Cofrin Park

Cofrin Park
Cofrin Nature Park

Sunday, May 31, 2015

DIARY OF A MAD ADVENTURER, BLIND AND BLESSED

Chuck Miller rides again. Sight impaired, yes. Courage impaired, no.

I just edited my friend Chuck's notes that he kept to chronicle his latest tandem bike ride adventure. This ride benefited families of fallen police officers in North Carolina. 

It took me nearly 4 hours of uninterrupted editing (because I'm extremely slow and a perfectionist about editing another person's writing.) Chuck's inspiring story of courage and determination, however, merited the work. Enjoy!

ENTER, CHUCK MILLER....
My May 2015 bike ride from Charlotte, North Carolina to Washington D.C.

May 8, 2015, 6:30am: Gainesville Regional Airport, Delta Airlines gate. First stop: Atlanta Georgia.
I had not been assigned a seat in Gainesville, so I proceeded to ask the gate attendant for a seat assignment.
“I know who you are.” I heard a woman’s voice say.
“I’m sure I’ve never met you,” I responded.
She persisted. “Yes, I saw you on FoxNews.com just the other day.”
I was speechless.  The gate attendant commented that she considered me a celebrity, and insisted I travel first class.  She escorted me onto the plane and introduced me to the flight attendant.  Unaccustomed to VIP status, I discreetly enjoyed my first time in first class.

Upon deplaning in Charlotte, my tandem bike pilot and friend, Richard Robinson, met me and we set out to ready Richard’s bike, the “co-motion,” for the trip. Fernando, Richard’s relative, loaded the bike into his van for transport to Mecklenburg Police Department, the starting point.  Then off to the dinner of champions: pizza and beer.

Day One: 94-Mile-Ride, Saturday May 9, 2015
Fernando dropped us at the Mecklenburg P.D. to begin the ride. A local TV station was on the scene. The reporter interviewed Richard and I; as we were both the first tandem bike riders, and I the first blind rider, to participate in the ride. The broadcast piece was entitled: “Blind Guy Rides to D.C. with the Police Department to Raise Money for Fallen Police Officer Families.” 

The ride would start an hour late, so I squelched my rising adrenaline until finally the police escorted us out of town. I felt freedom ring as our escorts blared their sirens—which mercifully unleashed my patient adrenaline. I love adrenaline.
Richard and I completed only 50.7 miles on day one, due to Tropical Wave Ana that had come ashore. The storm pounded us with 35-mile-an-hour winds. Headwinds combined with the rolling hills of North Carolina knocked us out for the day. We gratefully accepted a ride with Charlotte police officer Tyler and his wife in one of the police vans. Tyler had just completed his “Pursuit Training Certification” a few days earlier and was anxious to show off his new abilities. Who knew that a bike ride honoring the police department came with a terror-filled, car-chase-like scene from a movie? While my fingernails dug into the car-seat and anything else I could grab onto, my buddy Richard slept the entire time.  

Thankfully we arrived at our overnight spot in one piece and I vowed to never ride with Tyler again.  Beer never tasted so good. My over-worked adrenals loved their chance to restore themselves as I slept like a dog, a cat and maybe even a baby.
Day Two: 120-Mile-Ride, Sunday May 10, 2015, Mother’s Day
A windy, rainy day and miles of slippery road ahead that took us to Climax, a tiny North Carolina town. We did not feel it.

At mile 54.8, the bike tire blew out.  Richard insisted that it was my fault because the flat occurred on the back of the bike. Naturally, I disagreed.  Day two, and done. 
We waited for a volunteer to rescue us.  I prayed for anyone but Tyler. Prayers answered. Paul, a seasoned, 5-year volunteer, who also works civilian duties at the police department, pulled up in a Penske truck. Paul drove us the rest of the day to our next overnight spot. We franticly searched for new bike tires, in a town that had none. We ordered replacement tires, however they would not arrive until the afternoon of Day Three.

Enter, our (sneaky) savior, Chris Winkee, a national cycling champion riding with the police. Chris and crew concocted a plan that would allow us to ride the morning of Day Three. The details escape me, but I think it had something to do with moving tires around on unsuspecting riders’ bikes, leaving those riders with smaller tires. All is fair in love and riding?
Day Three: 130-Mile-Ride, May 11, 2015
Time to SAG. In cycling, SAG stands for “support and gear.” SAG stations and SAG cars offer help to bike riders in need of help with their bike or their person. Paul was our SAG driver and he chauffeured us for part of day three, so that we only had to ride the last 65.5 miles into Richmond Virginia for our overnight stay. (My prayer still works: No Terrifying Tyler in sight.) 

