Shared Vision Quest Coast-to-Coast Ride: Interview with Mike Robertson

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"Dream Big or Go Home!" —Mike Robertson

Mike Robertson has a big dream that nearly got lost. "I always loved the freedom and exhilaration I got from riding my bicycle, and I wanted to go across the country. That all changed 20 years ago—my vision got worse, a crash on my bike shook my confidence, and I lost my driver’s license. I climbed into a deep depression."

Two bike riders from Shared Vision Quest riding on a paved road

Photo courtesy of Hans Breaux

Shared Vision Quest is the resurrection of Robertson’s dream, as a coast-to-coast bicycle ride he started June 25th with his cycling partner and co-visionary, Hans Breaux. To date, Robertson has completed three consecutive Trek Across Maine rides (an annual 180 mile fundraising ride for the American Lung Association) with Breaux. Mike follows Breaux’s bike and relies on his better eyesight to spot obstacles and unexpected changes in the road conditions he might otherwise miss.

Robertson has rod cone dystrophy, a genetic retinal disease that reduces central acuity and creates increased glare sensitivity. In addition to the gear you might expect a cross-country cyclist to carry, Robertson reports that he uses five different NOIR glare shields (sunglasses) for varying light situations. On the road, he chooses polarized amber lenses that permit only two percent of the available light to reduce glare and increase contrast. Medically, Robertson’s vision is considered legally blind, with an acuity of 20/1000. This means that Mike is able to see details at 20 feet that someone with 20/20 vision can see at 1000 feet. In practical terms, on the road, he says, "I stay between two to 10 feet behind Hans’ rear tire, keep my brakes covered, and listen when Hans hollers directions at me!"

For the cross country trip, Mike and Hans will be utilizing a two-way wireless radio system to communicate more easily and may be trying out an audible brake switch attached to Hans’ bike that will sound an alert when he applies his brakes. Mike’s custom-built bike was designed to survive hitting more pot holes. Designed by Carver Bikes of Woolwich, Maine Mike’s bike also includes a super strong titanium frame and customized wheel rims with additional spokes.

Hans has a slightly different take on the heavier frame and rims. "Mike is a power rider," he said with a smile, "I remembered the last day of the Trek a couple years ago, in the pouring rain, pedaling up hill, he kept yelling at me from behind to speed up. I like to settle into a pace and keep that up all day long. I encouraged him to get the sturdier bike, so he can carry more gear to slow his pace down a bit!"

Mike Robertson from Shared Vision Quest standing outside with this bike in front of a road sign stating blind person in area

"Choose to live a life beyond mere existing," Mike Robertson
Photo courtesy of Hans Breaux

Mike attributes regaining his focus on his big dreams to the birth of his first granddaughter, and Gwen, his partner of six years. "When my first granddaughter was born," he recounted, "I just knew I had to set an example for her—I had to fulfill my own dreams. I had to just get out there and do stuff again!"

A large part of getting reconnected to his dreams, he attributes to support from his partner, "Gwen has been a huge support. With her help, I realized that little things turn into big things—small successes grow. Having a champion or some support to get you started with the little things is critical to turning them into bigger accomplishments." This was a theme Robertson repeated during the interview, focusing on building small successes that build the momentum needed for a larger dream or subsequent success.

The idea of Shared Vision Quest is the result of this philosophy at work. Robertson described being on the sidelines for years volunteering at the Trek: "I’d go to Augusta (Maine) to watch the riders on the Trek come through the city and other years listen to the bells ringing from my office in Belfast as they rode into town thinking, 'I wish I could do that.'" According to Robinson, it just takes one champion to turn things around, to start the process of re-evaluating one’s dreams: "Gwen’s response to the Trek, and more recently the bigger coast-to-coast adventure was, 'How are we going to do it?' All it took was somebody that had a bit of confidence. Everyone needs one champion or cheerleader, and for me, that was Gwen."

One of the most significant reasons for undertaking the coast-to-coast ride, aside from it being a life-long aspiration, is to promote positive change in people’s attitude toward blindness and vision loss. He reported that at various times his experiences with professionals in the field have not always been positive, and he felt that people’s expectations of what he is capable of accomplishing are shaped by their attitudes toward blindness. Robertson shared a story about looking for work years ago: "I worked with a job coach," he said, "who quickly suggested I could make pizza because I’d be able to feel the pizza dough. Prior to that, all my work experience was in the corporate world! It was that sort of mentality that was discouraging to me. These professionals could be encouraging people to reconnect to their dreams!"

Robertson and Breaux will fly to to the West coast with their bikes and camping gear to begin the journey in Ozette, Washington, the western most part of the country. They will follow a northern route across the United States, pre-mapped by Adventure Cycling. The ride will end at West Quoddy Head, the eastern most point of the US. Robertson estimates the journey will take eight to nine weeks and anticipates camping most of the time. He reported that many cross-country riders report that the first five to 10 days are the worst, and they plan to ride 60 to 80 miles each day during that time. In the Rockies, with the mountains, the plan is 40 to 60 miles a day, but on the open western plains, he hopes they can ride as much as 120 miles a day.

Mike Robertson from Shared Vision Quest standing outside with this bike in front of a bridge

Photo courtesy of Hans Breaux

Mike is quick to point out that he hopes there will be ample opportunities along the way to speak with people about pursuing their dreams, what people with vision loss are capable of, and to reach out to kids and teens to remind them to dream big. "If this just touches one person," he said, "two people… 10 people, that’s enough. I just want to reach kids to remind them they have choices and can dream before someone tells them they can't!" He and Hans will be open to opportunities to meet with local Lions Clubs, Rotary’s, or anyone with an interest in their adventure.

Once the ride begins, Shared Vision Quest will also be raising money and awareness for Mass Eye and Ear Retinal Research. Although not up at the time of the interview, Robertson hopes to have a crowdrise link available on their website, SharedVisionQuest.org, where supporters can donate for Retinal Disease. Hans and Mike anticipate updating their blog with pictures and posts as the ride unfolds and encourage supporters to check on their progress.

Mike Robertson and Hans Breaux, partners in Shared Vision Quest, are living a big dream and hoping to be the champions that others can point to as examples of what can be done, how small success gather momentum, and become larger success.

"Dream Big and Live Bigger!" —Mike Robertson

Bike Riding for Individuals with Vision Loss

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Takes Two to Tandem


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