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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!