#BlindManCan | The Blind Scooter Guy

 Image: Christopher Venter | Blind Scooter Guy

Image: Christopher Venter | Blind Scooter Guy

Christopher Venter 

 Image: Christopher Venter

Image: Christopher Venter

In 2013, Christopher Venter went on an adventure on a 150cc LML Vespa scooter with three other riders. They had set out on a charity ride for a local children’s hospital. His 32,000 km trip took him from Cape Town, South Africa to Dublin, Ireland, with some detours along the way. An illness he contracted while riding in Africa meant he had to make some changes to his route as he sought medical attention. And then being the adventurer that he was, he continued the trip, even though he still felt some of the effects of the illness. When Christopher completed the trip, and he was still not feeling well, he again sought medical help. After much testing, Christopher received some startling news and his life was forever changed. The outcome could have been very different, but Christopher’s story gives us all hope that any challenge can be met with the right attitude.

Website: https://blindscooterguy.com

Educating the audience about how a visually impaired person manages to survive and thrive in a sight dependent world using technology, their remaining senses, an adventurous spirit plus a whole lot of courage. Christopher Venter is an adventurer and writer based in Cape Town, South Africa.

TRANSCRIPT:

Interviewer: Jim Martin | Guest: Christopher Venter Photos: Christopher Venter

This transcript has been created from the original audio episode released February 22, 2018. This transcript may have been modified to make reading easier. As Adventure Rider Radio shows are meant to be listened to and not read, the following script may contain some grammatical and other errors. You can also listen to this interview by downloading the episode.

PROLOGUE:

Jim (Narrate): Christopher Venter lives in South Africa, and he'd already done one long adventure on his Vesper scooter before this one. It was a combined adventure/charity ride for a children's hospital. And it would end up covering 32,000 kilometres (or almost 20,000 miles), taking Chris and his team of three other riders from Cape Town in South Africa, all the way to Dublin in the UK. But what Chris didn't know that morning as he rode away, was that this trip would present the biggest challenge he had ever faced.

Christopher Venter: All of a sudden, within two days, my sight totally disappeared. I went totally blind. Nothing; black, starless nights.

Jim (Narrate): And how he dealt with this challenge and what was happening to him would define his future.

Christopher: It was really hard. I felt…very, very alone, very broken and…I just wanted to die. I laid there in that hospital bed, wishing…that I would close my eyes, and it would be over.

Jim (Narrate): I’m Jim Martin. This is Adventure Rider Radio. Stay with us. We've got a good one for you.

BREAK

PROLOGUE (Con’t):

Jim (Narrate): A while back I was watching a speaker that I really like, named Sir Ken Robinson. If you ever get a chance, you should look him up. He was doing this talk that he calls ‘Finding Your Element’. And he was talking to a large group, an audience inside an auditorium in Los Angeles. Basically what he was saying to them was; back when he was a kid, in the 50s living in Liverpool in the UK, he could never have imagined he would end up living in LA, talking to those people like he was at the moment. He went on to ask the audience…he said; how many of you really anticipated the life that you're leading now? The life that you've led so far, when you were kids? The point he went on to make was that; we create and recreate our lives as we go, according to the opportunities around us, and the talent we find within ourselves at the time. And of course, whether we're open to it. I mean, it makes sense doesn't it? You have plans, you strive for something, and often something comes along that you couldn't have prepared for. And all of a sudden, plans change. Life changes. We all know that life can throw us curveballs. Some much worse than others. But, how we choose to react to those curveballs…well, that's what defines our future.

INTERVIEW

Jim (Narrate): Chris Venter set off on a charity ride from Cape Town in South Africa, to Dublin, Ireland, on a scooter. That trip changed his life in ways he never could have prepared for. This is his story.

Christopher: I’m an adventurer, an author, an accessibility buddy, a professional speaker, and pretty much just a crazy all-round guy.

Jim (Narrate): That’s Chris Ventor, who lives in South Africa. He is [all of] that now, but he used to be a professional chef.

Christopher: Yeah, a chef, believe it or not.

Jim (Narrate): He's very busy, he’s working a lot.

Christopher: …A workaholic. I put myself into my career. Focused on that to try to make as good a life as possible. I worked as a development and training chef, and my culinary career to me to all corners of the globe. Most of the time I worked in the Caribbean setting up kitchens, staff training, organizing a supply chain, purchasing equipment, writing curriculums for culinary schools, all that type of thing.

Jim (Narrate): And even though he's busy working all over the world, and doing all kinds of things, he still considered his life to be adventurous.

Christopher: Even working as a professional chef can be quite adventurous. I had to, having the adventurous spirit in me since a very young age.

Jim (Narrate): And on top all this, he liked to collect scooters. He was a sort of a scooter collector.

Christopher: A vintage Vespa scooter collector and enthusiast.

