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S2 E1.5 Coronavirus Complications with Becky Sampson

FRAN (in studio): Hello, adventurers. It's Fran Turauskis here and thank you all for joining me again. Today I have a small bonus episode for you.

In the last episode, you heard my conversation with Becky Sampson, who is a cyclist who's been traveling the world. And, I had that conversation with Becky back before Christmas. As you may imagine, with the Coronavirus, her world trip has been put on hold at the moment. But I wanted to know a little bit about where she has been since she left Australia at the start of this year. I thought it would be a good idea to have a catch up with her, find out how she was going with her medication change and to see what kind of adventures she's been up to since I last spoke to her. So without any further ado, here is a little bit of the conversation I had with Becky about two weeks ago. Enjoy.

BECKY: So, Sumatra, first. Left the bikes in a hotel and went on to the jungle, went trekking, and hung out with wild orangutans so that was really cool. And then we went to Malaysia and started cycling from there. So from Malaysia, we cycled up to Thailand, island hopped a bit, and then cycled to Cambodia. Got into Cambodia, we were there for a few days. It was amazing; we had Angkor Wat to ourselves, just us and a handful of monkeys because there were no tourists whatsoever. But then Thailand said, “We're gonna be closing our borders. You've got 48 hours”. And we went, [GASP], and we got out there as quickly as we could because we thought, “If we're going to get stuck anywhere in Asia, it's gonna be Thailand”, you know, just because their health system is slightly better than most of the countries that surround it.

So we hot tailed it back to Thailand and then we sort of had two options. We had the option to stay in Thailand and just wait it out there, or to come back. And we were like, you know, “what's the lesser of the two evils? Because obviously the UK isn't handling the situation quite as well as it could”. Thailand at that point was absolutely fine, and we thought, “well, we could just go to Costa Mui and chill on a beach and wait out”. We chose to come back in the end, which, in retrospect, was definitely the right decision. Because we know so many other cyclists that are now utterly, utterly stuck.

FRAN: Yeah.

BECKY: And they've booked flights, and every time the flight has been canceled or, you know, they've been told there are repatriation flights coming out but you've got to leave your bike in whatever country you're in, and you know, make sure that you’ve got at least 2000 in the bank so that you can guarantee getting a seat on the flight. You know, the flight not might not cost that much, but they're saying we want to make sure that you've got this amount of money, just in case it costs that much. And we were just like “wow”.

FRAN: That’s a lot of money that you just have floating around.

BECKY: Yeah, exactly. And people were thinking, “Oh, you know, we'll just rent a house and sit it out”. That's not the most practical thing when, you know, you've got two weeks quickly to find a place to rent and who knows how long it's gonna take? So we just thought we'll come back and, you know, see what happens. And when we flew over the mountains of Central Asia, I cried, I was like, “We’re supposed to be cycling ??? [03:26]”. And, 12 hours of flying is what we were going to do [in] 12 months of cycling, and I was like, “This is not how I wanted to come home”. And we got to Heathrow Airport and it was cold and it was dark and everyone was kind of a bit paranoid. And I thought, “What have we done? You know, the land of smiles and sunshine and fruit cocktails. And now we're here and it’s really cold and everyone’s quite, sort of, morose”. And, you know, in Thailand they’re trying to, at least when we were there, trying not to make a big thing of the virus. There were definitely government sort of lockdowns coming into place. But it wasn't publicised nearly as much as it is here. You know, here you could turn on the TV, and that's all you'd see all day if you wanted to.

FRAN: Yes, yeah.

