Confidence and independence through movement, adventuring and exploring…
“Moving is Living”
I seem to constantly remind and tell people that I am blind. Some of them remind me jokingly that, “we know Steve, we know you are blind”. My response is, “and this blindness I stare into is quite still”.
The stagnant and motionless world of the blind, I personally feel when compared to my life of having sight, can be very powerful. Powerful in the sense that it can lure us into a sedentary lifestyle. A lifestyle that we all deal with on some sort of level, whether you are sighted, blind or in between. My goal with Blind Endeavors, is to make all realize that moving is living and we can do all sorts of moving to live great lives. I am not talking about climbing Mount Everest, or kayaking the entirety of the mighty Colorado river. The act of moving to get work done at home is just as important as seeking out fun and adventurous places to explore. What you do to keep moving, accelerates your body forward and provides you with experience, and experiencing things leads to living life.
From my experience meeting and participating with other adaptive athletes, those individuals with traumatic physical injuries truly find a way to move and live. Maybe the act of adversity, the sudden loss of sight, the loss of an arm or paralysis of someones legs, motivates them to find a way to keep moving. Blind Endeavors Foundation wants to harness that power of movement, because it leads to more confidence and more independence. For example:
A person who has recently suffered a traumatic injury, or endured a debilitating disease will have to make a decision about pursuing rehabilitation. A rehabilitation center may be a hard place to go to, but they are going to jump start that movement I am talking about. Blind Endeavors Foundation feels that there is something important about adventuring, exploring and moving in the wilderness. Camping for a blind person might seem like a nightmare, because you have to deal with so much movement in unfamiliar dynamic settings. Camp fires, tents, rocks, logs, gear and equipment laying around are just a few obstacles to deal with. Packing away food to keep the wild animals away, cooking food on a hot camping stove and organizing your cold weather gear for an ascent up a 14,000 foot Rocky mountain are also other things to consider. When someone with a so called disability accomplishes these tasks independently or through teamwork, the confidence and independence bar is raised.
All of those skills learned by adventuring and exploring, I feel can be translated into peoples daily life back home, empowering them to persevere and drive forward no matter the level of adversity faced.
My mind was boiling and churning up ideas about how to sail blind way before our trip began. Some of those ideas were how to understand distance, direction, speed, proximity to objects and maybe most importantly communication. “So how do you do this blind”? Well, my friend Urban who is familiar with blind sailing, 40,000 nautical miles of familiarity to be specific, said “use your senses”. What does this mean? To someone who has sailed the open seas for quite some time and who has paid very close attention to sailing would best grasp this subtle tip. For me it was a new endeavor, a new activity to think through and explore and we were excited to pursue the open water. When you have nothing but darkness to stare into, what do you feel? Sitting in a small sailboat, I would have to say you feel a lot. From my white water excursions down rivers and kayaking trips on placid lakes, I gained a lot of kinesthetic experience. Quite simply, I learned to use my parts of my body to read position and orientation in different spacial environments. A human has this ability because of sensory organs located throughout the body. Someone who is highly active in athletics I believe develops a better connection with their body and its ability to interface with the surrounding environment. So what does my friend Urban mean when he says, “Just use your senses”? My interpretation would be after gaining some experience in a sailboat blind, a person without sight should be able to decipher and sense different variations actively during sailing on open water. – A blind sailor can read the direction of wind on their head, face and neck I found if I splashed water on my face, head or neck I could intensify the sensation of wind. Personally, I noticed it was harder to differentiate the true direction of wind in relationship to wind generated by the forward movement of the boat on calm wind blowing days. – Feeling the current The boat will cut through the water in different ways depending on the current. One way to read the water current is to place your hand in the water when sitting still. Another observation I made was when I was traveling against the current the water forced its way up on to the bow of the boat a bit more. – Reading direction The sun and talking compass helped with direction. Over the years I was able to distinguish by the angle of the sun shining on my face, which direction I was facing North, South East and West. – Hearing & feeling distance Sound bounces off objects, so the closer you travel towards an object the sound will change. Crashing of water on the shoreline, or the insulating sound of vegetation and trees on shoreline can provide you with information to read your approximate distance to objects. Even your screaming counterparts in the second boat floating next to you can provide a blind person with spacial awareness and reference. Water behaves differently in certain situations and can provide ideas in relation to your distance from an object on or in the water. Check back for more blog posts in the near future…
Our first sailing excursion was great! Lonnie and I are completely blind, but that did not slow down our learning curve for the small vessel we were about to set sail on. Actually this approximately 18 foot 2016 Hobie Tandem Islander can be sailed, paddled or pedaled. Wow! You have some options with this boat. The Hobie does have a expensive price tag brand new, but is well worth it if you are going to spend a lot of time sailing in the sun.
