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No Barriers Podcast Episode 139: Blind Stokers Club with Dave White



In this episode we meet the Blind Stokers Club and its founder Dave White.  It’s the largest and most active tandem club for blind riders in the country. They pair sighted “captains” on the front seat with blind and visually impaired “stokers”. Their travels span Taiwan to Tahoe, Big Bear to Catalina Island, and most recently Death Valley, where they were joined by Erik Weihenmayer.

This episode is about biking blind. No, this is not a metaphor. Even Helen Keller, the famous disability rights activist, who happened to be deaf and blind, enjoyed a spin on her bike as a teenager in the late 1800’s.

“Next to a leisurely walk I enjoy a spin on my tandem bicycle. It is splendid to feel the wind blowing in my face and the springy motion of my iron steed. The rapid rush through the air gives me a delicious sense of strength and buoyancy, and the exercise makes my pulse dance and my heart sing.”  Her words.

She was, in modern terms, a stoker. The person who sits behind the captain on a tandem bike.

 

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Episode Transcript

Dave White:
All we wanted to do was enable a sport that we enjoy for people who couldn't pilot their own bike, and with that simple beginning, it's just grown.

Erik Weihenmayer:
It's easy to talk about the successes, but what doesn't get talked about enough is the struggle. My name is Erik Weihenmayer. I've gotten the chance to ascend Mount Everest, climb the tallest mountain in every continent, to kayak the Grand Canyon, and I happen to be blind. It's been a struggle to live what I call a No Barriers life, to define it, to push the parameters of what it means. Part of the equation is diving into the learning process and trying to illuminate the universal elements that exist along the way. In that unexplored terrain, between those dark places we find ourselves in in a summit, exists a map. That map, that way forward, is what we call No Barriers.

Didrik Johnck:
Today's episode is about biking blind. No, this is definitely not a metaphor, although perhaps it could be. Even Helen Keller, the famous disability rights activist, who happened to be deaf and blind, enjoyed a spin on her bike as a teenager in the late 1800s. "Next to a leisurely walk, I enjoy a spin on my tandem bicycle. It's splendid to feel the wind blowing in my face and the springy motion of my iron steed. The rapid rush through the air gives me a delicious sense of strength and buoyancy, and the exercise makes my pulse dance and my heart sing." Her words. She was, in modern terms, a stoker, the person who sits behind the captain on a tandem bike.

Didrik Johnck:
This leads us to the Blind Stokers Club and its founder, Dave White, our guest today. It's the largest and most active tandem club for blind riders in the country. They pair sighted captains on the front seat with blind and visually impaired stokers on the back. Their travel spanned Taiwan to Tahoe, Big Bear to Catalina Island, and most recently Death Valley, where they were joined by our own Erik Weihenmayer.

Didrik Johnck:
This is the No Barriers Podcast. I'm the producer, Didrik Johnck, and I do hope you enjoy this episode, hosted by Erik Weihenmayer and Jeff Evans, with guest Dave White and stoker Gary Deeter.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Welcome, everyone, to our No Barriers Podcast. Jeff Evans, thanks, man, for being a part of this, as always, my cohost.

Jeff Evans:
E Dub.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Up in Evergreen, living the good life, skiing the pow, man. This is the most important thing you do all day, the most rewarding thing.

Jeff Evans:
Puking snow up here right now though. It's amazing. It was knee-deep all day.

Erik Weihenmayer:
We got Gary and Dave from the Blind Stokers Club. The way I connected to these guys, longer story, but just this last weekend, I usually don't do this, but I joined a group, Blind Stokers Club. I had done some work with the Blind Stokers Club and Dave and the community. He invited us out to Death Valley. Me and Bob Kauffman, my captain of my tandem bike, we went out and they provided tandem bikes. We had this beautiful experience that was so much more than I thought it might be. One, the stunning setting of Death Valley. I've never been there before. These incredible washes and hikes, and this one place we went to called the Devil's Golf Course. It was basically a salt valley that felt like coral. Bob told me it was totally white and there's all these crazy crystalline formations, some looking like beehives or some looking like flowers. It was just really stunning tactilely. Beautiful desert surrounded by giant snowy mountains and great riding. One day we rode up 5,000 feet up to this cool ghost town called Rhyolite in Nevada. It was just a total blast. I thought, "Why haven't I interviewed these guys and gotten to know Dave and Gary better?" That's how we're all here together.

