‘Who knows what’s going happen’: Colorado man reflects on dream vacation cut short by COVID-19

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DENVER (KDVR) — The trip of a lifetime was cut short by the pandemic, but a Colorado man made sure to leave his mark before he was forced to leave South America.

Loaded with off-roading extras, Kirk Williams of Impact Overland doesn’t drive your typical van.

“I kind of joke that this is just like the ultimate power chair, I have a winch on the front, I have a Quigly 4×4 done to this vehicle. I didn’t really cut too many corners on this one,” Kirk said.

An accident made Kirk quadriplegic, with limited function from the neck down.

“I broke my neck about 10 or 11 years ago now mountain biking and just kind of a fluke accident where I went over the bars and landed wrong. Not being able to walk is one thing being in a wheelchair is tough, but not being able to use your hands that’s a whole ‘nother level,” Kirk said.

After his paralysis, he wanted nothing more than to be independent. He custom built a van with all the adaptive equipment he uses easily accessible. With enough overlanding gear to allow him to access anywhere he wanted to go.

“The hardest part with traveling as a quadriplegic, especially solo, is finding lodging and transportation. I can do everything in here and, even in an ADA hotel room, it’s often times hard for me to do things,” Kirk said.

Last spring, he set out on the trip of a lifetime. His brother joining him on a motorcycle. Together they would travel from the southern tip of Chile all the way up to Columbia. Driving the entire length of South America. During the trip Kirk wanted to use his adaptive overlanding experience to bring a positive impact to the world.

“I wanted to do more than just travel through and see the landscape, I wanted to somehow make a difference while doing it. One-hundred million people in the world need a wheelchair, of which 60 million do not have access to one. And that struck a chord with me,” Kirk says.

He worked with The Walkabout Foundation, a charity that provides wheelchairs in the developing world. Raising enough money to ship a container of wheelchairs to South America.  

They spent four months traveling north. By March of 2020 they had made it as far as Buenos Aires. Staying in a tiny Airbnb to explore the city. They were a world away when the world shut down.

“We weren’t allowed to go anywhere at all. After about 3 or 4 months we started looking at each other and saying we don’t hear any end in sight,” he told FOX31.

Kirk was forced to cancel the rest of the trip and ship the vehicles back to the US. Another casualty of the pandemic.

“That was a tough pill to swallow because it takes a lot to get down there. It was three years in the making, and, you know, in the flip of a switch it was over,” Kirk said.

Even with the canceled trip, he says he feels incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel the world and help people in need, and he encourages everyone to seek out their own adventure.

“Life can change in the blink of an eye whether it’s crashing on a bike or COVID coming out of nowhere. If you want to do something, try and do it today, try and do it tomorrow, as soon as you can, because who knows what’s going happen right around the next corner,” Kirk said.

Kirk says he would love to be able to finish the rest of his South American adventure someday, but for now, he is planning adventures around the US in the meantime.

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