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

Day 65 – Halifax, NS – Rest/Event Day

I woke up and got myself ready. Each time I’ve spoken to
media on this trip, I’ve been suited up in my bike gear, sweaty, and perhaps
unshaven. Today was going to be a little different. I felt I needed to look the
part for Breakfast Television on CTV. I spent a half hour grooming—shaving,
manicure, hair, all that nonsense.

Laurie drove
my mom and I down to the CTV studio where we met Paul Doucet from the Speech
and Hearing Association of Nova Scotia. Paul had arranged the BTV interview for
us. We entered through the back door. It felt strange walking through the dimly
lit studio full of cameras and screens. Eventually, my mom and I moved from the
waiting area to our seats in the Breakfast Television Area, where we met our
host, Heidi Petracek. We chatted for a minute without the camera rolling; then
we watched the weather forecast finish up and waited for our cue. The interview
went quickly—it was about 5 minutes. I think it went well, but I’m not sure
because I never saw a recording of the show. Usually I don’t get to see the
media we’ve gotten because we move on to the next place.

CTV had asked me if I brought my bike. I hadn’t. I
probably could’ve shown up in my full bike gear with my Norco cross bike.

After the interview, my mom and I walked most of the way back
to Laurie’s and Dorothy’s house when
we heard a honk, and Laurie was there to pick us up. Back at their house I had
some cereal, toast, and fruit for breakfast. I was feeling full. Dorothy and Laurie’s
grandchildren, Jason and Joshua, were there that morning. Dorothy had made them
their favourite breakfast—pancakes with blueberry sauce. Jason and Josh decided
to save me a pancake. I was heading out the door to leave for our Halifax event,
feeling full, so I accepted their offering, but left it for later.

We arrived at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic just
before 11:30am. We walked around to the boardwalk at the back of the building,
next to the water. This was the lovely location of our event. There was lots of
tourist traffic. There were benches and some large boats were docked nearby,
adding to the charm of the harbour. The Speech and Hearing Association of Nova
Scotia (SHANS) was hosting this event. One of the main organizers of the event,
Renena Joy, was away on her family vacation, so I never got to meet her and say
my ‘thank you’ in person. Thank you Renena!
And thank you to the committee
of volunteers who made this event happen.

Strawberry Shortcake!

Members of SHANS were serving strawberry shortcake with
the donations going towards Kilometres for Communication. The event committee
had managed to get a large quantity of fresh strawberries donated by two
farmers. They had also managed to get Sobey’s to donate a gift card to buy the
shortcake and whipping cream. There were examples of AAC symbol boards for
people to use to order their strawberry shortcake. Some people who stopped by  were curious about our cause, and asked
questions; others didn’t, they just wanted their strawberry shortcake. Next to
the strawberry shortcake table, my mom and I sold Kilometres for Communication
T-shirts and talked to people about our cause.

Mark Cameron and Brian Baker

Well-respected local musicians,
Mark Cameron and Brian Baker were strumming and singing. The kids loved it.
Some came and sat right in front of the musicians. One 5-year-old, Everett, who
speaks with a communication device and gets around with a walker which
surrounds him and has 2 large wheels, was dancing all over the boardwalk.

Everett talking with his mom using his communication device

Everett introducing himself to me

There
was a third table with a display on Kilometres for Communication and AAC. At
this table there were some more examples of AAC for people to try out.

The "try a form of AAC" table

To everyone who made the event possible, to everyone who
came out, thank you! I met several people with whom we had been in touch
online, but had not met. Partway through the event, Gail and I spoke about
Kilometres for Communication and why it needed to happen. A lot of our crowd
was tourist pedestrian through-traffic. People had stopped to get food or
listen to some good music. Then we began to talk, and if they were intrigued,
they hung around, listening curiously.

Just as we were finishing off the event, Global News
arrived. Nicole, the reporter, interviewed myself, Penny Kitchen, and Sarah, a speech
language pathologist experienced in AAC. I was excited. Normally the news
coverage is quite quick and to the point. Nicole, the reporter, got about 30
minutes of footage. Yes, tons will be cut out, but this footage was promising.
Often it’s tough to educate people through media because we only have 1 minute.
That’s just enough time to explain What,
How, and a brief Why. Penny used her eyes to spell in this interview. A microphone caught
the voice of her attendant, Tiffany, saying the letters, and the camera was
focused on Penny’s eyes as she indicated what letter she needed to spell her
thoughts. (I explained how Penny communicates in yesterday’s blog)

After the event, Penny took my mom and I for a walking
tour of downtown Halifax. Tiffany and I took turns pushing Penny up the steep
hill from the harbour towards the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site. Penny
would indicate with her head and eyes which way she wanted to take us each time
we came to an intersection. After walking through the Halifax Citadel National
Historic Site, Penny took us down a road where the sidewalk zigzagged around
bar patios, often becoming a boardwalk on the road. Then we walked through the
Public Gardens and eventually into the Camp Hill Cemetery. Earlier in the day, I
had gone by the Alexander Keith’s Brewery. I’ll return for a brewery tour on
another trip. We strolled through the cemetery. Penny and Tiffany pointed out
an impressive grave monument—the gravestone of Alexander Keith. There were two
rows of Keith’s beer caps sitting on an edge of the grave marker. Another gravestone
had the name of a man and both his wives on the same stone.

Keith's Gravestone

The tour ended at Penny’s home. She and her sister,
Patricia, had a decent sized house renovated into two separate units. Penny’s
unit has two stories, an elevator, and a bathroom with a hoist track from her
bedroom. It was a nice set-up. Penny has her own living space, and she can live
independently, yet she isn’t far from her sister if any emergency were to
arise. Sometime in the next decade, Kerr (my brother) and I will have to figure
out a free-feeling living situation (for my brother). I find it interesting to
see the solutions that various families have come up with to avoid the
institutional option.

