SANDPOINT — New Englander Michael Robertson, a legally blind long-distance cyclist, is riding from coast to coast to raise money for retinal research.
Robertson stayed overnight at Round Lake State Park in Sagle last week while passing through the Panhandle en route from the Washington coast.
The most pleasant aspect of his tour through the Northwest has been the region’s inhabitants.
“We’ve met some really interesting people in the Northwest. They’re friendly and outgoing,” Robertson said.
The most unpleasant aspect?
“The heat. Up until three or four days ago, it had been really good,” Robertson said of the unusually hot weather that’s baking the region.
Though legally blind, Robertson retains some eyesight and is being guided on the trek by Hans Breaux, who rides directly in front of Robertson and communicates vagaries in the road surface and other obstacles via two-way radio.
“I listened to a lot of air traffic controllers,” Breaux said of his preparations for the transcontinental crossing.
Open roads in rural areas make the riding easier, despites Eastern Washington rattlesnakes.
“It’s more complicated in cities,” said Breaux.
In addition to raising research funds for Massachusetts Eye & Ear in Boston, the ride aims to challenge the notion that vision loss leads to a hemmed-in life.
Rod cone dystrophy, a genetic retinal disease, gradually narrowed down Robertson’s vision and shook his confidence after a cycling crash. But he climbed out of a crater of depression and resolved to get back in the saddle.
Robertson, who cofounded Shared Vision Quest with Breaux, said a wide swath of the visually impaired workforce is on the sidelines because of perceptions about vision loss.
Shared Vision Quest departed from Cape Flattery in Washington state at the start of the month and is destined for West Quoddy Head, Maine.
“The biggest hope is to get the message out to a broader audience of what visually impaired people can do,” Robertson said.