Riding through all obstacles: Blind Navy vet bikes down Pikes Peak

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COLORADO SPRINGS — Pikes Peak can be seen from miles away and the views at the summit are breathtaking, but for one man who is legally blind, he found the beauty of the mountain in what it had to offer.

It’s a bucket list item for Walter Lewis to experience the ups and downs and curves of America’s Mountain. He can only see 10% out of one of his eyes. His vision in that eye is 15/400 meaning what you can see 400 feet away he has to be 15 feet away to see it. However, it isn’t stopping him from exploring.

“I may not be the best at doing it, I may not be successful but at least I tried,” Lewis said. “I made the effort to the something that I love to do.”

Lewis along with his buddy, Jerry Woodson are taking the 19-mile trek down the majestic mountain.

“I promise to keep my hands on the handlebar, I won’t stand on the peddles and do my titanic,” Lewis added.

“I call him Walley,” Woodson said. “Sometimes when I’m talking about him it’s one-eyed Walley just because of his vision. It is nothing against him. We kid about vision all the time and that is what makes him special. He doesn’t use that as a crutch.”

Lewis has waited 55 years for the opportunity to bike Pikes Peak. His father when he was a child went up and down the mountain on a motorcycle and he hoped to do that one day. Unfortunately, Lewis had to give up his driver’s license and uses his bike as his main way for transportation.

“There is a little anxiety, but there is no fear. I am excited that I get to do something that I have never gotten to do that is on my bucket list,” Lewis said.

Lewis enrolled in the Navy at the end of the Vietnam War when he got out of high school. It was during his time as a Neuro-Psychiatric Technician in 1977 when he suffered trauma to his head. A man exhibiting strange behavior kicked him in the head in an elevator leaving him with both of his optic nerves severed at the age of 23.

“My left eye did retain some sight after surgery solidifying my optic nerve so it wouldn’t break completely as my right optic nerve did,” Lewis explained. “I just try to see as far as I can see, and find my comfort level zone.”

Despite his inability to see, he doesn’t want to be treated differently. He gets directions and a heads up of what is coming up on the road from his friends.

“I’ll be telling him to slow down, left-right, we are coming up on this so he knows that ahead of time,” Woodson added.

“I’m glad you said something, I would have hit that,” Lewis said as he passed a truck on the road.

Slow isn’t in his vocabulary either, he operates in one gear which is fast. He said at times he was going faster than what he could see.

“Yes, many times, many times,” Lewis said. “There was one time that we were coming up on a left-hand turn, I just about bit it. I know that I made my breaks squeal and it was scary but it didn’t stop me.”

Although he isn’t a typical cyclist he likes the challenge even if he’s suffered a few broken bones along the way.

“I’ve been over the handlebars, I’ve been hit by a car, it’s not fun, I don’t advise it. But it is part of taking the chance,” Lewis explained. “There is always a chance of getting hurt and you have to look beyond that and you have to look at the reward the satisfaction you gain from doing what you want.”

Lewis doesn’t want to be limited in what he can do. He even has added a new item to his bucket list, riding his bike up Pikes Peak.

“Jerry, I want to go up this, if those guys can do it I can do it,” Lewis said.

He admitted he forged the back of his driver’s license so that he could drive for a decade longer. After a series of minor fender benders, he didn’t want to hurt anyone or himself so he gave up driving in 1989. Since riding his bike is the way he gets around, it has been a sense of freedom pedaling among the beauty of Colorado.

“This is everything that I thought it would be and more!” Lewis said. “I’m one with my bicycle and I encourage everyone to do this!”

Woodson and Lewis plan to make trips together every year. They mostly do trails to stay off the roads such as old railroad lines that have converted to trails. Once, they rode 75 miles in one day. They really would like to do the entire Katy Trail from Kansas City, Missouri to St. Louis, which runs 240 miles.

While they visited Colorado, they stopped at Red Rocks and jammed out to Joe Bonamassa in the second row. Adventures Out West helped make his dream come true of riding safely down Pikes Peak.

For 35 plus years, Woodson and Lewis worked together at the U.S. Postal Service in Kansas City, Missouri. Lewis was a mail handler and read labels.

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