The Kilometres Story

A little over a year ago, I dipped my bike into the Pacific before embarking on a cross country journey to meet Canadians who speak in different ways due to disability, hear their stories, and share them. On May 19th (the 1 year anniversary), I posted this video on the Kilometres for Communication Facebook page.

I was in a rush that day, and didn’t get around to posting it on the blog. Alas, I’ve gotten around to posting the link on the blog.

This is the same video we presented at the Breaking the ICE Conference at the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital on April 29, 2012.

The narration of the video is composed of blog excerpts during our journey. Enjoy 🙂

Homeward Bound

August 6, 2011


There is something mesmerizing about looking out at the ocean, watching the waves undulate.  We are on the ferry from Argentia, Newfoundland, to North Sydney, Nova Scotia.  Skye and I have a cabin with a large window looking out at the sea, and we are on our way home after more than two and a half months on the road, and it feels good to be homeward bound.  It feels particularly good to know we’ll be seeing Kerr and Burns soon, and resuming life as we know it.

There is a very different feeling to this journey than to the one at the beginning of our trip westward.  There were so many unknowns at the beginning, and with them, accompanying anxieties.  My biggest fear was about Skye’s safety.  That fear was intensified when one of my contemporaries told me about setting out to cycle across the country many years ago, only to have his plans curtailed by a car with a trailer that fishtailed, and landed him in the hospital, fortunate to be alive.  Now, there is not only the relief that Skye is alive and well, but I feel such a sense of pride in Skye’s accomplishment, and I am moved by his passion, dedication and self-discipline.  Cycling across the country is a feat for anyone who does it.  Add to that, actively participating in approximately 25 events, sticking to a rigorous schedule because of those events, blogging mostly on a daily basis—often when he was dog tired—and  talking to the media countless times; this was an extraordinarily challenging journey.  The weather—particularly the wind and the rain—was often more of a fierce opponent than a friendly companion.  Skye did it all, day after day, and I could tell from the responses he got from one Cool Communicator after another, as we traveled across Canada, that Skye’s journey sent an implicit message to everyone who speaks in different ways, not only that , “You deserve to communicate,” but that, “You deserve to be treated in the same way anyone else is treated, you deserve to participate, you deserve to be respected and valued”, and “You are important.”

Now, on this journey home, there is a sense of having faced the challenges, having sent the messages over and over again, a sense of how important it is to keep sending those messages, and a sense of how much work there is to do to ensure everyone is able to communicate to the best of his or her ability and  to participate fully in every aspect of  Canadian life.

We also have a wonderful sense of community.  There are so many of you who inspire us, Cool Communicators across the country who, through the way you are living your lives and through your advocacy, are making a difference; dedicated professionals—many of you members of ISAAC Canada— who are passionate about AAC and who have worked hard to make the events across the country happen; and families who are trying desperately to find the services and supports to help your loved ones communicate and live meaningful lives. And then there are all of the volunteers who jumped on board, some of you who knew little or nothing about AAC before getting involved in Kilometres for Communication. There are those of you who joined us along the way, old friends and new friends who cycled or traveled with us. There are our sponsors, many of you unfamiliar with AAC before making your contributions to Kilometres for Communication. There are also all of the reporters who understand the importance of what we are trying to do, and who are doing a wonderful job of helping us to spread our message.  There are those who have donated and those who have continued to encourage us every step of the way. The hospitality we’ve been offered has been extraordinary.  Skye and I talk about Kilometres for Communication as a campaign of generosity; it has been personally restorative and rejuvenating. To all of you who have participated, contributed, encouraged, and supported, I add my heartfelt thanks to Skye’s.

I want to say a special thank you to everyone who has submitted stories to our website.  I apologize for the delay in posting them—not an easy task to accomplish while on the road with slow, unpredictable or nonexistent internet.  Posting stories will be a priority once we return home, so thanks for your patience and understanding.

Skye has completed his cycling journey, but Kilometres for Communication has just begun.  We look forward to continuing this journey together.

Gail

Day 77 – Chapel Arm to Cape Spear, NL – 114km

I didn’t bother to set a wake up alarm on my phone for this morning. Adrenaline and excitement is better than any annoying chime. I was up at 6:30am—Newfoundland time. I put my headphones on and listened to my pump-up playlist as I cooked breakfast. Breakfast was  8 eggs and some fruit. I was on the road a little after 8am.

