Don Urquhart is blind but that doesn’t stop him from delivering The Record.
With help from an iPhone, a cane, and a dose of strength and determination, the 43-year-old Royston resident has been covering a route in East Courtenay since May.
Twice a week he takes a bus to a friend’s house at Dingwall Road where he loads 60-plus papers into a recycling bin. Pulling a dolly weighed down by the bin in one hand and guiding his way with a cane in the other, he hauls the papers about a kilometre up Dingwall, along McLauchlin Drive and up Muir Road.
Urquhart delivers to 11 housing complexes at Alderwood Place and at Muir. He reads doors by feeling the numbers.
“The doors, in many cases, have patterns to them,” he said. “For example, 302 and 202 are close together. And in other complexes the 200 numbered doors are on the corners and the 100s are in the middle. Patterns of that nature.”
Urquhart considered delivering papers after coming across an elderly carrier who was having difficulty covering her route on Fourth Street.
“I thought, ‘I’m young and strong and full of energy, I can still do this. Let’s give ‘er a try’.”
After folding and loading the papers he takes nearly two hours to complete the route, which he has mostly memorized and tracked on his iPhone.
“Wonderful technology,” he said, noting the recording app. Generally, he does not rely on Global Positioning System (GPS), though it comes in handy on the bus, which he is entitled to ride free of charge with a Canadian National Institute for the Blind card.
“I mainly use an app which keeps lists as little recording clips of my voice,” he said. “Apple has done wonders by building the support into their iPhones, iPads, iPod touches to read the contents of the screen of the device. It’s called voiceover.”
He also uses a technique called echo location, inspired by a story about a man who rides a bike by clicking his tongue. Urquhart uses a pet training clicker to bounce sound off objects such as parked cars.
“Don is an amazing individual,” said Record circulation manager Terry Marshall, who had his doubts when Urquhart inquired into a paper route. “He certainly proved me wrong. I hope to have him for a long time to come.”
The Comox Valley-raised Urquhart had spent about 10 years in Nanaimo before returning to his hometown. Until about two years ago he had used a seeing-eye dog, which he has retired.
“I actually feel freer in some ways without a dog because they do take a lot of work. They are wonderful companions. I may acquire one again sometime later in life.”
Urquhart was interested in writing back in his high school days at Vanier Secondary. Later, he became interested in information technology. He took a course in computer technology network and repair but it did not result in a job.
“But I was glad to get this opportunity,” he said, noting the paper route supplements a monthly disability benefit that barely covers the basics.
Considering the cost of monthly gym memberships, he considers the job to be free exercise.
“I get my workout, especially on Thursdays — and the paper pays me!” he quips.
Recently, a customer handed him a tip.
Besides delivering newspapers, Urquhart volunteers at the Salvation Army thrift store in downtown Courtenay. He enjoys gardening as a hobby, helping out at his residence by weeding flower beds, stacking wood and cutting grass with a manual lawnmower.
He also enjoys cycling. With a companion, he rides a mountain bike on quiet roads and trails, and a long driveway. Another hobby, at times, is running, again with a companion who uses touch to guide Urquhart and to push him a bit “to go faster.”
But no push is needed come delivery day Tuesday and Thursday.
“I’ll do this as long as I can until maybe it’s pouring rain sideways in the stormiest part of winter, January, February and March,” Urquhart said. “Snow may stop me because the middles of the road get plowed but shoulders and sidewalks get covered.”