Overlanders tend to be inspiring people. Some trade in big homes and successful careers for life in a four-wheel drive, others wander aimlessly on motorcycles taking each mile as it comes, and all have the courage to risk everything in the pursuit of adventure. I have been fortunate enough to meet many of these amazing people during my time with Overland International, however there is one who has truly inspired me above the rest. His name is Ben Davenport, and although he has hitch hiked across Africa, driven across Russia, and worked the back country of the Yukon, it is not his travels that impress me, but his unyielding spirit and determination in the face of adversity.
Ben was born with Noonan’s Syndrome (NS), a relatively common disorder that a surprisingly large number of people know little about. Its characteristics can include webbing on the back of the neck, droopy eyelids, low hung small ears with narrowed canals, a concave sternum, abnormal toes, decreased mental development, a restriction in arm extension, heart murmurs, stunted growth, and most concerning; a hole in the heart. Life expectancy is often low, and daily living can be hard.
As you can imagine, growing up with this condition wasn’t easy. “Bullying and torment had been rife from age 5 at primary school in Australia to Year 9 here in the UK, and the feeling of underachievement and failure was overwhelming. Generally my silent exclusion from peers’ activities was more hurtful than any direct jibes I may have encountered. My progress at school was difficult and traumatic, compounded with many hospital visits and operations. I wasn’t different enough to be classed as disabled, nor was I ordinary enough to be classed as ‘normal’. I fell between the cracks, and that is a lonely place to be.”
By 17 Ben had moved to Cornwall, and with twice daily hormone injections reached a height of 5’ 6”. He left the misery of primary school and went out to pursue whatever life threw at him, from Animal Care College to Search and Rescue. After finally achieving some normalcy years later, he was once again hit with bad news, the valves of his heart were deteriorating.
After all the medical problems, the deplorable harassment from bullies, and the struggle through childhood, this news would have been the last crushing blow to most people’s spirits. Fortunately, Ben isn’t most people. Instead of being bitter and unhappy, he emerged with an overwhelmingly positive attitude and a insatiable love for the world and its citizens. Through all his hardship he looked out and saw the good in everything; in the love of his parents, the kindness of his friends, and the beauty of the Earth. With an uncertain future ahead of him, Ben decided his biggest risk in life would be waiting to live it, it was time for an adventure. In order to prove that people suffering from NS could indeed lead a rich and fulfilling life, he hatched a plan to drive solo from Cornwall to Cape Horn in 18 months.
On April 20th 2011, he turned the key and rolled out of his driveway to experience the cultures that add so much flavor to our little world. Wherever he went you’d find him introducing himself to strangers, asking them about what they do, their family, their hobbies, and truly learning about what living means to them. Ben made everyone he met feel like the most important person in the world, because to him they were.
As the miles and days ticked down he realized he was making great time, but missing the chance to connect with great people. Just a short distance into the journey he slammed on the brakes, tore up his schedule, and turned his trip of a lifetime into a lifelong trip. “in my eyes people are the life and soul of my adventures. It’s because of people my little 18 month journey has turned in to a 4 year endeavour that has no sign of ending!”
Ben has overcome many obstacles to get where he is today, and despite all his accomplishments he remains steadfastly humble. He will never brag, bring up an amazing story, or even mention driving around the world unless he is asked. His sole interest is learning more about you and becoming your friend. “I’m just a regular guy, it’s you lot that are so interesting”, he always says. It is this intoxicating positive attitude that makes everyone who meets Ben an instant companion.
Of course there is one thing you can get Ben to brag on, and that is his truck. In many ways this great old Land Rover is his automotive counterpart. Over the years it has been to hell and back between breakdowns, accidents, a complete rebuild, and an unpredictable life of adventure. Like its loving owner though, it keeps going, cheerful and plucky as ever. From the bottle opener on the rear quarter panel, to the cow bone on the hood, it is stuffed with character, and people love it. Of all its adornments though, there is one that stands out to me. It is Mr. Davenport’s heartwarming motto laid out carefully along the door, “you don’t travel to see different things, you travel to see things differently”.
So what makes Cornwall to Cape Horn so different? After all, travel inspiration isn’t exactly rare these days. Our home page is covered with stories of amazing overlanders, and it seems that everyone and their mother is an explorer on Instagram. For me it’s not his photography or his writing, but Ben’s unwavering spirit. Despite all the reasons he could be bitter, he loves the world and the people in it more than anyone I have ever met. His jovial personality brings smiles to everyone he meets, and at the end of the day, that defines him as much as his life on the road.
I can say without a doubt that knowing Ben has made me a better person, and certainly a better traveler. His zest for life has taught me that no matter what hardship you face, no matter what struggle you’re enduring, there is still good in the world waiting for you. All you have to do is hop in your truck and go find it.