“No Barriers: A Blind Man’s Journey to Kayak the Grand Canyon,” tells the story of Weihenmayer’s response to that challenge. He co-wrote the book with Moscow author Buddy Levy.
Adventurers and trailblazers have long been Levy’s focus. He’s written books about David Crockett, the conquistadors and Geronimo. This time he was by his subject’s side when Weihenmayer took on the Grand Canyon.
“The book is about 500 pages long but that’s Erik’s fault;” Levy jokes, laughing. “He tells an incredible story not only about his trip down the Grand Canyon but about his other life experiences,” said Levy, 57.
Weihenmayer lost his eyesight at age 13 due to a genetic eye disease, but from the beginning he refused to let blindness push him aside. As a teen he found success as a wrestler and discovered rock climbing, a passion that eventually led him to Everest.
Levy met Weihenmayer in 2003, in Greenland, while working as an adventure sports journalist.
Watching Weihenmayer canoe through iceberg-strewn fjords, Levy said he was mesmerized by the man’s abilities, courageousness and the teamwork required for him to accomplish his goals.
“Erik is often looked at as a daredevil or adventurer but he’s very methodical about the processes to achieve what he does,” said Levy, who wrote about Weihenmayer for various magazines as he followed his exploits over the years. “Everything he’s done requires a team of people working together for his common goal. He really values the teamwork aspect.”
To kayak the Grand Canyon Weihenmayer experimented with a wireless Bluetooth headset design that allowed a guide following behind him to call out commands that Weihenmayer could respond to, Levy said. Over six to eight years he worked his way up, practicing on small rivers near his home in Golden, Colo., to bigger rivers in Mexico and Central America.
“What’s so amazing about whitewater kayaking is that all the plans in the world are great until you flip over and can’t hear the commands anymore,” Levy said.
When Weihenmayer flipped back up he was often no longer facing downstream.
“In many ways he’s doing it all on his own anyway. It becomes a feel-based thing. He senses what the water is doing under his boat and it becomes about being able to read movement in the swirl of the waves.”
As a world-class ice climber Weihenmayer has scaled frozen waterfalls thousands of feet high. He was the first blind man to climb the Seven Summits. Levy said Weihenmayer adamantly tells people that whitewater kayaking was the most terrifying thing he’s ever done.
People with sight may wonder why someone would undertake such a dangerous adventure if unable to see the grandeur of a canyon or the epic view from a mountain.
“What I came to realize being around some blind people is that that’s a sighted-centric way of looking at the world,” Levy said. “He has an experience of the place that involves all the other senses. He can feel space. He can hear the echoing on the canyon walls. He can feel the power of the river coursing under his boat and the spray on his face. … Standing on a mountain side he can feel the void of space where the world is dropping off below him. He loves the camaraderie, too. He loves being around his friends on an expedition, the humor involved, the physicality it takes to push yourself to the outer limits of what you think is even possible.”
Ultimately Weihenmayer’s adventures, and his book, are about unleashing the potential of the human spirit, said Levy, who will sign copies next Thursday at a book release party at BookPeople of Moscow.
“There are so many people in this book that a lot of people would count out and yet they manage to do things that run counter to what logic says is possible.”
If You Go
What: Book release party for “No Barriers: A Blind Man’s Journey to Kayak the Grand Canyon,” by Erik Weihenmayer and Moscow’s Buddy Levy
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 16
Where: BookPeople, 521 S. Main St., Moscow