there).
So any ideas that I might one day complete this journey physically, in whatever manner, have now been abandoned. So this is the route that I would have taken (with a few changes).
The biggest of these changes is how I travelled from Europe to Moscow.
The route that I actually followed required that I immediately travelled through Scandinavia. The Inlandsbanan in Sweden (now my favourite railway journey in Europe), only runs for its entire length for a few months each Summer (the rail tracks are covered by deep snow for the rest of the year), and the timing of my journey meant that I had to head there first.
So I actually reached Moscow by train from Berlin, Warsaw and Kiev after zig-zagging around Europe after Scandinavia. And not the route via Finland that I would have preferred.
I have also added a few lines too. One of the actual benefits of completing this journey “virtually” now, is that I have been bestowed with a degree of “poetic licence”. And I intend to make the most of that wee opportunity thank you very much.
So sit back – and enjoy the trip of a lifetime.