Austin (22) is currently an Accounting major at Walla Walla University, Washington, USA. He was diagnosed with epilepsy in 2008 after having a seizure on a church-run trip to Belize. Now more than two years seizure-free, Austin is embarking on an epic cycle around the world when he graduates this June. His route will see him cycling for over a year and he aims to raise $10,000 for Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy (CURE) in the process. We learned more about his journey, his family’s history with epilepsy, and the most dangerous cup of tea in the world.
Can you tell us a bit about your epilepsy?
I have generalised tonic-clonic/grand mal seizures. My first seizure happened in 2008 on the first mission trip I took to Belize. There was no apparent cause, like with many epilepsy manifestations. I am taking a combination of medications that thankfully keep the seizures at bay with minimal noticeable side-effects. My last seizure was about two and half years ago. If I remember correctly though, there were extenuating circumstances that may have encouraged my last seizure, such as lack of sleep or accidentally not taking medication the night before.
Did you know much about epilepsy before you were diagnosed?
I knew a little bit about epilepsy before I started having seizures because my sister was diagnosed with epilepsy two years before I was, but I didn’t know very much.
Does your sister have similar seizures to you?
Yes, my sister and I have the same type of epilepsy. No one close enough on my mother’s side has epilepsy to the extent that it would affect us. My father is adopted and doesn’t know very much about the medical history of his parents, so it is possible that it came from his side of the family because it is a little unusual for both siblings to develop epilepsy – but not impossible.
"I think a positive outlook is important, not only with epilepsy but with all aspects of life."
What would you say to someone who has recently been diagnosed?
I would tell them that life has taken an unfortunate turn, but it isn’t over. They should find a doctor that cares about their well-being, and with a little luck they will soon discover a method of treatment that works for them. I think a positive outlook is important, not only with epilepsy but with all aspects of life.
It sounds like you and your family have travelled a lot. Where have you been so far?
I have travelled to several different countries, even when I was a child. All of these trips were organised by fellow church members to help the people of the area through construction projects and VBS (Vacation Bible Study) for the kids of the area. At the age of three, our family went to the island of Fiji; in the summer of 2006 to the island of Pohnpei in Micronesia, and that same year during Christmas break we went to Peru to construct a women’s shelter. The year after that everyone went to Mexico and the next Christmas break was spent in Belize tiling a church. I went [to Belize] a second time with my high school. It was great being able to revisit a foreign country – being able to go to the same ice cream parlour five years later and taste the same unique flavours.
Do you think that your parents instilled a sense of adventure in you?
Yes I do. Ever since my sister and I were children our parents would take us on family trips to the coast, camping in the wilderness, or even just hiking in the mountains on a Saturday. It’s part of what inspired me to go on this trip.
"I am worried about the crossing of borders because I will be carrying psychotropics with me (in other words, my epilepsy medication)"
So tell us about the trip – have you planned your route?
I haven’t nailed down the details yet, but the route has been approximately planned out. First I will be cycling across the United States and then flying to Portugal. Using several of the designated EuroVelo cycling routes, I’ll travel through southern Europe into Turkey. After Turkey I will take a ferry across the Caspian Sea to Kazakhstan. Then comes China (avoiding deserts and high altitudes). I will eventually find myself in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and then island-hop through Malaysia and Indonesia. I’ll fly from there to Australia, cycle across the southern coast to Sydney, and fly over to Wellington, New Zealand. I’ll cycle up to Auckland, fly to the United States, and then make my way back to the starting point!
Do you know how far you’ll be cycling?
I will be attempting to complete this trip according to Guinness World Record circumnavigation [so] I will have to cycle for at least 18,000 miles.
And what’s the furthest you’ve cycled up to now?
Unfortunately I haven’t done any long-distance cycling due to a lack of time because of college. I am planning on doing a test trip during Spring Break (destination pending). I am not as worried about training physically as I am about other aspects of the trip though, because the trip itself will push me into better shape and I will acclimate to the gruelling days of pedalling.
Is there anything you are particularly worried about?
One of the things I am most worried about on this trip is the crossing of borders. This is made especially difficult because I will be carrying psychotropics with me (in other words, my epilepsy medication). I am worried that my medication, or possibly other equipment, will get confiscated. That would really put a damper on the trip.
"I am fearfully looking forward to the Huashan Teahouse, a famously dangerous climb up to a Buddhist and Taoist temple "
Is there a particular destination you are most looking forward to?
I am fearfully looking forward to a destination that I have wanted to visit ever since I saw pictures of it on the internet: the Huashan Teahouse. It is a famously dangerous mountain climb up to a Buddhist and Taoist temple that, according to the Atlas Obscura, “offers refreshments to anyone daring enough to reach it via what has been described as one of the most dangerous hiking paths in the world.” With a combination of adrenaline and beautiful scenery, it is definitely a place that I hope to stop at during the trip. My better judgement might prevent me from reaching the top, but I would like to try anyway.
Will your family be joining you at any point?
I am fairly certain that none of my immediate family will be physically joining me on this trip, but they will be watching it as it happens. I plan on vlogging my adventures as they happen so that everyone can join me as I travel around the world.
Do you have anything else you’d like the readers to know?
If I happen to be cycling near you and you have a bicycle, please join me! I would love to swap stories, and after days on the road I am sure I would appreciate some local home-cooked food and a roof over my head!
You can check out Austin’s Instagram @sierra_leone_or_bust to follow his latest adventures.