I woke up to the sound of rain pouring on the metal roof of our camper. I sighed, got myself out of bed, ate, and geared up for the rain. The first hour of cycling wasn’t pleasant in the rain, but I was travelling along quite efficiently compared to all the other days in the Prairies when I’ve been fighting headwinds. I was rolling along at 25-28km/hr and I felt like I was flying. It was pouring rain, but I had all my waterproof gear and rain goggles, and I didn’t have the wind in my face. Things were good.
Sometime after the first hour of cycling the winds changed from southerly to westerly. The day cleared up. I found myself maintaining between 35 to 45km/hr. I maintained that for the rest of the ride. At one point, my bike was playing basketball with a rock. It flew up, hit the metal down-tube of my frame, then ricocheted off the metal, hit my tire, and then hit the metal again, and continued this process for about 5 or 6 seconds. I’ve never had anything like that happen before.
There was a 10km stretch of loose gravel shoulder just before a town called Sidney. I was cycling on the highway, checking over my shoulder frequently and listening for traffic. Luckily the road wasn’t busy, I was going half the speed of traffic instead of a fifth the speed (so it was taking awhile for the cars to catch up), and most cars were changing lanes a long time before they caught up with me. Nonetheless, I hate those situations. Later on, just before Portage, my paved shoulder vanished again. This time, the shoulder was hard-packed dirt. This wasn’t too bad for speed. There was a constant line of trucks on the highway. There also had been a downpour which I had missed a little earlier. The shoulder was a mess, but at least it was safe and possible to ride. I finished in Portage la Prairie, covered in mud, looking like I had just finished a mountain bike race.
I stopped in Portage around 5:30pm. I could have easily harnessed the wind for another couple hours and made it to Winnipeg, but there was something more important to be done; to meet Shelley and Ron Stewart, a couple who live in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba. They just celebrated their thirteenth wedding anniversary. After a newspaper article about Kilometres for Communication made it into the Winnipeg Sun, Shelley and Ron began to email us. Since Shelley was a child, she had been using forms of AAC–a letter board of some sort with a head pointer or eye gazing to spell out what she wanted to say. When Shelley recently got her first speech generating device, she told her husband, Ron, that she loved him. Shelley had told Ron that she loved him before, but Ron always had to read the letters that spelled what Shelley wanted to say. It was profound for Ron to hear Shelley independently say that she loved him with her new voice for the first time. Gail and I read this story in the first email they sent us. We wanted to meet them.
…And meet Ron and Shelley we did! It turns out that Shelley doesn’t let her cerebral palsy hold her back from too much. I learned that Shelley and I are both adrenaline junkies. Shelley loves to ride motorcycles and snowmobiles, and she goes on the amusement park rides that make Ron sick. When I told her about the adapted bikes that people ride at Whistler over jumps and flying-down drops, her eyes got this spark. If anyone ever invents a bicycle trailer with suspension that’s reliable enough, can be manoeuvred in the air, and is safe, Shelley and I are going downhill biking. Maybe my brother Kerr would be interested in this too…. It may not sound realistic to invent such a thing, but hey, we’ve invented wilder things. You never know. As Shelley says, narrow-mindedness is a disability.
I have a lot of respect for Shelley and Ron. They’ve had to advocate for so much. In advocating for themselves, they’ve improved the lives of others along the way. We all deserve freedom and independence. We all need safety. Many people who are differently abled require assistants—whether that’s to assist with eating, help with house chores, assist with communication, to arrange transportation, or to do a bit of everything. Often policies don’t allow you to independently hire your own assistants. How would you feel if your assistant came, did their work, and left, without saying a single sentence to you? What would you do if your assistant was abusive? How frustrated would you be if you didn’t have complete control over who helped you? Often, even if you can select your own staff, the funding isn’t enough to finance the hours of assistance that you need.
Ron and Shelley were a delight to meet—warm, open, and real. Between coasting on the tailwinds, and meeting my two new friends, June the 13th, 2011, was a great day; a day that will be difficult to replicate.
Sometime in the near future, we’re hoping to have Shelley’s and Ron’s stories in the
story section of our website.