This is a good film to watch.
I found it when looking for information about or from other blind mountain bikers. There are not many of us.
Watch the movie first, then i’ll mention a few things that caught my attention (thought I was going to say eye, right?) and piqued my interest.
So the first thing I have to admit is how much respect I have for Bobby’s perseverance through so many medical difficulties, way beyond my experience. I identified strongly with his diagnosis description, when he was referred to an ophthalmologist because he ‘had something going on’. Similarly, I went to an optometrist to have my vision checked as I had noticed my right eye becoming blurrier and thought I needed a new prescription. The optometrist told me she couldn’t help, and believed I had glaucoma. I was referred to an ophthalmologist for an emergency inspection the next day, and sent home with a pamphlet describing the permanent and irreversible vision loss caused by glaucoma, a.k.a ‘The Vision Thief’. Suffice to say I did not sleep well that night.
His description of riding visually impaired is very good. He focus on hearing and following his guide, but if he loses track of his guide focus on a) color b) shape and c) Contrast. This is basically what I do too. If it’s very bright out, my eyes tire quickly in the very high contrast light, and brightly lit, light colored objects get blown out so I can’t see them well. Wearing sunglasses minimizes the blowing out of details, but also lowers the contrast, and contrast is good. Wearing a pair of yellow tinted glasses can sometimes help boost this contrast between roots or rocks and the trail.
While the slopes he’s on don’t seem that steep in the video, I know that things are always much scarier, steeper and faster in person. He crashes and falls off several times which is to be expected, after all, there are inherent risks involved with mountain biking and testing one’s limits. I’m sure most doctors would strongly discourage most visually impaired people from pursuing mountain biking. Not being able to see objects, details and shape well increase those risks, but I find most errors and accidents happen when a) getting scared and tensing up or b) looking directly at a hazard (target fixation; if you focus on an object that you are trying to avoid, you end up hitting it because you are staring at it). My policy is ‘When in doubt, gaze where you want to go, relax, and trust your bike’. That is probably terrible advice, i’ll have to come back to this later.
Importance of a Guide
I hadn’t given a lot of thought to the importance of a guide, but two main ideas stood out, reliance and responsibility. It sucks to be reliant on others, and I assume most visually impaired bikers are fiercely independent like me. However, most of trails, mountains and events are far from the city, only reachable by car. Once there, well let’s be honest, a guide is the most important part of getting down a mountain safely. Hopefully someone who knows your abilities, and what light conditions may be especially troubling for your particular visual needs.
I would like to learn more about how Bobby works with guides, trains new ones, and uses communication to help reach the bottom.
Guides are awesome people. The are riding the trails themselves, but also need to consider the person behind them. During events, the give up competition to help someone else, and are taking responsibility for this person’s health. If you asked me 3 years ago to guide a blind person down a mountain I’d say you were nuts. Strange to now find myself making the nutty request.
Representing Blind Vision
It’s weird for me to watch video or photographic representations of what a blind person sees. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be done, I just think it’s incredibly difficult to do. Eyes aren’t static like a video camera. I can tell that my eyes dart around to scan and identify things much faster than before in order to help compensate for reduced peripheral vision. Lost peripheral vision doesn’t appear like a large black shadow around your sight like vignetting in photography. Your body and brain compensate. I’m not sure if it’s possible, but i’d be interested in illustrating how various different types of vision loss are experienced. I think it requires literal description on top of just pictures and video.
One of my favorite parts of the movie is when someone asks Bobby how he knew what flavor of Clif bar he grabbed. I guess the thinking was that maybe he had a memory or organization technique. Nope, things like that just don’t matter so much. The difference between sugar and salt matters, but small differences like peanut butter or chocolate chip flavor? I feel like with vision loss, the importance of these smaller things in life gets smaller and smaller.
To be continued
I’m glad I found this movie. It is incredibly comforting to know you are not alone on any journey. I’m left with a few questions though. Where can I find out more about how he uses guides and trains guides? Does Bobby McMullen still race? Most information and articles I found are from around 2010. This includes articles on pinkbikecom ( Blind Bobby), Santa Cruz bikes (team rider), but his instagram and website links to blindracing.com are not working. Looks like his Facebook profile still has him actively racing and speaking, awesome.
Hopefully the story continues, and there are more inspiring adventures to hear and learn about.
Thanks for being awesome to Bobby, the film makers, all his supporters and sponsors.