BECKY: It wasn't like that out there. And so it's definitely more in your face here, and I think that sombre mood is definitely more felt here. So we arrived and we went, “Ahh what have we done? Quick, turn around, get back on the plane!” [LAUGHS]. But as I say in retrospect, it was definitely the right decision. Liz and I are planning a cycle from our doorstep around the world next. We're looking at doing some hiking trails in the UK. And I'm like, “Ah, this one looks really exciting” or “This could be cool”, and then I'm like, [SIGH]. You know, you get a little bit pulled down because you go, “Well, this would be great to do sort of June, July, August. But will we be able to?” You know, as you say, it’s so in limbo, not knowing when you're gonna be able to do anything. Because I think there's a lot of people who’ve, like us, have been part way through a trip and hadto curtail it, or people that have just been on the cusp of going on something and, you know, then had to not go at all. So you know it has - ‘messed up’ isn't really the right phrase - but it’s stopped a lot of plans happening. But as you say, we are so privileged to be able to even do these things anyway that it's a luxury to be able to plan a trip and know that one day you might be able to do it. Or to have been on a trip and sort of say, “Yeah, you know, it might have got halfway through, and then we had to come home, but we still managed half of it”.

FRAN: Mm. You mentioned in an email after our previous interview that, when we did the interview, you were still feeling quite groggy from changing over the medications and that kind of thing. And then you had a moment where it cleared a bit more and you were feeling much more like yourself.

BECKY: It took about, maybe three months to do that full transition of coming up onto sodium valproate and coming down off Keppra. And I really did notice a difference. The first two months, I was just miserable as. I was very much rollercoaster-ing, I would describe it as sort of having a bipolar personality at that point, I'd be having these really high highs and really low lows. And I was more miserable than not a lot of the time. And I had zero motivation to do anything. I mean, I was living in Perth, five minutes from a gorgeous, gorgeous white sand beach with turquoise seas. Picture postcard. And I couldn't be bothered to even leave the house. It was horrible. And it was definitely to do with the, sort of, mind mess that was going on with the drugs in me. Because normally I'm quite active and I like to get outside. I can be lazy, but you know, there's a beautiful ocean out there. Why not go and just spend the day sitting on the beach? But I just couldn't.

And then Liz came down to Perth - she'd been working up in northwestern Australia - and we went on a hike called the Cape to Cape Track. And I was a little bit worried I wouldn't be able to do it because I’d literally spent two, two and a half months in bed transitioning onto these new pills. And then we managed to 135 kilometers in nine days, carrying all of our own kit, plus the nine days of food. And we did it and it was amazing and it was absolutely beautiful. And I think not only did that give me the confidence that I could still do activities and be outdoors - because I had a bit of a knock of confidence from being in bed for so long. I was like, you know, “I have done amazing things in the past, but what if I can't do them anymore?” But it also gave me head space that I think I really needed to space out in nature, to reconnect with myself and with Liz, and to just remember why I like being out and going out and exploring. And it was-- that is when I felt my mind clicked back into gear, and I think that walk, more than anything, just got me back to being me.

And the only negative with these new pills is I found originally I had the shakes a little bit. So I’d pick up a cup of tea and my hands would shake, and it was noticeable, like, really noticeable. The shakes have gone, but now my hair is falling out [LAUGHS] which is quite funny at the moment, but I'm definitely gonna have to hoover up the carpets before my dad gets back because I’m moulting like a cat [LAUGHS].

FRAN: Oh gosh, I've heard from other people that that can happen with some of the meds.

BECKY: It’s not useful though. It would be really useful if it was like your leg hair or your armpit hair. Nope! Only your head hair!


FRAN: Typical!

BECKY: But I’m so much happier in myself on it that I would rather lose my hair and be happy, than be in a bit of a miserable state and look good, you know? And hopefully one day I'll be able to come off meds entirely. That's my dream. It's a real shame that GPs don't understand long term travel.

FRAN: Mmm.

BECKY: I think that the most they prescribe is three months at a time, and, you know, if you are going on a long trip, that's just not enough. And I did a lot of research when I was in Australia as to how to get the medication in various countries. And you can get it in China, but it's a little bit dodgy. Quite often they don't know what you're talking about, and they’ll give you the wrong thing. You can get in Vietnam, but you have to pay per pill, and they were something like 50 US cents a pill, so it added up and it was really expensive. You can get in Thailand, but again, it's dodgy. A lot of them are dodgy batches or it's something else and they just label it what you ask for. So I just thought, “I don't want to risk that!”, you know?

