“1304 km pour l’humain de demain”







Spring 2006 ...
Johnny: “Ciao Joe!”
Joe: "Johnny, Ciao! How are you?
Johnny: Crazy! I'm putting in place a concept that will revolutionize the world. And I'll flood the entire planet with my product."
And indeed, I am amazed by the originality of his concept! After half an hour, infected by his enthusiasm, and with great discomfort because fear of being taken for a fool, I confess to him my dream: to cross France from north to south pendulum walking. His reaction is the opposite of what I imagined. Johnny replied: "If it is your dream, we will achieve it. "
It was here, on this street corner, that we decided to create the project From Le Havre to Menton.











Five years of preparation.
Five years that had not been a gentle climb, from the decision to pursue my dream, to the day of departure. There had been a slow evolution in the apparatus, the height of the stand and the physical preparation, but I had to face facts: the calcification blocking both my hips prevented even the slightest chance of success.












In october 2009, I decided to undergo surgery.












After twenty days, I left the hospital. It was an intense moment because for 28 years I had lived with excruciating pain that I thought I was handling, but in fact it was the pain that ran my life. And then I rediscovered a pain free life. What simple happiness!

But on New Years Day, 2010 , I found myself back in intensive care. I didn't eat for 15 days and I was completely bedridden . The stitches had burst two weeks before due to an infection I'd caught in hospital. On returning to the hospital, the doctor had brought my family to my bedside because I was close to death, it was beckoning me . That's when the doctors decided to put me into a coma, with doses of morphine to help me with the pain. The morphine gave me me horrific nightmares and caused terrible hallucinations. They intubated me via my nose with the tubes descending into my trachea. They had to remove them regularly to clean them, and each time the pain was unbearable . I screamed myself hoarse with the agony! It was so bad they had to strap my wrists to the bed! By dint of so much handling, they damaged my vocal chords and I became voiceless . No sound came out of my mouth. Death was calling me and I could have just quietly slipped away. What kept me going ? I don't know! All I wanted was to free up my hips so I could live my dream of Havre- Menton!

They started to cauterise my stomach ulcer. This led to a series of lung and cardiac complications, resulting in my body being completely covered by red patches.
After being in a coma for 3 weeks, I was transferred from one medical unit after another to try and find the cause of these complications. The doctors thought that I was affected by an auto-immune disease, when in reality the infection had been caught during my surgical operation.
I was fed intravenously with Baxter, a mixture of 70 mg of cortisone and a terrible liquid food. No taste. No seasoning. That made me cry. I dreamed of the taste of sugar, of salt.
I was bedridden for 5 months, and when they finally decided to let me go home, I wasn't even capable of lifting 100g.
By the end of that month, I wasn't just at rock bottom, I was underneath the rock! I had never ever been in such a situation. Having to manage all by myself, I often fell at home, lying on the floor for hours after trying to get from my wheelchair to my bed.
When I came across people in the street, I saw in their eyes all the sorrow they were feeling when faced by the corpse I became, with my pale face and blank eyes. But I held on for the kids who suddenly found themselves paraplegic or quadriplegic after trying to reproduce wrestling scenes they had watched on TV. They hadn't even started to live and they were already deprived of freedom, of dignity and of the joys of an active body.
And those 5 months of hospitalisation had given me the iron will to ensure my own reconstruction.
Nowadays, when the media ask me the question:
"Did you ever feel like giving up during your hard trip from LE HAVRE-MENTON?"
Do you really think that after having gone through all of that, I could have imagined, even for one second, throwing in the towel?











May 2011 - November 2011, This is the time it took me to find myself standing on the ‘No Finish' line at the annual week long charity event in Monaco. Unfortunately at this event, I had fallen heavily in the rain, the tips of my crutches didn't have a strong enough grip. Even so I remained standing all day, without moving, through out the entire event, with an inflammation of the right shoulder blade!











I headed in the direction of the Olivier Amalberti's gym. Right up until June he made me work out for hours every day. If I'd had the funds, I'd have already gone to Le Havre in June. Given the lack of enthusiasm from potential sponsors, I rejected the first date July 15, saying that the slogan would be: " We celebrated on July 14th and now the 15th, what can we do to ensure that we can all party? "











July 15, still hadn't found a sponsor but I reserved the camper van, and, with the retired gentleman who had commited to driving me, found several drivers.We pushed the starting date back to August 10th, the day of my 50th, with the slogan "I leave Le Havre in peace to reach Menton my Paradise." This was the final date, otherwise I wouldn't be able to start the journey. Then a trader, Cathy, offered to canvass all the traders in Menton and to my amazement, a one week she managed to collect 5000 euros for me. Here and now, I want to thank her because she contributed to the start of my crusade.