Jim (Narrate): Right, Vespa collector and enthusiast.

Jim: So why would you become a collector of Vesper scooters? Is that are a big thing where you’re from?

Christopher: Not at all. It's just a…We all have a hole that we throw our spare money into. Luckily mine’s not drugs or gambling or anything like that. I came across the first Vespa scooter, and I thought; wow, this is quite a stylish little thing. I knew absolutely nothing about it. I bought it, took it to a bike shop, and he basically said, look, he's never worked on one before. He has absolutely no idea how to get it going. And if I'm prepared to spend a bit of time with him, and do the work myself, he will show me, and we'll figure it out together. And [I] absolutely fell in love with them. The bug bit in a big way. And [I] started buying them up left right, and centre, wherever I could find an old one. Because, in those days, you could still buy them for a pretty good price. That's no longer the case because they’ve become much more desirable now.

Jim: Describe the Vespa scooters (for those who don't know).

Christopher: Well, they started in the ‘50s. But the main scooter model that you see is called the classic SIP. That started in the 70’s. It’s either a 150 or 200 CC two stroke engine. The nice thing about a two stroke is that any idiot can fix it. It's die-hard. The wheel is set straight onto the engines direct drive, so there's no chain or anything like that. The clutch is quite simple. There's a lot of packing space on scooters that actually makes it, ironically, really good for long distance traveling. Although, they obviously are not made for that, I wanted to prove that they can do that. And anybody who can fix an outboard motor, or a chainsaw, is able to fix a Vespa scooter’s engine. It all runs on a cable system, so you have a gear selector arm. So your left hand handle basically twists, and that's how you rotate. It’s got two cables that run to a little selector box at the back the engine, and there's a clutch, which is quite nice. The reason that I wanted to ride a Vespa scooter through Africa and around Africa is because, if you ride something that's automatic (which most of these paper plate scooters, as I call them, [are]), it overheats as soon as you get into tricky terrain. As soon as you have to ride through a lot of mud or up and down in rocks and sand, it just overheats. It's not made for that. So you can control that, and you are sure that your clutch is not going to simply burn out. It's also relatively affordable (an old Vespa). The parts are mostly made in India, and sometimes in China. And yeah, you can fix it yourself. You get a front rack, a rear rack. There’s a nice place between your legs. The Italians say that they like the cowl on a scooter because their nice fancy leather shoes doesn't get dirty. But for me it was nice packing space for an extra 10 litres of fuel. And the tank is extended, so you could have a great range, and with a set of soft side Pannier bags, as well as a bag on a seat…we can travel about 650 kilometres without having to fuel up.

Jim (Narrate): And, as Chris says it, then he got this crazy idea.

Christopher: Yep. I wanted to try to do something…something crazy. Something that no one else had ever done, [that] no one else would ever do…do it for a good cause, and at the same time, create a story.

Jim: Okay. So there's two trips that we're going to talk about here. The first scooter trip- what was that all about?

Christopher: Well the first trip I decided on, and then this, I wasn't sure that I was going to do it with the Vespa scooter, because that only…that's where the addiction (let’s call it) was born. The first trip was- I decided to travel the circumference of South Africa, up to the Namibian border, across and skirted down the bottom of Botswana and around the Zimbabwean border, and down touching Mozambique, Swaziland…basically touching the most western northern eastern southern points of South Africa. I decided that it would be a fund raiser and publicity stunt for a local children's hospital called the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital in Cape Town. I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into. Once we started preparing for the trip, Vespa South Africa actually contacted us and said, we would like to sponsor you guys with a couple of our new four stroke Vespas. And, just to make sure that you don't have any issues with breakdowns or anything like that, we’ll make sure that we have roadside assistance and that type of thing. So the old scooter got parked, and we jumped on the new scooters. And of course, well with Vespa behind us, we would get much more publicity for the children's hospital. So that's why we chose to do this- myself and another guy- we did that trip and we raised a lot of money, we raised a lot of publicity. We had an immense amount of support. It was…there was a lot of television coverage. We were on every radio station. The trip was a huge success. But, when you have one adventure, you start thirsting for the next one. And that was Africa.

Jim: So the first trip- a huge success. And now, you get an idea to do the second one. What is that?

