Day 76 – Terra Nova National Park to Chapel Arm, NL – 158km

Three years ago, I had a thought. I tried to imagine myself cycling across Canada. “There’s no way,” I told myself. I went out for road rides and couldn’t get the idea out of my head…If I can do 180km today, there’s no reason why I can’t do 100km on the day after today… “There’s still no way,” I told myself.

Through the years that I was in middle school and a junior in high school, my brother had an ongoing battle to get the education he deserved. One of his teachers took his communication device away because she thought the voice was annoying.

Sometimes new vocabulary would be programmed onto Kerr’s Dynavox. He would go to school with a note for his teachers which explained the new programming and asked them to work with Kerr on using it. We later found out that the school considered these notes harassment. Whenever our family pushed for an improvement in Kerr’s education, Kerr seemed to suffer reprisals—forced to eat his lunch in a different room than other students, less time with his attendant who had worked with Kerr for years, and coldness from some of his teachers. Sometimes Kerr came home with a full lunch box. They weren’t even feeding him his lunch sometimes.

Kerr withdrew. He was bored and depressed. Kerr’s assistant would come home in tears some days after witnessing what was happening. I was younger at the time. I knew my brother had every right to communicate and that people who I did not know were taking this right away from him by underestimating and refusing. I was filled with anger. I think this was the only time in my life where I’ve had pent-up hate for particular people. I hadn’t even met these people, but I wondered what had happened to them to make them so naïve and wretched. Biking and running have always been my main outlets for stress and anger (not that I’m angry if you see me running).

I’ve learned a lot since then. I still have many of the same thoughts. However, I now know that it’s not as simple as certain people being cruel and narrow-minded; although there was a lot of cruelty and narrow-mindedness. The politics of a segregating system and disabling attitudes that people learn from others around them are the frameworks that discrimination is constructed from.

Sometimes I like to talk about my problems. I think it’s the healthy thing to do. The unfairness that my brother was experiencing became a battle with the Toronto District School Board that lasted many years. This battle consumed our family life. Ironically, although we were talking about the situation all the time, I never talked about my anger or frustrations. I was sick of the situation. I wanted to tune it out. We were all stressed out and tense, Kerr was depressed, and arguments were arising between us. My mom didn’t need any more stress at this point—she was on a strict macrobiotic diet to eliminate cancerous growths. I hated these teachers, the principal and everyone who made my brother’s twice a day, one hour trek to and from Scarborough for school meaningless; not just meaningless–torturous. I hated these people for ruining our family life.

Biking and running were my emotional releases.

At the end of high school I was thinking much more positively. Kerr had left school. Our battle with the school board had transformed into a legal fight. Kerr was no longer in jeopardy of being discriminated against and not having his needs met on a daily basis. Our family still had our stresses, but we were doing better. Kerr was doing better too. He was volunteering at the Royal Ontario Museum and doing research at the Toronto Archives, giving presentations on human rights (at least some positive things came out of this experience), and learning lots more with his assistants than he learned in the toxic condescending environment at his former school.

This “cycling across Canada” thought wouldn’t leave my head. In grade 12, I made it final that I was taking a year off before university. As you can tell from reading the last couple paragraphs, this experience my brother endured for too long triggers spite in me that most people who know me can’t believe I possess. I’m very passionate in my belief that every person has a right to be included and to have a voice. In Kerr’s experience, he was stripped of his voice, stripped of his humanity, and treated as an object. I knew that my brother wasn’t the only Canadian alternative communicator with such experiences.

I wasn’t sure how, but I was sure of who, why, what, and when. I was going to cycle across Canada to raise awareness about people who speak with augmentative and alternative communication and to try to get values of inclusion and the presumption of ability in mainstream media. I wanted to improve the lives of all Canadians who have disabilities, my focus being on those who are in situations similar to my brother’s. I hadn’t thought much about fundraising at this point, nor had I thought much about advocating for new policy. I knew that I needed my brother’s help. I knew that my mom would be a powerful force in the campaign. I knew my dad would be behind us, and willing to make any sacrifice to make it happen. I talked to my friends, family, and network. Slowly, Kilometres for Communication took shape.

That was three years ago. Tomorrow I finish my pedal across Canada—all the rain, wind, hills, mountains, blisters, sores, thirst, flat tires, fatigue behind me. By no means is this journey to empower voices or prevent what happened to Kerr from happening to others over. However, it does feel that years of emotion, planning, months of giving everything I have, the stories from all the people we’ve met, are manifesting. I haven’t finished yet, but I know that when I do, I will know a new feeling.

