Not letting the use of a wheelchair stand in her way, 22 year old Charlotte Murphy and her partner Mikey Sunter still rack up plenty of miles…

My​ ​name​ ​is​ ​Charlotte​ ​Murphy. I am​ ​22​ ​years​ ​old​ ​and​ was​ ​born​ ​in​ ​Glasgow​ ​but​ have ​lived​ ​in Thurso, 15 miles​ ​from​ ​John​ ​o’Groats​, ​for the past​ ​13​ ​years.​ ​I​ ​love​ ​where​ ​I​ ​live​. It’s​ ​a​ ​hidden​ ​gem​ ​that​ ​isn’t​ ​so hidden​ ​anymore​ ​what with​ ​the​ ​growth​ ​of​ ​the​ ​North​ ​Coast​ ​500, ​which​ ​has​ ​seen​ ​major​ ​growth​ ​in vehicle​ ​tourism​ ​for​ ​the​ ​region.

I​ ​was​ ​born​ ​with​ ​cerebral​ ​palsy​ (CP),​which​ ​affects​ ​my​ ​legs.​ ​As​ ​a​ ​child​ ​I​ ​had​ ​the​ ​capability​ ​of walking​ ​with​ ​leg​ ​splints​ ​and​ ​walking​ ​frames.​ ​I​ did struggle when​ ​I​ ​was​ ​younger​ ​with the​ ​idea​ that ​one​ ​day​ ​I would end ​up​ ​in​ ​a​ ​wheelchair​, ​as​ ​I​ ​had​ ​thought​ ​that​ ​it​ ​would​ ​make​ ​my​ ​life unbearably​ ​difficult.​ ​Eventually,​ ​around​ ​the​ ​age​ ​of​ ​11​ ​I​ ​had​ ​a​ ​knee​ ​injury,​ ​but​ ​because​ ​I couldn’t​ ​hop​ ​with​ ​crutches​ ​I​ ​then​ ​transferred​ ​to​ ​the​ ​chair​ ​and​ ​have​ ​been in​ ​it​ ​ever​ ​since.​

​I​ ​will say​ ​that​ ​my​ ​preconceived​ ​idea​ ​of​ ​a​ ​difficult​ ​life​ ​wasn’t​ ​the​ ​way​ ​things​ ​turned​ ​out.​ ​As​ ​well​ as the​ ​CP​ ​I​ ​suffer​ ​from​ ​scoliosis​ ​of​ ​my​ ​spine,​ ​nerve​ ​pain​ ​and​ ​pain​ ​from​ ​the​ ​lightest​ ​touch​ ​of​ ​my back​ ​-​ ​a​ ​hug​ ​would​ ​have​ ​me​ ​in​ ​agony​ ​for​ ​days.​ ​Because​ ​of​ my ​back​ ​problems​ ​ ​I​ ​use many​ ​pain​ ​meds​ ​which​ ​could​ ​be​ ​a​ ​problem​ ​in​ ​the​ ​future​ ​if​ ​me​ ​and​ ​my​ ​fiancé​ ​want​ ​to​ ​travel outside​ ​of​ ​the​ ​EU.

It​ ​is​ ​not​ ​an​ ​exaggeration​ ​when​ ​I​ ​say​ ​that​ ​never​ ​ever​ ​in​ ​my​ ​wildest​ ​dreams​ ​did​ ​I​ ​think​ ​I​ ​would be​ ​into​ ​motorcycle​ ​travel.​ ​When​ ​Mikey​ ​– my partner – and​ ​his​ ​family​ ​introduced​ ​me​ ​to​ ​working​ ​on​ ​the bikes​ ​in​ ​the​ ​shed​ ​I​ ​decided​ ​to​ ​get​ ​​involved​ ​because​ ​I​ ​could​ ​see​ ​how much​ ​it​ ​meant​ ​to​ ​him​ ​and​ ​to them.​