Christopher: Well, I decided that I'd like to travel. Originally the idea….my folks lived in Dublin at the time, they were working in Dublin. So I decided- we have a town called Durban here- so I thought, Durban to Dublin. That sounds nice. Let's do Durban to Dublin. Then of course, with Vespa not having a geared scooter at the time, we went to the Indian equivalent of the Vespa, which is LML. Which is exactly the same scooter. When Vespa stopped manufacturing that model, LML continued. And Vespa owned the LML factory for many years, so there was no difference as such. We approached LML, and said, we would like to ride from Durban to Dublin. They said, that's all fine, we’ll sponsor you with four scooters (there were four of us on the trip), but we think that you should again tie in with the Red Cross Children's Hospital, and ride from Cape Town (rather than from Durban), and use the trip as a peadiatric healthcare awareness campaign. So visit schools, children's homes, and kids hospitals right through Africa, and then skirt through Italy and France, go to the UK, do a little spin around Ireland, and finish at Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Dublin, Ireland. Which is ironically about the same age as the Red Cross Children’s Hospital- they had many similarities, although we are a third world country, and they very much are not. We just decided- OK, let's do the Red Cross Children's Hospital (or the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital is their full proper name) to Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital in Dublin. But, that sounds a little crazy, and nobody knows exactly where that is, so we just called the trip ‘Cape Town to Dublin by Scooter’. That, of course, would be the trip that ended up changing my life so drastically.

Jim: What was this trip like? Did you get into like…Give us an idea of what sort of conditions you're riding in. Are you riding on paved roads? Are you getting into some dirt? How difficult is it?

Christopher: What most people don't realize about riding in Africa [is], if you stick to the main roads it's pretty much paved all the way. But, when you have to turn off that main road, all that main road is bad- then the action begins. Because turning off that road with a little 10 inch wheeled Vespa scooter is a bit more of a challenge. The corrugation- when you're got big wheels, you can fly over the corrugation no problem. With a Vespa, you go crawling speed. So that becomes a real challenge. The first bit of the trip from Cape Town, we did end up driving all the way, we road along the East Coast to Durban, simply because we wanted to do that. And then up to Johannesburg [where] we did a big activation day with the Nelson Mandela Children's Hospital. We went into Botswana, and we visited a children's home they call the Camp Hill Village, and teamed up with a bunch of ladies who had this Journey of Hope program (it’s a breast cancer awareness campaign). Then the action began, because then the road started getting bad. We were, you know…at one point I remember in Botswana, we rode and ahead of me I saw an elephant. I was leading the group, and I saw an elephant coming up across the road, so I stopped and wasn't really able to do anything except stop. The elephant crossed the road about 50 metres ahead of us. Then all of a sudden another two or three started coming out. The guys had stopped behind me, and we’d turned the ignitions off, and then I realized that there weren't only crossing in front of us, they were crossing behind us as well. As I looked back, and we had a troop of…must have been very very close to 70/80 elephants basically cross the roads…they were absolutely not interested in us, they just crossed by. That same day we had to stay at a place called Pandamatenga, and the directions were quite simple- follow the road until the bush breaks, and when the bush breaks there will be some farmlands to the left hand side where they grow sorghum (which is like a wheat they use for beer), and when you see the sorghum fields, turn around go back one kilometre, and you'll find a little jeep track. Follow that jeep track until you find a thatched house, and we will be hosting you, that's where you'll be staying. So it was now getting to like 5pm in the afternoon, and we found that the jeep track eventually after finding the lands, and realized that the sand…it’s just no way [that] these creatures are going to travel on the sand. We must have tried for about three hours, it was now starting to get dark. We drove to the sorghum fields, and we ended up riding amongst the sorghum to get to our host. And it was great because then we slept, and they made us a nice roast, and everything was great. Then it started raining, and all that clay that the sorghum was growing [in], turned to mud. So the next morning we tried for an hour to ride in the mud, and we couldn't get further than three or four metres, and you literally would just sink and fall over. So we headed right back on the gravel, on the sand road, on the soft sand road. And luckily the rain had kind of compacted it a little bit. So what we ended up doing is parking two scooters and having one guy running next to one scooter- [one guy] accelerating and riding, another guy pushing it from the rear. Then we'd get it 20/30 metres, and then we'd go back and do the same with the other scooter, and then we go back and carry all the bags and kits over. What should have taken, and what would have taken a car about 10 minutes, took us about eight hours. Two clutches were burnt out, so we had to then sit on the side of the road for another hour, and replace two clutches. It was crazy. So the roads- good. But turn off the road…that's when the action begins.

Jim: So do you have parts with you? Or- you’re saying replace the clutches- you guys had clutches with you?

Christopher: Yeah, we carried…way too many parts, actually Jim, and we even carried a complete barrel, the crank and everything. We didn't need all of that, because the scooters are die-hard. They really are as tough as nails. What we needed, we didn't have. We used a lot of clutch plates, cables…a lot of bulbs because your bulbs…the scooter obviously bubbles around a little bit on cobble roads in Italy in a village, but it's not made to drive on the type of corrugation that we had to travel on. So your bulbs burn out, they pop. Your cables get stretched, you have to replace them. The one rider I think clocked about 60 punctures, so that's a lot of tube repairs. Lucky the wheel is a split rim wheel. Piaggio was actually an aircraft company in the world war, and after the world war they decided; now their factories been bombed, it's been destroyed, and we want to develop a cheap means of transport. So a lot of the tooling, the engineering, and the design, came from aircraft engineers. So the wheel- the front wheel and the back wheel- just pops off to the side. It's got a split rim that has a tube, so it's quite easy. You have a spare wheel- which means it's a lot quicker and easier for us to change a wheel on the road, than it would be with a big bike. But yeah- does that really make things better? No, not at all. I was lucky, I went the entire route without having a puncture.