I decided that I didn’t want to meet with the support vehicle. I just wanted to get to the finish—no stopping to refill water bottles or any of that. I filled up four water bottles of water and put 3 energy bars in my jacket’s pouches to get me through the 110-115km ride.

There was a fine mist. At the top of the hills this turned into a drizzle. It was chilly. The wind was against me. It wasn’t a pleasant day for cycling. Strangely, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. It seems proper that a trip of this magnitude, with the bad weather I’ve had, should have one final challenge to overcome on the last ride. The weather wasn’t wretched as it was a couple days ago between Deer Lake and Grand Falls-Windsor (I had constant heavy rain that day). It was manageable, but unpleasant enough to make the final haul epic, and the fog added a scenic eerie touch.

The lingering mist at Cape Spear

With only 30km to go, just as I was entering the St. John’s area, I got a flat tire. I felt a heat of frustration at first. Then I laughed. I would get a flat tire in the final stretch. It was written. I set myself a challenge three years ago, and I was going to get it; every last morsel of it.

There’s a 12km stretch of road out to Cape Spear from the St. John’s suburb of Mount Pearl. This is Highway 11. Leaving Mount Pearl, Highway 11/Black Head Road has hairpin switchbacks up a steep hill. I was still thinking what goes up, must come down. Start at sea level, finish at sea level. I kept going up and down these really long steep hills. At one point, I looked at my odometer, and figured that I must be on the last hill before the finish. I wasn’t. On this last 12km stretch, I was pushing myself like I haven’t pushed myself before on this trip. I didn’t have to worry about being stiff or sore the next day. I didn’t have to worry about making it through the next 100km. This was it. I felt my heart hammering and my legs burning like never before on this journey. I was earning every kilometre of that last 12km stretch. When I came near, I could hear a foghorn every couple minutes. As I pedaled fiercely in anguish, the finish glaring in my mind, although not yet visible in the fog (and there were some hills in between), I had a smile that wouldn’t leave my face and tears escaping to drip down my cheeks.  Cape Spear, the most easterly point of North America, is actually about 50m above sea level. My mom, Linda, Martin, and Robert were parked in a parking lot near the sea about a half kilometre before Cape Spear. I pulled in, said a tired, distracted ‘hi’, and told them I wanted to go all the way. I pedaled up the final hill to Cape Spear.

Arriving!

Crashing on the grass, overwhelmed. About to call my bro and dad

I dismounted from my creaking bike on a patch of moss and grass next to the parking lot. I lay my bike down. It deserved a rest after two and a half months of strain. I collapsed next to it. I was overwhelmed. I felt confused as to what I should be doing first. My mom, Linda, Martin, and Robert pulled into the Cape Spear parking lot, got out, and we had a proper greeting and celebration. My mom came and sat on the grass beside me. We had a long hug. We both cried and laughed.

The sign says it

It was quite magical. Where I had stopped, there was a fog that limited visibility to about a half kilometre. Waves crashed ominously against the rugged rocks below us. The water looked cold and fierce. I wouldn’t be surprised if these waters had a fierce undertow. Whales were emerging from the water. Occasionally they would flip their tails elegantly out of the water. I’ll never forget that moment.

The furthest east point of North America

I remember my fear back in May, driving out west, seeing the poor roads without shoulders in Northern Ontario. I remember stopping at a picnic area in Saskatchewan off the Trans Canada. I stepped outside the vehicle and felt a fierce wind from the east. I was rattled. I hadn’t thought too much about getting headwinds in the prairies; not until that moment. I was scared of being clipped by a trailer. I was scared of not making my distances in the prairies, and getting so far behind that I would have to hop in the support vehicle to make events; and not truly cycling across the country. But we humans are adaptable creatures. When you’re feeling safe in a car, and you feel the wind from trucks whizzing by you in the opposite direction on the two lane highway, it’s easy to think: “a cyclist would be doomed on this road”. Once I was cycling on these roads, I realized that the shoulders were wider than they looked from driving, the truck drivers were usually quite considerate, and when they did pass close the gust could be harnessed to help me accelerate.

