Johannesburg — The countdown has begun for South Africa's self-styled "CrazyBikeGuy" , Grant Cameron-Smith , as he prepares to embark on the journey of a lifetime - an arduous three month, 8 800km trek on a specially configured mountain bike from London to Istanbul .
All the blood, sweat and tears is for a worthy cause: autistic young adults in need.
South Africans, corporates and all supporters across the global route will be asked to contribute whatever they can to help raise at least R500,000 for an an autism life skills training centre plus coffee shop in Johannesburg, South Africa, which integrates amazing neuro-diverse people into the workplace. The first donation has already been received - and it came from Wales.
"The business model behind our not-for-profit enterprise ensures that each R1 goes to the end target - which is quite unique. We intend to take the concept of training and workspaces for special needs young adults nationally due to the lack of these facilities and opportunities. All money gets ploughed in to where it will make the most difference," says Cameron-Smith.
The clock starts ticking in London on March 13 and Grant - who only began cycling in 2016 - plans to finish on June 25 on the Asian side of Istanbul, Turkey.
The arduous route will be filled with the sights, sounds and beautiful surrounds of France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Greece and finally... Turkey.
The catalyst for the initiative occurred in September, when the urgent plight of special needs young adults in South Africa took a blow after the popular Special Knead Café in Bryanston had to shut down at short notice after just four months.
The coffee and pastry shop - run by a dedicated staff of special needs young adults with backing from volunteers, parents, sponsors and the community-at-large, had become a friendly home-from-home for many.
The plan is to harness this ride to raise awareness of special needs young adults around the country and to start by helping give those who have just lost a home, a new one in 2019.
A fully-fledged training centre will add to the drive to help more neuro-diverse young adults gain the necessary skills to play an active part in the working world and to enjoy life more fully than they do at the moment.
"With the job market in a parlous state for many young adults across South Africa there is an even more desperate need for job opportunities for special needs young adults. We hope that this initiative will drive home how important this cause is and that by giving something - however small - people are helping special young adults in our beautiful country flourish," says founder of the Special Knead Café, Kim Rundle.
For Cameron-Smith, who is also a Director of the registered not-for-profit organisation Special Kneads, it was an easy decision to give his time and money to support this cause and help raise awareness.
"I saw first-hand what a difference in the lives of these special people the café was making. It is a tragedy if these young adults lose their livelihoods and ability to learn new skills to find employment. And further to this, more needs to be done for all young adults in this situation. However, we can all now ensure this story has a very happy ending and I am certainly going the extra mile - well an extra 5 468 miles!" he says.
While it may have been an easy decision to make at the time, Grant - who was a long-distance runner for many years before taking up cycling - didn't quite know how much planning and training it would entail.
"Firstly, I realised not that many people have ever done an unsupported, solo ride of this nature before through this type of mountainous terrain and there is therefore no simple handbook and coach. Secondly, standard mountain bikes are not configured for such a lengthy all-weather journey," he says.
Grant, whose longest ride has been a supported 1 000km over 9 days, also knew he needed to ensure he was in peak shape for something this taxing. He has therefore embarked on a custom training programme devised by a top bio kineticist. Apart from minute detail in preparing the route to ensure there will be as few hazards as possible - a lot of the riding will be done in darkness in the early mornings - Grant also has to ensure his bike is up to the task.
Crazy bicycle upgrades have included a new 1x12 (GX) gear set, aero handle bars suited for road-riding into wind, custom wheel set to handle the 20 kg plus extra weight of all the equipment and dynamo driven front and rear lights. Also, a USB 5V charging station, satellite tracker and a waterproof power switch box. Add to all this an ultralight tent, down sleeping bag and compact cooking burner with pot and utensils!
Mountainous regions like the Pyrenees will have to be negotiated and will test both physical and mental toughness. Grant is quietly confident he will be up for the test.
"I have no illusions about the difficulty of the task at hand and I think I will discover more about my own limits. The weather will, of course, play a hand in dictating the level of difficulty. As for my mental preparation, that horse has bolted, but I am prepared to take up the cudgels to raise awareness for all those wonderful young adults out there looking to live their own dreams," he says.
"Every mother with an Autistic child says: 'I wouldn't change you for the world! It's the world that needs to change!' It is time to help these wonderful people and their supportive families, and I believe together we can do it. Help me start the change," concludes Cameron-Smith.