Guest Interview by Laura Rosensteel
I’ve always been inspired by the adventurous things my old friend Christi did – traveling the world, climbing rocks and mountains – not just because they were challenging, but because she’s legally blind. She and her nearly going blind friend Tauru have just set off on their biggest adventure yet: Tandem biking the Americas. These adventurers will cycle from Ushuaia, Argentina to Deadhorse, Alaska over the next year and a half. Along the way they’ll stop to visit and share their story with schools for the visually impaired. If you’re wondering how they see.. Christi is completely blind in one eye and has extreme blurry vision out of the other. Tauru has tunnel vision. His condition is degenerative and he will eventually go blind, so now is the time for this trip.
Tell us about where are you right now in your journey?
We are in Coihaique, Chile, which is about halfway between Ushuaia (the southern most tip of Argentina) and Santiago. In these first few months, our focus has been primarily on working out all of the kinks, both on and off the bike. There is a distinctive rhythm for cycle-touring: finding the best method for packing the bike, developing a system for cooking and arranging the tent, dividing roles of responsibility (food shopping, journal writing, coffee boiling, etc.), and of course repeating the routines day in and day out. Riding a tandem means that we have also been honing our communication and synchronizing our intuitions.
Please tell us what was the hardest part of your journey so far?
There is a section of gravel road in Argentina (just south of El Calafate), which we both agree was probably the worst bit so far, though this just narrowly wins over the 200kmph winds on Tierra del Fuego and the single-track hiking trail that we had to haul our gear over to reach the Carretera Austral. The challenges this bit of road presented are different for each of us. For Tauru, the problem is visual: the road condition was terrible with large rocks and deep piles of stone. There were narrow tracks cut out by the tires of the infrequent traffic passing through, but there was not much of a color distinction to show the way, and as the sky was full of grey clouds, there were no shadows to help guide him. Also, his field of view is so narrow that if he takes his eyes off the track for any reason, like watching for an oncoming truck, he will then have to relocate where that track was, which takes time and in the flat light was not always possible. Additionally, our bike is extremely long – not only is it a tandem, but we are also pulling a trailer. If Tauru corrects the front wheel, the trailer doesn’t always feel the change in time; bumping the large rocks throws the whole bike off balance. Without being able to see why the bike is leaning one way or the other, Christi often corrects her own center of gravity out of intuition. This shift in weight can cause further difficulties for Tauru with steering. But that brings us to why this day was also the most difficult for Christi: trust. Riding stoker is 100% a game of trust. Not only does Christi have no control over the steering or shifting, but she also can’t see the road in front of her. She has to completely trust that Tauru is going to be a safe driver. This kind of trust is not so much intellectual as it is reactionary – when the bike is bouncing all over the place and fishtailing through loose rocks, even a fully sighted captain would likely lose the trust of his stoker. In short: it was scary. To add fear to the atmosphere, this stretch of road winds through the desert over a bit of barren dirt with no water, no inhabitants, and only a few vehicles passing each day. Giving up was not an option.
We both have a lust for travel and activities, and this trip just seemed like the logical next adventure. Christi has never been able to drive or ride a bike due to her vision, which really limited her mobility. The idea of reaching a far away place under our own power is luring for us both, but with a history of depending on others to get around, it’s an especially irresistible concept for her. We’ve done lots of adventures in the past, which always provide ample time for reflection, and we came to the conclusion that we wanted our next adventure to make some kind of an impact and to affect the world in some positive way. Raising awareness about low vision just makes sense.
Can you give us an insight of how you are feeling on this trip?
The trip so far has been nothing short of incredible. The riding is good, the scenery is spectacular, but most of all – we are always inspired by the people we meet. They have been warm, generous and always intrigued with our project. It seems as though everyone we talk to is linked by some thread to blindness – either they themselves have had something affect their eyes, or they have a friend or family member who has. All it takes is one element of commonality and we go from being strangers to friends in the blind of an eye. This continues to astound us.
Tell us what your favorite places are that you have visited so far and why?
It is really hard to pick, but one of our top memories is a lake on Tierra del Fuego near the Paseo Bella Vista. This is really a road less traveled; to cross from Argentina to Chile we had to wade across a river ferrying our bike and gear. The winds had been horrendous the day before, literally knocking Christi over (walking, forget about riding) and kicking the dirt from the road up into our faces for hours. When we came to this pristine lake, we called it a day and spent the afternoon just enjoying the peace that comes with being in such a remote place. Probably the most beautiful place we’ve ridden so far is the stretch of road north from Villa O’Higgins and the start of the Carretera Austral. This part of Patagonia seems unreal. Every lake and river is impossibly blue, and all around are mountains with glaciers that send water trickling down around every corner. Amazing.
Do you have any advice for anyone else on wanting to bike the Americas?
People are often asking us how we trained for this ride. This question first seemed a bit silly to us – why would we need to get in shape when our entire journey involves pedaling a bicycle over 16,000 miles? Fitness is an unavoidable byproduct of cycle-touring. But there is one element that is critical to train – without skills in this department, any good adventure could quickly be ruined. And that is: patience. We waited for more than a month in Ushuaia for our bicycle to arrive after problems with customs. We waited again in Punta Arenas for a welder to fix a broken part on our bike. We waited for ten days on a remote lakeside beach (with a diminishing food supply) for a ferry to collect us, delayed by fuel shortages and bad weather. And now, again, we’ve been in Coihaique for more than two weeks as we awaited new parts to be sent to us from the States. But when people ask us if we are losing our minds with all of this waiting, the answer is typically: no. This is part of the game. So far, all of the problems we’ve encountered have opened the door to unforgettable experiences that we couldn’t have imagined and would have otherwise had. Patience is also what got us through the relentless wind, across the gravel roads, and over the single-track hiking trail.
Follow Christi and Tauru’s Adventure here.
Laura Rosensteel is the Director for their Documentary. Help get it made here.
At Adventeer we wish Christi and Tauru best of luck for the remaining part of their trip and would like to express our sincere admiration for the task they have taken on. Follow Adventeer on Facebook here.