Two friends, one of whom had life-saving open-heart surgery just four months ago, are about to set off on a 4,000-mile drive to Africa.
Journalists Nick Redmayne, from Rothbury, and Eugene Costello will drive from the UK to Bamako, the capital of Mali, crossing Europe and the Western Sahara in a former British Transport Police 4x4.
They are looking to raise £21,000 to cover expenses and split between the British Heart Foundation, the Press Fund and the National Union of Journalists Extra.
But the Timbuktu Challenge didn’t originally start as a fund-raising charity event.
It developed after Eugene suffered heart attacks and then a stroke during a triple bypass.
He had experienced chest pains while on holiday in France and, after landing back at Stansted, went straight to hospital. After an ECG, he was rushed to Bart’s Hospital.
He was already having a heart attack at the first hospital and was having a second when he arrived at Bart’s.
During open-heart surgery, he suffered a stroke, doctors found a blood clot on his brain and there were serious complications with his lungs and kidneys.
He was on life-support for 10 days and his surgeon later said the events would not have been ‘survivable’ had he not been in hospital.
Three days after his own heart attack, Eugene’s brother suffered a cardiac arrest and remains gravely ill.
Eugene was determined to give something back and so the idea of fund-raising was born.
Nick, a travel writer, had already had the challenge idea, attracted by the adventure of the journey.
He said: “When I first mentioned the possibility of this Timbuktu Challenge, Eugene was immediately enthused.
“His proceeding, in-depth exploration of NHS emergency services was not part of the plan. It changed everything.
“Far from looking for a new co-driver as I’d expected, I was presented with a newly-energised Eugene determined to give something back.”
They are planning to leave on Boxing Day.
Nick will drive the 4x4, his family transport for a number of years, from Rothbury to London to pick up Eugene.
They head across the Channel and drive down through France, across the Pyrenees, taking a ferry from Spain to Morocco. The route then heads south, across the deserts of Western Sahara and Mauritania, into Senegal and finally Mali around four weeks later.
Nick said: “The journey will have its travails. If Eugene shares just some of his obviously immense reserve of resilience, any difficulties surrounding mechanical failures, digestive uncertainty, bribery, bandits and minefields will be as nought.”
At the end of the journey, the vehicle will be donated to the Rotary Club Control Committee in Mali, where it will be sold. Funds from vehicle and parts sales support the on-going work of the Eden Medical Centre in Dinfara, where medical provision is crucial.
Nick and Eugene already have a number of sponsors, including Paul and Sarah Johnson, from The Narrow Nick in Rothbury.
Anyone interested in sponsoring them, or making a donation, however small, can visit https://uk.gofundme.com/uk-to-timbuktu-by-road-challenge