A SELF-CONFESSED ‘overweight, middle-aged’ man is set to cycle the length of Africa to raise money for charity.
Paul Tolson, who worked as a Geography teacher and Head of Business Studies at Leon School in Bletchley from 1987 to 1991, will travel from Wasserkuppe in Germany all the way to Cape Agulhas in South Africa, the southernmost tip of the continent.
His journey will take him through Morocco, across to Africa’s most northern point, Ras ben Sakka in Tunisia, and all the way down to Cape Agulhas.
The 50-year-old, who now lives in Cumbria, expects the journey to take two to three years.
The journey will start on July 1.
A keen glider the journey is part of Mr Tolson’s ‘life time ambition’ of travelling to visit every gliding centre in the world by bicycle - a project that will take him well into his retirement years.
After Africa, he plans to travel through South America.
He is working with a number of organisations, such as the Geographical Association, to use the journey as an ‘educational tool’ and will be visiting schools on his route while linking up with schools in the UK, via the web during the trip.
During his journey, Paul will be raising awareness of, and funds for, the international aid organisation Handicap International and charities related to enabling people with disabilities to participate in gliding, as well as supporting the charity Aerobility.
Handicap International UK’s Beatrice Cami said: “The whole team at Handicap International UK is blown away by Paul’s plan for this once-in-a-lifetime journey.
“It is very humbling to see someone go to such great lengths to raise awareness about the difficulties people with disabilities face in developing countries. We hope that people will be inspired by Paul’s journey and support his efforts to raise funds.
“We have no doubt that Paul will make his trip a great success and we’ll be encouraging him along the way.”
Mr Tolson has also gained the support of the Royal Aero Club of Great Britain and a number of gliding clubs, businesses and organisations for his ride including the British Gliding Association, European Gliding Union and International Gliding Commission.
He said: “I hope to use the journey to challenge my own and other people’s perceptions about a number of topics including disability, 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.
“In my professional life over the last 10 years, I have become acutely aware of the discrimination and prejudice faced by people with disabilities.
“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, as well as raise funds for charities involved in promoting these aims.”
Mr Tolson has sold most of his possessions and saved for several years to fund the journey.
He’s hoping his 15 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 people with disabilities, as a care worker and occupational therapist.
He has been flying gliders since he was 14, and cannot remember when he first started riding a bike.
For more information or to follow Paul’s adventures and donate to the charities he is supporting people can visit his website at www.rideandglide.co.uk