Despite being confined to a wheelchair, Anne Deans is preparing for yet another solo adventure

Anne Deans has always been an avid traveller. Her photo albums are a template for life and how it is best lived. They are a collection of veritable recipes of how to make lemonade when life hands you lemons.

“When I became a paraplegic in 1988, I thought my love of travelling and participating in sports was over,” Anne says.

“But no. I continued to scuba dive, surf-ski, swim and snow-ski using a sit-ski, and many other adventurous things like acrobatic flying, ultralight flying, hang-gliding, gliding, go-carting, horse riding and so on.” 

Anne, from Maroochydore, was diagnosed with Milroy’s disease in 1978. By 1986 she had undergone three amputations to her left leg. An emergency procedure on her spine in 1988 resulted in paraplegia. 

The change only made Anne more determined to not let the paraplegia define her.

“I was stumped about how to travel solo being confined to a wheelchair,” she says. “I worked it out. I strapped my dive gear in a bag onto the footplate of my wheelchair and a neighbour made wheels for the frame of my backpack. I hooked my backpack over the handles of my wheelchair so it could be pulled behind my wheelchair.

“I travelled solo for three months from Brisbane to Cape Tribulation then to Tasmania via Melbourne, then Adelaide on the way back.”

Finding that life can and does go on after you suffer a setback if you make the effort to learn how, Anne set her sights further afield.

“Since 1993 I have travelled solo all over the world including to Canada, Asia Minor and Asia Major, Japan, Europe, the United Kingdom, the USA including Alaska, South America, the Caribbean, Antarctica and most of Australia’s major tourist destinations,” she says.

Given her medical history, Anne has done all she needs to stay safe from Covid, which was yet another hurdle she’d had to overcome.

“I have always been aware of viruses and infections because of having a number of auto-immune conditions,” she says. “Hand sanitiser and good hygiene have been a part of my life since I was a nurse.”

Not letting Covid keep her at home for much longer, Anne is keen to get back to travelling. Like she did nearly three decades ago, she will be taking to the open road, this time in a 2015 Toyota HiAce Regius she bought last year for this purpose. She is in the process of having the van fitted to her specifications and requirements. 

“Since Covid-19 has restricted international travel, I decided to really see the hidden gems of Australia. This time I will explore Australia in a converted van rather than taking flights, trains or Greyhound buses city to city, now exploring the regions between the major cities,” she says.

“I have named my van ‘Kymani’, which means ‘adventurous traveller’. This name is of East African origin. If my van is completed before winter 2022 then I will head from the Sunshine Coast north to Cape Tribulation via Mission Beach, Cairns, Port Douglas, Mossman and possibly head to the Northern Territory – Mataranka, Katherine, Litchfield National Park, Uluru. I would like to take three months or more to do this trip. 

“If the van is not finished until after winter 2022, then my plan is to head to Tasmania and the Great Ocean Road via Melbourne to Adelaide and the surrounding regions.  I have visited all these places over the years but always relied on public transport. This time I have the freedom to explore further afield and take my time over three to four months. 

“Once I have achieved one of these journeys then I will take off for an extended trip of at least 12 months.”

Anne will do this trip with only Mazjeek, her Lhasa Apso Maltese cross, for company.

“I rarely travel with people because I like to explore at my pace, which can be fairly hectic for others, usually starting at 5.30am until late into the evening, often after midnight before ending my day. I have discovered that people cannot keep up with my pace, so I prefer to travel solo,” she laughs.

Keeping abreast with all the titbits and information from other van-lifers via a group page on social media, Anne is aware of what she will need to do to ensure it’s a safe and pleasant experience.

By getting back out there, living and experiencing life on her terms, Anne hopes to inspire others to do the same.

“I would like to think that I would be an inspiration for others to know that whatever they set their minds to do, they can achieve it if they are willing to put in the effort,” she says. “Never give up on your dream, even when others may say it is not possible. It is possible. Do not allow fear of the unknown to stop you from doing what you want to achieve. I would rather try and fail, learning from my mistakes, rather than not to have tried at all. Learning from my failures has made me a much stronger person, and more determined to achieve what I set out to do.

“For anyone seriously considering a van conversion for either full or part-time van life, plan well, ask a lot of questions from people who have done it themselves and learn from their mistakes and successes. 

“More importantly, do not let anyone deter you from making your dream become a reality. Enjoy life.”

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