Chris Mairs is crossing the United States on a Tandem Bike traveling over 3600 miles in his 60 miles for 60 days fund raising adventure.
A Line of Sight, that’s ALineOfSight.org.uk
Initiative is to raise $40 per mile to assist 3600 people transform their lives with a surgery for cataracts. I posted a message from his blog page below so you can read all about his A Line of Sight fund raiser.
Chris talks about his mother’s commitment to “No MollyCuddle” and how she prepared him and his siblings for the future.
Chris talks about the ride and being blind and gives Transition age students some advice. Chris himself being a college graduate has also succeeded in business and his words are something to listen to.
I did not know Chris before; however, I have been reading his blogs on the ALineOfSight.org.uk and have enjoyed his writings and humor.
Chris and his team passed through Minnesota and I just had to reach out and believe me, I am glad that I got a chance to share a few moments with Chris Mairs.
I hope you take a look at Chris’s A Line of Sight web page and help make a difference.
Here is a note taken from Chris’s web site:
I have been registered blind since the age of 18 and turned 60 in early 2017. Although my condition, degenerative RP, is not treatable, I have been incredibly fortunate to live in the developed world. My education, my career and my personal life have all provided me with immense opportunities in a life that has been filled with pleasure and purpose.
However, most of the 39 million blind people in the developing world are not so lucky. Blindness is an isolating and frightening disability with crippling economic impact. The family of someone without sight loses two incomes, one from the blind person themselves and one from the family member who becomes their full time carer.
But the most common cause of sight loss in the world, cataracts, can be cured at a cost of only £30 or $40 per surgical intervention.
I cannot boil the ocean, nor can I save the world, but with your help we will transform 3,600 lives. On June 18th 2017 I am riding a tandem across America from Oregon to New Hampshire. By raising £30/$40 for every mile we ride, we will restore sight to 3,600 people through low cost, highly effective cataract surgery undertaken by our partner See International.
Why 3,600 interventions? Two simple reasons:
• I am pledging to cure 60 people of blindness for each year or my life so far.
• This just happens to be the approximate distance from Astoria, Oregon to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Averaging somewhat over 60 miles a day, we will complete the ride in a little under 60 days, providing a perfect backbone for my 60×60@60 pledge.
I am incredibly lucky to have 2 co-riders, James and Alastair, who will be sharing the front seat of the tandem. Alastair is in charge from Astoria to Sioux Falls, where he will step aside for fresh horses, a.k.a. James.
See complete transcription below.
Chris Mairs: Tandem Bicycling Across America For Blindness
No mollycoddling, and what mollycoddling means is it’s like protecting somebody, wrapping them in cotton and wool, but actually at a time I think my Mom realized that if she’d provided us with too much protection, then in later life we may not have had the confidence and the self-esteem that would allow us to succeed.
I know that personally if I hadn’t had that early freedom to fall then, I’m pretty sure that I would not later learn to fly.
Find yourself a college or university where the staff are supportive and then use that support to the utmost and get through it, then that will set you in incredibly good stead for a career where the lack of sight becomes less and less important.
So how’s it going?
It’s going well, I think we’re about 2/3 of the way across from Astoria to New Hampshire, did 60 miles this morning, yeah it’s going well.
Before we get started Chris, 3,600 miles.
Can you just tell me what drove you to cross America?
Good question so I’m 60 years old this year so I did a end-to-end ride across the UK five years ago now, which is about a thousand miles, and from Land’s End to John O’Groats.
And I was thinking well, when I’m 60 what can I do as a sort of, another sort of fundraising cycle ride, and I thought well if I did 60 miles a day for 60 days, at the age of 60, then that’s got a certain ring to it.
60 by 60 at 60.
So that’s 3,600 miles so I started looking for a route that was 3,600 miles long.
And I found this route from all the way across the states from Oregon to New Hampshire.
Welcome to Blind Abilities, I’m Jeff Thompson.
Today I’m talking to Chris Mears, he’s a blind tandem bicycle rider headed across United States, he’s from England and set course 3,600 miles across the United States going west to east, on an event he calls 60 60, a celebration for his birthday, but the initiative is much bigger and meaningful than that, and Chris will be able to tell you about a line of sight.
How are you doing Chris?
Hey Jeff good to talk to you.
Yes indeed, I am doing surprisingly well for someone who’s spent the last four and a half weeks sitting on the back of a tandem.