Jim: So you mentioned that you're running with, well obviously with, things to repair your tires. You even mentioned that you've got clutch plates and cables, and even a cylinder with you. What else are you running with? What all do you have packed on your scooter?

Christopher: Alright, so in our side bags we had our clothing, in our bag at the back, we’d have our spares, parts, two stroke oil all sorts of things like that. That was on top of a little box, a little black ammo box type of thing, on racks that we built. Between our legs was 10 litres of fuel. On the seat behind us, we'd have a little cooler bag with our daily meal, snacks, water, things like that. Then on the front rack we'd have another bag with all of our camping kits- tents, stretchers, sleeping bags, mosquito nets…that type of thing. As well as a fire extinguisher, or a tiny little fire extinguisher. In some countries in Africa, it's mandatory that you have a fire extinguisher. So we got really small ones that looked like a flare- they’re tiny, you hold them in your hand- and luckily never had to use them.

Jim: That's a lot of stuff on a scooter. The scooter clearly has to be overloaded.

Christopher: The scooter [is] 100 kilograms, just over 100 kilograms. Each rider weighs 80 to 100 kilograms, and then we carried another 80 to 100 kilograms. You have to remember that these scooters in India generally carry a pillion, or more than three/four/five people at a time, so they’re tough. But yes- we did damage the rear shocks, and all of us (by the time we got home) had to replace our rear shocks. It got to a point where the shocks just weren't there anymore. But luckily you’re slow, and you're traveling at enough speed that you can just not worry about shocks, just have a bumpy ride.

Jim (Narrate): We're going to take just a short break and we'll be right back with a whole bunch more to the story. Chris talks about getting sick, and it sort of goes on from there.

BREAK

INTERVIEW (Con’t)

Jim: At some point during the trip, you ended up getting sick.

Christopher: When I was in East Africa, in Tanzania, my health fell apart. I didn't know what was wrong with me, and I couldn't get medical attention. This is where my real adventure actually begins. So this is a bit of a sad part of the story. I went to try to get medical help, and I could not, because the expat hospital was the only one that would see me. They wanted a 5000 US dollar deposit just to see me. I felt that was a little extreme, and I was also warned that even if they ended up prescribing me a couple of headache pills, I would not get a cent of it back. They would find reason to use it; a bunch of tests…all sorts of things. So my options were quite limited. I was in Dar es Salaam at this point. It was suggested to me that I go over to Zanzibar, because Zanzibar is quite a tourism based island, and on Zanzibar there were a lot of expat doctors. Well, it just so happened when I got to Zanzibar, they were all on holiday. There wasn’t a single doctor to see there. I had become very dehydrated, and one day I just became so dizzy, I just collapsed. I couldn't walk, so limped, crawling around, very very disoriented. I said; what can I do? There's no way I can continue with this trip. I need to get some medical attention, I need to go home. [At] the hotel that had sponsored us, the manager found me lying in the garden. He basically helped me to his office, and I said, just get me to a doctor. He tried to phone around, tried to get me in anywhere, nobody could see me. So I said, here’s my credit card- book me a ticket- get me to the airport. I don't really remember much more than that. I remember the doctor here in Cape Town diagnosing that I was severely dehydrated, I had bad food poisoning, and I had bilharzia. He pumped me full of antibiotics and vitamins, and I felt great. But it wasn't actually what the problem was. It was a rare flesh eating virus that had attacked part of my body, and it just wasn't diagnosed. But of course with all the medicine, I felt fine. The rest of the guys continued. My scooter got shipped back from Dar es Salaam. Luckily again, we had the company that was sponsoring that side of it. I spent about a month on the couch at home, and I felt OK. I was itching; I just wanted to get back on the road and join the guys.

Jim: So they're still riding. They're still going along. How long has this trip been to this point?