Kilometres for Communication is about promoting values of accessibility and inclusion. It’s about advocating for new policies that don’t act as barriers to people who are differently abled. It’s about hearing and sharing stories to create change. It’s about increasing services, supports and technology to help people communicate. It’s about making sure that everyone is heard. It’s about teaching people so that all of this can happen.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, this journey is not over. I may be on the eastern coast of Newfoundland, but the journey towards empowering the voices of Canadians who have little or no speech is still back in the Prairies fighting headwinds. We want to expand our network further and create an inter-provincial coalition to advocate with strength. We want to develop our website further and keep it as a resource of stories and educational info on AAC. We want to continue teaching people.

We’ve received tremendous support on this trip. Some of what was behind those tears to the finish was the generosity and devotion that many have shown us. Everyone who arranged events, offered us your hospitality, shared your stories, taught myself and many others, wrote us comments of encouragement, donated, cycled, fundraised, sported a Km4C shirt, and contributed to this campaign in your own unique way, you all have touched me. Generosity, creativity, courage and charisma exist in all of you. If such a large number of people, across such a large country, can possess these traits, I have faith that the quality of life for Canadians who are differently abled will improve.

We brought the banner from the Cool Communicators at Camp Winfield (near Kelowna, BC). Each hand print on the banner has the child or youth's name written inside it and the communication device they use

I want to say a special thanks to Cyclepath in Toronto, our first official sponsor. I’ve worked there for several years and consider them my second family. Without hesitation, the Wilsons and the rest of the crew at the bike shop were behind me.

A huge thanks to Norco Performance Bikes. That bike persevered through so much abuse. Norco helped to ease the financial strain on our family by covering spare parts, the spare bike, and auction items and goodies for events.

ISAAC Canada has been a terrific partner. The support and networking that our partner has offered us is remarkable. We look forward to continuing on the road towards our mutual goals.

I won’t be blogging daily anymore, however I will continue to blog. There are lots of photos and video that will be posted when we have arrived back home and have access to high speed internet.

I have learned so much from this trip and I hope many have learned from what I’ve shared. This experience was profound, has changed my life, cannot be done justice by any sentence, and will likely remain the most memorable 77 days of my life. This was the toughest challenge I’ve ever had.

-Skye

August 3/11

P.S. If anyone has questions which I have not addressed, please ask them by commenting, and I’ll be happy to reply or address them in a future post!

Day 75 – Grand Falls-Windsor to Terra Nova National Park, NL – 175km

Last night, the local campgrounds were all full from the summer tourist traffic. We ended up in the free Walmart RV Park. It’s quite funny. Here you have a large empty Walmart parking lot. There’s ample space to park so that you are secluded from any other vehicle and you don’t have to contend with customer traffic. Despite this, all the other RV drivers choose to park their vehicles side by side, a couple metres apart, literally creating an RV park in a Walmart parking lot. We didn’t join the cramped crowd. We parked in a more secluded area of the lot.

Anyhow, in the morning I lugged my bike stand out from our RV’s storage compartment. I put my bike in the stand and tilted it upside down. A rush of water came out from all the bearings, creating a big wet spot on the dry ground. I probably shed a couple pounds from the bike right there. I started working away at fixing up my bike, in the Walmart parking lot a bit before 9am. Customers were staring at me as they drove by. I’m sure it’s a strange sight to see someone fixing a bike in a department store parking lot. I definitely wasn’t fixing my bike in my natural shop habitat.

The weather was fantastic today. Perhaps Mother Nature felt guilty about yesterday. The sun was shining, and the wind was in my favour for 60% of the day. I need all the help I can get to assist me through these last couple days. My mindset earlier in the trip was about pacing, calmness, and enjoying seeing Canada slowly. That was my coping mechanism. Without that way of thinking, I wouldn’t have made it as far as I have. Now, my mindset is about survival and making time.

I got a really bad rash from my ride yesterday. A combination of constant wetness, sand and dirt from the road, and the rubbing from my pedal strokes led to breaking skin on both sides of my inner thighs. I also aggravated some older riding sores on my butt. I lathered my sores/rashes in calendula, then taped them with kinisio tape, and then slabbed on a thick layer of Vaseline. That helped a bit, but not enough. I don’t know what I would’ve done if it was raining again today. Thankfully the good weather made it possible for me to make it to where I did.