Jeff Evans:
E Dub, it sounds like obviously a very visceral place, very visual place. Maybe it should be, as trippy as it sounds, it could've been called the Blind Smokers Club, instead of the ... Come on.

Erik Weihenmayer:
I don't know if Dave's going to be willing to change the name at this point.

Jeff Evans:
If you go to really super psychedelic places, maybe you want to have an offshoot, maybe a subdivision or something of the club that could include.

Dave White:
That's why we call it adventures, Jeff. This was a project that went off of our adventures wing.

Erik Weihenmayer:
It was a great destination.

Dave White:
Not for everybody.

Jeff Evans:
Let me know when you want to develop the Blind Smokers Club, because Erik and I will lead that charge.

Erik Weihenmayer:
That's going to be your organization, Jeff.

Jeff Evans:
All right, I'll take that.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Dave, I'll start out with a question for you. We're going to lead up to why and how you founded this organization, this community. You were in the military, career military. You must've been a cyclist for a long time, right? It's not just like you wanted to work with blind people and jumped on a tandem bike. You must've had a lot of experience before this idea built up, right?

Dave White:
Sure. I actually had a rather short military career. I went on to the civilian side of the defense business. I started out running, and running marathons when I got out of the Navy. That was a great thing. I enjoyed just about everything about it, except for some of the overuse injuries. A friend of mine was a cyclist and a runner. He helped me transition into a sport that is more friendly on the body, more social, go more places, go further. Most of all, once I smartened up to it, go with my wife on board the bike with me when we got our first tandem bike in 1997.

Erik Weihenmayer:
A lot of us, as we get older, we turn to biking and we say, "Why would I ever go back to running?" Biking you can see, when I say see I put quotes around that, you can see so much of the countryside and the culture wherever you are. You pack way more into your day, right?

Dave White:
Totally. It was when we got started into touring by some tandem friends of ours that invited us to go with them on a Tuscany organized bike tour that we realized the fantastic travel and touring opportunities. No better way to discover a place that you haven't been, and with your spouse on board, and rolling through the countryside, interacting with the locals. That's what we wanted to bring to the Blind Stokers Club years later, when the club was mature enough. They need to be able to have the same kind of travel and touring opportunities that I was enjoying with my wife.

Erik Weihenmayer:
I could never be in a bus behind a window. It would just be so removed from the experience. When you're on a bike you really feel like you're feeling it all, you're hearing it all, you're smelling it all. It's really beautiful. Now, you started riding with your wife. This may be obvious to you, but maybe not to others, is that when you're on a tandem, you're connected. If one person's way stronger than the other person, there's no eject button, at least that technology hasn't been invented yet, so you're together. I've heard tandem bikes be called divorce machines. How did it work with your wife starting out? Did you guys get along and make it work together?

Dave White:
Yeah. It's quite the opposite. It can bring out differences, but in our case it brought out our common, our similarity, and our interest in going places together. That takes concerted teamwork. Nancy is what I call a stoker specialist. She had the advantage of not being a cyclist, which may sound odd, but for a stoker who only gets to do a small amount of the regular things that you do as a bicyclist, putting a avid cyclist on the back of a tandem can be very limiting and difficult really. In our case she took to it because she was just generally fit and enjoyed going places together. We've been riding weekly ever since.

Erik Weihenmayer:
If you have an avid cyclist on the back, sometimes they can be a backseat driver, so I guess that's an advantage that she didn't do a lot of riding before that, right?

Dave White:
Yes. That's exactly the way we look at it.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Weren't you guys married 55 years or together 50-something years, Dave, or maybe that's coming up?

Dave White:
I told you, I think on the road, that last year we were able to celebrate 50 years since we met, on the campus of the University of Colorado. We're both Buffaloes.

Jeff Evans:
Yeah! Go Buffs! Yes, Dave.

Dave White:
Go Buffs.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Cool.

Dave White:
The Navy actually brought us together, because I was in the Navy ROTC unit there. She couldn't be in the unit of course in the 1970s, because females were not allowed in the military. She wanted to get close and she wanted to interview for our women's auxiliary. Lo and behold, I was on the interview panel.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Good job, Dave. Nice.

