Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Touching the World


A Blind Woman, Two Wheels 25,000 Miles



A new book was published in August about a motorcycle trip with a difference - the motorcycle pillion was blind and travelled with her partner, who is now her husband, on a 25,000 mile one year trip round the world.

Cathy Birchall,  who suffers from retinitis pigmentosa, has been blind since her late 20's (she's 55 now). However this has not dampened her adventurous spirit and in 2008 when her friend Bernard Smith asked her if she wanted to go along on a round the world motorcycle trip she said yes!


 

 

 

 

Wherever I lay my hat...


Not only was the trip a step into the dark but Cathy wasn't really even able to take many familiar things with her. Obviously on a motorcycle trip there isn't a huge boot to put everything but the kitchen sink in, so they set off with very little luggage, having planned to travel light and buy what they needed, as and when it was required, along the way.

Achey breaky bike


The bike was an elderly BMW and seems to have struggled quite a lot with such a long trip, suffering from many breakdowns. This was particularly difficult in the middle of nowhere, but Bernard always managed to get it going again somehow, often relying on the kindness of strangers who seemed unfailingly helpful along the way.  It seems that Cathy and Bernard's courage and independence impressed people everywhere they went and Cathy says that the people she met were really the highlight of the trip for her.

Blind faith

 

Cathy and the trusty steed by the River Kwai
Because Cathy wasn't able to see the scenery that they were passing through, Bernard set up a helmet to helmet intercom so that he could describe the views and give Cathy updates along the way. The side effect of this was that Cathy could tell when the going was tough by the silence on the intercom as Bernard tried to negotiate difficult situations and had to concentrate! It was particularly silent when they were driving through India apparently, and she could feel the other traffic so close to them that it was brushing against the bike and she could hear the sound of horns all around her which was terrifying.


Cathy says that she soon got to know when Bernard was concentrating and she worked out that the best thing for her to do was to just to be quiet as well, and wait for him to pull over.  Quite a trust exercise for her which paid off as they got back in one piece and Bernard found them a hotel every night without fail wherever they were.


As well as the intercom description from Bernard, Cathy used her other senses too. When they were up in the mountains, she listened to the eerie silence and when they were near the sea she could smell it. Also when they stopped she touched and smelt the animals and plants along the way to get a sense of what they were like.

Ain't no mountain high enough


Cathy and Bernard both got a huge amount out of their adventure, taking the highs and lows in their stride with cheerful stoicism. Cathy's highlights of the trip, apart from all the interesting and friendly people they met, were travelling through Nepal where she rode on an elephant and Peru where she climbed Wayna Picchu Mountain - quite an achievement - she was the first blind person to reach the summit!


Ride Cathy Ride


Famous motorcycle travel author Ted Simon, the author of Jupiter's Travels amongst others, thinks the book is great, saying...

"...an incredible and inspirational story. Ride, Cathy, Ride!"

Cathy's own comment on her adventures and her recommendation to everyone is:

"Don’t say no to any opportunity that comes your way, because life’s too short."

Cathy and Bernard's book 'Touching The World, A Blind Woman, Two Wheels, 25,000 Miles' was published at the end of August and retails at £12.99










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