Navigating a bicycle through and over New York City's streets, highways and bridges on a good day is cause for stress. Add on pelting rain, bracing winds, crater sized potholes and the responsibility of a blind cycling partner brings on a bit more anxiety.
Last Sunday along with 38,000 riders we pedaled a tandem bike 42 plus miles through all of NYC five boroughs during the 2009 Five Borough Bike Tour. Imagine riding along the BQE with bay and ocean winds in your face. Or speeding down the center lane of a car-free Varrazano Bridge hooting and hollering with joy and frozen feet. Get the picture? Or should I say, "Feeling"?
As a volunteer with the Achilles Track Club, Sunday's ride was my first on a tandem bike. Partnering with the funny, intelligent, curious, energetic Eliza, we set off to explore and conquer New York City's highways and byways. Eliza had just one request. “I’m relatively new to New York so, would you please "describe where we ride."
Think you have good communication skills? Give them a test while seated in front of a blind athlete on a bicycle through New York and see how you fare. I teach communication skills and I was amazed over how many details I became aware of as I acted as guide. How, for example do you describe the steel, lace lattice work of the Madison Avenue Bridge to someone who's never 'seen' steel lace lattice and may never have the opportunity? "To your left is Roosevelt Island where the remains of the Small Pox Hospital stands like an old man with crumbling bones. And directly in front of us at twelve o'clock, I can just make out the spires of the Williamsburg Bridge peaking through the fog.”
Biking with a visually impaired athlete on a tandem is an exercise in mutual trust and I was especially nervous about the responsibility. But my anxiety began to subside as we rode through the darkened and echoed underpass below New York Hospital where thousands of riders screamed and hooted and Eliza exclaimed, “Wow, this is so incredible!” Incredible indeed.
Without going into a travelogue, the best part of the ride for me came when we sped down the Varazzano Bridge at 35 mph, rain pelted our faces and Eliza screamed, “I feel soooooo Alive!” I too, felt more alive than I have in a very long time.
The event ended at the Staten Island Ferry Station where wet and tired riders sailed back to Manhattan. With other Achilles’ athletes and volunteers splayed across the ferry’s seats, Eliza and I decided that we would pedal from Battery Park back to Central Park instead of taking the subway. “I want the full experience,” she said. “Why not,” I responded. “We are so Alive.”