Christopher: Well, it was an eight month trip in total. At this point, we were about three months into it- three and a half months into it- when I fell ill. So what I did, when I started feeling well again, is I started contacting people in Europe. Eventually I got hold of the dealer that sold the scooters in Paris, France. And, because the rest of my team had gotten stuck in Ethiopia with visa issues and delays, it gave me a chance to get to Europe and travel south to meet them when they arrived. Because they had been delayed and they'd missed out on a lot of the engagements and appointments we had in Europe with Vespa clubs (we went to the Euro Vespa rally and things like that), I got to do these things but in reverse. So I jumped onto a loaned scooter or so a sponsored (just the use of it was sponsored in Paris), and I traveled down south of the South Coast France and travelled across the Col de l’lseran, and down Italy- all the way to Sicily, just up on to the mainland. I met the guys when they arrived by ferry from Israel. And funnily enough, I ended up doing more mileage than they did with my solo ride in Europe. [I] managed to continue and complete the trip with them as well as do a lot of extra things, because two of the other two South African guys got stuck in Rome with more visa issues for the United Kingdom visa. Myself and the American guy, we got to do a ride over to the to the east coast, and up to Rimini and Santarcangelo, and we met them again down in Florence a couple of weeks later. So I really was getting extra mileage.

Jim: How are you feeling the whole time, as you're riding along there? You've sort of got yourself feeling pretty good. You left home, you're back on the bike again. Are you feeling fully recovered at this point?

Christopher: When I flew into Paris I was collected from the airport at about 11pm, and we then went out to dinner. That night I got to bed…it must have been about 2:30/3 o'clock that I climbed into bed. The next morning at 9 o'clock, I was at Heritage Motors (the sponsor of the scooter that I was going to use) with the big press party, and a lot of photographers, all that type of thing. By the time I got onto the scooter and left to travel to Leon, it was well into the afternoon. By the time I got to Leon that night, it was about midnight. I remember lying in the bed of the couch surfing hosts place, shaking, and thinking, uh-oh- there's a problem. I’m not right. But I thought- exhaustion. That's all that it can be. By the time we finished the trip in Dublin, I was finished. I was absolutely wrecked. I just wanted to get home. I truly believed that all I needed was a couple of weeks on the sofa, eating some candy bars and some home cooked meals, and I'd be fine. 30000 kilometres, I did just over 30000 kilometres in total. I got home and thought- rest. But the rest didn't help. It just got worse. So I started going to doctors. I went to (first) to the GP, and she said, OK, you should be OK. I went back to her. She said no, I can take you to one of my colleagues. I went to see him. Back to her. She sent me to the hospital. They did a bunch of blood tests, and again, I was in this washing machine of torrents, like a hot potato. They did everything from a lumber puncture to MRI scans. I don't know how many blood tests, chest x-rays, you name it. My sight started giving me…I had these like little floaters, so something wasn't right there. I kept telling them, something's not right [with] my eyes. I can feel something wrong. They’d look through my eyes and say, no, looks fine. No problem. That's not the issue. They tested me for everything from tuberculosis to AIDS to malaria to…they tried everything, but they couldn't find out what was wrong. They just kept pumping me full of vitamins, and another course of antibiotics. After the MRI, they tested the spinal fluid, and they said that it seems like I just had a very bad infection in my sinuses. They gave me antibiotic on the drip, and they sent me home. And, I didn't get better. A couple of days later my eyesight really started to bother me, so I contacted an ophthalmologist and made an appointment. But I had to wait a couple weeks for that appointment. So I just waited. Then all of a sudden, within two days my sight totally disappeared. I went totally blind. Nothing. Black starless nights. Within two days to nothing, to see nothing. So I quickly contacted the ophthalmologist and said, look I've got a problem, (and he said), get here. My wife Tamlyn took me to see him, and immediately he diagnosed the zoster virus that was growing on my retinas. This was the virus that was attacking my light receptor cells. He sent me for some blood tests, and he immediately sent me to {?} hospital. There they stuck a needle right through my eye. I cringe even thinking about it. It was one of the most excruciating, painful, terrible experiences of my life. And they did an optical tap, where they suck a bit of juice out from the back of your eye to biopsy. Then just when I thought it was over, he stuck another needle in through the eye again, to inject something into the back of my to replace what he'd taken out to and to medicate what was going on. Then it was confirmed that this virus had attacked my eyes. The following day I sat in his office with him. I was in the ward and I, at this point, couldn't walk. I couldn't do anything. I was absolutely totally half dead. No, three quarters dead. And he said to me, he says, okay we’ve diagnosed what's wrong. When the virus is coming right, we will destroy it. You'll be OK in the next couple of weeks, but you're blind, and there's nothing we can do about that. You’re going to be blind for the rest of your life. Yeah. I sat quite stunned when I heard that.

Jim: Did you believe that?

