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Bainbridge’s rider without a cause
Life may be a highway, but for some the road to success looks more like a bike path.
That, at least, is the case for Devon Raney.
Raney is departing early Friday, Sept. 6 for a 75-day bicycle trip that will take him and seven friends from Bainbridge Island to Tijuana, Mexico, just over 1,900 miles away.
The distance may not seem so intimidating to serious cyclists — the longest Tour de France was 3,570 miles. But those athletes had just a slight edge over Raney: They could see.
“In 2008 I lost 85 percent of my vision after a surfing accident triggered a genetic disorder called Lebers Hereditary Optic Neuropathy,” Raney explained.
“I hit my head, and two weeks later my vision became really pixelated,” he said. “After my vision loss I felt pressure to start over and relearn things. I was being forced to take a different path in life than I wanted to.”
With the love and support of his wife Rebecca and his young daughter Madrona, Raney began the slow and frustrating process of regaining his daily routine.
However, it was not enough for him simply to be independent, he wanted to do something new.
Quickly losing patience with the slower pace his life had taken, the formerly athletic and active husband and father decided to get back to his old ways.
“I had to find new ways to do the things I always loved to do, like biking, snowboarding and surfing,” Raney said. “These are the fun things that fuel my family.”
That being said, it’s an undeniably big step from learning how to ride a bike again to biking down the length of the West Coast.
Raney intends to make the trip riding on the rear seat of a tandem bike, with seven different friends and fellow athletes breaking the trip into legs by taking turns riding up front.
They will be completely self-contained, sleeping in state parks and on beaches, and living primarily off of food they pack. All the while they will be towing a trailer with extra clothes and, of course, surfboards. More curious though than his method of travel is Raney’s ultimate motivation, or lack thereof.
Simply put, he doesn’t have one.
“I’m not trying to be an inspirational figure,” Raney said. “I was tired of not being in charge of my own adventures since my vision loss and relying on Becca and others to create an adventure that I could be a part of. I wanted to show that I can do this in spite of this hardship, just because I can. This is strictly for the experience and the adventure; I don’t think everything has to be latched to a cause or a reason.”
Along the way Raney does intend to stop and speak at various high schools, but he intends to stay true to his original “cause-less” platform, and he maintains the only message he’s trying to spread is the idea that it’s OK to try something new.
“Does everything need a reason?” Raney asked.
“I think adventure is part of the human spirit, everyone wants to experience something greater than themselves. There are just so many blockers out there these days, especially for kids. A lot of people have challenges just as significant as vision loss, it’s just a question of whether or not people are willing to change the way they do things,” he said.
Rebecca Raney said that organizing the trip has given her husband back a side of himself that she had not seen since his accident.
“I’m super excited he’s putting together something he’s passionate about,” she said.
“When he was building houses, which is what he did before he lost his vision, he was so good at it because he would organize the team and manage the schedule and get everybody working together. Now, for the first time since his vision loss, it’s like he’s building a house again.”
The trip does indeed resemble a house, in that it has so many angles to consider, and Raney is leaving no aspect of his adventure to chance.
“We’re packing a lot of dry goods, nuts and dry fruits,” he said. “Also some dark chocolate bars and smoked salmon.”
“Water is the big thing; we have to know how to get water every 10 miles or so. We have some very detailed maps and it’s a pretty well-traveled route, so it’s not a huge concern.”
The first three days are intended as a sort of easing-into of the real trip schedule, with Becca driving along nearby with extra supplies and equipment. Even Raney’s daughter Madrona and one of her friends will be riding along on their bikes those first few days.
“She’s pretty amazing,” Raney said of his daughter. “She acts as my eyes sometimes.”
Still, being the only person involved who is making the entire trip, there is added pressure on Raney himself to perform well and keep to his schedule.
The 38-year-old insists he’s up to the challenge.
“I’m training more than I ever have,” Raney said. “Everything I do now revolves around the trip. I try to break my workouts into blocks to get my body used to starting up again. I feel great. My biggest fear is that we’ll get behind because we find a place where the surf is good. It’s really a surf trip that became a bike adventure.”
In keeping with his nonchalance regarding the whole idea, Raney maintains that the real message is not himself and the obstacles he has had to overcome, but the idea of doing something for yourself.
“I just hope people are inspired by the idea of just doing something without a cause,” he said.
“Every American should take six months off and do something awesome. We have a lot of opportunity in this country. I now have more time, and I want to be proud of what I do with that time.”
To keep track of Raney’s progress and to see his latest photos, visit his blog at bikesboardsblind.com.