Here are some things I’ve noticed in Newfoundland.

One: there are a ton of brand new Chevrolet Impalas and Dodge Caravans, often sparkling clean. They dominate the road. Actually local pick-up trucks dominate the road. After the pick-ups, these sparkling clean rental vehicles are the most common on Trans Canada Newfoundland pavement. That probably gives you a bit of perspective on the scale of Newfoundland’s summer tourism.

Two: Every 200km or so, there’s a “Watch for moose” sign that is covered in ‘Navy’ stickers. I find it a little odd. Did someone on a road trip across Newfoundland make it their goal to put stickers on moose warning signs every couple hours?

Three: Newfoundland has to be the ATV capital of Canada. There are log bridges everywhere across the Trans Canada’s ditches from the shoulder into the forest. I question whether some of these bridges could hold my weight. Some of these bridges are built with care, precision and pride. One bridge over a ditch which led to an overgrown seemingly unused trail was built using brand new 4×4’s. That’s a lot of money spent to get over a ditch.

Four: Newfoundland RV drivers like to park close to each other in Walmart parking lots. I haven’t seen anything like this in any of the Walmart parking lots we’ve parked at in other parts of the country.

Five: In other provinces I have to dodge car debris and sometimes glass on the road’s shoulder. In Newfoundland, I have to swerve around moose pooh. Not kidding.

Six: I think people had fun naming places in this province: Dildo, Come by Chance, Random Place, Jumper’s Brook, Heart’s Desire, Old Pelican, South Dildo…weird, but entertaining.

Most of today wasn’t spectacular scenery like the western part of the province. It was much flatter, and there were lots of rocks and  trees. Near the end of today, when I entered Terra Nova National Park, the rugged hills emerged again, and so did glimpses of the ocean.

I’ve planned out my distances so that each day I’ll have to pedal a slightly shorter distance. Yesterday was 185km, today 175km, tomorrow 140km, and at last, on Wednesday, I should only have to pedal 120km.

It doesn’t seem real that I am so close to the end. On one hand, I’m excited and proud. On the other hand, I feel like there’s so much more that needs to be done to improve the lives of Canadians who communicate with AAC and all Canadians who are differently abled. I have a towering mental to-do list that gives me ambition, yet can also be a burden. There have been many profound moments, many people have learned from this campaign, and there have been many fantastic events thanks to many fantastic people. Kilometres for  Communication has been a catalyst for a lot. Despite these positives, I am hesitant to call what we’ve done a complete success. There’s so much that needs to be done. We’ve given it our all, but that never seems to feel satisfactory when we hear stories first hand of systemic discrimination, segregation, and other barriers that need not exist. We’ve been giving it our all, but it always seems like we could be doing more.

This trip may be over in 2 days, but this journey towards accessibility, inclusion, equality, empowered voices will continue.

-Skye

August 1/11

Day 74 – Sandy Lake to Grand Falls-Windsor, NL – 185km

I’m losing my tan in Newfoundland and I don’t like it. Today was probably worthy of the top 10 most difficult days of the trip list. The combination of the long distance with cool weather and rain blowing in my face made the 7-hour day quite gruelling. I suppose  there’s always a trade-off. The weather was quite kind to me the last 2 days in Gros Morne National Park.

I had put on a spandex base layer. Above that layer I had my 80% waterproof jacket which was my warm jacket for the mountains. Over that jacket, I had a light ‘100%’ waterproof shell wind-breaker layer. There’s no such thing as 100% waterproof. The fine mist from vehicles whizzing past will always soak through. I was wet and cold.

We needed a few groceries, so we decided I would end my day in the Dominion parking lot of Grand Falls-Windsor. I checked my Google Maps. I thought I knew where I was going. I did know where I was going. I got off the Trans Canada and biked through the town. There was no Dominion where my map had indicated. I checked my texts. My mom had gone to the same place, discovered there wasn’t a supermarket there, and then driven to the correct place—the Dominion on the other side of town and the other side of the Trans Canada. I pedaled back across the town.

