SONOMA - Bobby McMullen, legally blind, makes his way around the Jeep on Thursday by tapping it with his hand every foot or so. He is moving purposefully. Then, when his next act becomes apparent, I mutter, "Stop, you fool! That ain't no Jeep up ahead!"
It is about 200 feet of hillside above Turn 7 at Infineon Raceway. The average angle of descent is Steep As Hell. After a few halting steps, he comes up against his bike. In minutes, he will go downhill on the northern shank of Cougar Mountain. He is practicing for his race Saturday at the USA Cycling Mountain Bike Championships.
"It's white knuckles every time I do this," McMullen said. "It's not relaxing. The hair stands up on the back of my neck."
He did it. I saw it. Still don't believe it: A blind man went downhill on his mountain bike. It's like saying: "I just saw an octopus deal blackjack."
"Everyone faces obstacles in life," McMullen said. "Some with their marriage. Some with their jobs. Some with their kids. Mine happens to be I am sightless and have a real crappy body."
He's on his third kidney and third pancreas. He was on dialysis for two years. He's broken his femur in six places -- so shattered his hip "they couldn't count all the pieces."
He's broken his left leg 30 times, his right foot twice and suffered two concussions. He's broken each arm, a collarbone and all the ribs on his left side. He's broken his left wrist twice, three fingers on his left hand, two fingers on his right. Three times priests have been called to his hospital room, ready to administer last rites.
Oh, that sightless thing. At 29, McMullen went blind in one month. Type1 diabetes did it.
"I cried a lot back then," said McMullen, 43.
And then a funny thing happened to McMullen on his way to being a recluse. He decided he wouldn't.
"The biggest obstacle to life sometimes is to continue life," McMullen said. "It's not what happens to you that's important. It's what you do about it."
McMullen went after life like it was the girl he liked. I'm going to win her over. I'm going to make her mine. I don't care if this sounds like so much babble on a Hallmark card.
McMullen, a Redding native, made the U.S. disabled ski team. He completed a bicycle race across America, a Maui triathlon, was in the 1998 Paralympics in Nagano. He's a competitive cyclist, sponsored by Wilderness Trail Bikes and Santa Cruz Bicycles.
"He is unlike any other human being I've met," said Novato's Mark Weir, a pro cyclist and frequent guide to McMullen. "I get chills. Every time he gets on that bike, he is risking his life."
McMullen is totally blind in his left eye. His right eye is 20/1200. McMullen sees blended colors and shapes. Life is an Impressionist painting seen from 100 yards away. Sounds scary.
"It is," said McMullen.
McMullen races by following a guide. Saturday it will be J.J. Allen of Mt. Shasta. Allen will shout out turns, angles, straightaways. McMullen will stay within a bike length of Allen, listening to the sound of Allen's bike and Allen's voice.