Christopher: I didn't. We spent the next couple of months researching any medical breakthroughs- stem cell treatments, gene therapy…anything. We looked at technology, we tried to communicate. We went to see another ophthalmologist, a private one for a second opinion. But the light receptor cells on my retina were destroyed. So just to explain how the eye works- your eyeball itself is really just a lens. If you imagine the retina as kind of like a driving screen, where you have the framework as well as the screen. This is right at the back of your eye. This takes the light and converts it, and allows you to see. Then behind the framework is something called the optical nerve. This transfers this data, and sends it to your brain (to the optical area at the back your brain). This is what allows you to have sight. So the light receptor cells, the rods and cones, are the screen that's on the front, and that's what was destroyed. Although my eyes (again my retina’s OK, my optical nerves OK, everything there is fine) the light receptor cells were totally destroyed. And this is what causes sight loss in most blind people.

Jim: Did you ask them or inquire at that point, if they had treated you earlier or figured it out earlier, understood what the problem was…would your sight have been saved?

Christopher: Yes. Totally. I was dealing not only with a sight loss, with the solitary confinement that I found myself in, but I was also dealing with the fact that I could barely lift my arms. I could not move, I could not walk. I was virtually paralyzed, and it was hard. It was really hard. I felt very, very alone, very broken and I just wanted to die.
I lay there in that hospital bed, just wishing that I would close my eyes, and it would be over. But then my wife Tamlyn would be there, and she'd hold my hand, and I survived. I eventually started getting strong. I started getting well enough, but nothing could be done about my sight. It was a big pill to swallow. It was like swallowing a bolt.

Jim: How old are you at this time?

Christopher: I was 40. It was just before my 41st birthday, three months before I’d proposed to my girlfriend. We had a wedding pending, and I wasn't sure whether she would stay with me. It's quite common for blind people to lose their partner. They just struggle to deal with it. So I was concerned that there was a chance that I'd lose her, and yeah. Well, today we’re married, and that didn't happen, thank goodness.

Jim: So you go from getting the news, feeling like you don't want to live, and then trying to somehow come to grasp with the fact that you are going to live- because your health is actually improving. How do you go about now becoming this new person? I mean, you're really changing, in my mind, everything about your life has changed.

Christopher: When I sat there in the hospital, I sat up in the hospital bed, and the doctor said you need to have another couple of weeks here. We need to make sure that you're healthy and well. I said, I’m going home. And he said, you're not ready to go home. So I said, send me home. I will go and bounce off the walls, I’ll figure it out. Send me home. I'm going home now. Today. Goodbye. And he said, OK. Unfortunately in South Africa, we don't have the type of sight loss support that you do have. Canada is actually renowned as being the best in the world. Believe it or not. In the states, the UK, Ireland, New Zealand…those countries have fantastic support systems, yeah. The organizations are geared to either teach blind children, so school, where you can learn basic school stuff. I don't want to go back to school or college or anything like that. Or you can go learn how to weave baskets or string beads, that type of thing. So it was very frustrating for me. I sat trying to break out of the prison cell, and for many months I sat lost, losing my identity. It was almost as if I had…I was still alive, but everything around me had died. I was trapped in this bubble, and the world around me was still going on. But I wasn't able to enjoy it, or experience it, just see it.

Jim: What kind of things? Describe what kind of things would you miss?

Christopher: Well, it was really difficult with my partner. I wanted to be able to see her. When you go through sight loss it's not only you that has the trauma, but your family does as well. I wanted to be strongly for her. I wanted to cook dinner. I wanted to, you know, we'd go to friends for a barbecue and I'd be sitting on a chair, and people talk about you as if you're not there. I call myself now an accidental accessibility advocate, and that's simply because you have no choice, you just become. You have to stand up for blind people, so people understand more about them. Because, up until recently, they didn't have the opportunities to work and live a full, fun, fruitful, normal life. But now thanks to technology, that is totally possible. Just because you're blind doesn't mean that you’re dead.

Jim: It's sort of misunderstood. People look at you, and they don't quite…they don't even know how to think about it. Because it's something you don't think about. Unless you have someone that you love or that you deal with that goes through slight loss, or any degree of blindness, you don't really understand or you don't get a chance to be exposed to it (unless you're sort of forced into it).

Christopher: Jim, I was that fool. I’d never met another blind person until becoming one myself. So I had absolutely no idea. I was oblivious. I probably would have treated them exactly the same way, just for total lack of understanding, lack of knowledge. Now the situation happens where I go into the bank, we walk up to the teller, and then the teller will say to my wife, what can I do for him? Or that type of thing. Or a waiter at the restaurant will say, what would he like to eat? I’m like, hello- I’m here. I can speak, I know what I want to eat, and please talk to me. So it's totally it's an awareness thing.

Jim: How do you handle that, when that happens, when the waiter comes up? Because I see it is…the waiter wouldn't necessarily…they're not being rude. It's just they again, they don’t know how to handle it, they don't understand your capabilities, and they don't even understand what handicaps are to the extent of it. So what do you do when they say that?