You used to be able to [10:32] get it from your own doctor and take it with you. But then there's the whole issue of crossing borders with a vast amount of tablets. You know, suddenly you look like you're trafficking something - you’ve got to have paperwork to say that you’re not. And you're only allowed two months at a time, and this that and the other. It was a real logistical nightmare. And ironically, after we got to-- we flew into Indonesia, where you're supposed to declare everything. And they opened up my bags and they saw this ridiculous amount of tablets. And I had the paperwork from the Indonesian Embassy in Perth, and they said, “Yep, that's fine”. And I was worried about the border crossings on land because I only had Indonesian embassy go-aheads for tablets - I didn't have it from Malaysia, or Thailand, or Cambodia, or anywhere else. But we actually cycled through the border between Malaysia and Thailand, and we got into Thailand without being stopped, And we got out the other side and we were like, “Don’t we need a passport stamp?!” They didn't even flag us down, and we had to retrace our steps and say, “Could we please be stamped into the country?” [LAUGHS] So having fears about taking pills across borders… I just lost a lot of sleep over nothing for that one.

But I do hear that other countries, like Uzbekistan, for instance, are very tight on what you bring in. And some cyclists have chosen not to cycle through Central Asia because it's so difficult if you've got medication. So that's another reason I want to come off it really - is to try and not have to carry so much medication with me, or any at all. And it costs a lot of money abroad, as well. It's free on the NHS, but in Australia… I can’t remember how much I spent on it - hundreds of dollars. So yeah, it would be nice not to have to worry anymore!

FRAN: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

BECKY: The neurologist I saw in Perth said, for me, it would be an 80-20 chance of coming off the meds. He was like, “80% chance you'll have to go back on them, 20% chance it will work and I’ll go med-free”. So I'll still give it a go, but I think I’ll--

FRAN: Yeah, no. Like you say, it’s definitely worth trying it. It’s just picking that right time to do it, just in case.

BECKY: Yeah, absolutely. It has to be the right time. I wouldn't-- I'd pick a year that was clear of anything!

FRAN: Yes!


BECKY: A year where I’m just gonna be, you know, working and maybe pottering around in the garden, and not doing any adventuring! [LAUGHS]

FRAN: And have you got one of those planned in the future?!



BECKY: No, I haven't. But maybe if I do some hiking in the UK, that's kind of local. And I've got a PLB [13:35] so--well, that's a bit irresponsible, really, isn't it? [LAUGHS] But you know, it’s the best an adventurer can do!

FRAN: What does adventure mean to you?

BECKY: Adventure means to me getting out and doing something you've never done before. Or doing something you love in a new location. Or doing something you love in the same location that you always go to, but with new eyes, so paying attention to the little things that you might not normally notice, like birds or flowers or new smells. Just getting out, exploring, and being open to new experiences.

I mean, I think also, if you'd have asked me that when we first spoke, my answer would've been very different to what it is now. I think it changes, you know, depending on your situation and where you're at, and what your plans are. Now, I've accepted that we’re not on an adventure anymore, and I'm getting more used to the idea that we're in lockdown and I can walk along the towpath here in London for an hour a day, or whatever, and that is adventure for me currently. So that's why I'm sort of saying go in your usual places and try to see it with new eyes, because that's what adventure is for me now.

But in the future, it's definitely, well, getting out on my bike and going to new places. Or going out and hiking, which I’ve never properly done before, and just trying something new out. So it's kind of, you know, before it was just... I don't know how to describe it. But it's definitely changed. It’s given me a whole new perspective, being in lockdown and having the trip curtailed. And, yeah, If you’d have asked me that when I was in Australia, it would have been a different response.


FRAN (in studio): So that was it. My catch up with Becky. And I hope you all enjoyed it. If you did enjoy today's episode, please can I ask that you like it, rate it and share it around? And if you do find value in the work I do with Seizure Adventure, you can actually support me financially. So if you head to, it gives you more information about how to become a patron. And the money that you donate to me each month will go to supporting the podcast, supporting the work that I do, and it is really appreciated. Thank you to all of my patrons so far, and I hope to see some more of you in the future. But that’s all for today. Keep an eye out for the next episode at the end of this month, and until next time Safe Adventures, everyone.


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