How I met a quokka and rode a bike

Rottnest Island Western Australia

I did a bit of bike riding prior to the Lycra Boy episode. One particularly joyous time I recall was on Rottnest Island. Rottnest Island is a picturesque island 18 kilometres off the coast of Western Australia. It is home to the quokkas, cute little marsupials that are unique to Western Australia and distant cousins of the kangaroo. A few years ago, my daughter Hannah and I caught the ferry from Perth to Rottnest Island. We were in WA for a wedding and decided we couldn’t leave until we had seen a real live quokka up close.

Getting around the island

Bike riding is popular on the island because cars are prohibited. How good is that? Consequently most tourists hire bikes. I knew it was going to be a challenge of the scary kind with my low vision but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from hiring a bike.  So naturally we hired bikes. Hannah had the idea to wear her brightest coloured T-shirt so that I could follow her easily on my bike. Smart kids, my kids. I had my eyes firmly fixed on the T-shirt as I followed her around the salt lakes. Hannah noticed a friendly little quokka in the long grass close to the edge of the road so we stopped for a closer inspection. He didn’t scurry away but came up closer as if he wanted his photo taken. This little dude definitely knew how to smile for the camera.

Feeling liberated

I felt so free and easy riding that bike on Rottnest. So much so that I wanted to continue it when I got home to Tasmania. That desire led me to the unpleasant encounter with Lycra Boy. But the experience didn’t deter me. Instead it made me more determined to make bike riding a part of my weekly repertoire. But I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it …

No blind couch potatoes around here

A few years later I joined a Telelink group for people with low vision.  At the first meeting it was the usual thing of self-introductions and talking about our interests. I quickly discovered I was the only almost blind couch potato in the group. Nearly everyone one said how much they enjoyed bike riding.  When it got to my turn I just said ‘How the hell do you ride a bike?’ “We tandem silly!’ So that was it! I just had to have a tandem bike.  

I got my own bicycle built for two

So with a little of help from my friends (Beatles) I eventually acquired a beautiful shiny white tandem bike. Only one more problem to solve.  I needed someone to ride me around.  It didn’t take long until I met Richy, a registered disability support worker and a very experienced cyclist.  One of Richy’s favourite things was supporting people with low/no vision.  He was keen to become my pilot (front tandem rider) and has continued in his role until this day.  Most of the time he seems fearless. However, there was one occasion when the conversation went like this.

Richy  ‘Did that scare you?’

Me ‘No. What was it?’

Richy said it was a truck hurtling past us, extremely close at very high speed. He reckoned the driver was doing at least 85kmh in a 60 kmh zone.  All I felt was a sudden tornado which caused the bike to become unsteady and wobble from side to side quite a bit.  I didn’t see the truck until it was well in front of us.  There isn’t anything good about having Retinits Pigmentosa but not having any side vision could be considered an advantage when riding tandem down a busy highway. You can’t fear what you don’t see. That said,  I will be enjoying my relationship with my tandem bike for a long time to come!

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