Jeff Evans:
Hey, so I'm curious if ... Erik and I have done a little bit of riding together over the years. I could get into some pretty ... I can already see him smirking up right now. He's reflecting back-

Erik Weihenmayer:
We did the Primal Quest together. We were on a bike for hundreds of miles together.

Jeff Evans:
Hundreds of miles. We did it over the course of just a few days.

Erik Weihenmayer:
I don't know, Jeff, if this is podcast material. I might want to interrupt and say what you said at the end of that ride.

Jeff Evans:
No, we don't need to skip forward. I'm leading this into a question for Dave.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah, but you said that you felt like somebody had stuck a jalapeno pepper-

Jeff Evans:
This is irrelevant.

Erik Weihenmayer:
... up your butt.

Jeff Evans:
This is completely irrelevant.

Erik Weihenmayer:
That's the way you felt at the end of that ride, by the way. Sorry to be crass, Dave and Gary.

Jeff Evans:
That's a whole nother story, and we don't even need to get into there. This is obviously a more important segue to a question for both of these guys, because I have very fond/miserable memories of being on the front of the bike with you at 3:00 in the morning. It goes in line with the relationship part of being on a bike I just find is super metaphorical for how relationships form and then how they storm and then how they norm, how they go through this process. Erik and I went through that on a bike in the course of just a week. We were in extreme adversity. We fought with each other. Then we loved each other. Then we figured it out. That love translated to, from my hands being on the handlebar up front, I was seizing, cramping up, and Erik finally was like, "Man, I can't have my guy all tense and in pain," and so he just massaged my shoulders for a half an hour while we were riding, while we were just rubbing and rubbing. I'll never, ever forget that.

Jeff Evans:
My question would be, can you hop on a bike, on a tandem, with anybody and make it work, or can you just figure out, I guess with the seasoned sort of experience both of you have with doing it, you can just make it work, or there's just some people you feel like you've gotten on the bike with and you never can get it to go and it's just pointless, "Let's just throw in the towel and move on to the next relationship."

Dave White:
Gary, why don't you try that, and then I'll give my answer. How many captains have you ridden with, Gary?

Gary Deeter:
Probably a dozen. That's a valid point is that I've had a couple that joined the club, but they never really understood what the club was about. They were big time racers and single racers and stuff. They just couldn't understand that this was a club for stokers. It's not a club for the captain. The captain is there to try to facilitate riding for stokers. Most stokers aren't racers. They still couldn't get it out of their head that, "Hey, I got to back off here a little bit and think about what the stoker would like to do." That really made it tough.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Dave, what about you?

Dave White:
I've had the great fortune of having hundreds of stokers on tandem with me, partly because I do first a phone interview when their member application comes in, and then the one that really counts is to go do an introduction statically to the tandem, and then we get on board and we take a short ride. It only takes me a short amount of time to gather the assessment that I need in order to then be able to recommend a good partner for the candidate stoker. This talks to the same subject, because it's not about if you live nearby. You have to be physically compatible to work together on the same machine. The real important factors are more social and what Gary's talking to, where do you want to go in the sport. We do have some that race and want to race and want to go out and do a time trial, and have done that, even competed in the Para National Championships in a velodrome, for example. Many are at different levels below that, want to ride weekly, want to do some touring. It's best when we can make those quality matches. We're so fortunate in the Blind Stokers Club by having such a large membership that if the first trial team match isn't quite right, then we change it up.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Dave, you have to be a pretty strong cyclist though to get on the front of a tandem bike, because there's balance issues. You have 100, 200 pounds on the back of your bike, so you have to have some skills. I noticed in Death Valley you had some very strong captains, and maybe sometimes less strong stokers.

Dave White:
That's right. This will allow me to talk about our captain in training program, which is really important and extremely successful and popular, because when I first started the club, okay, naturally I invited all my local tandem friends, bring their tandems out, their spouse, a regular stoker, allowed to share the seat for our club rides and things. After that, now then it's the question of single cyclists who are experienced enough to have good handling skills that know about our club, see us out on the road. They want to do that. They don't own a tandem. They can't afford one. What do I do now? You enter our captain in training program, which starts by tapping into our tandem resource fleet, which is 100% fed by donated tandems. Over 55 tandems, quality performance tandems have been donated to the club. We don't even go out looking for them. They just come to us.

Jeff Evans:
Are they from different bike manufacturers or where do you secure them from? Previous owners or where?

