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24 September 2014

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Preparing for the trip

Posted by: Mat Oxley | Date posted: 24/04/2007


Long Way Down quite possibly poses greater risks to Ewan and Charley's health than the Long Way Round, which is why the crew has prepared for the worst.

Preparation, always preparation. Whether you're decorating at home or crossing Africa, it pays to live by the 'five ps': perfect preparation prevents poor performance. The perfectionist's mantra applies to the bikes used on the Long Way Down. It applies to the riders. In fact, it applies to everything.

On Long Way Round, Ewan and Charley made do without proper medical back-up. After a few scares (ironically the nastiest accident involved one of the support trucks), they decided to take a paramedic with them this time. And it's not just a matter of personal protection. 'When you've got a lot of people involved, helping you on your way, I think you're obliged to take a good medic with you, especially because it's Africa,' says Charley.

As a specialist in remote areas medical support, paramedic Dai Jones certainly fits the bill. Dai has recently worked with a security company in Iraq, the UN following the Pakistan earthquake, and provided medical support during the Afghan elections. But the Welshman doesn't expect this trip to be a holiday, by any means. 'We're going through some dodgy areas,' he says. 'There are lot of risks to health, but I think the biggest concern is road traffic accidents.

'Long Way Down will be very different to the last trip. Last time they were riding mostly through unpopulated areas, whereas most places in Africa will be pretty busy. We have to consider injuries plus security, which is why the support crew will stay closer to the guys than before, so we can be there quickly if they have any dramas.'

Dai carries three medical bags: an acute care bag for the kind of trauma the riders might suffer in an accident, plus two others for primary health care - that's drugs and dressings for diarrhoea, infected mosquito bites, and so on. 'There's a big risk of hepatitis A in some of the countries, as well as dysentery and cholera,' adds Dai. 'I've trained the guys in preventative medicine - that's hand washing, water hygiene, and so on. We're carrying charcoal and iodine water purifiers, because iodine's more effective than chlorine.'

Of course, the crew have undergone a myriad of jabs. Vaccinations include Hepatitis A, polio, rabies, yellow fever, typhoid, tetanus and meningitis ACWY. 'Malaria is another worry,' adds Dai. 'Forty per cent of Ethiopia's health costs are malaria-related. We're specifically concerned with falciparum, or cerebral malaria, which is the worst.'

Dai has also trained the Long Way Down team in various medical emergencies. 'To be honest, if we can avoid the badness in the worst areas, the biggest risk is going to be the guys falling off the bikes and hurting themselves, or the 4x4 support vehicles rolling, like one of them did in Long Way Round. That's why I've trained them in helmet removal, spinal protection, that kind of thing.'

Charley adds, 'If someone comes off, breaks a leg and does their femoral artery, you have to know how to stop the bleeding. If you don't, they're dead in a few minutes.'

Of course, much of this is worst-case scenario stuff. Hopefully, Charley and Ewan will never need to employ any of their newly acquired medical skills. Of more general concern to them is the day-to-day experience - staying fit and comfortable on the bikes.

'The fitter you are, the better it is - and both of us are pretty fit,' says Charley. 'Long Way Round was physically tougher than we expected. We knew it'd be difficult because people warned us about rides such as the Road of Bones - the 'road' to the Gulag where Stalin sent his political prisoners. It's so called because there's three people buried for every kilometre completed.

'There was some great off-road riding on the first trip, great fun. I've ridden and competed off-road for years, and Ewan did his off-road training before the trip. This time we're expecting more extreme off-road riding, and are both really up for it.'

The pair have three months to cover the 15,000 miles from John O'Groats to Cape Town, compared with the 113 days it took them to complete the 20,000 miles on the Long Way Round. Obviously their daily progress will depend on how tough the going gets. On Long Way Round their best day saw them cover 680 miles (on US freeways), their worst just 12 miles of boggy tracks. 'The first week or so of riding is a bit uncomfortable. Then your body gets accustomed to spending hours in the saddle every day,"adds Charley. 'The good thing is that we have Europe to get into the swing of things before the riding gets tough.'

Like most things in life, it's the little things that can make the difference. 'I always carry a bag of boiled sweets in my tankbag,' Charley reveals. 'When you're riding a lot of miles it's good to have little things like that, just to stop you from falling asleep. It's never boring on a ride like this, because everything you see is new. It's the tiredness that can really get you.'

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