As a blind person, there are a few things that are more difficult (and on occasion, plain terrifying) for me to do. Travelling and exploring independently is one of those. When I’m with people, no problem at all: jumping off a platform into empty air, I nearly broke the harness by leaping off too enthusiastically. Climbing a volcano, I came back with pockets full of pretty rocks. Crossing a glacier, I sang Let it Go in the freezing rain (yes, really). But the thought of doing any of this without people there to do it with me daunts me more than most other things in life. But that’s just me: there are plenty of gutsy blind people who strike out alone and I wanted to tell you about a few of them.
Trevor is known as the ‘only professional blind Hiker’. Unwilling to give up his extreme sports when he lost his sight, he uses his phone (and when that fails, the experience of people coming the other way) to provide the information he needs to find his way and gage the difficulty of the terrain ahead. In 2008 (before much of this
technology came about), he was the first unassisted blind man to complete the gruelling 2100 mile walk up and down mountains and across rivers that is the Appalachian Trail.
(Note: Special mention also has to go to Bill Irwin, the first ever blind man to achieve this, who accomplished it with the aid of his guide dog Orient back in 1990. When crossing rivers, he only had the sound of Orient’s barks to guide him safely to shore.)
Rachael was the first blind person to complete the Iditarod, the world famous dog sledding race across the wilds of Alaska. She has competed in the race several times, along with many other eminent sledding events across the US. While usually she (like many other blind people who compete in winter sports) has the aid of a sighted guide who travels a distance behind her and relays hazard warnings via radio, she has been left without even that before. Most notable was the 2006 Iditarod where she became separated from her guide, lost the trail and had to guide her dogs to the next checkpoint alone, traversing rough and risky terrain like jumble ice (which is as nasty as it sounds).
Tony is both deaf and blind and has explored 127 countries solo. He uses a white cane to get around and carries a computer with him, loaded with pre-prepared directions and contact details; he chooses not to use a smartphone, preferring instead a card with his destination on it that he can show people if all else fails. When describing how he explores, he mentions the feel of cities under his feet, ancient stone under his hand, monuments beneath him and wind on his face when coming out of a forest but also the smell of the market place and the thrill of being surrounded by people. He says he intends to carry on travelling until he has visited every country.