Cochrane cyclist sees Himalayas through heart’s eyes

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, September 19, 2019

Robyn MacKay was lead rider on tandem with Adventures Beyond Barriers founder Dishanavu. “I was his eyes; he was my guru.” Photos by Vipurva Parikh

Cochrane’s globe-cycling ambassador of goodwill, Robyn MacKay, has been at it again – but this time as a sighted ally to the visually impaired for a trek into the Himalayas.

Last month she volunteered with the Adventures Beyond Barriers Foundation to accompany a group of vision-impaired and able-bodied participants in a tandem-cycling expedition in northern India. Robyn wrote us:

WE WERE A GROUP of ages ranging from late teens to early 70’s, men and women, and all but one sole Canadian were Indian citizens. We were a mix of seasoned cyclists as well as people who had never been on a bicycle, sighted and vision impaired, fearful and experienced, and absolutely everything in between. We braved mountain weather, navigated landslides and road washouts, climbing all six high altitude passes – together as a team. We created a power of inclusion, camaraderie, love and compassion propelling us forward even in the most challenging moments of everyone’s day. 

The 11 participants, accompanied by an expert support team, cycled either tandem or solo bicycles from the small mountain town of Manali for 561 km to the 5590 m Kardung La Pass near the border of China. The ‘goal’ of reaching the highest pass dissolved into a meaninglessness triumph and mile by mile our journey became the experience of supporting each other and discovering what joy each day will bring. Whether we cycled, walked, or rode in the support van, we learned that goals are measurable and fade with time, but dreams are boundless. Our dream was to help each other with our own special abilities and uncap the courage deep within ourselves.  

Every night we camped under the vastness of the Himalayan skies enjoying friendship, cool mountain breezes, footfalls of wild horses, tastes of delicious curries, and views of the Milky Way. We recalled the calamities and successes of the day with humour and helped each other prepare for the next stage of our journey. 

Divyanshu “Dishanavu” Ganatra, vision-impaired founder of Adventures Beyond Barriers, taught me the meaning of the Hindi word Ananda – one of the highest states of being, Bliss – by inviting me to be the driver of his tandem bicycle. I was his eyes; and he was my guru. He taught me how to start, stop, balance, and navigate corners and pot holes safely. We achieved a oneness of complete trust within minutes. Being Dishanavu’s sighted cycling ally taught me that losing your sight is not losing your vision.

Looking back on my Himalayan Adventure Beyond Barriers, I can say for all of us in the group the trip was transformative – reshaping each person into citizens of a new global society; transcending all borders of race, religion, gender and abilities. We opened a new door in the house of our minds to a fresh understanding and acceptance of persons with disabilities to participate in adventure sports.

THANK YOU, ROBYN. You have well affirmed the wisdom of a quote from The Little Prince that means so much to both you and the founder: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”


© 2019 Warren Harbeck

Return to Coffee With Warren home page