A man who describes himself as an "overweight, middle-aged Englishman" is set to challenge perceptions by cycling the length of Africa.
Paul Tolson, a 50-year-old occupational therapist, ex-geography teacher and glider pilot will begin his ride at Wasserkuppe in Germany today (1 July). He will travel down to Morocco, then across to Africa's most northern point, Ras ben Sakka in Tunisia. He then hopes to cycle all the way to Cape Agulhas, South Africa, at the southern tip of Africa.
On the way he will visit various charity projects and all the gliding centres in Africa. He expects the journey to take two to three years. He has named his project 'Ride and Glide'.
“I hope to use the journey to challenge my own and people's perceptions," said Paul Tolson. "For example, about disability issues, the countries I shall be travelling through, the sport of gliding, and to show that you don't have to be a fit 20-30 year-old to undertake a journey like this. An old couch-potato such as myself can do it as well - it just may take a little longer!”
This is the first of a series of journeys that could see Paul realising his life time ambition of travelling to visit every gliding centre in the world. After Africa, Paul expects to continue on with the next stage of his journey – travelling through South America.
During his journey, he will raise awareness and funds for the charity Handicap International, who have warmly welcomed his plan. He will also be fundraising for charities that challenge perceptions of disability or are concerned with enabling disabled people to participate in the sport of gliding.
Paul said over the last decade he has become "acutely aware" of the discrimination and prejudice faced by disabled people.
He said, "I hope I can learn more about the lives of disabled people in the different countries I shall be visiting around the world and that I can help to raise awareness of disability issues, rights and opportunities".
Paul has sold most of his possessions and saved for several years to fund the journey. He’s hoping his fifteen years as a geography teacher will stand him in good stead across a range of terrains and cultures. For the last ten years,he has worked with a wide range of disabled people as a careworker and an occupational therapist.
He says he has been flying gliders since he was 14, and cannot remember when he first started riding a bike.