CAN BLIND MEN RIDE BIKES?
by Paul White MSG Magazine January, 2006
A couple of blocks from MSG in Westminster, silver suited stiffs are arguing over flogging terrorists and all sorts of life destroying gubbins, but in this so-called workplace the daily row takes on a differing tone: “Course a blind man can’t ride a bike, he’d ride into stuff!” “Yeah but if he was on a clear road, he’d just have to keep his balance?”
Money and pride are now at stake. A Couple of taps on the interweave, a phone call, two weeks and seven mind-numbing, motorway hours later and we’re in Perthshire, Scotland – ready to watch some bumbling Blunketteer willing to give it a go. Journalism?
Whatever it was that gave blokes eyes obviously did it for a reason, yet here’s a fella who’s proving he doesn’t need them. With little guidance and the odd shout of “gate!” old meccano eyes is on a make-shift bike track, thrashing over rugby ball sized rocks, up steep hills, through rivers and over black ice, and what’s more – we can’t even keep up with him!
With dignity in one piece but with “80 arrears due to petrol tax, we rest in heather or something, (that’s a Scottish plant right?) “ on the edge of a freezing mountain in November. Laying paralysed by exercise our thoughts begin to tussle their way through what’s become worryingly heavy, tar affected wheezing. Why are we sat in the middle of what resembles an abandoned brave heart set with two complete strangers and a blind man” – Who for trampling eight miles on a bike is “nae bother?” Is it always this freezing cold here” And why are these dogs disobeying commands not to eat our chicken sandwiches?
After lunch and with breathing almost under control, 36 year-old registered blinker and confirmed mentalist, Dean Dunbar then shows us how to mind map a frosty waterfall for a future climb. Dean has a rare condition known as rod and cone dystrophy, which he’s had since the age of nine. It’s difficult for Dean to explain but basically he can only make out shapes, in 1996 a doctor told him he would be completely blind by the end of the year so he needed to learn Braille and get a guide dog, but Dean’s still clinging to what little sight he’s got left. And before he does see completely as a bat, Dean’s adopted a life mission: to try everything possible in extreme sports.
For Dean (like us) a bike ride is radical thing to do, yet his eyes were streaming afterwards because to close them for a second, would be fatal. Visibly shaking with fear and excitement his eyes were massive and he was smiling like an 80’s acid freak, Dean said: “It all started when someone was doing a parachute jump and I thought it would be a great idea. I had to do a tandem skydive because of my eyesight which I wasn’t very happy about but it was still amazing, when I hit the ground the adrenalin was going so high I thought, I’ve got to do more of this.’
So he and wife Rhona gave up their jobs, sold Rhona’s home and used the money to fund a trip through Nepal, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti and Chile, along the way they tried the most shit-pushing, high octane experiences known to man.
‘The 400 metre helicopter bungee jump I wouldn’t do again because it scared the hell out of me. You’re sat on the edge of the helicopter, at the time I weighed about 60 kilos but the rope itself was well over 70 so the rope I was attached to was heavier than I was, and as soon as the chopper was off the ground the weight was pulling me out of it and I’m thinking, “if I drop and we don’t get up high enough then I’m going to go splat.” Then when I jumped I remember looking at my feet expecting to see sky, it was the wrong colour, it was green and brown and I realized that I was the wrong way up so I was going feet first towards the ground, at the last second I did a back flip and pointed myself in the right direction just at the right time. Otherwise I was probably in for a back breaking injury, so it was very close.’
Another dump inducing experience for Dean was white water sledging, which is like body boarding only on scale 4 rapids:
‘At one point the river had a fork in it. They told me that I had to go right of the tree, if I went left they might not be able to rescue me as they’d not rescued anyone before who went that way. And I’m like, what tree” And the organizer said: “there’s a tree over there, can you see the tree?” And I couldn’t see it and he said that I had to go towards it because if I hugged the right hand side there were rocks. So at this point my stomachs churning, they got one of the guys to stand there with a bright yellow white water sledge and I couldn’t see him either! So he said you have to decide if you’re going to go for it or not and I’m like this is really stupid but I thought bugger it I’m going for it and thankfully I managed to take the right route.’
But for us Dean’s most bad-ass activity has to be the “Human Catapult’: “It was awesome, I had to “Roll myself up into a ball and only unroll once I had stopped bouncing on the safety net. The idea is, once you are attached and assume the position on the ground, they count to 3 and then you fly. Before I knew it, I was airborne. The action was really surprisingly smooth. I was in the air for 3 to 4 seconds, flying at around 70 kph. I did a few somersaults and then hit the net. The landing was a little heavy and I realised that a pair of thick gloves would have helped. But if a slightly grazed wrist was my only injury, I could hardly complain!!
Later when Dean was due to catapult again but couldn’t make it the similarly named Deanos died and the sport was closed. But that seems to be Dean’s luck, apart from chopping his finger off in a cooking accident and a few severe burns Dean seems to bumble through life just fine, a self- confessed adrenalin junkie he has done almost 30 extreme sports in the last three years with little injury. WDean said: “I have faith that I’m not going to kill myself. The people who are running the things are professionals and the extreme sports are calculated risks. I don’t want to die tommorow because there’s so many new sports coming out and I don’t want to miss any of them.’