I kept thinking about taking a warm shower at the end of the day. By the time I had found the Dominion parking lot, got inside the RV, changed out of my soaked gear, and dressed in sweatpants and a soft, comfy sweater, I didn’t feel like showering. My skin was pruned and all the sweat had been washed off by the rain. I had been soaking in water all day. I curled up in my sleeping bag and took an evening nap.

It’s a good thing that I have 3 days and less than 500km to go. My bike is aching. I wasn’t able to use my third front gear for the last 100km of today’s ride. Everything seems normal. My shifter isn’t broken. The cable is relatively new. Perhaps the spring in the derailleur is near its end. I don’t really know. I have to fix this tomorrow morning. Bikes do mysterious things after thousands of kilometres. The bearings in the hubs of my rear and front wheel need to be overhauled. They’re super gritty and in need of some grease. Unfortunately, I don’t have an axle vice, a vice, or the cone wrenches to fix this. Only three more days, my dear bike. Hang in there.

I’m also feeling quite stiff from my trail run up Gros Morne Mountain yesterday. It may have been foolish to do such a thing on a ‘rest day’, but it really was an opportunity that was begging. I may not have been able to stand up and push hard on the hills today, but it was worth it for the sights and satisfaction I had yesterday. I kept a very high cadence today. I was rotating my pedals’ cranks about 120 times a minute. I kept telling myself: loosen up, break a sweat, make body heat, warm up, get there quickly. I guess it worked. Only three more days, my dear body and mind. Hang in there.

-Skye

July 31/11

Day 72 & 73 – Rest Days/Detour to Gros Morne National Park

Have you ever seen a picture of a place that put a permanent desire in your mind; an everlasting hope at the back of your mind to one day stumble upon this place? I have.

There’s a classic picture that anyone can find on Google if they search Gros Morne National Park. It’s a picture taken from the top of Gros Morne Mountain looking down onto the fjord of Ten Mile Pond. Years ago—back when I was in grade 7 or 8—I was cutting through a stack of old National Geographic magazines for art class. I saw this stunning image of deep water sheltered between cliffs, and the distant ocean lying placid under a sky. I had no idea where this was, what trail to take to get there, the name of the park. I would figure some of this out, but I certainly didn’t know what was involved to get this view. When I did learn where the picture was taken from, I felt sad. I didn’t see myself or my family travelling there. That image went to the back of my mind for many years.

That image...except this one is my own 🙂

A year and a half ago, when I was planning my route for this bike trip across Canada, I figured that I could stop in at Gros Morne on the drive back from St. John’s. It turned out that the ferry from Argentia was much more time and cost efficient. Argentia is close to St. John’s. It didn’t seem that I would be able to go to Gros Morne on this trip.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Linda, Martin, and Robert, long-time family friends, had flown out to join me for the last leg of the trip. They were planning on visiting Gros Morne during their stay on the Rock. I looked at my schedule, and realized that I could pull of a side trip to Gros Morne. I sacrificed a rest day and added distance another day. Voila! I was 2 days ahead of schedule.

Our first day in the park, I spent some time skipping stones from a pebbly beach into the ocean at Baker’s Brook. It was a clear day. The rugged mountain sides fell into the ocean off in the distance. Later in the day, my mom and I took a cruise along with our family friends to see the fjord of West Pond. It was quite spectacular. However, as I would learn the next day, you don’t realize the scale of size looking up from a boat as you do looking down from the top of the cliffs.

Baker's Brook

The cliffs from lake level

We were discussing our plans for the next day over dinner at a cute restaurant called Java Jack’s. It’s a renovated house converted into an art gallery, bakery, and restaurant. We were figuring out what hikes would be good. I was quite set on doing the 16km Lonely Mountain (Gros Morne) hike. Linda and my mom were interested, but the rest of the crew decided not to go for the long steep hike.

It sounds silly, but on my rest day, I ended up doing a 16km trail run up and down a mountain. People are supposed to allot 6-8 hours for the hike. There was other stuff we wanted to do in our little time at the park, I had blogs to write, and my mom and I had to drive back to Deer Lake so I could begin cycling early the next day. We didn’t want to drive back at night because of the moose risk. There are 4 moose for each square kilometre in the Gros Morne area!  I wanted to see my place. I wanted to take my own picture. I didn’t want to live the image vicariously through Google Images. I was determined to make it happen.