I​ ​remember​ ​being​ ​strangely​ ​proud​ ​the​ ​first​ ​time​ ​I​ ​got​ ​oil​ ​on my​ ​jeans​!​ ​The​ ​reason​ ​that​ ​I​ ​first ended​ ​up​ ​on​ ​the​ ​back​ ​of​ ​our​ ​first​ ​bike together, ​​ ​which​ ​was​ ​a​n ​ugly​ ​1980’s​ ​Honda​ ​Spacey​ ​250​ ​cc​ ​-​ ​was​ ​that​ ​I​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​visit a​ ​place​ ​on​ ​the​ ​north​ ​west​ ​coast​ ​called​ ​Durness.​ ​We​ ​had​ ​to​ ​get​ ​there​ ​by​ ​bike​ ​because​ ​my​ ​car at​ ​the​ ​time​ ​would​ ​have​ ​been​ ​very​ ​uncomfortable​ due to ​the​ ​road,​ ​but​ ​we also​ ​wanted​ ​to see​ ​if​ ​it​ ​was​ ​possible​ ​for​ ​us​ ​to​ ​travel​ ​in​ ​such​ ​a​ ​way.​ ​The​ ​significance​ ​of​ ​Durness​ ​and​ ​the​ ​date we​ ​went​ ​was​ ​that​ ​it​ ​was​ ​the​ ​one​ ​year​ ​anniversary​ ​of​ ​my​ ​mum’s​ ​passing​ ​and​ ​Durness​ ​to​ ​her was​ ​like​ ​heaven​ ​on​ ​earth.
Myself and Mikey had both been ​greatly​ ​inspired​ ​by​ ​Cathy​ ​Birchall​ ​and​ ​Bernard​ ​Smith’s​ ​book​, ​Touching​ ​the world, which told the story of their trip around the world, despite Cathy being blind. The​ ​book​ ​certainly​ ​made​ ​us​ ​wonder​ ​if​ ​travelling​ ​on​ ​a​ ​bike​ ​was​ ​something​ ​I​ ​would​ ​do and​ ​find​ ​interesting.​ ​We​ ​could​ ​relate​ ​heavily​ ​to​ ​the​ ​story​ ​and​ ​now​ ​Bernard​ ​is​ ​a​ ​very​ ​close friend​ ​of​ ​ours.

With​ ​the​ ​bike​ ​we​ ​have​ ​now​, ​a​ ​BMW​ ​RT​ ​80​ ​R​ ​nicknamed​ ​Matilda​, ​she​ ​needed​ ​a​ ​new​ ​rack​ ​to carry​ ​the​ ​travel​ ​wheelchair​, plus ​we​ ​had​ ​to​ ​adjust​ ​my​ ​foot​ ​pegs​ ​because​ ​of​ ​the​ ​shape​ ​my​ ​feet rest​ ​in.​ ​We​ ​used​ ​old​ ​wheelchair​ ​footplates​ ​we​ ​had​ ​from​ ​a​ ​spare​ ​chair,​ ​thus​ ​making​ ​new foot-plates​ ​for​ ​me​ ​which​ ​is​ ​much​ ​more​ ​comfortable.

Of​ ​course,​ ​there​ ​are​ ​challenges​ ​in​ ​relation​ ​to​ ​being​ ​on​ ​the​ ​bike​ ​and​ ​going​ ​places.​ ​The​ ​main challenges​ ​for​ ​us​ ​are​ ​my​ ​health​ ​-​ ​pain​ ​levels​ ​and​ ​sorting​ ​medications​ ​-​ ​and​ ​getting​ ​on​ ​and​ ​off the​ ​bike.​ ​My​ ​pain​ ​and​ ​fatigue​ ​has​ ​had​ ​a​ ​big​ ​part​ ​to​ ​play​ ​when​ ​we​ ​have​ ​made​ ​far​ ​off​ ​plans. I always​ ​want​ ​to​ ​push​ ​myself​ ​but​ ​sometimes​ ​you​ ​have​ ​to​ ​just​ ​hold​ ​your​ ​hands​ ​up​ ​and​ ​say, ‘it’s​ ​too​ ​much’. ​Mind​ ​you​, ​it​ ​very​ ​rarely​ ​stops​ ​us.​ ​In​ ​the​ ​past,​ ​with​ ​smaller​ ​bikes​,​ ​I would​ ​try​ ​and​ ​use​ ​crutches​ ​and​ ​not​ ​the​ ​chair whilst we were away.​ ​

On the smaller bikes I​ ​would​ ​have​ ​the​ ​problem that​ ​my​ ​legs​ ​would​ ​continuously​ ​spasm​ ​and​ ​shake​ ​to​ ​the​ ​point​ ​that​ ​the​ ​bike​ ​and​ ​Mikey​ ​would end​ ​up​ ​shaking​ ​with​ ​me​ ​from​ ​over​ ​exertion.​ ​With​ ​Matilda​ ​this​ ​doesn’t​ ​really​ ​happen,​ ​both because​ ​of​ ​my​ ​proper​ ​foot​ ​rests​ ​and​ ​that​ ​I​ ​use​ ​the​ ​chair​ ​now.