A week before the start, I had an interview with a politician who was investing in my journey and had managed to involve two other companies. This is Mr. Cherki, Mayor of Eze.









On 7 August, in the local newspaper the Nice Matin, I extended an invitation to the people of Menton come to the sea front to walk 400m with me before I left. On the first Sunday of every month the promenade is pedestrianised and I wanted to take this opportunity to have all the people next to me on the road. Closing the sea front to traffic every first Sunday has been an institution in Menton for years, and strangely, there was an oversight, they didn't close the promenade. Bizarre! It had started badly. And it hurt!







It's important to stress that nobody in my position has ever dared to imagine such an undertaking, let alone tried it! There were no guidelines or books to help me. I was navigating uncharted waters. From the outset, and throughout my long journey I had no medical following, no physiotherapist or osteopath, not even a nutritional plan! These were problems that had to be overcome, day by day, step by step. I didn't even have a precise route map and along the way my intended path often changed.
What I'm trying to say is, everyone imagines that I had a professional back up team, handling all the logistics, making things as easy and as comfortable as possible for me. In reality it was just me and the driver of my camper van! It was a true pioneering adventure for the whole 7 months.



On the road to Le Havre, the retired PAF (Air and Frontiers Police) who was my driver, had already taken me aback twice by saying: “Joe, when you're ready, I'll explain the true meaning of life, the reason for our time on earth...”
I said to myself, “Another guru!” But that would pass.
August 10th. Le Havre's town council had organised a reception for my departure. It started at 9.30 am and dragged on until 11 am. I had planned to walk 10 km for the 1st session, but exhaused by all the protocol, the emotion, and the reporters from FRANCE 3 Television, I only managed 7 km without stopping. I'd never in my life walked more than 3 km! I rested a while then managed another 9.5km.
By the time I arrived at Harfleur, I was in a state of total exhaustion. I decided to seek out a physiotherapist as soon as possible. I was lucky enough to get an appointment in the early afternoon of the 11th of August in what seemed like a nice quite area.





Whilst I was with the physiotherapist my driver carelessly left the big side door of the camper van open while he worked on the other side of the van, fixing the chemical toilette outlet. That was when some young delinquents entered the camper and stole the associations laptop and a satchel containing the drivers personal effects. We spent the whole afternoon at the police station filing out the theft report. I never imagined such a miserable start to my adventure!










That same night we had a meeting with a crew from a national French TV channel. Alerted by the theft, the channel had sent a cameraman and a reporter for their news program. I saw that the reporter was actually more interested in my crusade and the so the theft fell by the wayside. Unfortunately my story wasn't sensational enough, it lacked the blood and suffering needed to make the grade, so they didn't air it!








The next morning I left Harfleur, took the left road and attacked on the hill up to Gainville, 3 km of soaked road. I had never walked in the rain before. (It never rains in Menton, that's not a joke, but a reality!) Huge stress.....
My afternoon session started under a downpour, in extremely heavy traffic. Whilst taking a pause, leaning on the bonnet of the camping car, the driver slipped on the clutch, hitting the locking mechanism of my right apparatus. I didn't realise the gravity of the situation, but after taking 3 steps, I hit the tarmac. It was my first fall!





As I passed through the village La Remuée, I was interviewed by one of France's biggest national radio stations. With an authoritative tone one of the producers briefed me on what I could and couldn't say. For example I couldn't cut in on the interviewer, and I must thank the interviewer and the station as much as possible for their help. Apparently, after hearing about the theft of the laptop, the station had appealed to their listeners for helping finding a replacement. However Le Havre's town council had already given me a replacement to make up for the theft taking place within their town limits. As you can imagine, this put me in a very awkward position morally! I really wanted to publicise my crusade, and for that I needed air time! But if I told the producers that the laptop had been replaced, I knew they would cancel my interview as they were only interested in the theft, not the crusade!











At Gravenchon, I met someone who would prove to be invaluable to me and my crusade in the future. I had some physiotherapy sessions with Julian and he introduced me to a system called NeuroMuscular Taping. I used this system throughout my long walk, to avoid contractions and injuries to my forearms, and I will continue to use it in all my endevours. Thank you Julian! A wonderful, magic meeting that proved essential for me and my crusade!