The Hobie is quite simple and easy to operate. Two people can climb aboard and the vessel can be captained from both seating positions. You have a centerboard control, rudder control, pedal drive system and two rope lines to manage the sail. Forgive my sailing terminology, I am still a young sailor wanna be in training.
We took charge and examined the boat, combing it from bow to stern with our hands. After we figured out where everything was located, we worked on learning the operation of the rudder, center board, mast & sail and pedal drives. The boat has 3 floating parts; 2 pontoons and a main center hull. The pontoons stabilize the central hull where the seats are located. Trampolines are stretched between the hull and pontoon on both sides of the center hull, providing a place to sit or stand when sailing. This style of boat configuration is commonly known as a trimaran and is very stable. Stay tuned for the next part of the sailing voyage!
Be radical in thought and design…
During February and March Blind Endeavors Foundation and a few blind veterans are going to learn how to sail on open water. Our goal is to document and record this project with the hopes of better understanding how some blind veterans can sail independently.
Who’s the best person to ask about blind sailing?
In my opinion, other blind/Visually impaired explorers and pioneers, ha ha. Do you know of any? Write us a message…
What does sailing blind require? Well, I know this has been pursued before and we are not necessarily the first to set sail blind. Between now and when we set sail, we are going to try and reach out to some blind sailors around the world and nation.
If we can find some blind sailors who have explored the open water, asking them questions about tactics, techniques and procedures will help us be more successful with our blind sailing endeavor.
Remember this is a little unconventional and rarely done. We are also very new to this activity and must try and learn proper techniques and practices to be safe and successful.
Below are just a few items we’ll need for our sailing adventure:
- A Boat (of Course)
- Hobie Mirage Tandem Island. This boat can be propelled by wind, arm or leg power and seats two.
- Waterproof blue tooth speakers
- These will be helpful with broadcasting navigational commands from an iPhone or iPad.
- iPhone and iPad
- These devices will help us run applications like the apple compass, when working in tandem with Apple’s screen reader (voice over).
- VHF Radios
- Our safety guides will have to communicate general navigation course corrections, hazards, etc. Another dedicated speaker system should be incorporated with the radios for broadcasting.
- PA System and whistles
- These devices will come in handy if radio communication fails us.
- Various protective outer wear and boat equipment etc…
This endeavor has several goals behind it. One of many is to show what can be accomplished with the right team, techniques and technology.
We’ll also be stopping by the Tampa Lighthouse for the Blind to share some stories and information with students.
You can follow us on Facebook, Twitter or right here on our website as our trip develops!
First off, a special thanks to Victor, Sarah and Mike for volunteering at the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired. If not for their hard work and dedication, 50 Schools / 50 States would not be possible…
The Blind Endeavors Team set out for Jacksonville, Illinois on Veteran’s Day, November 11th, 2015. Our mission was to raise some awareness and showcase various outdoor adventure gear and athletic equipment to a group of young children who live and study at the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired.
Steve Baskis, president and founder of the Blind Endeavors Foundation, kicked off the 50 Schools / 50 States event with an inspirational presentation. He shared the history behind Veteran’s Day as well as telling his story of how he was injured and the inner Strength, Resilience and Courage it took to overcome the adversity he faced from his injuries. Steve also told a few stories of his past endeavors.