Christopher: Well part of what I do now as a professional speaker is to educate corporates and to teach them about accessibility. I have a talk called Seeing the Sightless where I show them that, most people don't realize that there are are 285 million blind people in the world, of which 40 million are totally blind like me. 100 percent blind. People don't understand that that's a customer base. So when we're on a website, and we're trying to buy a camping chair, and the little trolley in the top right hand corner is not labeled properly…it says image rather than check art..well, guess what? You're not doing business with me or the 285 million other blind people around the world. So I try to educate customers. I go into corporates, and I go into schools, and I teach them. I say to them, this is what I do, this is what I can do, and what I cannot do, and this is how you should treat me. I don't ever expect special treatment. I just expect equal treatment. That's all. I don't want people to call me differently abled, and specially abled, I'm not. I'm disabled. I’m blind. That's fine. I'm okay with that. But allow me to still live my dreams, and allow me to still do what I want to do, despite the challenges of my sight loss.

Jim: How do you go from sitting there at home, trying to get orientated I imagine, to becoming this advocate?

Christopher: It’s really difficult, but Tamlyn says that I'm an early adapter. I tried to learn about technology and figure out what was there. I discovered that Apple- which I gagged at the thought of going to an Apple device because I've never even touched one up to sight loss- but I discovered that they have an onboard program called Voice Over, which is a screen reader that allows you to navigate your way around. If you recall, in the old days, you never used a mouse on a computer. You’d float with an arrow key between icon and icon on the screen, and then to select it, you'd press enter. It's the same type thing. So when I float from icon to icon, whether I’m on my iPad, or my phone, on my MacBook…it tells me exactly what the icon under it is. So if it's Facebook, Twitter, email, clock, calendar, YouTube etc…and then I select it. I’d, for example on my phone I double tap, or on my keyboard I’d press certain keys, and select it. So using audio, it allows me to see in the way that I did before. It allows me to navigate around the computer. And although I can't sit with a map, and look at the map, I can still do pretty much anything thanks to accessible technology. [I] always say, a blind man can do anything that a sighted person is able to, provided the correct accessible technology is in place. Of course, this had me sitting in, yearning for more adventure. Because as soon as I could get onto Google, I started researching things and started realizing that yes, I can still be a travel and adventure writer as I had aspired to be. Since I was a little boy, I wanted to write. But guess what? I'm going to be a blind travel and adventure writer. My story, which I call ‘How I Became the Blind Scooter Guy’, is not just the story of my Cape Town to Dublin by scooter trip, it’s also the story of my fall into the abyss- the oblivion of sight loss, and how I climbed out. How I have now become this blind adventurer. As I walk down this road of blindness, it did get a lot easier. It has now got to a point where I've moved down blindness boulevard at a speed almost faster than what guys on other roads are moving. Because, hey- what was the thorn poking at my side has now defined me, and it has become something special. I have a unique selling point. I'm not just an adventurer, I’m a blind adventurer. I'm not just a scooter guy, I'm a blind scooter guy. I need to tell you where the scooter guy thing came from. That’s quite relevant. My name's Chris, and Chris is a real common name, as you know, all the Mark’s and Dave’s of this world will know. So I’d call people up and say, hey it's Chris. Of course, they’d say, which Chris? So I’d say no, Chris the scooter guy. And they’re like oh Chris the scooter guy, Ok cool. Then I went blind, and they started saying, oh Chris the blind guy. I was like screw that. That doesn't work for me. So one day someone referred to me as the blind scooter guy, and boom- the name was born. It's kind of become…I am now lovingly known as the blind scooter guy.

Jim: You're an author and a writer now, and you're writing stories about adventure. Are you going on adventures and writing stories?

Christopher: You know, the first book that I wrote was my book titled How I Became the Blind Scooter Guy. To prep myself, and to get myself ready as a writer, I not only wrote (in the book)…because firstly I obviously had to learn how to walk, and then I had to learn how to use a computer without eyes, and then I had to write to book, edit the book, typeset the book. It's a one hell of a process. Whenever someone thinks that it's easy…well, guess what- it’s a thousand times more than you think. It’s a never ending roller coaster, and that light at the end of the tunnel is probably a train. But I started writing articles, so I’d written for a couple of…I’ve written for Explorers Connect, I’ve written for Lighthouse, I’ve written for Visualize, I’ve written for Gateway. So I've been writing travel articles…Traverse magazine. I just had an article in Traverse magazine now. I am loving writing. I enjoy it, it’s storytelling, and it's just made me thirsty for more adventures. So I have got three upcoming adventures, and I'm taking them off one a year, for the next three years- and after that who, knows. But I will not stop because of sight loss.

Jim: Have you been to places that you have visited on other adventures? In other words, let’s say an adventure that you've done. Have you revisited places or any place like that that you've been to before?

