July 19th, Day 31: Mankato, MN to Rochester, MN: 101 miles, 2051 ft. ascent

After a slight diversion due to construction work, today just tipped over into being our second consecutive century. But with relentless headwinds, many miles of bone rattling road surfaces and what felt like much more than 2,050 ft of climbing, it certainly felt like a tough one.

Beautiful wind turbines in black and white
Photo courtesy of Martin Stabler

For the past 3 days we have been travelling through industrial scale livestock farming country, so there is very little visual to report. I am actually on an equal footing to everyone else regarding the major sensory input in these parts. Unpleasantly, that’s because the most noticeable thing around here is the smell of the Swine Express trucks and the processing plants they are supplying. Not nice.

Factoid: One of the a meat processing plants we passed in Worthington "harvests" 25,000 hogs a day...

So, trotting swiftly on, and returning to my theme of yesterday’s blog, as a teenager I wanted nothing more than to be completely normal. There are two levels of sight loss recognised by the welfare and tax systems in the UK – partially sighted and blind (I believe that in the US the term ‘legally blind’ is analogous to partially sighted). At the age of 18 I was registered as fully blind because my sight was only around 2% of normal vision. But even with that small amount of sight I was fairly independent and could navigate around without a white stick. Wishing to be normal I did not carry a symbol cane and avoided mentioning my sight issue until really, really necessary.

One of the universities I applied to had quite an informal interview process, involving a buffet lunch and casual conversation with the lecturers. It’s fairly easy to imagine that buffets are a challenge if you cannot see what’s on offer, but somehow I managed to load a plate with some cold cuts of meat, some bread and some peanuts. Not exactly a balanced diet, but sufficient to keep me going. I then engaged one of the lecturers in conversation. All good so far, and when he launched into an animated description of his research I took the opportunity to nod enthusiastically while stuffing a handful of the peanuts into my mouth – sadly only to discover these were not peanuts but were in fact the contents of an ashtray. Dilemma: try to discreetly regurgitate or just swallow hard and hope no-one noticed. Social etiquette and the absence of a ready napkin forced my hand, but I did manage to swallow without choking. The lecturer did not even interrupt his flow. I have always wondered if he was just very unobservant or if he concluded that it would be unwise to question the behaviour of the sort of guy who eats cigarette butts for his lunch. 

I continued with my deluded attempts to appear normal at university and didn’t mention my sight loss to anyone except my lecturers and course mates. Mostly this was OK as the academic staff were very accommodating. However, my biggest regret about my time at university was that I never had a girlfriend and by the end of 3 years I was feeling quite disheartened about my apparent lack of that certain je ne sait quoi. It was only 15 years later that one of my contemporaries observed that she and several of her friends had initially quite fancied me. But after I had completely blanked all of their smiles and stared right through their eye contact, they all concluded that I was either scarily bad tempered, totally asexual or so far on the spectrum to be beyond redemption – or possibly all of the above.

So much for trying to be normal. Now of course I embrace my blindness and milk it for all it’s worth (just ask my lovely wife!).