A Backpack, A Chair and A Beard by Eamon Wood
A paraplegic since the age of four, Eamon Wood found ways to give his wheelchair wings. He became the number one seed in the Kiwi men’s wheelchair tennis rankings, and represented our country on the men’s wheelchair basketball team, travelling the world. But he wanted more. At twenty-eight, he set off on an epic journey, with little more than his backpack, his guitar, and an open mind. He hitchhiked around New Zealand’s southern island.
That wasn't enough though and the travelling bug took him to the UK and the USA, then along the fjords and lakes of Europe. He slept rough, did the odd job, busked and made friends with curious and creative people all over the world.
A Backpack, A Chair and A Beard chronicles Wood's adventures as he makes his way around the world searching for something more.
Wood shares his story with humour and insight. The book could have been elevated by a quick edit however. There were a number of typos which disrupted the flow. A few anecdotes also seemed out of place or irrelevant and that distracted from the story.
Regardless, his travels make for an interesting story with a deeper meaning. Wood explores the concept of home within the pages, about passion and drive, and about both the grandeur and simplicity of life.
Coloured photographs within the text were a pleasant surprise. There's a beautiful series of photographs from his time in Norway that had me lingering on the page for a long time.
As Wood writes, we all meet people who influence us greatly in life. "This person has something that you aspire to learn, or gives you a perspective that you couldn't have seen before," he says. Wood goes on to say that he hears "you're an inspiration" a lot and that his goal is not to inspire. Be that as it may, he will inspire.
Wood throws caution into the wind - jumping on a train not knowing where he'll end up; leaving all his belongings with a homeless man; hitchhiking. It's in these stories that, for those of us that like routine and being in control, Wood will inspire. He urges us to have faith in kindness and to build connections.
But it's the second part of his quote that is perhaps more pertinent. His story offers a perspective that many of us simply don't see. For many people, they look at someone who uses a wheelchair and only see the chair. Wood reminds us all that the chair is merely a small player in the scheme of things. He reminds us that he is not "bound" by his chair, but rather that he can give it wings.
An epilogue detailing what Wood has been doing in the three years since his epic adventure was another nice touch. It's up to date too, documenting his return to New Zealand from Germany during the pandemic. Again, it also features a beautiful, perfectly picked, photograph of Wood.
A Backpack, A Chair and A Beard is an interesting and thought-provoking travel diary about a young man who really understands how to make the most of opportunity. Reviewer: Rebekah Lyell The Copy Press, RRP $25