Today was my second time on a mountain bike in twenty years. I headed off with my most competent bike guide Jim Alix, heading towards McGillivray Lake at Sun Peaks, B.C. The trail is about 5 kilometres up to the lake and five return, with multiple terrain changes, twists and turns. I had the headsets charged up, which allows us to communicate back and forth via Bluetooth duplex communication. During the ride Jim is telling me about stream bridges, terrain changes, pot holes, ruts, cattle guards, fallen branches. Luckily the light conditions were consistent and I did not have to worry about shadows or sudden light and dark adjustments.
We both rode single mountain bikes. We headed out the Vista Trail, which was relatively flat and gave me a chance to familiarize myself with balancing and feeling what a pot hole and going over rocks does to my balance as a blind person. Then I had to learn to adjust myself for that balance. If I go too slowly I found I could not go through the obstacles and my front wheel was being twisted back and forth. If I went too fast then the obstacles are too many coming at me. I found the happy medium and we proceeded uphill towards the warming hut. A slow grind.
As well as listening to Jim’s excellent description of the terrain, I am able to see his shadow and relied on this vision to judge the direction and distance between us. For example when he says, “I am on a stream bridge” I know I am going to be on that bridge in a couple of seconds. I know I need to be directly behind him as
he had already let me know the bridge is only 3 feet wide with no side rails. I also have to adjust my speed and make sure I am going fast enough so I can keep a straight line and don’t adjust myself on the bridge. I had one mishap today where that happened but it was all good in the end.
When I got into ruts going downhill I instinctually went into full balance mode and took my feet off the pedals and rode through the mud bog. I feel like I was surfing. I found myself holding tighter than I thought to the handle bars, causing fatigue. Ideally my next trail bike ride will be on a full suspensions (handle bars and seat post) set up. My butt is a little worse for wear at present.
We chose this trail as it was not narrow and allowed for mistakes and enough time to make adjustments safely. The first time I tried it was at Whistler on very tight trails in the trees. I was flanked by two guides and one leader. Three in total and myself. Truthfully, it was by the grace of god I got out of there alive. I would not recommend tight narrow trails if you are blind or visually impaired and thinking of trying a single bike either again or for the first time. Pick a wide trail and focus on the fun. And fun it was, I felt 20 years younger. Like a teenager!
The above was my brave brother. I tried the single bike for a wee little loop up at the lake. Mark’s wife and 6 yr. old daughter and I drove the 5K to see the boys at their destination. The family went for a little spin up there on flat wide roads. I figured I’d take a turn and check out how it felt. Probably 20 years for myself as well since I’ve been on a bike. Jim kept his hand on my back for the first part. I could not get organized. Balancing at low speed is difficult, and going fast was out of the question. Too scary! It was not pretty. I stayed on the bike for about 5 minutes. I prefer to ride on the back of a tandem. Just not enough vision left to sort out the environment and shadows fast enough to feel safe. I do like riding a little on a single bike in a large paved parking lot. It’s a gas and I agree with Mark, that it feels like you are younger and in control of your own path. For me, it is definitely a tandem bike when I think of bike riding.