By Alex Matthews
This is a backpacking trip with a difference – as one guy in a group of friends actually became a “human rucksack”
Kevan Chandler, 31, has spinal muscular atrophy and is unable to move around by himself without a wheelchair.
However, rather than let him limit what he can see of the world the keen musician has decided he wants to travel the world.
After doing some thinking, he and eight friends came up with an ingenious way to do it. They adapted a rucksack to fit inside.
Kevan, from Fort Wayne, Indiana, has now seen Europe and numerous US states from his friends’ backs and is now planning to tackle the Great Wall of China.
For Kevan it is a new lease of freedom.
He said: “Travelling in the rucksack is awesome. I love the freedom it brings, not having to worrying about accessibility and going wherever we want.
“It does come with its own challenges, though, as everything does. While I’m free to go anywhere, I’m on someone’s back, so I can’t just wander off by myself. It’s not better or worse, it’s just another type of freedom.
“But looking at a mountain or a set of old steps, it’s a great feeling to know I can trek that now.”
Kevan and his friends had always enjoyed travelling and Kevan had always wanted to visit Europe.
To allow him to travel longer distances, they came up with the idea to carry him around on their backs.
Having tried several toddler carries they ended up picking a rucksack as it had the best fit and required the fewest modifications.
Backpack manufacturer Deuter, after hearing what Kevan and his friends did with the first pack, has now specially designed a second one for him.
After huge success visiting several European countries, including the UK, Kevan and his friends have since carried on the tradition in US mountain ranges.
Kevan said: “You could almost say this idea was inevitable.
“I come from an adventurous family and grew up travelling around North America. I also played in a band and toured quite a bit, and my friends and I have been going on road trips for years.
“I’d always wanted to visit and experience Europe and the backpack certainly added a new aspect.
“The whole trip was wonderful. My favourite moments were those when the guys and I were all together and just hanging out with no mission or project.
“I remember one night in Wales and we stayed in a quiet old town, and after dinner we wandered down to the pier and watched the moon’s reflection on the bay, spotted by silhouetted sailboats. It’s moments like those that mean the most.
“So far we have done the one big trip, in which we visited France, England and Ireland. When we got home, though, we also did some hiking around the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, which was awesome.
“I’d spent my life around those hills but never fully experienced them until then.
“It’s amazing what you can do with a backpack and some friends.”
Kevan was diagnosed with SMA as a young child. His older sister also has the condition and so doctors were able to identify his symptoms very quickly.
Despite his condition he lived as normal a childhood as possible and, with the help of close family and friends, is still able to lead an independent lifestyle.
Kevan said: “I was diagnosed with SMA as a toddler. I should have started walking on my own but it wasn’t happening.
“My sister, who is three years older, also has SMA, so by the time I arrived it was pretty easy to recognise and diagnose.
“I have always lived a pretty normal life. I went to public school and hung out with the track team. I also played in a band and lived on campus in college.
“I live with a roommate nowadays and ‘walk’ downtown most days on my own, so in a lot of ways life is normal and I’m pretty independent.
“But I do need help with bathrooms and showers, getting ready for the day, going to bed and even turning over at night.
“Fortunately I’m surrounded by amazing people who take care of me and make my everyday life flow smoothly.
“Also I’m an extrovert so I love having all of these people around.”
Kevan’s successes have inspired him and his friends to look even further afield, and they are planning further trips to Europe and Asia.
He said: “We’ve talked a lot about taking a trip to China to visit an orphanage we really admire and then walk some of the Great Wall of China.
“But our main focus right now is speaking, showing the film, and working with other families, which is taking us all over the world too.
“We have a few trips to California planned, as well as Colorado, Tennessee and then we are being to plan visits across the pond again.”