At the end of 2015, I was assessed and then diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. No, I didn’t expect it either. ‘Aspie’ is the informal shorthand for the long proper medical words.
Circumnavigation would mark the occasion. I was going to take me and my autism spectrum disorder around the world. The doctor spotted “narrow patterns of interest”. That’s medical speak for my obsession for trains. Social skills might remain a work in progress, but I can rustle up a well executed travel plan, especially where trains are involved.
There were many time and schedule obstacles to overcome. And they were all of my creation. These included:
- Travel on or after 23 June 2016, so I could vote in the UK’s EU membership referendum (I live in London, UK)
- Leave the USA before 4 July 2016, avoiding the travel and accommodation expense of the Independence Day holidays
- Use my airmiles to buy discounted tickets for flights from London, UK to New York City and from Los Angeles to Osaka, Japan. Airlines don’t let you travel with airlmiles when you like. You have to experiment with availability calendars.
- Time my passage through Japan, so I could arrive in the port town of Sakaiminato for the weekly ferry crossing to Vladivostok. Miss that ferry and I’d have to fly instead.
- Use the famous Rossiya train 1, which leaves Vladivostok for Moscow only every other day. A trip on Russian’s train number 1 was a non-negotiable requirement of the circumnavigation.
- Use a twice weekly train from Moscow to Paris.
- Back in London less than 40 days after leaving London.
- And do as much of the trip as possible by train and ferry.
I like plans, process and order. My autism spectrum requirements suited the trip just perfectly. Obsessive interest, detailed planned and nothing left to chance. And plenty of trains. There would be an enormous and exhaustive spreadsheet. There would be airline tickets, train tickets in four different jurisdictions, a Russo-Korean-Japanese registered ferry ticket purchase, hotels and visas to sort out. One visa was contingent on the application of the other. In the end, buying the ferry ticket was not a reassuring experience.
But it all came together.
On the morning of Thursday 23 June 2016, I voted in the EU referendum and then boarded a Piccadilly line underground train for London Heathrow airport. 38 days later, I’d be arriving back in London St Pancras International railway station on a Eurostar train from Paris. More than half the mileage of this global adventure now ahead of me would be by train and ferry.
Phileas Fogg would be proud.
Nick Stone, ALAG member & Autism Hub peer support facilitator, 26 August 2021