Dave White:
Yep. Owners that have them. They're either maybe upgrading their own tandem, so they have them that way, or they realize they're in their garage and they're not going to be riding them, all kinds of situations. We get some really, really nice tandems. I turn away any project bike we don't have to accept, and we don't accept and we never put a penny into that part of it. That's the beginning of our captain in training program. The candidate gets an introduction from me that way and then begins one-on-one road training with our captain trainer, who happens to be a regular stoker, a sighted stoker, a spouse of one of our captains, and a personal trainer. She meets one-on-one with these student captains and goes for rides until they're able to just upgrade their single cycling skills and feel what it's like on a larger bike, like going from a sports car to a 18-wheeler. The final ride is a blind stoker is brought in, and then they graduate. That's how we grow our fleet of captains.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Cool. Gary, question for you. Explain, because we didn't even explain stoker and captain, what are those positions, and what are the roles? What's the role of a good stoker, and what's the role of a good captain and how do you communicate?

Gary Deeter:
As Dave was saying, the captain, they're the pilot, and they need to have control of the bike and so forth. Communication is very important. That's an important part of their training is how to communicate back to the stoker, like, "We're getting ready to make a turn. Do the hand signals. We're getting ready to shift to go up a hill. We're going to stop. Which foot goes down?" and so on and so forth like that. It's very important. Then on the other side, the stoker needs to explain that they're having a little trouble on this hill, they could use a different gear, and just to stay in the middle of the bike as much as possible, to make it so everything's balanced. When it works, it works great. My current captain, Kevin, we're a pretty seamless operation. We really know what each other's doing, know what everyone's going to do. When you've had some experience together, it really, really becomes a nice, nice team.

Erik Weihenmayer:
I've had some experiences in my earlier years with tandems where you're not communicating so well, you're leaning the wrong way, or I remember busting a chain and just busting the gearing up really bad, because I was cranking as they were shifting. Just those little subtle things where you let up right before they shift. It's a lot of power on a system. There's a lot of little subtle communication and nuances to it, right?

Gary Deeter:
Of course, yes. Absolutely. It really makes it fun for everybody when you work at the communication and want to make sure everything's going as smooth as possible. Then it's more fun.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Dave, have you ever seen blind people that get on and are just absolutely terrified with fear?

Dave White:
A little bit it could be like whether you like roller coasters or not. I'm a white-knuckle roller coaster myself. I really don't enjoy them, because you have to trust. The word is trust. You're trusting the system. You're trusting the person you're riding with, of course, who has most control of the bike. That's not always a natural thing. The stokers that are letting the joy and all the sensory elements of riding the bike overcome any lack of trust or fear are the ones that get it the best, the quickest, and the most. I like to read that, because I wear a little helmet mirror. Of course I bought the helmet mirror, and I tell everybody it's for taking a look at traffic behind me, because different from when my wife is on board, we don't really get much surveillance, at least visual surveillance, from our blind stokers. They are able to sense a car back by the noise, of course. The secret use of my mirror is it also gives me a peek. I can look any time and peek at the face of my stoker and see whether there's joy or fright back there.

Jeff Evans:
Or just exhaustion too, right? You can gauge the level of energy just by someone's face, if they're grimacing. Maybe you're like, "Hey, maybe we could take a little break up here in a little bit."

Erik Weihenmayer:
I wish I'd had a mirror on you, Jeff, at the end of our adventure race when we'd ridden all that distance.

Jeff Evans:
I've got this picture of you and I coming down on the tandem in Greenland. It looks like we're going fast. We're going real fast. There's no trail. There's rocks and dirt. Both of us have the look that Dave's talking about right now. It's full-on gripped fear. Both of us are wide-eyed, eyebrows way up in the forehead. We're both just, "Bah!" If I remember correctly, we did that entire race, that Greenland race, and never crashed, not one time, in spite of Greenland being the most rugged place on the stinking planet.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Good job, buddy.

Jeff Evans:
There's a lot of trust, man. It's so much trust. I don't want to go away from this, because I feel like that's the essence of what we're talking about here is it's one thing to have the trust, this reciprocal trust that you have with your wife, Dave. I think that those of us who've done activities with our wives, and sometimes they work out really well, and sometimes not so much. When you go out with a friend, that trust is ... That's why I asked that right out of the bat was there are some people you just can't groove with, because I think trust is not just handed out. You can't just be like, "Hey, trust me. We're squared away." It sounds like the program that you have, you figure it out, one way or the other, whether it's right, because that trust is developed over time. Am I right?