Getting​ ​on​ ​and​ ​off​ ​the​ ​bike​ ​is​ ​a​ ​much​ ​more​ ​obvious​ ​challenge.​ ​For​ ​getting​ ​on​ ​I​ ​need​ ​at​ ​least Mikey​ ​and​ ​if​ ​available​ ​someone​ ​else​ ​to​ ​help​ ​me​ ​get​ ​my​ ​leg​ ​over.​ ​Getting​ ​off​ ​is​ ​a​ ​different story.​ ​First​ ​the​ ​bike​ ​has​ ​to​ ​go​ ​on​ ​the​ ​center​ ​stand​ ​and​ ​mikey​ ​has​ ​to​ ​take​ ​the​ ​wheelchair​ ​off the​ ​back,​ ​once​ ​that​ ​is​ ​down​ ​I​ ​will​ ​then​ ​sit​ ​while​ ​he​ ​gets​ ​the luggage​ ​off.​ ​Something​ ​that​ ​I​ ​struggle​ ​with​ ​and​ ​have​ ​a​ ​lot​ ​of​ ​internal​ ​turmoil​ ​about​ ​is​ ​the​ ​fact that​ ​there​ ​is​ ​almost​ ​nothing​ ​I​ ​can​ ​do​ ​to​ ​help​ ​when​ ​travelling.​ ​Mikey​ ​has​ ​to​ ​pretty​ ​much​ ​do everything,​ ​but​ ​he​ ​does​ ​it​ ​without​ ​gurning.

There​ ​is​ ​almost​ ​an​ ​infinite​ ​list​ ​when​ ​it​ ​comes​ ​to​ ​what​ ​I​ ​enjoy​ ​about​ ​being​ ​on​ ​the​ ​bike.​ ​For​ ​me apart​ ​from​ ​of​ ​course​ ​seeing​ ​new​ ​things​ ​and​ ​meeting​ ​new​ ​people,​ ​one​ ​of​ ​my​ ​favourite​ ​things about​ ​being​ ​a​ ​wheelchair​ ​bound​ ​pillion​ ​is​ ​challenging​ ​people’s​ ​perception​ ​and​ ​expectations of​ ​someone​ ​who​ ​is​ ​wheelchair​ ​bound.​ ​For​ ​instance, ​on​ ​many​ ​occasions​ ​when​ ​we were​ ​out​ ​and​ ​about​ ​on​ ​Matilda this year,​ ​her​ ​blue​ ​badge​ ​proud​ ​on​ ​her​ ​windscreen,​ ​many​ ​people​ ​while we​ ​parked​ ​up​​ ​came​ ​over​ ​to​ ​us​ ​ready​ ​to​ ​tell​ ​us​ ​off​ ​for​ ​parking​ ​in​ ​badge​ ​spots.​ ​That was​ ​of​ ​course​ ​until​ ​they​ ​saw​ ​the​ ​badge​ ​or​ ​me​ ​getting​ ​into​ ​my​ ​chair.​ ​Also,​ ​it​ ​is​ ​always​ ​amazing to​ ​me​ ​the​ ​way​ ​that​ biking ​has​ ​opened​ ​up​ ​the​ ​world​ ​to​ ​me,​ ​and​ ​how​ ​in​ ​not​ ​many​ ​other circumstances​ ​would​ ​you​ ​find​ ​a​ ​group​ ​of​ ​people​ ​from​ ​all​ ​walks​ ​of​ ​life​ ​from​ ​all​ ​over​ ​the​ ​world to​ ​so​ ​readily​ ​help​ ​each​ ​other.

