Lonely Planet Writer

The author who travels the world as a 'human backpack'

Kevan Chandler was born with spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic disease affecting voluntary muscle movement. Due to his condition, he has never been able to walk on his own. But in summer 2016 he embarked on the “journey of a lifetime” through Europe on the shoulders of friends as a ‘human backpack’ and is set to share his inspiring story in a new book.

Kevan Chandler and Tom Troyer in Paris. Image by We Carry Kevan

Florida native Kevan and his friends Tom Troyer, Philip Keller, Benjamin Duvall, Danny Tenney and Luke Thompson spent three weeks backpacking through Europe in 2016. Their inspiring story of friendship and adventure will be available in a new book, titled ‘We Carry Kevan: Six Friends. Three Countries. No Wheelchair’, due out in early 2019. With the book and his experiences, Kevan hopes to raise awareness and break down barriers for people with accessibility issues.

The idea for the trip started back in 2015. Knowing that most of the sites they wanted to visit wouldn’t be wheelchair accessible, the group spent a year working out how to travel Europe without Kevan’s wheelchair. Breaking through limitations, they designed a backpack that would allow them to carry their friend on their backs and trained to build up the strength needed to carry 65-pound Kevan around three countries. “One of them, Ben, had already been helping for about two years,” Kevan told Lonely Planet. “He was considered the pro on the trip, and then I had three more guys that we kind of trained together.”

The gang in Westerham, England. Image by We Carry Kevan

In June 2016, they boarded a flight to Paris, leaving Kevan’s wheelchair behind in Atlanta and spent three weeks exploring the cities and countryside of France, England and Ireland, “completely unhindered by the question of accessibility.” They danced on the streets of Paris, visited Samois-sur-Seine; the former French home of Kevan’s idol Django Reinhardt (the iconic guitarist who invented a new way to play music to accommodate a disability in his hand) and visited places in England associated with some of their favourite writers such as J.M. Barrie, G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis.

The friends even took on the mighty Skellig Michael in Ireland, a Unesco World Heritage-listed monastery (and Star Wars filming location) perched on a craggy pinnacle on the Skellig islands in the Atlantic.  “All three places bore such a rich heritage for me of the things that shape who I am today, and it was a joy to have my friends with me in the discovery of them,” said Kevan.

Philip, Kevan and Tom climb Skellig Michael. Image by We Carry Kevan

“Returning home, there were a few of us who looked at each other (and still do) as a sort of band of brothers. We had this crazy adventure together and came out on the other side as changed men, and we had changed together. The world didn’t look the same to us after the experience, and a shared revelation like that draws guys together in a unique and profound way.”

While there were some bumps and bruises on the road, as well as some “accidental wedgies”, Kevan believes it’s “all part of the adventure.” The trip to Europe sparked an intense desire to see more of the world and they set about planning other adventures; visiting China and seeing the Shaolin Temple, the Forbidden City and the Great Wall.

Kevan Chandler and Philip Keller make a new friend in London. Image by We Carry Kevan

Kevan is the author of several books and speaks worldwide about his unique life with a disability. He is also the founder of  We Carry Kevan, a nonprofit striving to redefine accessibility as a cooperative effort. His new book, ‘We Carry Kevan: Six Friends. Three Countries. No Wheelchair’ is available in April 2019.