Christopher: Absolutely I have. I went to visit the elephant farm and I was the first blind visitor there. Walking up and touching an elephant, it was amazing, because although I'd seen them before, the way they reacted to me was totally…I’ve got a bit of infatuation with elephants, I think they're the most beautiful creatures. They were aware. They knew that I couldn't see. They all came to me and they were so graceful and so…they just…they knew. It was an amazing sensation, and can I tell you what? Using my four remaining senses- my sense of hearing, smell, taste, and touch, I now can see more clearly and better than I did when I was sighted. I’ve bungee jumped, I have kayaked, I have mountain climbed, I have ridden my scooter up and down the road, with my wife holding my elbows behind me. I'm about to import a side car, and one of my adventures will be a side car trip.

Jim: I think often when we see someone that's disabled, we are unaware of the extent of the disability. We don't know how to approach. I think people don't know how to approach it. So what is the protocol?

Christopher: I've yet to meet a blind person who doesn't feel totally comfortable answering questions. You might not say, oh how did you go blind, what happened to you, whatever. But, most people are quite comfortable. Hey, are you okay? Don't ever grab a blind person's hand or their cane, because that cane is an extension of your arm. If you grab it, you’re taking away their sense of touch. So now they don’t have sight or touch. So- words. Speak to them and say, hey- you OK there? Do you need help crossing the road or you arrived? Can I do anything for you? Are you looking for something?

Jim: So just engage in conversation. Ask the question.

Christopher: Absolutely. I've yet to meet a disabled person that is not prepared to answer any questions, and we like to educate. We like to make it easier so that the next time it's not so much of a challenge. Because every person that I have met, I like to think, has a different view of blind people now, because they realize- he can do anything. I had the cleaning lady that comes in every couple of weeks. And tomorrow is her day. Two weeks ago she worked, and I fell over that bucket and mop about five times and I had to educate, and I'm hoping tomorrow will be a better day. When she left, I struggled to find things. I had to wait for my wife to get home work to help me find things because she'd obviously relocated everything. So I'm going to make a point tomorrow. For the first hour, she's not picking up a rag or feather duster, mop- nothing. She’s going to walk around with me, and I’m going to speak to her. I’m going to show her why it's important.

Jim: What is your next adventure?

Christopher: To feel like a tongue twister. I call it a multifaceted Mediterranean mobility meander. So the famous explorer- the blind explorer- James Holman, who was the blind adventurer in the 19th century (in the late 19th century) did some crazy things. He swam in Mineral Springs above Axum Province in France. He climbed Mount Vesuvius. He traveled and navigated his way basically around the Mediterranean, around the ‘terranean sea, and he visited islands, and he did all sorts of crazy things. So I'm going to go and recreate what he did. I'm not able to climb Mount Vesuvius, because it's closed, so I’m going to climb Mount Etna- an active volcano in Sicily. I'm going to experience everything between Catania and Toulouse, using my four sense to navigate. My wife is coming along. She is only allowed to push the button on the camera, and take pictures, and say jump if a car is about to hit me or anything like that. We plan to have as many forms of mobility investigated as possible because, well, it makes for an interesting story. Whether it's sea kayaking, or tandem bicycle, scooter with a side car, running, hiking, walking, swimming- you name it. Horseback, donkey cart…as many forms as possible. And not only mobility…I want to taste as many local flavours in each of the areas, so I can pick up the local difference {?}. And obviously, you know, the smell. When you are in France, you walk through a lavender field, it's going to smell very different to being in a lemon grove in Sicily. Then sounds. I want to experience local music, and know the difference when the church bell rings in this town, compared to that town. I want to know the difference. Whereas most people wouldn't have a clue. I'll know the tone of the church bell in Pisa, compared to the church in Albi in France, because there's a difference. Every single church bells has got its own specific tone. And yeah- to eat. Italy and France- where better than to feast on a smorgasbord of flavours. From limón grenada and lima chile in southern Italy, to trapezes in Napoli on the Amalfi Coast, to cheeses and seafood in Sardinia, and then going into Tuscany and eating their steak florentine, and then going to the Courthezon and eating Parisian food that’s boeuf bourguignon, and then local wines in Provence going through to the Pyrenees Mountains. All my senses will be excited to the extreme. That's the intention.

Jim: Chris, thank you very much for coming on, talking with us, and telling your story.

Christopher: It's been an absolute pleasure. It feels like we've been talking for 10 minutes, but I suppose it’s been me talking for an hour, and you talking for 10 minutes.

Jim: I’ve been speaking with Christopher Venter, and you can find out more about what he does, and what he will be doing (which I assume is going to be a whole bunch, too) at his website www.blindscooterguy.com

~END~

CREDITS:

Interviewer/Host: Jim Martin
Producer: Elizabeth Martin
Transcriptionist: Natasha Martin

*Special thanks to our guest: Christopher Venter; www.blindscooterguy.com


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