July 18th, Day 30: Worthington, MN to Mankato, MN: 112 miles, 1122 ft. ascent

For the first time since Day 0 it actually rained during today’s ride for 30 minutes or so. We did get drenched but I made a conscious decision not to wear a rain jacket to avoid that delightful boil in the bag effect brought on by wearing waterproof garments on a hot and humid day.

Despite the rain and a short break to let the thunderstorms move away, we made good progress and averaged 17.1 mph for the 112 miles.

The rest of this post is entirely unrelated to America, cycling or rain, but it does focus on blindness, the condition at the very heart of this endeavour for me. This below is a bit less frivolous than most entries in this journal, but some of you might find it insightful. And for the rest of you it sets the scene for some more amusing posts to follow over the next 3 weeks regarding incidents in my life as a bat (blind parlance for a blind person, as in ‘blind as a bat’).

Several people on the ride have asked me what life is like as a bat. They are often surprised by the huge variation in functional vision amongst the community of people broadly considered legally blind. I have personally experienced a deteriorating spectrum from being independently mobile, and capable of reading text as a kid, through to being to all intents and purposes totally blind for the past 5 years.

For most of us, completing this ride requires a level of determination and perseverance not demanded by our day jobs. But in an earlier post I concluded that aside from the absence of visual stimulus, the ride is arguably easier for me than for everyone else, because of the help I am afforded. So maybe, in fact, all aspects of my life are actually easier than the norm, again because of my tremendously supportive family, friends and colleagues.

But I don’t actually think that’s true, mostly for the very reason that if the support is not available I become pretty stranded pretty quickly. I cannot drive, cannot read directions, cannot safely cross major roads, cannot order from a menu, cannot find the bathroom, cannot fill out forms, cannot read mail, cannot make eye contact with strangers, etc, etc.

But I am never chronically upset, discouraged or depressed by this endless list of challenges in a fundamentally visual world.

My pragmatic acceptance of the little daily challenges is, I think, largely attributable to my mother’s particular approach to rearing a family of 5 vision impaired children. We have all achieved strong academic results, had successful careers and stable relationships. When asked, shortly before she died last year, to what she attributed her success in rearing this family, she replied simply ‘No mollycoddling’.

As a partially sighted child, no mollycoddling for me meant: at the age of 6, finding my own way home from school; at the age of 8, taking my 4 year old brother shopping; at the age of 10, chopping wood; and at the age of 12, wielding a small armoury of power tools. This wasn’t a question of having a try under close supervision by well meaning inclusive parents. It was a question of putting me in charge and expecting me to deliver. In todays health and safety conscious world, I’m sure this would raise a few eyebrows. But for my mother this was a calculated judgement, balancing possible present harm against probable improved prospects in later years. For someone with significant sight impairment, my mother intuitively knew that the long term impacts of diminished childhood experience and lowered self confidence might include social exclusion, financial dependence and possible institutionalisation. Personally I know that without this early freedom to fall I would never have learned later metaphorically to fly.  

So that’s my best stab at why blindness doesn’t in general get me down. I do also treasure my ability to laugh at some of the misunderstandings and minor scrapes that blindness inevitably introduces. And to that end, future posts will from time to time recount some of these incidents (apologies to those of you who have already heard most of the anecdotes already).

Chris takes the pilot position on the tandem complete with white stick!
Chris and James remember to wear their helmets even in the car park