With the sun setting

Believing in a dream when you can barely see

Legally-blind couple cycle the Americas tip to tip

How about going for a “little” bike trip? Say, from Tierra del Fuego in the south of Argentina to Deadhorse at the northern edge of Alaska?

It’s only about a 27,000-kilometre journey.

Oh yes, you’ll have to do it without a GPS, detailed paper maps, or even a support team.

Still interested?

Here’s the last wrinkle: How about riding the entire way almost completely blindfolded or by wearing thick Coke-bottle glasses, when you don’t need glasses?

Tauru Chaw and his partner Christi Bruchok will understand if you take a pass and choose instead to follow their journey online.

Both are legally blind and they’re about three months away from completing this cycling odyssey for themselves and for others “to see” that disabilities cannot hold you back.

“Aside from the sheer challenge and the irresistible sense of adventure this provides, we want to take this opportunity to raise awareness for the blind with the hope of inspiring others who have ‘challenges’ and to showcase to the world that people of all abilities can achieve their dreams,” the American couple write on their website twoblindtoride.org.

They’re also doing this on a shoestring budget – about $700 a month – but the beauty of a journey is not the end, but the people you meet along the way.

People like Bruce and Wendy Murdoch of Campbell River.

Chaw and Bruchok were waiting to board the BC Ferry in Horseshoe Bay when Bruce took interest in their tandem bicycle.

“I’m always meeting people and I like to talk,” says the happily retired lawyer.

It didn’t take long for Bruce to hear their story and to invite them to stay at their home when they arrived in Campbell River.

“We met Bruce on the ferry to Nanaimo. Canadians are awesome people!” the couple say in their latest blog.

Chaw and Bruchok pulled into the River City Wednesday and that night were treated to a scrumptious fish and chicken dinner at the Murdoch home with five other guests.

As the guests sip wine, the conversation quickly turns to the B.C. election and the surprising Liberal victory. Then Bruce quickly thinks of his American guests.

“Maybe we should talk about Obama?” he asks with a smile.

But Bruchok, always quick with a quip, fires back, “I think we’re going to need a lot more wine.”

She hails from Pennsylvania, while Chaw is a Southern California boy. They met in Phoenix while working at Intel, when Chaw decided to learn more about working with a visual impairment – his vision was beginning worsen due to the hereditary disease Retinitis Pigmentosa.

“This means that I have been progressively losing my peripheral vision, so now it is as if I am seeing the world through toilet paper rolls,” he explains. “However, the vision that I do have is really clear, and I have no trouble seeing distances. Unfortunately, the same photoreceptors that give peripheral vision enable night vision – so I am pretty much blind at night.”

Bruchok was born with severe myopia and is now completely blind in her right eye.

“I often say that my world is like an impressionist’s painting: I get the gist, but I can’t pick you out in a crowd,” she says.

As luck would have it, Bruchok was giving the in-house talk at Intel and the two hit it off as they shared similar stories about their vision and their interests.

At the top of those non-work interests was travel. So away they went and that sparked an interest in cycling which is interesting in itself because Bruchok doesn’t ride a regular bike due to her vision and balance. But what about a tandem bike?

“They call ‘em divorce bikes!” Chaw says with a laugh. “Communication is the key when you’re riding them.”

To find out if they could indeed ride together, the couple set out on their first “little” trip in 2009…by crossing the United States.

Still happy together after that – even after crossing the Mojave Desert in 50-degree Celsius daytime heat, because Chaw can’t ride at night – they started planning to cycle the Americas.

It took loads of planning and getting their bicycle to Argentina proved to be one of the biggest red-tape challenges, but on Jan. 1, 2012, they set out from Ushuaia.

They don’t have a GPS, but they do have a laptop computer which allows them to zoom in on maps. They also stop at tourist information centres to pick up local maps that aren’t drawn to scale, but they’re easier to read.

They’ve written about their many South American adventures online and Chaw says they didn’t have too many mechanical troubles with the bike.

Bruchok nods her head and replies, “Yeah, just about everything broke.”

South American bicycle mechanics leave a lot to be desired, they say, but the best one they found was deaf.

“The deaf leading the blind!” says Chaw.

Communication and a great shared sense of humour have kept the two going for almost 17 months and more than 21,000 kilometres. More importantly, for both of them, they’ve shared their experiences with media and students wherever they go.

On Thursday, the riders visited Oyster River Elementary and then Timberline Secondary.

“I have a visually-impaired student who’s really looking forward to meeting you,” says Barb Izard, one of the dinner guests.

Chaw smiles warmly and replies, “We feel so lucky to be able to do this and meet so many students.”

With the dessert polished off and the sun setting in the western sky, the couple go outside to pose for a photo. Murdoch and two other pretty fit guys retrieve the bike and they remark on how back heavy it is – about 65 kilograms! – loaded with the rear trailer and all their camping gear.

“I thought bikes were supposed to be really light?” the host asks.

But Bruchok just shrugs and says, “Nothing is designed for speed on that bike.”

The couple expect to arrive in Deadhorse, Alaska, sometime in July.

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