Dave White:
Yeah. Jeff, you've hit on what I call the secret sauce of the club. Those are the friendships that take root from those partnerships that I as matchmaker get to make by introducing two complete strangers. Realize these new members come in in totally separate pipelines. I interview them both. I have this list of who needs to get matched up. I don't make the first match, but I make the quality matches. When we make a good quality match, then those two people introduced around a tandem bike and to go out for a bike ride, I know in six or 12 months, we're all going to enjoy watching the blossoming relationship and these two people become great friends. Gary and Kevin are a perfect example. We have innumerable other examples just like that.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Dave, you rode tandem bikes with your wife, Nancy. You didn't have to start a giant, awesome organization that has tons of logistics and eats up a ton of your day. You could've just kept riding tandems. How did this thing start? What was the catalyst to actually starting to build an organization, or was it maybe a little bit by accident at first, or was it very intentional?

Dave White:
Thanks for that. I answer that question a lot. I hope I'm getting a little better by shortening this story. I think I have it pretty good now. I'd been tandeming for a few years. Two avid cyclists in the ophthalmology group at Pfizer San Diego decided to create a bike tour to benefit eye research. I got looped into the event because I had tandem cycling experience. I had also been participating in a City of San Diego Park and Rec program, where I would go and ride with stokers with various disabilities. We went on this three-day tour from Santa Barbara to San Diego. Just before going, I recruited my tandem captain friends and my blind stoker friends to meet us. That is the first Cycling For Sight Tour for the last several parade miles, and more than doubling the group of us that had ridden down the coast 225 miles in three days from Santa Barbara to San Diego. That was the beginning of what we now call the Blind Stokers Club in 2005. We'll be doing our 18th Cycling For Sight with the Blind Stokers Club this coming June, hosting on the campus of the University of San Diego, with our 501c3 partner, the San Diego Center for the Blind. Coincidentally, we did our site visit yesterday on USD campus and saw the nice student apartments and surrounds that we'll be hosting for our two-day and overnight Cycling For Sight experience.

Erik Weihenmayer:
How did it grow beyond that and take on a bigger life of its own?

Dave White:
Once that seed became an obvious way to start a club, I just went for it. I said, "This has all the possibilities. We've got great cycling in San Diego. I have tandem friends. We can get this going." We just started it up. I was looking back today at ride calendars, we put out an annual ride calendar each year, and seeing of course not only all the cycling we do, year-round cycling, but we also inject a lot of non-cycling and other activities, because why? Because as a group we enjoy doing things together, being together, and we want to bring opportunities other than just riding a bike. We've been wall climbing. We've gone on museum tours. We've been to theater plays. This year, come on down Erik, we're going to be paddling dragon boats on Mission Bay.

Jeff Evans:
I've got a great additional component. You could put together a team of blind people to go climb Mount Everest.

Erik Weihenmayer:
That's already been done. That's boring.

Jeff Evans:
It's been done. My bad.

Erik Weihenmayer:
It's boring.

Jeff Evans:
It's already been done.

Erik Weihenmayer:
That is a cool point though, that you're doing all these other activities. Did you realize that at first? You started this thing to start to get people together to ride bikes specifically. When I was in Death Valley, people were eating together, they're talking, they're laughing, they're sitting there having snacks together. At the end you pass out these awesome appreciation kind of awards and everyone's laughing and sitting in a circle. Did you realize that, I don't want to put words in your mouth, but the real reward is this community that you've built that we are missing a little bit in this modern world?

Dave White:
You give a nice perspective to it, because I don't always have a chance to stand back and see that. It all came just as natural growth. All we wanted to do was enable a sport that we enjoy for people who couldn't pilot their own bike, and with that simple beginning, it's just grown. It attacks high achievers. We tend to discover that. These high achievers, they want to do more, and so we do more things. We do them more often. It is a wonderful thing. We do it.

Dave White:
By the way, we also export, not in a real structured way. We don't develop or allow people to start chapters in other places, even though I've had innumerable requests. I tell them all about how we started the Blind Stokers Club, encourage them to pick a name of their own and develop and design a program that suits their location, their people, and then we keep in touch-

Erik Weihenmayer:
Then you mentor.

