Blind Australian Brothers Finish Bike Ride across Continent
Blind siblings Dean and Lorin Nicholson (and their pilot riders Grant Williams and John Eder) have ridden through rain, dust, mud, heat, cold, wind, thunderstorms and unmentionable liquids coming from sheep and cattle trucks – but nothing has deterred them. Over the past month, these four supreme athletes, aged 32 to 41, have crossed some of Australia’s roughest terrain, riding six days out of seven and hopping back on their bikes, day after day without complaint. After travelling a distance of 4,120 kilometres (and spending nearly 146 hours in the saddle) the Blind Courage team arrived safely on April 26th at their target destination – the iconic sails of the Sydney Opera House. Their entrance into Sydney was an impressive sight as they were accompanied by a police escort, complete with flashing lights. Video footage of their arrival can be seen here.
“We’ve had a pretty gruelling month and it’s been full of challenges but it’s also been an amazing adventure at the same time” said Lorin. John, his pilot rider, had a slightly more tongue-in-cheek description of their epic journey. He commented that “Riding your bike is like banging your thumb with a hammer. It feels better when you stop.”
Dean and Lorin were born with retinitis pigmentosa and have been legally blind their entire lives. They have always tried to be independent and live as normal a life as possible and due to their patience, courage and positive attitudes, they have accomplished some amazing goals despite their seemingly insurmountable challenges.
Dean is an environmental scientist and qualified accountant. Lorin is an experienced remedial massage therapist as well as a professional musician. He is also a highly sought after motivational speaker with his own business (see https://www.seesharp.com.au/ )
Both brothers are happily married and they each have four children (all of whom have perfect vision). Their determination and focus have enabled them to achieve their recent challenge of a lifetime – a history making tandem bike ride from Perth to Sydney.
Crossing the vast country of Australia on two wheels meant the Blind Courage team were at the mercy of the elements and despite their preparation and training for about six months prior to the ride, it was an extreme test of their fitness and endurance. Sitting on a tiny, hard seat for seven or eight hours a day whilst traversing rough, bumpy roads is not for the faint-hearted. Aching joints, throbbing muscles and tender rear extremities meant that even walking became difficult at the end of a long day. Having to dodge large trucks, buses, locusts and flies and enduring numerous flat tires and broken spokes also tested their mental fortitude.
To stay motivated, the riders focused on three benefits which they were experiencing as a result of undertaking their journey. These were –
(1) None of them had to turn up for work in the morning.
(2) They all got to stop regularly and eat whatever they wanted, in whatever quantity they wanted, without worrying about putting on weight. They ate like horses – or if they were really hungry, like a flock of seagulls fighting over a hot chip. An added bonus was the fact that they didn’t have to prepare anything or do the washing up.
(3) Every kilometre they traveled was one kilometre closer to their families and friends who were waiting at the final destination. As part of the victory celebrations, a special family reunion was planned because it had been 14 years since the entire Nicholson clan were able to gather together.
During their trip, the riders met many wonderful people who generously supported and encouraged them. They also had some funny and memorable experiences such as when Dean and Grant met the subject of John Williamson’s well-known song, Old Man Emu. The bird was running along a fence line and Grant couldn’t resist the challenge of a 400 yard dash – even though Dean was on the back of his tandem bike. The emu was all set to claim a gold medal for his sprint, until he lost his footing and went ace over base in a most ungraceful manner, with feathers and drumsticks flying in all directions. Being the acrobatic type of creature that he was, he quickly picked himself up, found his feet and started running in the opposite direction. He had decided to quit while he was behind.
The riders also travelled along Australia’s longest straight road – a stretch of 146.6 kilometres. (For those who are metrically challenged, its more common name is the 90 Mile Straight). They were surprised to find some pretty interesting trees along the Nullarbor plain. Along with the usual bushland shrubbery, there were “shoe” trees, “jumper” trees, “underwear” trees and all manner of trees decorated with items left behind by travellers. One day after having six flat tyres in a row, the boys were almost tempted to follow the Nullarbor tradition and start a “tyre and tube” tree.
At one of the resting points on their trip, the team noticed a warning sign had been erected at the campground kiosk which read : “Beware – mice in residence at this park”. Unfortunately John, Lorin and Dean had a couple of furry little critters take up occupancy in the KEA motor home they slept in at night. To paraphrase the Three Blind Mice nursery rhyme …… did you ever see such a sight in your life as .. two blind brothers creeping around in the dark trying to trap mice with their bare hands. Against all odds however, they actually succeeded! They cornered one of the furry intruders in a cereal box and the cardboard carton, complete with mouse, was hastily evicted from the motor home.
Another little nuisance they encountered was a plague of locusts. These unwelcome visitors can devastate a farmer’s livelihood in a single night. Lorin quickly learnt to keep his mouth shut whilst he was riding so as to avoid giving the kiss of death to one of these ugly little grasshoppers. Turning the other cheek took on a whole new meaning for these Christian cyclists as they reluctantly shared their road space with this swarm of flying pests.
Australia is one of the driest continents in the world and their ride took them across areas which were usually arid and drought-stricken. At one point in their journey, a good deal of the land’s annual rainfall decided to tumble down on the riders. As the precious resource fell, rainfall records were broken. Perhaps it was nature’s way of synchronizing with the record breaking feat which the riders were attempting to achieve.
The reason for the Blind Courage expedition was threefold :
(1) to become the first blind people to ride tandem bikes more than 4000 kms across Australia
(2) to raise $300,000 for Vision Australia (which equates to $1 for every blind or vision impaired person in Australia)
(3) to change the public perception of what a vision impaired person is capable of achieving and in the process, inspire all Australians to follow their dreams.
After enduring and enjoying this amazing adventure, the Blind Courage tandem bike riders are now a part of Australian history.
(See https://www.blindcourage.com/ for photos and a comprehensive travel blog of their journey)