Following the presentation was an exhibition of athletic & recreational equipment for the 100 plus people that were in attendance.
Multiple stations showcased a specific sport or outdoor activity for a hands-on experience. For those that cannot see, this type of hands-on experience is far more immersive than a verbal explanation of the gear.
Steve headed up the climbing/mountaineering station. The students were able to handle various climbing/mountaineering equipment to include clothing, boots, crampons, carabiners and more. While they were feeling the gear, Steve would also give some information on how a particular piece of equipment was used. Many of the kids were particularly fascinated with the spikes on the crampons and the fact that they were so big. Steve explained how he used trekking poles to feel the terrain, very similar to the way many would use their white cane to navigate.
At the biathlon station, Victor described how a skier that is visually impaired is guided by another skier using a speaker to create a “sound picture”. The kids were given the opportunity to feel the audio rifle used in biathlon and to listen to how it worked when a target was hit or missed.
Mike was at the kayak station where students had the opportunity to sit in a whitewater kayak and check out the other gear used such as the spray skirt, helmet and booties…all important gear when whitewater kayaking.
Old Glory, the tandem which was a special gift to Steve had its own station where Sarah shared some of the tandem’s history, such as the ride from Ottawa, Canada to Washington D.C. Some of the students were shocked to how hard the seats were (it currently has racing seats on it) and also intrigued by the clipless pedals, a couple features that are typically only found on racing tandems.
Towards the end of the event, the group reassembled in the school auditorium for questions and conversation. All of the kids and some of the adults in the audience asked some amazing questions to include questions about how to get involved with sports, recreation and overcoming adversity. The Blind Endeavors Team learned a lot from this visit in just a short amount of time and our hope is to return with more equipment, resources and answers for all who asked questions.
Our hope is to inspire them to think about how they can pursue activities not always considered by the blind or visually impaired community. We need to encourage all people visually impaired or not, that with a little dreaming, and some motivation and support that great things can be accomplished!
Everyone here at Blind Endeavors is extremely excited to pursue the next 50 Schools / 50 States event location! Please refer interested schools or institutions to the following links:
For more information about the 50 Schools / 50 States Campaign please visit:
For speaking inquiries: www.blindendeavors.org/speaking
Think you might have something to offer and would like to volunteer? www.blindendeavors.org/volunteer
Other useful links:
On Me – Team River Runner Documentary
Filmed by: Roi Films
“On Me” is film about five veterans kayaking on the Yellowstone River. They are not your average kayakers though. All five of them are completely blind. The organization Team River Runner, whose purpose is to get “Butts In Boats”, took these veterans to the Yellowstone River in Montana to participate in the TRR “Outta Sight Clinic”. The guys get to learn and improve necessary kayaking skills to include paddling, wet exits, rescues, rolls and how to track a guide. The trip taught them a little more than the skills of whitewater kayaking though. They learn how the river relates to life and how it can provide a sense of independence. This full length documentary shares their stories, philosophies and journey as they experience the river.
You don’t have to be a kayaker to enjoy On Me. Exhilarating scenery and the vets’ stories can keep you engaged to the very end.
The Blind Veterans involved:
Steve Baskis is an Army Veteran that was blinded while on patrol in Iraq. For the past seven years he has been making the most of his life by doing…just about anything…
Made possible by: The US Paralympics, CXC Skiing, Soldiers to Summits, World T.E.A.M. Sports, Team River Runner, and of course many guides and pilots over the years…
Video/Photo Credits: Victor Henderson, Didrik Johnck, Kyle Queener & Kevin Noe
Created and managed by the non-profit World T.E.A.M. Sports, the Adventure Team Challenge in Colorado’s rugged and wild Gore Range north of Eagle brings together disabled and able-bodied athletes for three days of spirited team competition.
Directed by experienced adventure athletes, participants in the Challenge can expect rafting, hiking, mountain biking, climbing, and other exciting outdoor activities, along with good fellowship, food and tent camping underneath the brilliant Milky Way of the high Rocky Mountains.