Dave White:
... that way. We do have members all over the country and around the world that can join the club remotely. Just like Erik and Bob. If Bob wasn't a member, he wouldn't have gotten the email with the announcement of Death Valley, and you wouldn't have been able to join us. There was another team from San Francisco, an ex-San Diego member Ahmet Ustunel, and his pilot Lou were also a remote team that joined us there. We provided tandems for both of those. Then Erik had to spill the beans to his friend Walt. We not only got to ride alongside Walt, we had him on board for most of our drive, because he flew down to Orange County Airport and we grabbed him on our drive up.

Erik Weihenmayer:
He said making the flight was pretty tight too. That's a story for another podcast though, Dave. Gary, tell us how you got started in the club and how you lost your sight and so forth.

Gary Deeter:
I have a hereditary condition called optic nerve atrophy that really makes my straight-ahead vision really poor. I have pretty good peripheral vision. Up until 1987 I still drove. I shouldn't have, but I did. Then I stopped in '87. I still rode a bike until 2012 when I was riding down in the South Bay area and I hit something, and I don't know what it was, and fell over and ended up with a concussion. I realized, "It's time to stop, time to figure something else out." By unbelievable good fortune, I happened to live in the city with the only tandem bicycle club designed for people that can't ride a single bike anymore. It's just been serendipitous that I've been able to keep riding. I enjoy it. I enjoy riding tremendously, because like Dave said, you get to cover a lot of ground, and there's a lot of different feelings to it. Sometimes you're flying down a hill. Sometimes you're really pushing hard up a hill. It's just great to be outside.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Was it a big transition to go from single bike to a tandem bike for you, Gary?

Gary Deeter:
Not too much. I think having experience on a single bike really helps, because you know you got to be balanced, you got to lean a little bit at the right time. I think for me, it went pretty smoothly. I just really concentrate on staying in the middle of the bike until I feel we need to lean a little bit. I think the single bike gave me a slight advantage over somebody that never rode before.

Jeff Evans:
Gary, there's a dynamic when you're an athlete, when you're a blind athlete, and you're teaming up with a sighted athlete, or a sighted athlete teaming up with a blind athlete, where you go out and you do these things with your teammate. I'm obviously subjectifying this and thinking about Erik and I over the years when we would go out and we'd train train train, but then we'd both independently train on our own, because we wanted to be the best version of ourselves when we came together and did whatever it is. Obviously I could go out and I would trail run five days a week. I was riding my bike. Erik's like, "Yo, I want to be training too." Where do you sit with that as far as finding the opportunity to supplement your training on your own so that you know you're bringing the best version of Gary to your team?

Gary Deeter:
Very critical, because one thing I know, I want to be a true partner. I don't want to be somebody just sitting on the back, saying, "Okay, Jeeves, take me somewhere." I have a stationary bike. I try to ride the stationary bike every other day for one to two hours. I just want to be ready so that when I do go with my partner that we're relatively equal on putting out the power and that it's fun for both of us. I would feel bad if I just showed up and say, "I haven't ridden for two weeks since the last time we rode." That's just not fair.

Jeff Evans:
Erik, you feel bad back in the day or are you all right with that?

Erik Weihenmayer:
I think that's accurate. Gary, I will say this. When I was a kid, I could barely see, I was legally blind, and I would ride a bike all over the town. I was probably like you, probably pushing the envelope. I could barely see out of one eye. I remember I was riding up the road one time, and I saw this little glint of something. I don't know what it was. I whipped around it. It was my mom's car coming back from the grocery store, that I almost hit her head-on. I think that was the last of my bike riding days. I think I went over a parked car too. I think I slammed into a parked car one time and rolled over the hood. Took me a few beatings before I realized I needed to switch over to a tandem.

Dave White:
With Jeff's great question, you won't be surprised to know that another program in our club is providing home exercise bikes in stokers' homes.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Wonderful.

Jeff Evans:
Perfect.

Dave White:
We trade in those as well.