I think we’ve done about 2,500 miles, we’re averaging 80 miles a day and the purpose of the ride is to raise money for cataract surgery in the developing world.
So I’m actually blind myself, I have a version of retinitis pigmentosa that is not curable.
Wwhat I discovered earlier this year is that the most common cause of blindness in the world is cataracts, and amazingly you can can restore sight to someone who has cataracts in the developing world for the princely sum of $40.00, so with $40.00, we can actually transform someone’s life, so I figured that if I could raise $40.00 for each mile that I ride across America, then that’s about 3,600 miles and we could restore sight to 3,600 people which feels to me like a pretty worthwhile sort of target.
Yeah, what a great cause Chris.
Being able to transform 3,600 people’s lives for $40.00 a piece, that’s awesome.
And what a selfless way to celebrate your birthday, 60 by 60 Chris.
So yeah I’m sixty this year, so sixty miles a day for sixty days, that was my target, and so that’s three thousand six hundred.
In fact we’re probably gonna do more like 80 miles a day because we’re doing it on a supported ride, so everything is running to a very tight schedule so we do it in 50 days and with a three or four rest days in the middle.
So we average about 80 miles per day when we’re actually riding.
I think our longest day was 119, and today was quite a short one, we did sixty miles today and we were in the hotel by lunch time which is very nice.
Yeah I was reading one of your posts, I think it was from La Crosse to Fond du Lac in Wisconsin, the 119 miles.
I lose track with the….
Key word cheese curds.
Cheese curds yes.
We’ve, we’ve powered by cheese curds yes.
We’ve ridden several several days that have been over a hundred miles and, and it’s all a bit of a blur at this stage.
Chris I got this from one of your blog’s, can you explain speed dating on a tandem?
Oh yes, when I decided to do this ride, and one of the big challenges apart from just getting fit enough to do it myself, was actually finding somebody else who could give up seven weeks out of their life to actually do this slightly crazy enterprise.
Fortunately I have a friend who’s also completely blind who introduced me to one of his friends, and so now you know, James might be interested in doing this with you, so I had just emailed James and he said he’d love to do it.
He couldn’t do the whole thing but he had a roommate who could possibly do the other half.
So introduced me to Alister who I’d never met before.
Alister has never ridden a tandem before, so we had a conversation, seems like a reasonable sort of gu.
Came down to where I live in England and we had a practice ride.
Didn’t kill me so that was good, he’s a really strong rider, James is a really strong rider as well, so then basically Alister did the first half until Sioux Falls, and then when we got to Sioux Falls I got fresh horses in the form of James taking over on the front of the tandem.
[Horses sound effect]
Chris now you’re in the back but there’s a name for each position, the front person and the back person?
Yes so the guy on the front is typically called the captain or the pilot, and the guy on the back which is of course me, is the stoker.
You know Chris I’ve been listening to your blog and you know you’re riding with these people for over a hundred miles a day sometimes and the chitchat, the camaraderie that goes on, that must be really interesting conversations?
Yes so there’s a, so yeah there is a group of about 40 of us doing the ride, and yeah as you say you build a certain amount of camaraderie over going through the tough times, and you start talking over breakfast with these people who three weeks ago were complete strangers, and you’re talking about things that you really would not expect to talk to strangers about, usually to do with discomfort from sitting on a saddle for several weeks.
I can just imagine.
Knowing the geography of United States pretty good, what was it like coming across you know, you started out west there, headed east over the mountains, what was that like coming through the Rockies?
Started in Oregon and then we crossed over the Teton Pass and the, I’m not sure I can pronounce this, the Togwotee Pass, I think they were in Idaho, but apologies if I’ve got that wrong they might have just been into Wyoming by then, anyway that was the Continental Divide where we got up to about nine thousand six hundred feet I think, which is way way way higher than I’ve ever cycled because, the highest mountains in the UK are only four thousand feet so, yeah this is completely new territory for me.
Like they say everything’s bigger in America.
Everything’s bigger and better of course.
So being at such high altitudes for the first time, did you notice any difference?
Just at that point, you’re just starting to get to the nine and a half thousand, you’re just started to get the point where the oxygen is getting a bit thinner, so I don’t know to be honest, whether it was the oxygen being thinner or just the amount of climbing we’d had to do, but sure enough I was pretty, pretty exhausted by the time that we got to the top.
Chris you mentioned that you had RP from such an early age, and you know by eighteen you’re riding bikes anymore, but what led you back into bicycling?
Well, when I was young my passion was water skiing and alpine skiing.
