Doing the 947 Ride Joburg blind – for guide dogs

Visually impaired couple Johannes and Jessica Grib recently completed their first 947 Ride Joburg.

Two tandems and a great day out, at the 947. (Photo: R24)

Two tandems and a great day out, at the 947. (Photo: R24)

Visually impaired couple Johannes and Jessica Grib rely on their guide dogs, Lucio and Lennox, to help them navigate everyday life.

For the couple to leave their dogs at home is a rare occasion. But they recently had to do just that to complete the 947 Ride Joburg.

Johannes and Jessica swapped their guide dogs for tandem pilots Donovan Roscoe and Tammy Visagie to complete their first 947 Ride Joburg. The goal? A very worthy one: raising funds for the South African Guide Dogs Association for the Blind.

No sight – but a greater sense of speed

For most cyclists, a 947 Ride Joburg is the culmination of their seasonal training and an opportunity to take over the streets of Johannesburg, without having to watch for vehicles. For some, it is a great opportunity to raise funds and awareness for charities close to their heart

Apart from a few pre-event training rides, the couple had never ridden a bicycle before. “On some of the downhills we clocked speeds in excess of 80km/h. The high speeds were terrifying as you are reliant on your pilot and sometimes, when they look around, it feels like their eyes are following their hands,” said Johannes.

“Being on the back of the tandem without being able to see is unique. You really experience the speed and can hear things passing such as other riders or music and things like that.”

No joy on the descents

For Jessica the downhills were a more traumatic experience. “I hated the downhills because of the high speeds and the fact that you have no idea how long the downhill is or when it is going to end. Although the uphills were harder work, I preferred them as the speed was slower.”

“In addition to not being able to see, I also have a hearing impairment, so it was interesting how the smells changed along the route depending on where we were passing.”

“I recall smelling things like sewerage, the burning of tyres, you know typical Johannesburg smells,” laughed Jessica.

Celebrating with a Brail Ale

Riding a tandem is a team effort and you need to work together, especially when starting and stopping. With teamwork and perseverance, the quartet completed complete their loop around Johannesburg.

Seven hours, 97km and four punctures later, two tandems with a guide dog destiny, rolled across the finish line.

“One of our mates from Cape Town runs a microbrewery and brewed and bottled a batch of Craft Beer just for the occasion. After a long and eventful first trip around Joburg’s streets, it was nice to open the boot and enjoy an ice cold Brail Ale,” quipped tandem pilot Donovan Roscoe.

“When you are totally blind, your dog is there for you 24/7. They are in tune with your emotions and know when you need extra love or confidence. Apart from being excellent companions, the dog is your eyes,” explains Jessica.

Guide dogs, don’t come cheap

“A guide dog wears a harness with a handle on it and through the handle, you get direction. The dogs are trained to navigate everyday obstacles such as traffic lights, lifts and escalators. They are also trained to react to commands such as find the door or lift etc.,” adds Johannes.

“We appreciate the value that our guide dogs add to our lives. The problem is that the cost of guide dogs is prohibitive for many people who need them,” says Jessica.

Along with Jessica and Johannes, 17 other riders rode in the colours of the South African Guide Dogs Association for the Blind and raised approximately R100 000 for the association.

“While this might seem like a fair amount of money, between the vet bills, training and permanent staff required to get a guide dog to the point where they are ready to be homed with a needy recipient is a costly exercise,” concludes Johannes.

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