(Photo above: Geoff Babb with his wife Yvonne driving the original AdvenChair with friends on a recent outing in Shevlin Park | courtesy of AdvenChair)
Life could be getting a lot more exciting for people with disabilities who want to venture off the beaten path and experience the grandeur of the wilderness. The Onward Project has just launched an IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign to support a new version of the AdvenChair, a one-of-a-kind wheelchair designed to boldly go where no chair has gone before.
Thirteen years ago, Geoff Babb was a fire ecologist and an avid outdoorsman in Bend. He loved to ski, mountain bike and backpack with his wife Yvonne and twin 12-year-old boys. That is, until November 10, 2005, when he had a near-fatal brain stem stroke. He needed two months in the rehabilitation unit at St. Charles Medical Center before he returned home in a wheelchair with only limited use of one hand.
While the stroke forever changed his ability to move, Babb refused to let his condition inhibit his love for the outdoors. He soon took to adaptive horseback riding through Healing Reins and sit-skiing with Oregon Adaptive Sports.
“Unfortunately,” says Babb, “when I wanted to go for an outing with my family in the mountains or along the river, I discovered that the biggest obstacle to experiencing the trails with my family again was not so much my body, but my wheelchair. There was simply nothing out there that could easily and effectively get us off of a paved path, let alone a gravel one.”
With the help of his friend, helicopter mechanic Dale Neubauer, Babb set out to modify a wheelchair with mountain bike tires, a detachable front wheel, a rear handle bar with dual disc brakes and a harness that would allow a small team to push, pull and guide him up and down steep terrain.
“We took that thing all over Central Oregon — Pilot Butte, the Deschutes River Trail, Smith Rock State Park, Mt. Bachelor, Crater Lake — you name it,” said Babb’s wife Yvonne. “We had such great adventures, Geoff started calling it his ‘AdvenChair.’”
Eventually, in September 2016, it was time to put the AdvenChair to a serious test — a trip to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. With Yvonne, his sons (age 23 at the time) and ten other team members, the group began their descent to the Colorado River on the Bright Angel Trail. However, the journey proved to be much rougher than they anticipated.
“It’s a trail with over 3,000 water bars and a bunch of switchbacks,” explains Babb. “Less than two miles down, the bearings were completely destroyed. The pounding of the wheels going over the edge of the water bars was just too much.”
Thankfully, the crew was able to lift Babb and his chair back to the rim of the Canyon. Not to be deterred, Babb’s relentless optimism and determination took over almost immediately. Soon he, Neubauer and his friend mechanical engineer Jack Arnold, were working on the next generation of the AdvenChair.
“The Grand Canyon failure was the best thing that ever happened,” said Babb. “The trail may have broken the chair, but it only strengthened our resolve as a team.”
This time, the team decided to scrap their Frankenstein version of a wheelchair altogether and start from the ground up. Their ideas blended into a whole new chair made with high-grade aluminum mountain bike components, an adjustable handlebar with disk brakes, an adjustable seat, larger 27.5” mountain bike wheels and a detachable, pivoting 16” wheel in front.
AdvenChair 2.0 was developing nicely last year when Babb’s life took another abrupt turn. On November 10, 2017 – exactly 12 years to the day after his first stroke – Babb had a second one.
“The chances of surviving a brain stem stroke are about ten percent,” says Yvonne. “I knew getting him back from another one at age 60 would be nothing short of miraculous. But he looked at me from his hospital bed the next day and murmured, ‘Not our first rodeo.’”
Despite doctor’s predictions, Babb relearned how to swallow and eat solid food all over again. Earlier this year, he emerged more determined than ever to bring the AdvenChair 2.0 to reality; not just for himself, but for the millions of people around the world who suffer from limited mobility, and even more limited one-dimensional chairs.
The new AdvenChair, which is currently under construction with parts made locally by ISCO Manufacturing Solutions, can accommodate a small child or an adult up to a 250-lbs. Weighing less than 55 lbs. with the wheels removed, it can easily be transported in the backseat or trunk of a car, and can be driven on easy terrain by only one person. To negotiate more rugged trails with tighter turns, a team of three or four is needed to help pull and brake.
Following a rousing Rollout Party at Deschutes Brewery on November 9, the AdvenChair launched its IndieGoGo campaign on, you guessed it, November 10. The campaign hopes to raise $100,000 to cover marketing and production costs for five prototype chairs that will be tested extensively during the spring and summer of 2019. Following the prototype research, Babb plans to begin selling AdvenChairs to the public through the company website: advenchair.com.
“I’m looking forward to putting it through its test,” says Kirk Petersen, a fellow Oregon Adaptive Sports skier who is paralyzed from the waist down. “The chair is going to do wonders for getting people like myself to places where we want to be. We don’t want to be stuck in the house watching TV. We want to be doing the same stuff everyone else wants to be doing outside. We just need a little help.”
Babb also needs a little help with funding to reach his goal of having his chairs in widespread use throughout the planet within the next five years.
“We know there are more than three and a half million wheelchair users around the world,” he says. “And we know that having access to nature and solitude does wonders for the mind and body.”
With funding, Babb hopes to have many of those people sharing their adventure stories and inspiring messages through his website. “To me,” he says with a smile, “that would be a gift to the greater community.”
To help the AdvenChair move onward and upward, search “AdvenChair” at Indiegogo.com.
About The Onward Project:
The Onward Project, LLC inspires, encourages and enables outdoor adventures for people of all abilities, and invites them to share their experiences and stories online.