Blind cyclists set sights on Alaska

Christiana Bruchok didn't learn how to ride a bike solo until she'd already travelled on one from Argentina to British Columbia. "I felt like I was 10 years old," Bruchok, 32, said of her first circles and figure eights.

Christiana Bruchok didn’t learn how to ride a bike solo until she’d already travelled on one from Argentina to British Columbia.

“I felt like I was 10 years old,” Bruchok, 32, said of her first circles and figure eights. She was “stuck” in Dease Lake, B.C. with her boyfriend, Tauru Chaw. The two are riding a tandem bike from Ushuaia, Argentina to Deadhorse, Alaska.

They’ve been on the road for nearly 18 months and expect to finish their trip in the next few weeks. They stopped in Whitehorse last week. But their trip was stalled when Chaw, 43, tore his Achilles tendon.

The weather was nice, so she mounted the bicycle. After a few tumbles, she ventured out on her own.

“I rode to the gas station just to buy a soda because I could,” said Bruchok.

But she won’t be ripping down busy streets soon.

“I’m still not sure how I’m going to do with traffic,” Bruchok admits. “I’m still like the eight-year-old that you have to keep in the driveway.”

Cycling can be difficult when you’re legally blind. Bruchok has, once corrected, 20/200 vision, which means she has to be 20 feet away from objects most people see from 200 feet away. And because her right eye is completely blind, she doesn’t have any depth perception.

Driving a car? Out of the question. On the tandem, she sits on the back.

That’s not unusual. What is unique is the fact that her captain, Chaw, is legally blind as well. So much for a sighted guide.

This really confuses people, said Chaw. Most people don’t know he has a visual impairment, he said. Bruchok has nystagmus, which means her eyes move uncontrollably. She can’t focus on people. Strangers notice that.

But it can be harder to tell Chaw has a visual impairment – and his sight is set to get worse. Chow was officially diagnosed with retinitis pigementosa when he was 30. It’s a degenerative, hereditary condition that means the photoreceptors in his retina don’t pick up light and are slowly dying. He can’t see at night, and during the day he views the world as if seeing it through a toilet paper roll.

He doesn’t have peripheral vision, so as a child he was often banging into things. “All my life I knew there was something wrong,” Chaw said. But because he’d grown up with it, he grew accustomed to the limited vision he had.

Neither Bruchok nor Chaw have let their visual impairments hinder them much. The two first decided to take up biking when they were backpacking through Asia several years ago. They met a man in India who was travelling on a bike, and they decided to give it a try. They’ve already biked across the United States.

This trip was Chaw’s idea. “He said, ‘Do you want to go travel the world?’” Bruchok remembers. “And I said, ‘Yeah.’” So they quit their jobs in Phoenix, Ariz. and flew to Argentina in January 2012.

They’re not raising money, but they do want to increase awareness. They visit students in schools to remind them not to make assumptions about others’ abilities. And when they stop by schools for the blind, they remind students not to be bound by the expectations others put on them.

Bruchok summarizes their message this way: “Only you can know what you can do, and you’ve got to keep pushing yourself to do that.”

But not every culture teaches this.

In many South American countries, there just isn’t a wide cultural shift to support independence, said Chaw. Some teenaged students arrive at schools for the blind unable to bathe themselves, not because they can’t, but because no one taught them, he said.

And other places just don’t have basic things – like ramps and railings – to support independence for people with disabilities, said Bruchok.

“My perception is that the heart’s there, (but) the techniques for engaging with the visually impaired person is not,” said Chaw.

Things are better in North America, but there’s still a lot people can learn. Some people will still take them by the arm and ask if they’re OK, even after they’ve explained how they’ve cycled by themselves from South America, said Bruchok. “And it’s like, ‘Gosh, we got here OK without you.’”

Sometimes people try to build a connection by talking about how hard it is to see without their glasses. But the analogy doesn’t always work, said Chaw.

Neither are able to correct their vision. He can’t stop by Wal-Mart and purchase a new pair of eyes, he said.

“I want to tell them, ‘Get on your bike, throw your glasses away, and ride that thing and see how it feels.’”

How does it feel? For the most part, pretty good.

