Bicyclists Are Believing and Achieving
With Brent Bell in the front, Randy Pierce raises his arm in a victory salute while biking from Nashua to Hanover on the Northern Rail Trail in Lebanon, N.H., on June 27, 2014.
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Randy Pierce, left, and Brent Bell ride a tandem bike on the during a 200 mile "double century" ride from Nashua to Hanover on the Northern Rail Trail in Lebanon, N.H., on June 27, 2014.
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Brent Bell was tired of hearing people tell him what he couldn’t do. So he decided to show them.
At 2 a.m., that Friday morning 37 years ago, the then 13-year-old Lebanon Junior High student sneaked out of the house and rolled his bicycle down Poverty Lane — headed for Nashua.
Like most things done by boys of a certain age, there was a girl involved. But this really isn’t about a girl or about a surprise visit. It’s about proving what you can do when you put your mind to it.
When he got to Litchfield — just outside Nashua — that afternoon, young Brent stopped by a farm stand and called the girl to say hi and bye.
“I never saw her, but it was not really about that. It was more just to prove that I could do it,” Bell said recently.
With a 7 p.m. curfew, he had little time to spare when he hit the road again — especially staring at another 7-8 hours on the road.
“I think I was 15 minutes late (to Lebanon),” said Bell, laughing at the memory. “But I did it.”
Now, just having turned 50, Bell — who teaches outdoor education at the University of New Hampshire — decided to go back to do it again the future and resurrect his ride. Round trip from Nashua to Lebanon and back again. But this time he’s found himself a travel partner — one who shares in his dedication to living a fit life as well as accepting a challenge.
“I love endurance activities,” Randy Pierce said. “Everything I do is geared to, ‘If you believe, you can achieve.’
“Like Henry Ford said: If you think you can or you can’t, you’re probably right.”
The word “can’t” isn’t in Pierce’s life dictionary. He’s got a degree in electrical engineering from UNH. He climbed all 48 of New Hampshire’s 4,000-foot mountains in one winter. He’s done the 48 over the course of two summers, as well.
“If you work hard, I don’t believe there’s anything you can’t do,” Pierce said.
Pierce, who lives in Nashua, does everything he wants. He doesn’t let anything stop him.
Not even the fact that he is totally blind.
So even though he was hardly a biking aficionado, Pierce jumped at the chance to be part of the adventure. After mapping out the route, they realized the trip would take longer than they first expected. It didn’t matter to Pierce.
“We really didn’t know if there would be another chance, but we have this chance ...” he said.
They make an interesting pair on their tandem bicycle — Brent as the captain, Randy as the stoker. Pierce describes it like a dance, with each partner taking charge of certain aspects of the ride. The communication between the pair — verbal and non-verbal — is critical.
“It’s my job to be understanding,” said Pierce. “It’s done more by feel. If he’s tired, then I can take over and lead.
“I know that may sound funny ... the blind guy leading on a bike, but I’m there as support and to give the power where ever (Bell) needs it.”
As they ride, they are attuned to the other’s needs. Bell, who is diabetic, said that Pierce can tell if he is lagging and needs to either eat or take a break. They also serve as cheerleaders, giving support when necessary and checking in on how each is holding up through the grueling miles.
“I have learned to pay attention much more; all signs and sounds matter to me,” Pierce said. “I may not be able to see things, but I still have a vision.
“When we are on the ride, I focus on my ability to be aware of what is going on.”
This is where Pierce, whose disability keeps him from steering or breaking the wind, turns his blindness into an advantage. Like his partner, Pierce is motivated to conquer things he has been told are impossible. To that end, he has started a nonprofit organization — 2020 Vision Quest — to inspire others to overcome their challenges and to educate and generate awareness of blindness as a social issue.
So when they started on their journey at 2 a.m., last Friday, both captain and stoker were equals in the dark, with the same goal in mind — the Lebanon green.
It wasn’t long, however, before the best-laid plans began to unravel. Basically, the rail trail they were taking turned out to be slower and more difficult than they first imagined. Then they had equipment troubles — specifically dropping the timing chain on the tandem, causing the riders to be out of phase and not pedaling identically. Now at times, they were barely riding 12 miles per hour. The ride had become a battle of willpower.
After reaching Lebanon almost two hours behind schedule, they first stopped at Omer & Bob’s bike shop to get their chain fixed. Next it was over to Fort Lou’s for replenishment.
“When we got there, I was, honestly, depleted,” said Bell. “I was not sure we could go on.
“I said, ‘Let’s just at least try and get out of town.’ ...”
Getting onto Route 4A in Enfield was a game-changer. Suddenly they were back on pavement and cruising at 20 miles an hour. “It lifted our spirits; reenergized us,” Bell said.
There were more rest stops along the way, plus a “great meal” in Henniker that fueled them for the final miles home.
“We were determined to finish then,” Bell said. “The last 50 miles it seemed like it was all downhill and we were just able to coast to the end.”
The end came around 10:15 that evening — completing a circuit that took 20 hours and 15 minutes.
“It was a tough trip,” Bell said. “But the great thing about endurance activities is that they bring out the best in you and the worst in you.
“I’m proud of what we did, but definitely a little leery before we do anything else.
“I’ve been thinking about maybe a longer ride ... to see how far we can go in 24 hours. But I think right now might not be the best time to talk to Randy about it.”
Don Mahler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3225.