Thousands of Americans will go backpacking around Europe this summer – but only one of them will do it AS the backpack.
That man is Kevan Chandler, a Florida native whose spinal muscular atrophy has robbed him of the strength in his limbs, but not his spirit of exploration. And because his legs can’t carry him around the world, his friends have decided to do it instead.
If their plans work out, Kevan, who weighs just 65lbs, will spend 19 days discovering the gardens, monasteries and catacombs that he would ordinarily never get to see – while strapped to his friends’ backs.
Scroll down for video
Big dreams: Kevan Chandler (pictured) has spinal muscular atrophy, which usually consigns him to a wheelchair. However, his friends are going to help him fulfill his dream of travelling through Europe
Friends indeed: Philip Keller (left) is one of three friends who’ll be helping carry Kevan across Europe on a converted backpack. Luke Thompson (right) will document their journey
Kevan’s pals Tom Troyer, Philip Keller and Benjamin Duvall will take it in turns to transport Kevan on his journey, using a specially converted backpack that features padding, a headrest and a saddle. They’ll be filmed by Luke Thompson, who plans to turn it into a documentary.
That might sound crazy, but the team have done it before – in the sewers of Greensboro, North Carolina, no less.
It happened on the spur of the moment, Kevan told greensboro.com – one night he asked his friends if he could join their ‘urban caving,’ and they quickly fashioned a frame out of a backpack and some hammocks. Pretty soon they were beneath the streets of Greensboro.
‘It was cold and wet and infested and as gross as you would expect, but it was awesome,’ Kevan told CBS News. ‘Considering the guys that were carrying me, I was much taller than I’m used to being, so that was fun.’
And it was fun for his pals, too – though not necessarily easy. ‘Kevan is 65 or 70 pounds,’ Keller told greensboro.com. ‘Carrying him didn’t sound too bad to us until it was 10 to 15 minutes in.’
Their trip around Europe should be rather less pungent, if just as exciting. On a website set up to document the trip, Kevan outlines the three areas of Europe he wants to visit.
First up is Samois Ser Siene, France, the former home of Kevan’s idol Django Reinhardt, who invented a new style of jazz to accommodate his deformed hand.
He’s not heavy: Tom Troyer (pictured) is another friend whose ‘brotherly love’ for Kevan will see him carrying his friend, who weighs around 65lbs, around Ireland, England and France
Then on to London, where Kevan, and aspiring writer, hopes to visit Kensington Gardens, which inspired J.M. Barrie to create Peter Pan.
‘Barrie’s writing across the board has been a major influence on my creative endeavors and spirit of hope,’ writes Kevan on the website.
‘I grew up with my sister reading Peter Pan and Wendy to me and, as I got older, I found treasures in his other works as well, so that reading him now is like the feeling of going home.’
Finally they will travel to the tiny, rocky island of Skellig Michael off the coast of Ireland, which has a preserved sixth century monastery at the top of a 600-step staircase that would usually be inaccessible to someone in a wheelchair.
‘It is a place of tranquility and profundity, but also dangerous to reach (making it all the more intriguing, of course),’ writes Kevan, who – like his pals – is a Christian.
And as well as seeing places he could only otherwise dream about, Kevan believes that their story will be an inspirational one for other people.
‘At the end of the day we are all broken in some way,’ Chandler to greensboro.com. ‘We need the Lord, but we need each other. We hope that people can be encouraged and challenged by a straight-forward example of brotherly love.’
And his friends are just as eager. ‘You get the opportunity to love,’ Duvall, a church worship leader, told greensboro.com. ‘This is a dream and a goal of his to go to these places.’
The group plan to travel from June 19 to July 8, and are raising money to finance their voyage on a GoFundMe page.
Difficulties: Kevan encounters difficulties enough travelling around America – his dream journey to Europe would be impossible without his friends