An Australian family is out to prove anything is possible by using pedal power to cycle 5000 kilometres across the United States.
The Saunders family (Travis, Fiona and Patch) want to use their bicycle trip to help change the narrative around disability, and particularly autism, to a positive one. I chatted to Travis to find out more about their incredible adventure.
‘Our aim is to build a positive experience bank for Patch as we camp in the wild, meet new people, and most importantly show him anything is possible. We want use Patch's love of movement to help him develop his expressive and receptive language, social skills, gross motor development and increase his interests.’
They will be self-supported as they ride from Washington State to Washington DC starting in mid July 2016.
Travis will be teaming up with his son, seven year old Patch, to ride a semi recumbent tandem. Fiona will be taking on the role of chief support crew and riding every kilometre next to the boys on a foldable bike.
‘Patch and I will be riding a Hase Pino Tour Semi recumbent tandem designed in Germany and sold in the USA. I have developed a special relationship with Bike-On.com in the USA and was recently asked to be one of their international sales representatives. I have spent several weeks redesigning the front end of the bike to suit Patch's needs for long haul touring and I am more than happy to share ideas to get other families and children involved in something that has already been life changing for not only Patch but our family.’
Patch has come so far since he was diagnosed with autism at 21 months of age. He has received thousands of hours of dedicated therapy to help him be able to communicate and connect with the world around him. His greatest leaps in learning have come from combining teaching with his love of movement. His strengths include his love of the outdoors and curiosity about new environments, and his curriculum on this trip will be based on his interests.
‘Movement has always played a major role in engaging Patch. We have been able to use his interest in things such as trampolines, horses, bicycles, and swings to teach every thing from direction, numbers, letters, stop, go, social skills, questions and responses. In the early days Patch had thousands of words but would mainly use them when we played silly games with vigorous movement. If he was engaged he would ask for more and we could use the relationship we developed to teach other skills. Movement plays a key role in his continued development. Fun, different, well thought out activities that are stimulating involving movement allow new concepts to be taught and learnt.’
‘Patch needs to move. He has only ever played with toys independently for a combined 10 minutes of his life and does not draw, write or paint. Whether it is jumping or travelling in a fast mode of transport, movement is what makes him happy. Patch will sit down for short periods of time but gets easily frustrated and upset by fine motor tasks. Over the years we have come to realise that Patch shuts down when confronted with tasks that he feels he can't achieve. So we use his strengths to teach him and the difference in outcomes is incredible. Firstly, he is a lot happier. He looks more confident and smiles when he achieves. Just the other day Patch read his first word in years. And the word was " Trampoline". I was able to link his love for movement with a reading task and he said the word. It was an incredible moment in his life.’
Travis’ commitment to the autism community has been strong for years. He ran 12 marathons in 12 months in 2013 to raise autism awareness, understanding and acceptance and founded the web platform www.run4autism.net. This has raised more than $150,000 for 10 Australian not for profit organisations. A few hundred people have used the platform to raise funds and awareness, and Run4Autism has featured in the media more than 50 times.
The bicycle trip will start in Anacortes (near Seattle) and follow the Adventure Cycling Association Northern Tier route through Washington, Montana and North Dakota.
The route then traverses many rail trails through Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan and country roads through Ohio to reach Pittsburgh. It finishes with the Great Allegheny Passage and Chesapeake and Ohio canal trails through Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia. The goal is to reach Washington DC in early October.
I asked Travis what advice he would you give to others about planning a trip like this.
‘Believe in your child and they will succeed. It may not follow the linear path of those around them but with your love, motivation, enthusiasm and drive they will come along for the ride in some way.
If you are considering a trip like the one we are about to do planning is the key. Once you have the planning sorted life slows down again and you can concentrate all of your efforts on your child and their success. Make them feel special. If your child needs small steps just show them a bike. If they are nervous, walk the bike with them seated in the front. If they love to turn, ride in circles. Do whatever it takes to build a positive relationship with you and the bike. By making it fun, you just never know, you may just be planning your first over night tour together as a family
There’s nothing you can’t do, no matter how huge the challenge may seem.’
Thankyou Travis for sharing this exciting news and we will all be following and supporting you on your travels, we are uplifted & inspired !