55 YEAR-old Cathy Birchall from Warrington, riding pilion with her husband Bernard, has become the first blind woman to circumvent the globe on a motorcycle.
Cathy suffers with retinitis pigmentosa and has been blind for much of her life. She met husband Bernard Smith seven years ago, while he was working as a teacher for the Royal National Institute of Blind People and she for charity Action For Blind People. She had never been on a motorcycle before she met Bernard, who, long harbouring a desire to travel the world on his 1990 BMW R100RT, convinced her to take a year-long sabbatical.
Their journey began in August 2008, but now, with the release of their book 'Touching The World: A Blind Woman, Two Wheels and 25,000 miles', her extraordinary story is coming to light.
The couple's travels encompassed Europe, Asia, Australia, South America and North America and took a year. In Peru, Cathy also became the first blind woman to climb Huayana Pichu, Machu Pichu's sister mountain.
Cathy recorded her experiences on a tape recorder as she went, describing the pair's experiences. Using an intercom system, Bernard would describe the scenery through which they passed. Speaking to Manchester Evening News, Cathy described her experience of the journey:
'I could smell the heat of the deserts, the cool from the mountains. I could hear the silence when you are up in the mountains. I could hear the hustle and bustle as we were going through street markets. I could feel the temperature. All the other senses kicked in and gave me a full picture.
“And I spoke to people – the everyday people we came across. That made the trip.'
Sadly, six weeks after their return from the trip, Cathy was diagnosed with breast cancer for which she is still being treated. Writing the book, she says, has given her focus throughout the treatment.
In publishing the book, Bernard and Cathy hope to get visual impairment literature 'into the mainstream in a positive way.'