The cliffs from near-summit level

I jogged most of the trail except for some gnarly sections where spraining my ankle would be a huge risk. The final 500 metres of the climb to the summit don’t really follow a path. It’s a steep valley of rock slide. There are small boulders and plenty of loose rock. You sort of make your own path up. I didn’t run up this. I stopped and talked to a couple fellow hikers on the way up. Eventually, I made it to the spot. I took the famous picture. I sat on a rock facing the view. I stayed there for about 10-15 minutes, ate my power bar, and sipped my water. I’ll never forget that view. I assure anyone considering the trek: it’s worth it. This was one of the most spectacular sights I’ve seen in my life.

I had the helmet camera mounted on my backpack. This was taken about 75% up the steep rock section. Notice the size of the people.

Notice where the same people are now 10 minutes later...if you can see them (lower left corner)...this gives you a sense of scale

A photo taken by another hiker on the trail. I have a new appreciation for the altitudes out west. I can't believe I went through a pass 500m higher than this. This seemed pretty high.

On the way back down, I stopped and lounged next to a lake that was still quite high up. It looked over an ocean inlet and other mountains in the area although it was much lower than the summit of Gros Morne. Near this lake, I heard the rushing sound of a stream. A couple steps off the path on an overgrown path, was a little rock pond with water trickling in from a series of mini waterfalls that flowed from higher up the mountain. The water was clear. There was no soil or mud touching the water—just rock. I put some on my face. It was freezing. I cupped some water in my hand and took a sip. It was the cleanest, purest water I have ever drunk in my life.

The lake with the view

I made it back down the mountain by 1:30pm after starting at 10am. I took a shower in the RV. Then I realized how stiff I was. I wasn’t looking forward to the long bike to Grand Falls-Windsor the next day. There are no regrets. An opportunity was begging me. I saw a spectacular sight. Finishing at Cape Spear wouldn’t feel the same if I didn’t get to see the view from the top of Gros Morne. The stiffness will go away, but my memories never will.

Those were two truly remarkable days. I’m touched and delighted that our friends whom I’ve known nearly my whole life, are going to be with me for this final stretch. I’ve got some long and tough days ahead of me to compensate for this detour, but that’s all part of the rewarding challenge.

I may be drunk in dreams, but I would love for my brother to see the sight from the top of Gros Morne one day. Kerr, take a look at the pictures. We’ll dream, and perhaps one day, we’ll stumble on an opportunity and make it a reality. Dreaming is never foolish.

-Skye

July 29 and 30/11

Day 71 – Barachois Pond to Sandy Lake, NL – 144km

Like yesterday, I began today with rain. Sun was in the
forecast and I could see blue sky, so I knew the road would dry up soon, and so
would my clothes. I got soaked from trucks’ spray and my own front wheel
flicking water up. The sun came out, the road dried, and so did my gear in the
breeze. The best way to dry gear on a long day is to keep biking.

I went through Corner Brook and then along Deer Lake. The
Trans Canada follows Deer Lake for about 40km before it reaches the actual town
of Deer Lake. The sky was clear today, so the lake took a deep, dark blue hue. The
wind was against me and I was thankful for the distracting scenery.

By the end of today, I was 2 days ahead of schedule. Some
family friends of ours had flown out from Toronto to join me for the final leg
of the trip in Newfoundland. I’ve known the Vaughan’s since I was 4 years old,
so it’s fitting that they’re here with me to share the joy of completing this
profound journey. Tomorrow and the day after (Saturday), I’ll be in Gros Morne
National Park. I’ve always wanted to see the inland fjords (I know, a bit of an
oxymoron—fjords must be connected to the ocean). I hadn’t originally planned
visiting Gros Morne because it was out of the way. However, this was an
exceptional opportunity, so I decided to try my hardest to get ahead of
schedule in order to make the detour possible.

It felt fantastic finishing today. The headwind made the day’s
end all the more rewarding. More importantly, I knew I had two spectacular days
ahead. This was my finish line before the finish line. When I get back on the
road Sunday, Cape Spear will feel near, my goal in sight, and my mind focused
to pull my body through the last several days.

-Skye

July 28/11