Jeff Evans:
Then Gary, also to you, because I see the joy in Erik's face, and other blind folks that I've worked with over the decades, I see the joy of speed. Speed is intoxicating, whether you're traveling across snow like I did today or whether you're traveling across dirt or pavement or the ocean or the river, whatever it may be. That medium and that kinetic energy of speed is really something that perhaps for years I may have just taken for granted, because it's just something I go out and do. It's such a visceral feeling, because I can see everything go by me. I love the motion of that. I see it in Erik's eyes. I see it in his face. When you go fast, it just triggers this childlike feeling, this sensation. Am I right in guessing for you too, Gary, just like with Erik, you're not going to get that speed necessarily. You can't get it on your stationary bike, I know that much.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Bob and I, by the way, Jeff, rode with the club from this ghost town all the way down to 200 feet below sea level. I pedaled 20 strokes maybe in 5,000 feet and almost 20 miles. It was wild.

Jeff Evans:
What was your top speed when you were doing it?

Erik Weihenmayer:
I don't know. What would you say, Dave, 45 or 50? Not crazy, but still, it was amazing.

Jeff Evans:
50 miles an hour?

Dave White:
Mid-40s.

Jeff Evans:
That's fast.

Dave White:
Probably mid-40s.

Jeff Evans:
50 miles an hour is fricking fast. Gary, are you a weirdo like the rest of us? Do you crave that speed sensation where you get bugs in your teeth because you're smiling so much?

Gary Deeter:
Not so much the speed. I don't really care if we go super fast. I just want to be out smelling, hearing, just being in different environments and realizing we just went over a bridge. It's just the sensory load that you get. When you're going super fast, I think you're missing a lot of that. I like moderate speed, where you can just really soak up the environment.

Dave White:
Kevin and Gary did something unique. They went for altitude over speed and endurance on Sunday, when we were out on different routes, and all the groups were out on different routes, and they climbed to Dante's View, which is 5,000 feet in 25 miles?

Gary Deeter:
No, I think it's 13 miles one way.

Dave White:
13 miles, excuse me.

Erik Weihenmayer:
20% grade or something, really steep.

Dave White:
It just gets steeper all the way up.

Jeff Evans:
That's ridiculous, man. Were you sore after that, Gary? Were you smoked? Did you have to sit around for a while?

Gary Deeter:
Not so much sore, but-

Jeff Evans:
Pretty whooped.

Gary Deeter:
Pretty tired. Then we crazily went on a hike afterwards and that night I-

Jeff Evans:
Wait, you went on a hike after that?

Gary Deeter:
... slept pretty well.

Erik Weihenmayer:
These guys are go-getters, man.

Jeff Evans:
Wow. You're a real weirdo, Gary. Nice job, dude. You're part of the weirdo club.

Erik Weihenmayer:
We're all weirdos. Dave, tell me, in growing this organization or even this community or this movement, whatever you want to call it, tell me about the biggest hurdles. Was there a day where you're just like, "This is too hard. This is too much work. There's too many barriers," because what I'm getting at is, as I said before, you didn't have to do this. You had this really great career. Could've just kept writing, but you've thrown yourself into something that creates a lot of work and logistics. You were a logistics person in the military I think, so you have that experience, but you're taking on a lot.

Dave White:
Yeah, but it's easy, because the rewards far surpass the barriers or setbacks or anything like that. I am rewarded every single day in ways that I haven't even begun to describe. We've sent tandems to India and Costa Rica. I get feedback from that out of the blue. For example, all kinds of stuff that happens behind the scenes that come to me as the point man. You have the opportunity to nominate someone to tell the truth and try and pretend they're a blind explorer. Anyway, that's just not a balanced equation. It's not a problem of any kind.

Dave White:
If I could take a minute, I want to just talk about one of the highlights for me was when the six of us got out for a hike on Monday morning. That's with Erik and Bob.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah, our last day in Death Valley.

Dave White:
Oh, man, we had done all this great cycling, and we had wanted to hike, but I don't think any of us had maybe ... Walt had been on a hike. There was Erik and Bob, there was Walt and Sean, and then Mark Woodard and myself, and Mark's friend Brad. We set out. It was such a great experience for me, and a learning experience, because here we had two experts with their twin trekking poles, that's Erik and Walt. First they demonstrated and showed the poles to Mark. Then we set out. Here's Mark with his single white cane, using his sidewalk sweep, which is fantastic. He's all about town in his town every day. Everybody knows him there. He's out constantly. He's very confident in his own neighborhood. On a trail that he's never been on before, with uneven surfaces and exposures and-

Erik Weihenmayer:
Drop-offs.