I had met Dany and Christophe at Le Havre. Their son Alexandre had been paralysed in a motorcycle accident two years before. As a result of their awareness and understanding of my condition, and of what I was undertaking, they would prove to be a great support for a large part of my adventure.
















My path would be enriched by many wonderful encounters.














Normandy.....





















Normandy




















Le pont de l'Arche...

















I did my 10 km in the middle of the traffic.















End of the day. It gave me immense pleasure and relief to take off my calipers every night. Mission accomplished!











Fréderic, a friend of the road, often joined me to ensure my safety.


















During the course of my adventure I didn't catch much rain, but occasionally I did find myself soaked to the bone. I certainly got wet that day, along the Seine.













My comfort during those long moments of pain were those encounters with strangers, especially when they were young and pretty blondes ...












As I exited Vadreuil, I was confronted, on the horizon, by what we call in french "un MUR", an unsurmountable obstacle. In a state of total relaxation I told myself, "step by step, I will climb you!"









Maybe this will give you an idea of just how steep this MUR was !













As I approached the summit, I couldn't begin to imagine the enormity of what was behind me, then it hit me. Arriving at the crest, I felt, for a moment, as if I was the King of the World ...












Towards Vieux-Villez, I attacked a hill called "Devils Gut": a 1 km climb with a 9% gradient followed by an increase of 9% over the next kilometer. The air turbulence caused by the trucks destabilized me, because to be able to climb the hill, they have to accelerate as they descend, I almost fell several times at this location.












Towards Vieux-Villez, I attacked a hill called "Devils Gut": a 1 km descent with a 9% gradient followed by a climb of 9% over the next kilometre. The air turbulence caused by the trucks destabilized me, because to be able to climb the hill, they have to accelerate as they descend, I almost fell several times at this location.










At Rosny sur Seine (60 km west of Paris) Dany arrived to give me a hand. We knew it would be complicated because it was rush hour. In fact I seriously exacerbated the traffic problems. At one point a National Gendarmerie van passed by with two young women on board. My driver, who wasn't wearing his seatbelt, was on the phone. When challenged by the police officers he tried to convince them that because we were moving so slowly, the phone was not a threat and the seatbelt was unnecessary. He also tried to persuade them that, being a retired police officer himself, he was "part of the firm." A huge mistake!

Close to exiting Rosny sur Seine, and only 200m short of my daily 10 km target a Gendarmerie Police van, with sirens screaming, screeched to a halt in front of me, forcing me to stop. A graded officer exited the van accompanied by the two young ladies from before. What followed was an aggressive tirade from the officer who wanted to put me up against the wall! I calmly explained that I was a paraplegic and that walking on gravel was extremely dangerous for me. In his rage he tried to take me under the armpits to lift me up. I remained impassive and I asked him to allow me to explain. Once again my driver had interrupted my journey as result of his thoughtlessness. For the first time I posed this question, "Do you know for whom I started this crusade?” Still raging he replied "who?” I was so exhausted that I replied calmly "For you!” I understand that in his eyes I had messed up. And I wanted to tell him "You're like me and the other 7 billion people on this planet who have a spine ...". The incident ended with us practically kissing. It's true that I had no authorization to wander on the roads of France in that way and that my action was totally illegally, but should I really have need permission to try to raise awareness of paraplegia and quadraplegia?

Close to exiting Rosny sur Seine, and only 200m short of my daily 10 km target a Gendarmarie Police van, with sirens screaming, screeched to a halt in front of me, forcing me to stop. A graded officer exited the van accompanied by the two young ladies from before. What followed was an aggressive tirade from the officer who wanted to put me up against the wall! I calmly explained that I was a paraplegic and that walking on gravel was extremely dangerous for me. In his rage he tried to take me under the armpits to lift me up. I remained impassive and I asked him to allow me to explain. Once again my driver had interupted my journey as result of his thoughtlessness. For the first time I posed this question, "Do you know for whom I started this crusade?” Still raging he replied "who?” I was so exhausted that I replied calmly "For you!” I understood that in his eyes I had messed up. And I wanted to tell him "You're like me and the other 7 billion people on this planet who have a spine ...". The incedent ended with us practically kissing. It's true that I had no authorization to wander on the roads of France in that way and that my action was totally illegally, but should I really have need permission to try to raise awareness of paraplegia and quadriplegia?








