Headwinds, Tailwinds, Lessons Learned

June 8 – 12, 2011

Today I made my first U-turn in the RV.  It’s one of many new skills I’ve acquired as a result of Kilometres for Communication.  Most of these new skills have to do with the RV and are not very glamorous:  how to attach the sewage hose and do a “dump”, how to prepare meals and do dishes with zero counter space, how to take a shower with almost no water, how to load up the kitchen sink with our oranges, potatoes, onions, etc., so that when traveling on winding roads or through rough construction sites  our “stuff” doesn’t go slipping, sliding and winding through the RV.

Some of these lessons have been learned through trial and error.  So, for instance, there’s my first experience in refilling our 18-litre bottles of spring water.  I know Skye mentioned what he calls our “annoying” pile of firewood, which I bought at Banff National Park with the hope of an opportunity to build a campfire.  (Sometimes my optimism also can be annoying.)   Since this opportunity has not yet manifested, the firewood remains stacked for easy access right in front of our side door which is the main entrance to the RV.  Now back to the 18-litre water bottles.  I had refilled two such bottles, and I was sure I had securely attached the caps. It’s just those caps weren’t attached quite securely enough to endure my tripping over the firewood as I was lifting the large, heavy bottles into the RV!

So, today when Skye and I refilled those very same bottles at a store in Moose Jaw, and the clerk informed us they had run out of caps for those bottles, I felt a certain level of rising anxiety.  I’m happy to report there have been no more floods inside the RV.  Lesson learned.

On the other hand, there have been many floods in the land we’ve been traversing.  Last night after Skye  finished his 242 kilometre cycle to Chaplin, Saskatchewan, we went for a ride in our trusty RV looking for a campground.  At one point we went down a hill to a valley with a lake on either side of the little highway we were on, but the lakes were encroaching on the highway, and in both lakes were hydro poles and the tops of fences.  This seems to be a typical part of the landscape here.

I was reminded of the story we heard on our drive through Manitoba before Skye started cycling.  We were told about two people in an RV who were driving on a road that at one point disappeared into water.  The RV abruptly descended into a sink hole, and the passengers, we were told, had to roll down their windows and swim out of their vehicle.  This story seemed far-fetched when we first heard it, but through the prairies, evidence of flooding is ubiquitous, the land is saturated like a wet sponge—not the stable foundation you want for your roads.  Skye and I held our collective breath when heading towards the lake-encroached dip in the highway.  There was no place to turn around.  The RV-gobbling sink hole now seems all-too-real.  I don’t want to drive on a piece of road that looks like that ever again!

It is now a number of days after I originally began writing this blog entry.  I’m sitting in the RV by the side of the road in Moosomin, Saskatchewan, waiting for Skye to appear on this windy, rainy afternoon.  By the time he arrives, he will have pedaled 48 kilometres since we last met.  The promised tailwinds that are supposed to assist Skye on his journey have been elusive.  Tomorrow, they are supposed to blow tomorrow, just as yesterday, they were supposed to blow today.  It’s a mental challenge, waiting for these helpful tailwinds, yet getting back on the bike to pedal in the face of more headwinds.

In so many ways, this is the story and the feel of Kerr’s life—the hope and promise of helpful tailwinds; the disappointment when instead he is met with headwinds:  the funding that doesn’t come through, the education that doesn’t happen, the waiting lists that never seem to get shorter, the well-trained assistants that need to move on in their lives.  How does Kerr—and how do we with him—get back on the bike and keep pedaling?

As Skye and I drove through Manitoba in May, we listened to a special call-in show on the local radio station as communities gathered to build sandbag dikes around their homes and properties in preparation for the predicted flooding.  They were working together—in community—against  adversity.

So far everywhere we’ve been there are funding issues which have an impact on the availability of AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) services, supports and technology which enable and empower voice.  Waiting lists for AAC assessments and services are an inevitability.  Yet, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who would say it is an acceptable situation to have to wait for weeks, months, or years to communicate.  When we explain Kilometres for Communication to people who don’t know about AAC, they understand the importance of communication right away. Some of them have become passionate and committed volunteers .  Others have donated generously. This is what gets us back on the bike and pedaling against the headwinds.  We are inspired by the spirit of community, collaboration and generosity, and the synergy that results.  We are also inspired by the many emails we are getting from people who are all too familiar with the headwinds, people who cannot get the AAC assistance they need, or those for whom AAC has opened up not just their communication, but their lives.

That’s why it is important for us to meet with individuals, and with large groups, to have press coverage in small town newspapers, as well as in cities and national media.  There are many upcoming events, and many people to thank who are making them happen.  Last week we were talking to a number of friendly voices from the Toronto Police Service and the City of Toronto who are working together to help us make a wheel, walk, run and cycling event happen on the morning of July 3rd, even though it is the very busy Gay Pride weekend.   (We will let you know as soon as details are confirmed.)

While AAC is a provincial issue, the public education has to be done locally and nationally, and we can build on each other’s experience.  For us the networking is inspirational.  The people who speak with AAC, families, friends, dedicated and supportive professionals keep us all pedaling.  Together, in community, we need to continue to educate and advocate, and perhaps—to convert some of those headwinds into tailwinds.

Gail

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