Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Biking Blind

This past Saturday was the Harpeth River Ride, the annual century for my local group, the Harpeth Bicycle Club. This was my fifth River Ride, but it was different this time. For one thing, I didn't do the century, and for another, I had a new stoker on the back of the tandem.

That's Dan Dillon, from the Tennessee Association of Blind Athletes (TNABA -- pronounced "ten-ah-bah"). He and I rode the 42-mile option ... although my bike computer clocked it out at almost 45 miles ... I demand a refund!

The HBC has been working with TNABA for most of the year. On Tuesday nights, we ride around the Nashville Motorplex track for about an hour on tandems. It sometimes gets competitive out there, with tandems zipping past one another, and the TNABA athletes yelling smack at each other. It's definitely a blast.

Besides a little "hill" work in the parking lot at the track, this was the first time that Dan and I had ridden in the "real world." Some of the hills on the 42-mile (or 45 ... but I'm not complaining) route were pretty harsh, but Dan just chugged up them like a trooper.

On the first steep hill, riders on singles were clipping out of their pedals and walking. Dan heard the sound, but didn't know what it was.

"What (pant-pant) is that (pant-pant) clicking?" he said.

"Riders (pant-pant) getting off (pant-pant) their bikes," I answered.

That was when I realized that I wasn't really doing a good job. Sure, we were moving pretty quickly along the course (45 miles), but I owed Dan more than just muscle and the ability to steer -- I owed him the chance to enjoy how beautiful this world is.

You see, it's not finishing the bike ride that is the goal ... it's doing the ride and enjoying it.

So I began to give Dan a running commentary ... sort of a guided tour of rural Davidson and Williamson counties. I told him about the long-horn steers in the field on Bear Creek, the dusty construction for the 840 extension in Burwood, and how the oaks came together in a perfect canopy over Old Harpeth. I waxed poetic about the bright red tin roof and complementary flashed brick on a farmhouse, the fields of soy behind one of the rest stops, and what the Natchez Trace looked like from one of the bridges. I told him about the flowery shirts the volunteers were wearing at the Margaritaville rest stop in Leiper's Fork, and the pink flamingos and flourescent fish decorating the doors of the port-a-potties.

As we turned onto one road, Dan asked about the flowers growing wild there. I had never really noticed them, but he had smelled them ... like Daredevil, his other senses were heightened, so that he was catching things that I -- going by sight alone -- had been blind to. I immediately regretted not washing my jersey.

We slowed a bit, and I tried to smell the flowers. Later, we passed into some shade and Dan mentioned how much cooler it had just gotten, and I started paying attention to that.

And so it went for the rest of the ride -- me trying to make up for his lack of sight, and Dan helping me overcome my own sensory overload. It was a good ride. We both had fun and worked out muscles that needed to be woken up.

I live in a world of plenty, where it's easy to lose track of the things that are really valuable. I'm going to try to appreciate some of these things just a little more. It may be painful, like drinking from a firehose, but we owe it to ourselves to do the best we can to absorb all of it.


  1. Robert,

    I tweeted the link to this post. Amazing account of what I am sure will be a memorable day for both you and Dan.

    Thanks for sharing!
    Nathan Taylor

  2. Nice Job Randoboy, Judy and I had a very similar experience with Dwayne on the back of our triplet. At first I had to remember we had never taken even a curve in the road. Good thing we had headsets as we ended up chatting away trying very hard to verbalize everything we were seeing. Dwayne, much like Dan, had a blast. It's a wonderful way to share a long bike... and as Pam Fernandez mention before the ride.. her disability disappears when she rides with her pilot. Too much fun.....

  3. Robert,
    Seems like the blind help us all find our way a little better.

    An excellent description, about an excellent ride, from and excellent captain.

    Thanks for sharing.

  4. Nice commentary. I don't even mind losing my position as your only stoker.

    On another note, I just wanted to mention that the organizers and volunteers of the Harpeth River Ride did a phenomenal job!)

  5. I'm proud of all of you for your efforts, those captaining and their stokers willing to try. It appears that a program for the blind may give just as much benefit to the sighted. Isn't it great that a bicycle can bring our lives together. Thanks for sharing your story. Good job guys!

  6. HBC friend, Duane Murray, Executive Pastor of Thompson Station Church, (our Harpeth River Ride Host) was extremely impressed with the entire Blind Athlete Program. He stated that he would be mentioning the "out reach" that he saw, in future services at TSC.

    This is wonderful acknowledgement to those HBC members who are giving their time and commitment to make this program an on going success.

    Also, I am not sure if Robert has mentioned that Dan Dillon is 67 years old! Wow!

  7. I am glad to see that all you who participated in the ride with the blind athletes had a great time. I have learned over the years they are truly an inspiration to me and at times my heros. I am glad to be a part of this organization and watch the group each and every week.

  8. Ricky Jones TNABA Executive Director

    I must admit I read this blog and the comments that followed and began to cry. When I was going through the reconstruction process of the TNABA I never imagined such a large impact would happen so soon. It is clear to see that TNABA is not just a benefit and life changing opportunity for its blind athletes but those that clearly support our mission. Sometimes it is not what you have, but what you don't have that makes you realize how beautiful the world really is. Seeing through the "EYES" of someone else can change the way we see through our own eyes. That can be said for our captains and our athletes.

    I would like to take this opportunity to thank te captains of the HBC who wok with our athletes each and every week. You have given so many of us "New Sight" with cycling. A second chance to enjoy life and cycling. Pam said it best we are not blind when we are on the bike, we are not even a captain and stoker, we are simply a team.

    Thank you so much HBC for a life changing experiences. I look forward to more.

    A proud Man