Today wasn’t a tough physical challenge. The wind wasn’t a huge factor. There were hills, but what goes up must come down. The sun was out. Nonetheless, today was one of the toughest days mentally of the trip. I was feeling some pain from some rashes. Moreover, I felt so close to finishing, yet I knew that I wasn’t finishing today; that I’d have to wake up again tomorrow and do it one more time. I went through each day of the trip. I tried to go through each road I took, the weather, and the people I met. I had shudders thinking about my days in the prairies and the days of rain in Northern Ontario. That, in combination with thinking of the memories from the last decade, the last three years of planning, and the training 3 hours a day, 6 days a week, got me through today.

At one point today, I was quite high up on a section of the Trans Canada going from the mainland along a channel of land to the Avalon Peninsula. The sky was blue. I could see thick cloud in the valley below me, which I was about to descend into. It really was an epic view, being above the dense clouds and seeing the ocean outlined by misty mountains fading into blue on my right and left. Someone down in that valley probably is wondering where the beautiful day went. They might even think it’s going to rain. I descended into the valley. I lost my view of the ocean. The clouds weren’t dark or threatening from below. They were even more spectacular. The light reflected off the afternoon fog in a magical way that I have never seen before. Life has a way of hiding beauty from those who are afraid to venture.

I cycled by an exit to a place called Mosquito Cove. My first thought was: “Why build a road to such a wretched place?”. On second thought, maybe some people have discovered a gem which they want to keep polished. Perhaps Mosquito Cove is simply a deterring name to keep the tourist traffic away. There’s always another perspective to be taken.

-Skye

August 2/11

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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 49 – Sharbot Lake to Ottawa, ON – 131km

Gail and I were up early to meet people nearby in Sharbot
Lake at the Child Centre. Rather than packing up the whole site and leaving, we
decided to drive into town, and then come back afterwards to pack. We had a
nice informal gathering with people from the Kingston area who are involved
with augmentative and alternative communication in some way—whether they speak
with it, help others speak with it, or if they have a family member who
communicates with alternative forms.

Kerr had an awful night. Sometimes he has sleepless
nights due to extreme stiffness and seizures. Mia was also tired after staying
up with him. Understandably, they didn’t have the energy to come into town to
meet people after that night. This was unfortunate, because we met some
interesting people.

The crew at the Sharbot Lake Child Centre

In the small crowd that had gathered to meet with us, was
Connie. Connie was one of the first three people in Canada to receive a
computer to communicate with back in the 80s. It’s a small world: the lady who
supported Connie with her communication many years ago turned out to be the
same person who has helped Kerr. That was interesting, but probably not a huge
shock; I know Lynette Norris has helped a lot of people. It just so happens
that Gail and Kerr have been in the same room as Connie before, with Lynette,
without realizing it. I give a big thanks to Lynn Guindon for arranging this
gathering and for hauling a heavy suitcase full of pennies to the bank. The Kingston
ACS team had done a successful penny drive, raising over $200…in pennies. Dear
innocent bank teller, who counted those pennies, thank you.

Rocking the red T's in support of Km 4 C

After our gathering, it was back to the campground, and
then onto the road. The forecasts were threatening thunderstorms. I was fairly
lucky with the weather. I was cruising along with a tailwind. Other than a
downpour in Perth, I had great weather. I got soaked, but I kept biking and the
sun dried my drenched gear. By the time I arrived in the Ottawa area, there
wasn’t a cloud in the sky.

Between Peterborough and Perth, the landscape is rock,
trees, and lakes. After Perth, there is a change from rock and tree to an
abundance of peaceful farmland. As I came into Ottawa, it became very apparent
that I was entering an active, bike-friendly city. There were tons of cyclists.
I actually went trolling for roadies as I came into the city. I would
eventually catch up to a group of 2 or 3 road bikers. I would ride their draft
until they turned off, stopped, or slowed down, and then it would be on to find
the next group. It was a sunny afternoon, so there were ample cycling groups to
sneak up on.

Kerr joined me for the final leg of the day in his Wike
trailer, on path that ran beside the Rideau Canal. We had a lovely cruise down
the scenic path.

Kerr and I finishing up the day near University of Ottawa

At some points the path was very narrow and crowded, so there
was some skilful navigation and braking involved. If you’re ever in Ottawa, and
you have a bike, ride the path next to the Rideau—even if you’re a hard core
mountain biker who finds road biking mind-numbingly boring. Kerr and I finished
our ride by cycling through the University of Ottawa campus, which is quite a
beautiful campus. I wish I had the helmet cam set up…but it wasn’t charged.

We weren’t staying in downtown Ottawa, so met up with the
support vehicle and drove out of town to the Ottawa Municipal Campground on the
western outskirt, where we set up camp. I was exhausted and didn’t have much
energy left to do anything once my tent was pitched and my body fed.

-Skye