Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be blind? To be blind and tour on a motorcycle? In 2008, Cathy Birchall — the blind half of the team — and partner Bernard Smith did just that, starting off from the U.K., circumnavigating the globe on Bertha, Smith’s 1990 BMW R100RT, in the process riding together for 26,385 miles across 31 countries on five continents.
Much more than a simple tale of motorcycle adventuring, Touching the World is a personal exploration of what can be versus what is. Driven by a desire to stretch beyond the seemingly enormous limitations implied by blindness, Birchall and Smith prove what they already knew, that blindness shouldn’t stop us from reaching out. A trip of this magnitude not only can be done blind, at some levels it must be done.
From the first day and the first mile heading off from home in England to the ferry that will take them to Europe, to the last mile heading to the airport in Toronto to ship Bertha home, Birchall and Smith’s journey is remarkable, their shared experiences told with humility and compassion.
Written almost entirely from Birchall’s perspective, her colorful, highly detailed recounting of even the most seemingly benign events makes it easy to forget she is blind. In many ways, Birchall clearly “sees” better than most people, as her narrative proves time and again.
For his part, Smith appears satisfied to be cast simply as pilot and mechanic. Yet if he takes something of a back seat to Birchall in Touching the World, he does so only to ensure Birchall’s story is shared. As Smith told one interviewer prior to the trip, “For me, the story will always be about a truly inspirational woman who got on with living, despite being knocked down so many times. In this shallow world of wannabe celebrities, fast food stories and sound bites, it is true that inspirational people do exist.”