Video Produced by: Blind Endeavors
Video Editing: Victor Henderson
Videographers/GoPro Footage: Victor Henderson, Marc Mcglynn, Gina Utigg, Mark Bogue
Aerial Video: Marc McGlynn
Music: “The Adventure” by Matyas Vanz
In July of 2014, a friend named Lonnie Bedwell invited me to The Out of Sight Team River Runner Clinic in Emigrant, Montana. The preplanned Team River Runner trip was a wild adrenaline pumping adventure on a few of The Yellowstone Rivers white water rapids. Lonnie Bedwell, a fellow veteran who lost his vision in a hunting accident many years ago, was there to help lead the way. Lonnie had successfully paddled the entire Grand Canyon Colorado River stretch the following year and was excited to teach myself and 3 other blind veterans how to run class 3 white water without sight. To be honest, I was a little apprehensive and anxious about this challenge, water is truly dynamic and wild at times. Navigating down a high flow river with all of its power carrying you can make you feel vulnerable and weak when you cannot see where you are going. The challenge was not impossible to overcome though. Lonnie and his Grand Canyon adventure was enough proof that a blind paddler could dance on the river and tango with big rapids.
The trip began at our lodge where myself, Lonnie, Travis Fugate, Aaron Hale and Eric Marts were staying. In the front of our lodge, in the warmth of the Montana sun we began matching up kayaks with body sizes, sizing up paddle lengths, fitting helmets, personal flotation devices and dry suit tops. I am still very much a novice at paddling, even though I have paddled on flat water for the past 4 years blind, so learning about the gear required and what the gear can do for you on the river is vital for your safety and success on the rapids.
I chose and was fitted to a Wave Sport Diesel 70 Kayak. I weigh about 150 lbs and stand about 5 foot 10 inches for your information. The paddle recommended by the individuals helping me, was a 197cm Werner paddle. I wore a medium splash skirt, a medium dry suit top, a medium helmet and a medium personal flotation device. I also wore some nose plugs and sunglasses outfitted with croakies, which hold your glasses to your face.
Training began on a nearby lake and we were all excited to get in the water and learn. Rolling, T-rescues, bracing and paddle turn techniques are only some of the skills we practiced, but they would help us a great deal on the river. Learning how to maneuver and steer your boat is absolutely important, especially when you are blind and following a guide kayaker down the river. T-rescues allow you to stay in your boat and flip yourself out of the water by grabbing and holding the bow of another kayakers boat. Bracing, is a technique that can be used to prevent roll over and assist with stability in rough water. Rolling is a trickier technique to learn, but once mastered the roll will allow you to easily right yourself if you flip upside down in the water. The roll is truly a confidence booster and I believe a must know for blind kayakers.
Finally we got on the river and worked our way up to class 3 white water, which would take place in Yankee Jim Canyon on the Yellowstone River in Montana. Paddling on a river or moving water is truly an amazing experience. I remember staring at raging rivers as a sighted individual, but until you float down a river I don’t think you can truly respect the power of moving water.
Alex Nielson, my sighted guide and fellow paddler, volunteered to lead me down the rapids. I immediately found respect and trust in Alex’s guiding abilities, for one thing, he guided Lonnie down the entire Grand Canyon Colorado river section, no small task. Eddying out and finding lines through the water is very challenging for a blind kayaker. Imagine trying to enter and leave calm & fast moving water only by using your sense of touch and your guides communication. A rollover is bound to happen and that is where your skills & techniques learned come into play. Alex kept explaining to me that, “you need to feel the water below the boat and follow my voice through the rapids”.
Paddling through white water I believe is more about dancing on the water and less about battling and conquering the water, the river is way stronger than any kayaker.
A guide kayaker basically calls out, “On me” over and over as we move down the river. If you had the chance to read my blog post about blind snow skiing and biathlon, you understand what my ski guide communicates to me, and how calling out commands and a cadence allows a blind person to successfully follow another person.
A special thanks to everyone at Team River Runner, guide Alex, and Lonnie.
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A documentary of the adventure:
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