At​ ​the​ ​moment​ ​most​ ​of​ ​our​ ​travels​ ​have​ ​been​ ​around​ ​the​ ​north​ ​of​ ​Scotland​, ​as​ ​up​ ​until​ ​this year​ ​our​ ​bikes​ ​weren’t​ ​properly​ ​adjusted​ ​and​ ​equipped​ ​for​ ​us​ ​to​ ​travel​ ​further​ ​afield.​ ​With​ ​the arrival​ ​of​ ​Matilda​ ​this​ ​year​ ​we​ ​felt​ ​like​ ​there​ ​was​ ​nothing​ ​really​ ​holding​ ​us​.​ ​We went​ ​to​ ​an​ adventure bike ​rally​ ​in​ ​Strontian​ ​as​ ​our​ ​first​ ​long​ ​trip,​ ​over​ ​the​ ​Applecross​ ​pass​ ​as​ ​well. Since​ ​that​ ​went​ ​well​ ​we​ ​felt​ ​spurred​ ​on​ ​the​ ​go​ ​to​ ​HUBB​ ​UK​ ​2017 in​ ​South​ ​Wales​, ​which​ ​was​ ​about​ ​650​ ​miles​ ​from​ ​our​ ​home​ ​one​ ​way.​ ​It​ ​took​ ​us​ ​three​ ​days​ ​to get​ ​there,​ ​mainly​ ​because​ ​I​ ​was​ ​suffering​ ​pretty​ ​bad​ ​with​ ​my​ ​pain.

Next​ ​year​ ​we​ ​plan​ ​to​ ​go​ ​to​ ​the​ ​outer​ ​Hebrides​ ​and​ ​we​ ​plan​ ​to​ ​tour​ ​around​ ​Ireland​ ​for​ ​a​ ​few weeks.​ ​I​ ​spent​ ​many​ ​summer​ ​holiday​ ​with​ ​the​ ​family​ ​there and​ ​would​ ​love​ ​to​ ​show​ ​Mikey​ ​it​ ​and tour​ ​on​ ​the​ ​roads​ ​with​ ​the​ ​bike,​ ​which​ ​I​ ​think​ ​will​ ​be​ ​spectacular.
Something​ ​that​ ​sums​ ​up​ ​my​ ​delight​ ​of​ ​challenging​ ​people’s​ ​expectations​ ​of​ ​the​ ​disabled​ ​is an​ ​interaction​ ​I​ ​had​ ​with​ ​someone​ ​when​ ​I​ ​first​ ​started​ ​going​ ​on​ ​bikes.

I​ ​was​ ​waiting​ ​outside​ ​an​ ​ice​ ​cream​ ​shop​ ​in​ ​John​ ​o’Groats​ ​while​ ​Mikey​ ​went​ ​to​ ​get​ ​our​ ​food.​ ​I was​ ​sat​ ​on​ ​the​ ​bike​ ​in​ ​the​ ​sun​ ​looking​ ​at​ ​my​ ​phone​ ​when​ ​a​ ​young​ ​girl​ ​who​ ​couldn’t​ ​have been​ ​more​ ​than​ ​four years old​ ​said​ ​to​ ​her​ ​mum, “Mummy​ ​is​ ​that​ ​a​ ​girl​ ​on​ ​a​ ​motorcycle?”
“Why​ ​yes​ ​darling​ ​I​ ​think​ ​it​ ​is”
“Wow,​ ​I​ ​didn’t​ ​know​ ​girls​ ​could​ ​ride​ ​motorcycles!”
At​ ​which​ ​point​ ​I​ ​chimed​ ​in​ ​“And​ ​this​ ​one​ ​can’t​ ​even​ ​walk!”.
That​ ​look​ ​of​ ​confusion,​ ​surprise​ ​and​ ​joy​ ​on​ ​the​ ​wee​ ​girl’s​ ​face​ ​has​ ​continued​ ​to​ ​motivate​ ​me to​ ​surprise​ ​people​ ​and​ ​will​ ​stay​ ​with​ ​me​ ​from​ ​then​ ​on,​ ​and​ ​while​ ​I​ ​may​ ​have​ ​challenges​ ​with pain,​ ​I would rather be in pain from doing something I love than being on the couch. Mind you, we all have those days!

To follow Charlotte’s travels go to her Facebook page: Facebook/thatshowIroll

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