Travel writer Jamie Tinkepaugh, and his father Peter Davies, decided to take the Trans-Siberian as countless travellers have before them. However, their trip was slightly different to the majority of travel experiences as Jamie is a wheelchair user.
We sat down with him to discuss his book about his Trans-Siberian adventure Wheeling East, his travel inspiration and advice for fellow travellers looking to see the world's grandest rail journey.
What inspired you to take the Tran-Siberian?
I have always been interested in exploring since I was very young.
As a small child I was given a globe that lit up, I would look at it and see the many countries and think when I am asleep, people on the other side of the world are starting their day, the light on the globe showed the equator, the vastness of the world. The U.K. seemed to be just a little dot, the sheer distance between the countries, the amount of blue struck me, the oceans, the rivers, running my finger along the unfamiliar names trying to get my tongue around them.
At the same time I loved going to the unknown, which at that age meant going with my father to a big train station on a Saturday, searching the destination board for a name that appealed to me and then boarding the train onto adventure.
When I was eighteen, my father and I went interrailing around Europe. We didn’t book hostels or trains in advance, which sometimes caused problems. I remember the staff at Bologna station were very unhelpful as we were supposed to have booked at least 24 hours in advance. This is one of the ways that disability can get in the way of spontaneity.
I have always loved travelling by train as I can watch the landscape unfold before me and observe the huge variety of people that share our space. So naturally, since I learnt of the Trans-Siberian railway I have wanted to travel on it.
What was your expectation travelling the Trans-Siberian as a wheelchair user compared to your actual experience?
Real Russia gave us invaluable assistance in reserving a wheelchair space – the only one that was available on the whole train. Without it, I would have been unable to travel as the corridors are too narrow for a wheelchair and so I couldn’t have reached any other compartment.
I had no expectations prior to the journey. We had spent so many years, dreaming, thinking planning that at times it seemed more like a faraway fantasy, there were so many components that had to come together so much uncertainty. I will not pretend that the journey was easy by any means, the height of the train above the platform meant that I couldn’t get off for the entire eight day journey. Also, without the assistance of an able-bodied person (my father) to forage for food, I would have got very hungry; the restaurant car was unreachable and there were no food sellers on the train. I had imagined that local would board the train at the longer stops to sell us local delicacies, but it didn’t happen.
What was your favourite part of the Trans-Siberian?
There was something marvellously relaxing about the whole trip. I loved the steady pace of the train. High speed trains are all very well, but they distance you from the landscape and make you perhaps restlessly urge the train to its destination. On such a long journey time slips away – helped by crossing innumerable time zones, while station clocks, sticking to Moscow time, became increasingly adrift- and you can slip into a wonderful reverie. Seeing Lake Baikal in the morning light was a privilege, the almost mythical largest fresh water lake in the world was outside my window, the sun frim azure sky glinting on azure water. Siberia, is hugely important in Russian history and imagination. To travel through it brought home something of the sense of what it may be like to have to try and survive there, exiled amongst the bleak landscape of birch forests in the depths of winter.
When we stopped at stations I loved to see the people, the little girl being reunited with her mother on a station platform, rushing towards each other, the family announcing their arrival with a whirl of arms and legs, the laughter and warmth that emanated from the carriage, the people using the train to travel for a few stops, others using it like us to travel thousands of miles, it still feels unbelievable that we were able to travel by train to another far continent.
Had you planned to write about your experiences in a book before you travelled, or did the inspiration come afterwards?
I had always planned to write a blog to detail the journey of a lifetime although that phrase is often overused in this case it was true, I wanted to inspire other disabled people that they could take a trip of whatever length and distance; it was not a competition but that they could get out there, be full members of their communities, be active and achieve what they wanted to. I had such a positive response to the blog people kept saying it should become a book so that it might reach a wider audience.
What would be your advice for someone looking to do the Trans-Siberian?
I hope that my book might encourage others. Of course every disabled person is disabled in their own way. Some, like Ade Adepetan, have good upper body strength and can weight-bear enough to get on and off the train. Others with less muscular control, needing, say, an electric wheelchair, perhaps might not be able to make the trip at all. But without exploring the idea you will never know what is possible. And many dangers that loom huge in prospect are later seen as not so difficult.