They’ve only taken seven tumbles, said Chaw. But they have been travelling pretty slowly – their pace is about 16 to 18 kilometres an hour, he said.

“We try not to get too much speed because that could be problematic,” explains Bruchok.

Chaw may be the captain, but he can’t always tell what colour streetlights are, so Bruchok has to tell him when they can stop. She tried riding in front once, but it was hard for her to listen to Chaw. When she rides, she has to constantly remind herself to look at the horizon because her eyes don’t focus on it naturally.

“If you look at the ground, you will fall over. It’s just not possible. You have to constantly remember, ‘Focus on the horizon, focus on the horizon.’ And I have to keep telling myself that the whole time, otherwise I forget,” she said.

“Hopefully, one day it will come naturally, but for now I keep thinking, ‘Horizon, horizon, horizon.’”

And those horizons include the Yukon. They saw the start of the Yukon River Quest while they were here. They’ve got the bug, and want to return to paddle the Yukon River, said Bruchok.

Bruchok and Chaw have been chronicling their adventures online. You can visit their website at

Contact Meagan Gillmore at

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Conservation officers search for a black bear in the Riverdale area in Whitehorse on Sept. 17. The Department of Environment intends to purchase 20 semi-automatic AR-10 rifles, despite the inclusion of the weapons in a recently released ban introduced by the federal government, for peace officers, such as conservation officers. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Environment Minister defends purchase of AR-10 rifles for conservation officers

The federal list of banned firearms includes an exception for peace officers

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: The K-shaped economic recovery and what Yukoners can do about it

It looks like COVID-19 will play the role of Grinch this holiday… Continue reading

Jodie Gibson has been named the 2020 Prospector of the Year by the Yukon Prospectors Association. (Submitted)
Jodie Gibson named 2020 Prospector of the Year

Annual award handed out by the Yukon Prospector’s Association

A number 55 is lit in honour of Travis Adams, who died earlier this year, at the Winter Wonderland Walk at Meadow Lakes Golf Club in Whitehorse on Nov. 24. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
A new take on holiday traditions

Winter Wonderland Walk, virtual Stories with Santa all part of 2020 festive events in Whitehorse

Eric Schroff, executive director with the Yukon Fish and Game Association, poses for a portrait on Feb. 20. Schroff says he is puzzled as to why the Yukon government is cutting back on funding for the association. (Jackie Hong/Yukon News file)
YG cuts Yukon Fish and Game Association funding, tried to vet outgoing communications

Yukon Fish and Game Association says 25 per cent government funding cut will impact operations

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

The Government of Yukon Main Administration Building in Whitehorse on Aug. 21. The Canada Border Services Agency announced Nov. 26 that they have laid charges against six people, including one Government of Yukon employee, connected to immigration fraud that involved forged Yukon government documents. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Charges laid in immigration fraud scheme, warrant out for former Yukon government employee

Permanent residency applications were submitted with fake Yukon government documents

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Karen Wenkebach has been appointed as a judge for the Yukon Supreme Court. (Yukon News file)
New justice appointed

Karen Wenckebach has been appointed as a judge for the Supreme Court… Continue reading

Catherine Constable, the city’s manager of legislative services, speaks at a council and senior management (CASM) meeting about CASM policy in Whitehorse on June 13, 2019. Constable highlighted research showing many municipalities require a lengthy notice period before a delegate can be added to the agenda of a council meeting. Under the current Whitehorse procedures bylaw, residents wanting to register as delegates are asked to do so by 11 a.m. on the Friday ahead of the council meeting. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Changes continue to be contemplated for procedures bylaw

Registration deadline may be altered for delegates

Cody Pederson of the CA Storm walks around LJ’s Sabres player Clay Plume during the ‘A’ division final of the 2019 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament. The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28 in Whitehorse next year, was officially cancelled on Nov. 24 in a press release from organizers. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament cancelled

The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28… Continue reading

Lev Dolgachov/123rf
The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner stressed the need to safeguard personal information while shopping this holiday season in a press release on Nov. 24.
Information and Privacy Commissioner issues reminder about shopping

The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Diane McLeod-McKay stressed the need to… Continue reading

Most Read