The task is daunting enough--biking 3,040 miles in six days through 110,000 feet of elevation, dark and sometimes treacherous roads and stifling heat and humidity. Then throw in the fact that one of your riders is blind and partially deaf and another is blind with no sense of taste or smell, and you get a feel for what the tandem cycling team of 2 Mixed Up is trying to accomplish this week in Race Across America.
"It's the challenge, the adventure, the excitement, the pain, the exhaustion and the fun," said Newhall's Tim Skipper, who came up with the idea to invite two blind riders to participate in the Race Across America.
The team, 2 Mixed Up, which consists of four tandem bicycles and eight riders (four men, four women), left the Irvine Holiday Inn ay 9 a.m. Sunday for the Hyatt Regency in Savannah, Ga. Twenty-three hours later, they had pedaled to Mesquite, Nev., 431 miles away from Irvine and were traveling at a rate of 18.7 mph, which put them in seventh place in the nine-team field.
From Nevada, 2 Mixed Up will cut across the ancient volcanic region of New Mexico and the Texas panhandle, then head into Oklahoma, Arkansas and Memphis, Tenn. From there, 2 Mixed Up will wind through the streets of Chattanooga before arriving Friday night or Saturday morning in Savannah, Ga.
Skipper, who finished fourth last year competing with an all-male tandem team, will be the pilot for Kathleen Urschel, a former equestrian and professional motivational speaker who lost her sight at 21 because of a rare visual impairment. She lost her hearing seven years later because of a viral flu. Urschel, 33, of Baldwinville, N.Y., and the other blind rider, Ray Collins, 36, of Plymouth, Mass., competed at the 1996 Paralympic Games and are members of the U.S. Assn. of Blind Athletes.
Urschel will communicate with Skipper through a Nucleus 22 Channel Cochlear Implant, two microphones, a mini-processor and an AA battery.
"I will be able to tell her what type of terrain we're going through and what type of hill," Skipper said. "She'll be able to sense everything else."
Skipper and Urschel have trained together for only 45 miles, but they have been training daily on their own.
"Kathleen has such great enthusiasm and with this type of race, that's what you really need," said Skipper, 39. "It's not always the fastest team who wins these [races], but the ones with the best attitude. When I first asked her if she wanted to do this, she said 'yes' without hesitation. I wish all people in this world had her attitude."
Team 2 Mixed Up probably doesn't have a chance to win the race, but Skipper said he is hoping to finish among the top five. Wherever they finish, or if they finish, 2 Mixed Up is the first true mixed team (four males, four females) and the first team to use blind athletes.
"It is really an honor to ride with Kathy," Skipper said.