Matt Niswonger

Trailhead bike check with riding partner Gary Speicer. Photo Pete Gauvin

Anyone who has ever tried to return to a sport after being injured — or even after a long seasonal lay off — knows how hard it can be to recover and regain proficiency and confidence. It can be both humbling and discouraging, often requiring as much mental fortitude and perseverance as it does physical conditioning.

Just getting back on my road or mountain bike after winter is like that for me. Which is one of the reasons why I’m astounded by stories like this issue’s profile on Bobby McMullen, “Racing Blind.”

We could just as well call McMullen the “Comeback Kid,” even though he’s much closer to turning 50 than he is to his teen years. His numerical age does not reflect his child-like love for cycling whether he’s riding rocky singletrack or the sidewalk to work.

McMullen has made more recoveries from life-altering and life-threatening health setbacks than any one person should have to bear, but he hasn’t let that hold him back or sour his attitude. As if being a legally blind downhill racer isn’t enough, McMullen has had to endure two kidney and pancreas transplants, multiple broken bones and most recently, heart surgery.

“I left law school after I went blind, and my life unfolded from there,” McMullen tells ASJ in his interview with Matt Niswonger. “My doctor asked me if I have ever been depressed, and I don’t really even know what that means. I agree with you that outdoor sports are a powerful way to maintain a good state of mind. As long as I can stay on my bike, I will be fine.”

With such an attitude and inspirational story, not to mention his incredible riding ability, it’s easy to see why McMullen, who’s originally from Redding and now makes his home in Marin, has become a spokesperson for such California-based bike industry mainstays as Wilderness Trail Bikes (WTB) and Santa Cruz Bicycles.
Despite having just had a double bypass in February, McMullen has a full race schedule on tap for this summer. “I feel like someone put a whole new motor in my chest,” he says. “I will be 100 percent by June and ready for the bulk of the 2012 race season.”

From one sort of inspiring perseverance to another, in this issue we also bring you the sometimes hilarious and chilling — as in “brrrr”— story of a band of swimmers who wake up every Wednesday to escape from Alcatraz in nothing but a swimsuit.
Gary Emich’s story on the “Alcatraz Swimming Society” (yes, ASS, for short) of which he is a Speedo-wearing member, is an exhilarating, entertaining read about an eccentric group of Bay Area professionals with a penchant for open water swimming from an infamous rock in the bay.

By the time most people are stumbling to work with their coffee, “we have pushed our bodies and minds to the limits,” Emich writes. “The endorphins flowing through us are many times stronger than any espresso. There is nothing the world can toss our way that will push our buttons. No petty problem will take on crisis proportions. Out there on the raw edge, our aquatic urban adventure puts life into perspective.”

I don’t know if McMullen is much of a swimmer, but I’m sure he can relate to that sentiment.
The same could be said of Heidi Boynton, a triathlete and marathoner, wife and mother from Santa Cruz, who has battled cancer for much of the last 10 years but has never let it restrict her life. In “Heidi’s Climb,” she writes about one such defining life experience, riding her bike up the Col de la Bonette in the French Alps.

Elsewhere in this spring issue of ASJ, we have stories from two first-time contributors: Gretchen Brugman writes about canoe camping on the beautiful East Fork Carson River downstream of Markleeville, and Bryan Schatz profiles Frenchman Loic Jean-Albert, a.k.a. “The Flying Dude,” who helped pioneer the art of wingsuit flying and, unlike many before him, is still around to talk about it.

“In Dedicated to the Dirty Work,” longtime contributor Seth Lightcap writes about the importance of volunteering some of our time to support the activities we love, in this case mountain bikers helping to maintain and build trails in Tahoe. A comprehensive list of bike trail advocacy groups up and down the state is included so you can get involved wherever you live and ride.

Whatever the case, whatever your passion, wherever you live, don’t let perceived limitations hold you back.

For me, it’s time to put some air in my tires, lube my chain, and get back on the trail.

—Pete Gauvin