Dave White:
All kinds of hazards.

Erik Weihenmayer:
A couple death drops.

Dave White:
Confident Mark was in a different place. Then we watched Erik and Walt, and they're homing on the bells carried by the sighted guys in front of them. We got this straight line going. I got some great photos, because I could step away from the line. I took photos and videos. It was just really, really special for me, and as well as putting a cap on the whole weekend. The scenery and the territory that we were going on a 2.7-mile was just awesome.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Thank you, Dave. I had a blast. Jeff, do you notice that even though what Dave just said was really amazing and beautiful, he likes to divert back to other people and to attribute other people instead of himself. I want to get back one more time to you, Dave, because I think what you've grown here is just amazing. I love it. I really loved our experience together. Do you think your sense of passion and your sense of service, do you think that grows over time or do you think you always have it, but maybe you just fall into something that helps you to manifest that passion or that sense of service or that sense of community? How did it work for you? Were you always like that or did it grow over time as you get older and more mature?

Dave White:
I think it grew when the opportunity came by. It started with that city program. When I would go and very briefly around a lake, we'd have people with all kinds of disabilities. I would be driving home after watching and feeling and hearing from my stokers on that occasion, and I would have a wider grin on my face, because I had just experienced the joy of guiding. It's just intoxicating. The more I did of that sort of thing, the more I enjoyed it. I consider it selfish that I do what I do and I do it to the extent that I do it, because it's just the greatest thing. This is why we don't recruit members. They just have to hear about it and feel it themselves. They catch the joy of guiding as well.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Dave, that's beautiful. I'm going to cry actually.

Jeff Evans:
That was well done.

Erik Weihenmayer:
That's really nice.

Jeff Evans:
That's the heart of servant leadership, and then in the course of creating a service-based dynamic with all these different folks, you all get to experience that team dynamic that is very infrequently found in the world I think. You can find it in the military. You can find it on the sides of mountains and on sports teams, but very rarely can just somebody off the couch be able to just start training and then really feel what true team love feels like. I commend you for that, Dave and Gary, for both just saying, "I'm all in," and then spreading that love, because that's what the world needs, more of that, more of people really wanting to be a part of something that's bigger than themselves.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Although we almost did leave a guy behind. He was at his campsite, and they said, "Will you guys go drive over there and pick him up? His name's Mark." We're driving out, and to the driver, I go, one of the volunteers, I say, "Tell me about Mark. What about Mark?" They're like, "He's a great guy. He's really an amazing guy. I love Mark." I'm like, "Yeah, but what about Mark?" Then a few minutes later I'm like, "I'm saying what about Mark?" He's like, "I don't know, what else do you want to know about Mark?" I go, "We're supposed to pick him up!" We were eight miles down the road at that point, so we had to turn around and get Mark. It's not a perfect system.

Dave White:
That made such a great story. I told my son-in-law, who I borrowed the Sprinter van from that there was only one time where we were one seat short. If we weren't one seat short, we wouldn't have had that story to enjoy and to retell.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Awesome. Thank you, both of you guys, for being a part of the podcast. Gary, thanks for being a part of it. Dave, thanks for founding it and all the energy and expertise you've put into it. I wish you many more years of growth and success and fun with the community.

Dave White:
Thanks for starting our year with your joining our Death Valley adventure. We'll remember it forever.

Erik Weihenmayer:
All right.

Jeff Evans:
You guys keep fighting the good fight. Thanks for joining us today.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Thank you.

Dave White:
Thanks, Jeff.

Jeff Evans:
All right.

Didrik Johnck:
The production team behind this podcast includes producer Didrik Johnck, that's me, sound design, editing, and mixing by Tyler Cottman, marketing and graphics support from Stone Ward, and web support by Jamlo. Special thanks to the Dan Ryan Band for our intro song, Guidance. Thanks to all of you for listening. We know that you've got a lot of choices about how you can spend your time, and we appreciate you spending it with us. If you enjoy this podcast, we encourage you to subscribe to it, share it, and give us a review. Show notes can be found at nobarrierspodcast.com. That's No Barriers Podcast dot com. There's also a link to shoot me an email with any suggestions for this show, or any ideas. You've got it all. Thanks so much and have a great day.



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