When I was in my early fifties I had both my hips replaced so I was looking for something where I could actually still get some exercise, and get a reasonable amount of exhilaration which you get on the back of a tandem when you’re racing down a hill at about 40 miles an hour, that’s exciting enough for me.
So something that would give me exercise and wind in my hair, and that sort of thing, and tandem cycling seemed like a good alternative.
Chris what’s it like for you traveling across America from Oregon all the way to where you are now at least, you’re going through hills, mountains, the flat lands, and without sight, what’s that like for you on the back of a tandem?
Well it’s interesting actually because we did a, I covered this in one of my blog posts.
We had a day where we went up to Mount Rushmore, and everybody else in the group was going “this is an amazing day’s ride” they really loved it, and I’m thinking this is one of the worst days on the whole ride, it’s like the road the hills are too steep, the descents are so steep that you can’t enjoy them, the roads are too bus,y the shoulders terrible, it’s too hot, I mean this is a miserable day.
And the reason really why everybody else thought it was great and I thought he was just hard work was that they were enjoying all the visual sensations on that particular day you know, we’ve gone to this iconic iconic Mount Rushmore, and we’d gone through the Black Hills, so apparently some pretty amazing scenery, and that was what was sort of motivating them, but for me, I was, it was just another day’s riding.
So ironically the days that I find the most interesting are the ones where you know, we’re just going through the sort of flat bits of Idaho, Wyoming, or whatever.
Where the road is got a good surface, maybe you’ve got a tailwind, and you’re just moving along very nicely at 20 miles an hour, that’s fine.
So I think the lack of visual stimulus is probably the only thing that’s a significant challenge.
If you’ve got a good captain on the front of the bike, and to some extent, it’s easier, I mean all I have to do is just pedal, the poor guy on the front has got to navigate and all the other stuff as well, so it’s fine.
Oh yeah the Black Hills, I was out there for ski for light. There’s one hill that was 7200 feet up.
A lot of up and downs.
Chris when did you realize that vision loss was something that you would have to accept?
So actually my condition is a hereditary condition and my elder sister was diagnosed with the same problem, so by the time I was 2 years old they’d already diagnosed that I had a form of retinitis pigmentosa and I could still ride a bike when I was a young kid, but by the time I was 18 it wasn’t safe to be riding a bike.
I couldn’t really read anymore.
So over a period of many many years, I gradually adopted and adapted to different, different techniques, and I only started riding a tandem about six years ago now.
So I had a long period when I didn’t do any cycling at all, but now I’m quite addicted to the tandem riding.
Chris I always enjoyed reading your blogs and one of them was you talking about your Mom telling you no Mollycoddle.
Can you explain to her and listeners what she meant by no Mollycoddle?
Yeah so this was my Mother brought up a family with five children, all of whom had sight loss, and we all turn out to have pretty successful lives one way or another, we all got very good academic results, and had successful careers, built long-term marriages and so on, and just before my mother died I was asking her, what she was most proud about in her life, and after a little bit of thought she said “Bringing up a family of five partially sighted children so successfully.”
And I said, well what do you attribute that?
And she paused for a bit and then said “No mollycoddling”
And what mollycoddling means is, it’s like protecting somebody, wrapping them in cotton wool, and the her approach to bringing us all up, and I think it might have been the necessity of trying trying to look after five children on her own, but her basic approach was to let us get on with it, so you know when I was six years old I walked to school on my own, when I was 8 years old I went shopping with my four-year-old brother.
When I was 10 years old I was like chopping wood, when I was a 12 year old I was wielding a small armory of power tools, and you know today, people would probably raise their eyebrows a bit and think, “Hmm, I’m not sure that’s terribly health and safety conscious?”
But actually at the time I think my Mum realized that if she’d provided us with too much protection, then in later life we may not have had the confidence and the self esteem that would allow us to succeed, and I know that personally if I hadn’t had that, that early freedom to fall then I’m pretty sure that I would not later have learn to fly, metaphorically speaking.
Learn to fly, I like that.
You know it’s really something that you had a strong advocate in your Mother at such an early age.
Yes yeah I mean she was I mean, at the time it didn’t always feel that that helpful but, you know in hindsight it’s very much made me who I am.
Right, right, it seems like you’re really determined because, you know a thousand miles in England, then to take on at age 60 to come across United States, and do you 60 miles, 60 days in a row across the United States, 3,600 miles plus, you know that shows determination, and pretty much relates to what we call self-determination here, and students in the transition age group, you know going from high school to college to the workplace, that’s something that they really have to develop.
