CHOOSING TO SEE:
A BLIND EXPEDITION
ON JUNE 10TH, 2022 Shawn Cheshire and her team joined the Grand Depart for the Tour Divide, a bikepacking race from Banff, Alberta along the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route through Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico to finish at the US-Mexico border station of Antelope Wells, New Mexico.
The route winds through the majestic landscapes of the Canadian Rockies, the Great Basin, and remote Rocky Mountain Passes all while criss-crossing the Great Divide over the 2,700+ mile mountain bike route.
50 days later, Shawn and her team crossed the finish line together, making Shawn the first blind person in history to complete this was a truly awe-inspiring undertaking.
What follows are some team reflections of this incredible world-record feat.
Without traffic, they had only the trail to focus on. And thank goodness they could focus all of their attention on it.
It was a massive challenge each and every day. Jesse and Scott were tasked with picking the safest line and communicating it to Shawn. And Shawn was tasked with having to follow the music playing from the back of the front bike and listen to the words shared with her through the Sena helmet.
This was a monumental undertaking!
Even the smoothest trail offers bumps and rocks and inconsistencies that escape the watchful eyes of the guides. There is never a moment when Shawn could let her mind wander, never a moment when she could be anything but 100% focused on piloting her bicycle.
Every day the unexpected came calling.
Gravel roads climbed into mountainous rock gardens. Dirt paths turned to single track washouts. At times, it seemed that Murphy's Law was the reality. Rocks and logs and ditches were the rule, not the exception. Navigating through snow and mud, rocks and ruts, ups and downs had us all at our wits end.
On an adventure like this, they all were searching for things we could predict, things they could expect, and things they could control. Through their work together, they learned how to conquer the hardest obstacles in our path: The snow, mud, rocks, hills.
Through it all, they worked with each other and met dozens of amazing riders and trail angels as we made it through each day.
Over the miles and weeks of riding, Shawn rode her bike over giant mountain passes, pushed her bike through snow, pedaled through sandy washouts, and down rock strewn roads that challenge all riders, let alone a rider who cannot see.
It was a challenge. Every single day.
They had a handful of rest days to recharge their bodies and especially their minds. As they got closer to the border and "smelled" the finish line, they pushed. They pushed to stay sharp, they pushed to communicate, they pushed to accomplish the goal of working as a team to make Shawn the first blind person to ride the Tour Divide race, the first blind person to ride their own single mountain bike from Banff, Alberta to Antelope Wells, New Mexico.
On the last day of riding, our 50th day on the adventure, they pedaled through the arid beauty of Southern New Mexico on a lightly traveled paved road that wound around sentinel mountains as it approached the Antelope Wells border station.
As they pedaled, the challenges of the past 2500 miles pushed them Southward. Through this last day was a celebration of what they had all accomplished, there was no relaxing.
Every pedal stroke, every turn of the tire, every moment on the bike they each had to focus. Shawn on the feeling of her tires on the road and on the sound of the music coming from the bike in front of her and the directions that come from Jesse and Scott. Jesse and Scott on the road ahead, the tumbleweeds that might be blown across into the group, the cracks in the road, and on sharing all of the details with Shawn with every pedal stroke and every turn of the tire.
The last day was indeed a celebration. A celebration of a team that worked together, that became closer, that understood each other better, and a team that had just ridden the Tour Divide together.
At the end of the day, it is always the team that matters. It’s the people and support of one another that always prevails.
And, Shawn, as a blind adventurer, who is recalibrating what is possible for blind and visually impaired persons, keeps the team progressing and glued to the redefining tasks at hand. She is what makes all the difference.
Her friends and guides also bind together and contribute to progression. Yet, it is Shawn and her vision coupled with self-belief, dedication, motivation, and human moments that fuels the story.
In the end there is no finish line…only the journey before, during, and after.