With my driver, I wanted to set the scene and organize a photo shoot simulating a hitchhiker on crutches. But I didn't have any luck as nobody stopped. So I resigned myself to continuing on crutches...








As I headed towards Mante La Jolie, I found myself one again in the rain on wet roads. I was being forced to adapt to conditions that were unfamiliar to me because, "It never rains in Menton!” I had discovered that my hand grips became very slippery when wet so I tried to make a rain protection for them. Unfortunately the system was inefficient and confusing.














This was a very complicated and stressful period. I was soaked to the bone and it made me feel unwell.












Between Meulan en Yvelines and the Champs Elysées, because the area is so built up and heavily travelled, I could only do one 7 km session per day, and even that had to be at night to avoid the traffic!










On the road that would take me to La Défense (Europe's largest purpose-built business district), I discovered that they were laying down a tram line. My night course was made even more difficult because the road was crowded with road workers and their equipment. I was forced to walk on top of mounds of loose earth, there was no sidewalk, and I realized then that nothing could stop me!












It was at 12.40 am on the 17th of September when I drew close to La Défense! The press conference that was to take place at Marriott Hotel was drawing near. The tunnel under La Défense would prove to be the only place on the entire journey that would be impassable on foot. I yearned to walk through that tunnel! One day I WILL do it!











I passed under the Arc de Triomphe and down the Champs Elysées to the Marriott Hotel where I was to spend the night. I found myself in the middle of an extremely dense crowd. It was a bizarre feeling after spending days and days seeing hardly anyone. The mass of people was very oppressive and they were completely indifferent to me. If only they knew that I walked all the way from Le Havre. I was obliged to apologize to the people just to pass through the crowd.











I immortalised my arrival on the Champs Elysées by posing as a tourist.








The day after the press conference, where I had very little media coverage and only few people attended, I was reminded of what the press officer in Rouen had told me, namely, that from Paris onwards the crusade would become a major media event. Disappointed and resigned, I told myself that tomorrow would be better. But during the entire trip to Menton, it would prove to be a string of disappointments. The incompetence and the very thin address book of my PR secretary meant there was practically no media coverage of my event.
I would like to add that I would have happily paid her in full, if she had invested fully in her commitment to me!















I walked along the banks of the Seine, alone ... alone.















I walked south along the Seine towards Maison Alfort.










I felt terribly lonely and disillusioned after all the promises of a wonderful press conference that, in reality, had turned out to be a complete let down.














Having a snack at the water's edge with a bucolic landscape full of romance...













When I was younger, and 6 years after being paralysed, I began 3 years of study at a grand Ecole of photography. I spent hour after hour with my aesthetics professor dissecting the works of the great photographers to learn how to direct attention. At Maison Alfort, under my direction, my companion and I tried to implement the experience gained in my years at this great school. I love this picture because it revived in me the passion for aesthetics that I thought I had lost.....













At the veterinary school, I thought of Werner, the vet in Menton, who for many years cared for my Golden Retriever, Moses. My Moses was named after Edwin Moses, the Olympic and World champion 400m hurdler. I wanted my Moses to be a champion hedge jumper too, but other than jumping the females, he never showed an interest in jumping!

Moses died from a liver tumor at the grand old age of 16. I was with him until right up to the end because I wanted to end his suffering. I had his head in my hands when he gave up the ghost, and I cried myself dry in that room at Werner's. It hurt so much, but I was relieved because he was at peace. I had him cremated and his ashes were placed in a beautiful pine box. Throughout my long endeavor he was there, on my bed, in the camper van. He was with me throughout every difficult moment of my journey. I only had to hold that box to feel his energy recharging me. Through that box, when I closed my eyes, I could feel his whole body, stroke his head, his muscles ... In difficult times, that was enough to give me the will to carry on. In his 16 years of life I made him walk thousands and thousands of miles alongside my wheelchair, through the scorching heat of Menton to the cold of Warsaw. He was always there for me, although I think he would have preferred a “cushy" life. He had endured thousands of kilometers with me, and now it was he who supported me in my suffering...













I continued my journey along a bicycle path. It was a very pleasant change not to be walking on the road in the middle of all the traffic.






















To get in touch with me:

by email: joekals7@gmail.com

by mobile: 00 33 6 68 46 50 55

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“1304 km for the human being of tomorrow”