Could you tell us a little bit about your college and your career?
I have a degree in computer science from Cambridge, so that very much took me naturally into the technology space.
I was a programmer for a few years and then moved on and co-founded a technology business which still now employs about 700 people.
I’m not really involved in that anymore, most of my time now is spent working with young entrepreneurs in high-technology businesses, providing them with advice, mentoring, and doing a bit of [inaudible].
That’s very impressive, I mean very impressive.
Keeps me out of trouble.
Yeah, keeps you on the bike.
[Bike bell ringing sound effect]
Chris, being a Cambridge graduate and successful in your career, what advice would you have for someone who is transitioning from high school to college to the workplace?
I think realistic self belief is pretty important.
It’s very easy sometimes to just go this is all a bit difficult, I’m not going to, I can’t cope, or I’m not going to do that, actually if you do just force yourself through, then certainly for me, that’s proved to be immensely valuable.
And again for me, my lecturers and everybody at university was incredibly supportive.
So find yourself a college or university where the staff are supportive and then use that support to the utmost and get through it.
Then that will set you in incredibly good stead for a career where your lack of sight becomes less and less important.
The more qualifications and expertise you have, the less important it is that you can’t actually see.
That’s well put.
Here’s a question for you, what kind of alternative devices do you use for everyday life?
Well I use an iPhone with voiceover which is absolutely brilliant, you know it’s it’s one of the great ways that I interact with social media, and with the internet, and so on.
I do use a laptop with Jaws.
I’m thinking of moving over to a Mac, so I think you know with the combination of Jaws or a Mac and a smartphone, it’s pretty, pretty okay to access a lot of information on the internet.
I get very frustrated when websites try and do something fancy for sighted people which then makes it impossible for blind people to actually access something that was previously quite straightforward.
I’m sure that you’ve got plenty of other people who you talk to who have exactly the same problems.
Just curious Chris, is there any devices that you have along with you that are exclusively because you’re blindness, something that you’ve adapted, or some alternative device that you use?
No I don’t think there are actually.
You know for, we’ve got a, I mean we’ve got a Garmin on the bike but I, that’s that’s not accessible to me, so I just use a couple of apps on my iPhone if I want to do things like, tracking my heart rate then, and any app on the, not any, but there are many accessible apps on the iPhone with the heart rate monitor, you can find out what you need to find out.
I’m waiting for the day when we have a piece of technology that will actually allow me to ride a bike without having a captain on the front, so when I can go back to riding a solo bike.
But I think that’s gonna be a few years away yet.
Well Chris, AIRA, the visual interpreter for the blind.
Instant access to the information right there on the road, you know, you might need two of them, one in the rear view to.
So Chris what is the target date, where’s the finish line?
August the 7th.
And you’re right on schedule.
And we’re counting down the days, yep.
Chris can you tell our listeners where they can follow your blog on the web?
So the website is called alineofsight.org.uk.
So that is http / / alineofsight .org .uk.
And they can subscribe to your newsletter?
They can indeed.
I am blogging as we speak actually.
I’ve just written my first draft of today’s blog and when we finish speaking I just got to do a bit of Wikipedia and Google research, and then it’ll be done for the day.
And Chris, what part of England are you from?
And so I live in Bath which is to the west of England.
And both my co-writers, and they’re actually studying to do, they’re studying their PhDs in Edinburgh University.
And what kind of tandem bike are you riding?
We are using a Commotion Speedster which interestingly was built in Oregon.
I had her shipped over to the UK to do the Lands End to John O’Groats ride and, so then she came back home, back to Oregon to start start this ride.
Well thank you very much Chris for coming on to Blind Abilities, taking your time out of your busy schedule, you know 60 over 60, 60 miles, 60 days across the United States and you know, and sharing your initiative,alineofsight.org.uk, and it’s such a great initiative that you’re doing, you know forty dollars to help someone change their life and if you’re listening, go check out alineofsight.org.uk and help transform a life, help make a difference, and thank you so much Chris.
It’s been an absolute pleasure Jeff, thank you very much.
It was great talking to Chris Mears, and a great big thanks to Chee Chau for providing us with some beautiful music.
Thank You Chee Chau and that’s lcheechau on Twitter.
Thank You Chee Chau.
This has been a Blind Abilities production.
We thank you for listening, and until next time bye-bye.
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