How I was driven to live life on the edge
Motoring along rough mountain tracks with sheer drops on one side makes Belfast traffic snarl-ups look like child’s play. Megan Conroy meets the man who gets his kicks from the adrenaline rush to be had when going off the beaten track Taking risks and putting your life on the line may seem impossible to many but for one Belfast man it’s all fun and games. Keith McVitty (29), who lives on the Donegall Road in south Belfast, has for the last three years been throwing his energy into extreme motor sports, and raising thousands of pounds for charity.
Keith and his friends first decided to get involved after watching a video on the internet in 2009.
“We wanted to do something exciting and fun while raising some money for underdeveloped countries. Three weeks after watching a clip of motor taxis online we had our team set in motion and started getting ready for the crazy experience.”
The first mission the boys set themselves was to travel through South America in a happy medium between a car and a motorcycle. They set across the Andes to compete against teams from all over the world.
Keith laughs when he tells me about the trip: “We were completely unprepared for the journey. We probably should have done some sort of fitness training or even learned to ride the vehicle. We were shocked when we saw the extent of the sheer vertical drops we would be travelling alongside. It was mental.”
The three-week journey had many ups and downs for Keith who recalls: “After we crashed for the 100th time I knew I had broken my collar bone but decided that we would go on. It was the adrenaline that was giving me the buzz.
“It was scary though when another team’s vehicle crashed down one of the cliffs. They managed to jump out without a scratch on them — it was a miracle. For me the dangers were all part of the fun.”
Keith tells me about the places he visited when they were travelling: “When we got to Peru we stayed in some really nice places but on one occasion we stayed in a hell hole.
“I remember we were driving along a road when we saw a sign for a hotel. The sign said that they had Sky TV, a pool table and things like that; they could not have been further from the truth. We had to crouch down to get into the rooms for the doors reached to our shoulders.”
When asked about his family’s reaction to their adventures he says: “The first few days in South America we wrote a daily blog explaining what we were doing and what accidents and that we had. Our families were worried sick so we stopped writing the blog and instead we rang every day to assure them we were okay.”
When Keith first came up with the idea to get involved in the sport he had to ensure he could get the time away from his job at FG Wilson.
He said: “I knew I would need three weeks off work to be able to take part, the people at work were really supportive and didn’t seem to think the idea was as crazy as most people did. They also sponsored us £2,100 for the charity we had chosen.”
After returning from the Andes, Keith was anxious to get involved with another adrenaline-fuelled adventure.
“The first thing I did when I got back to Belfast was to go straight to hospital and get my collar-bone sorted. I was still on a buzz from the trip so I signed up for another trip around India in 2010.
“The trip was designed for us to travel 2000 km across north-east India in a tuc-tuc through the mountainous regions. We knew that we would have to be more prepared for the trip this time.
“We took more tools with us for we broke down almost 100 times on our last trip. The first day on our India adventure we broke down so many times we were left feeling pretty depressed and we were well behind the other teams.
“Thankfully, the second day we were more determined so we were more successful making tracks.”
Keith says you become more carefree as the trips go on. “When we were travelling through India, we crashed into a lorry and a parked bus but each time you become less wary of the risks and the adrenaline just kicks in. We did realise that we had to be more careful and stop messing as much. We had to keep it in our minds that there were people seriously injured on the treks.”
Although the trips are spent mainly driving through desolate deserts and mountain ranges Keith believes it’s the best way to see the world.
“I love seeing the different cultures when we stop in different towns, it makes the time away so much more interesting.” he says. The people we meet are always really nice and show a lot of interest in what we are doing — even though they think we are insane too.
“The areas that we stop in usually have low levels of tourism and it’s great to see the places you would never imagine seeing.
“We did see some areas that were stricken with poverty and it was hard to look at, but it makes what we are doing in raising money very worthwhile.”
To date, Keith has raised £2100 for Operation Smile through the Mototaxi Junket in 2009 to Peru and Boliva; £1800 for Frank Water through last year’s Rickshaw Run in India and Nepal and his team hopes to raise £1000 for the Christina Noble Children's Charity (CNCF) through the Mongol Rally this year.
“The next trip to the Mongol rally will be the most dangerous yet.
“Our first trip saw people air-lifted to the UK and in the second, five or six people were hospitalised, but some
body died in the Mongol trip last year — it makes it all more exciting.”
He will be joined by his cousin from Australia, who has been involved in similar projects.
“The Mongol rally has people from all over the world there. Last year there was 500,000 people involved. “The mission is you chose a car that is completely unsuitable for travelling across desert roads and that is when the fun starts.
“I have picked a Peugeot 206 for the trip. I am so excited it is going to be crazy.”
The rally starts on July 24 and will cover 8,000 miles travelling through the Ukraine and Russia.
Keith said: “We will be getting the boat to the south of England and that’s the official starting point. We will be racing against time as we have only three weeks to make it to Mongolia.”
Asked about relaxing holidays he says: “I could never envisage going on another beach holiday. The buzz from these adventures is too much to resist. I know there are many risks but that makes it all the better.”
You can donate to Keith’s chosen charity, the Christina Noble Children’s Foundation on www.justgiving.com/2011mongolrally\[Brian Orr\]bo.donate