Back on the bike, our ride to Richmond took us through Spotsylvania, where we met the police who honored riders with an escort into scenic Richmond.  We crossed the James River and passed the Civil War Memorial. Statues of war heroes lined the median.  I smelled flowers and trees in full bloom which triggered my allergies and caused my eyes to water. Hundreds of bystanders cheered us on, as tears stained my cheeks. The cobblestone streets, not often found on biking trails, jarred me into deep gratitude and joy.   The lovely hotel where we stayed gifted us with food and BEER. Thank you—my adrenaline and allergies really needed beer.
Day Four: 152-Mile-Ride, May 12, 2015
Richard stated that we would SAG the first 70 miles to ensure that we could do the last leg of the journey into D.C.  The last 31 miles of the ride included a D.C. police escort, guaranteed to stir emotion, and we didn't want to miss it. 

After lunch we took off first to get a head start.  For 90 minutes Richard and I outpaced the pack for 40 miles, passing one rest stop by mistake.  Five miles past the rest stop several riders caught up with us to let us know we had passed it.  We decided to press on and offered to let the other riders draft off of us.  Drafting refers to being pulled in the wake of another bike.  A tandem offers a great draft.  Once we arrived at the next stop the riders told us they would have never made it without our help. 

As we rode into D.C., cheering crowds greeted us. Richard and I pulled ahead of the group. While dodging dangerous potholes, a motorcycle cop pulled us over, which escalated the stress I already felt riding on a substandard roadway. He said we were going too fast and that if we got out in front of the group again he would ticket us.  Guess he’s not a fan of group rides. A little ditty began to play in my head, “every party has a pooper…”

We arrived at the hotel with fanfare and congratulations. My allergies became overwhelmed again. I need a tissue…Bikes stored, tears showered and pressed, we danced off to dinner (and perhaps a beer.) 

Day Five: Free Day, May 13, 2015
What to do in Washington, D.C.?  How about a tour of the White House and the U.S. Capitol?  Capital idea. We left the hotel at 6:30am and walked to the White House.  After going through the security checks we made it into the basement. A secret service agent approached me and told me that they offered a special mini tour for people with blindness. He asked Richard and me to follow him. 
As we walked, I touched the wall that had been burned during the British siege of 1812.  I hope this wall doesn’t trigger my allergies. A few steps later, we nearly bumped into President Obama’s oldest daughter Malia, who was helping with the main tour. 

Our private tour led to the kitchen where we exchanged greetings with the chef as he prepared the noon meal for the Obamas.  We entered the president’s private dining room and I touched the president’s chair. I know what you’re thinking—I should have sat in the president’s chair! 
Finally the agent took us over to the walls of each room that were covered with material from different countries. He allowed me to touch them.  By touching those walls, each with a different material, I could determine what room I was in. 

Following the White House tour, we walked to the capitol, toured it, and then walked to Union Station for lunch.  Finally we walked to the war memorials and ended up at the Lincoln Memorial.  Resting a few minutes we walked back to the hotel.  Recommendation: after riding over 250 miles in 4 days, one should not walk 10 miles the very next day for recovery.
That night we attended the Fallen Police Memorial service candlelight vigil in Judiciary Square. Police officers from all over the country showed up to pay their respects. I noticed a lot of allergy sufferers in the crowd, me included.

Day Six: HOMEWARD BOUND, May 14, 2015
We loaded onto the bus bound for Charlotte with the exuberance and sadness of kids leaving a fantastic summer camp experience. The bus broke down about 25 miles outside of Charlotte. A replacement bus arrived one hour later and we were back on the road to reality.

May 16, 2015: Back in my own bunk.
Adrenaline now calmed, but allergies, once again, keep my awake, yet full of gratitude for my adventure and the people who helped me to realize it.
I owe y'all another beer!

(EDITOR'S NOTE:  I did not take the photos. Will credit the photographer when I get the info.)

1 comment:

  1. Awesome read....very inspiring!!

    ReplyDelete

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