Despite being legally blind, Bob MacDonald is nearing the end of one of the most spectacular cross-Canada tours anyone could ever hope to see.
He’s taken in about 7,000 kilometres’ worth of scenery from his rear-facing seat on the back of a specially designed tandem bicycle that set out from St. John’s, Nfld., on Aug. 4, and will keep rolling west until it hits Victoria on Oct. 27.
“The Rockies are pretty amazing,” said MacDonald, 47, during a stop Friday in Penticton.
“Just being down in some of the valleys and looking up at the snow-capped mountains on either side has been very nice.”
MacDonald manages an H&R Block location in Pictou County, N.S., where two friends connected to the ride also live.
Craig Aucoin, the namesake of the Craig Gives Back-2-Back Cross Canada Bicycle Tour, was in MacDonald’s seat for the early stage of the tour.
However, Aucoin was forced off the road due to a case of tendinitis of his Achilles tendon brought on by the rugged terrain in Newfoundland. MacDonald then took over the pedals from Aucoin on Cape Breton Island.
Both men live with a condition called retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease that eventually leads to severe sight impairment or blindness, and for which there is no cure.
MacDonald said he was diagnosed at 32 and now has “tunnel vision,” while Aucoin can only see peripherally.
Lloyd McLean, who steers the bike, said he’s thankful he’s only colour blind.
He’s also thankful for the work of three charities that saved his friend Aucoin’s life: the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind and YMCAs.
“Without them, Craig probably wouldn’t be here today. This is about giving back and ensuring the services are there for the next person,” said McLean, 49, who works at Sobeys’ head office.
“Craig was to the point he was getting around 250 pounds, he was sedentary, he was just eating and he wasn’t participating in life, really.”
Aucoin is expected to rejoin his cycling buddies in Vancouver for the final push to the B.C. capital.
“It’s more important now that Bob finishes,” McLean added, “because Bob will become the first legally blind person to cycle from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific coast in Canada.”
Throughout the ride, the men have been collecting donations for the three chosen charities, and have dropped in at community celebrations at a few dozen Home Hardware stores along the way.
McLean said the Home Hardware owner in Pictou County got in touch with counterparts to organize the events, including one in Penticton, where retail operations manager Cory Parsons was pleased to play host.
“It’s a whirlwind tour that they’re doing and pretty amazing, and for them to do all that effort to raise money for three great charities I think is fantastic,” Parsons said.
For more information on the tour or to donate, visit www.craiggivesback.ca.