Penny, her parents (Dorothy and Laurie, Patricia (Penny’s
sister), Tiffany and Jessica (Penny’s attendants), my mom, and I sat in Penny’s
living room talking over tea, water and cake. Eventually, after a tough goodbye
we left Penny’s house, and drove back to Dorothy and Laurie’s home for supper before leaving Halifax.
I had my pancake with blueberry sauce from earlier as a pre-dinner snack. It
was delicious—thank you Josh and Jason. We had the TV on Global for the 6 o’clock
news. We watched the entire news. There was nothing from earlier. We were disappointed.

My mom and I got ready to drive back to Truro. I would
leave from Truro to cycle up to Cape Breton the next day. Just as we were about
to leave, my mom received an email. The news story was going to air, just not
tonight. This was great news, but once again, we wouldn’t get to see the piece.

Halifax was a wonderful city. I definitely want to return
to experience some of the city’s culture. Penny, it was a delight to finally meet
you. Your tour was a memorable part of my trip that won’t be forgotten. Dorothy
and Laurie, your hospitality and generosity won’t be forgotten either. Most of
all, I want to thank you for sharing your experiences—I learned a lot. The
stories and perspectives you shared were profound, enlightening, frustrating, funny
and sad.

On to the last leg of the trip!

-Skye

Day 58 – Oromocto to Shediac, NB – 188km

I wasn’t looking forward to this day. There was a long distance. There were lots of hills. Headwinds were in the forecast. All of these turned out to be realities. I was on the Trans Canada so I had a nice wide paved shoulder the whole day, which really does help. When I ride on a road with a narrow bumpy shoulder or no shoulder, I have to be intensely concentrated. When I have 2 metres of smooth pavement, it’s a much more relaxed ride, and my mind can wander to help pass time.

My goal for today was to reach the Atlantic Ocean. That excitement was my drive for the day. I only stopped to meet the support vehicle once today, at the half-way point. Earlier in the trip, I liked meeting the support vehicle every hour or two. I accepted that I had a long way to go, and there was no point in rushing. At this point in my trip, I’m tired. I’m not tired as in, “my legs are sore,” or “my mind isn’t functioning.” I’m tired as in “I don’t feel like getting up. I just want to sit here.” I’m feeling worn out. If I stop to refill my water bottles at the support vehicle, and I sit down, it turns into a half-hour rest. I’m filling up 4 water bottles at a time (2 on the bike, 2 in my jersey’s pouches) and packing lots of nuts and jerky so I can drink and eat without stopping. It’s not hard to stay on the bike. It’s hard to get myself on the bike.

Today was pretty much all bikes—not much else happened. To be precise, other than sleeping, eating, washroom, talking to my mom, and killing a few mosquitoes, nothing happened. I feel like I should be celebrating (making it to the Atlantic), but I don’t feel in the mood at all. I know that I have about 1,500km left to go. I also feel like something is missing—the rest of my family. I was really hoping that my brother and my dad would make it to the Atlantic with me. We tried. I suppose it’s a good thing they turned around. On their way back to Toronto, the van had some mechanical issues which would be very difficult to deal with had they occurred out here in the Maritimes…far away from our trusted garage.

-Skye

Day 57 – Woodstock to Oromocto, NB – 122km

I spent the morning replacing parts on my bike. I put a new rear tire on as well as a new drive train. This is my third drive train. I’ve gotten about 3,000km out of each one. It’s an uncommon sight to see someone taking a bike apart in a campground. I turned our picnic table into my work bench. I had my portable bike stand set up. At one point, one of our camping neighbours, Murray, curiously asked me about my bike and what I was doing. I told him a bit about Kilometres for Communication, but I didn’t give him the whole spiel. I try not to overwhelm people with information.

A little while later, Murray’s wife, Linda, walked over and congratulated us on our efforts. She had heard from Murray what we were doing. While we were talking about Kilometres for Communication, another person in the campground, Brenda, one of Linda and Murray’s friends, arrived. We learned that there are many members of one side of her family who either have died from ALS, or who have been diagnosed with ALS—also a very scary scenario for those young family members who haven’t been diagnosed. Many people who have ALS lose their speech before they die, sometimes years before. It’s critical for them to retain a way to effectively communicate. Other parts of their bodies (hands and fingers) may not function properly, so simple forms like writing and typing may not work. This is where eye-gazing, head switches and various other forms of accessing a communication device are used.

Anyhow, my mom and I had a nice conversation with these people at the campground. People often seem a little impatient when we say what our campaign is about (Augmentative and Alternative Communication is quite the mouthful and an overwhelming earful), but after a brief explanation, most people totally get it, and become quite engaged with what we’re talking about.

I got on the road quite late—around 1pm. The sun was shining and the wind was at my back. There were lots of hills, so the wind wasn’t nearly as effective as I would have liked, but I can’t complain. After cycling over 230km yesterday, I was relieved and sore to finish after just 120km today. When I finished, there were some perfect strawberries and tasty fresh picked peas from a produce stand that Linda had recommended to my mom. Thanks Linda! Thanks Mom!

We ended up driving by a baseball diamond on our way to the Provincial Park we were planning on staying at. The baseball diamond was surrounded by forest and there was a nice big grassy parking lot. It was a strange place for a baseball diamond; in the middle of a forest. Free is good. That’s where we stayed. Right next to where we were parked, there was a huge burnt spot of plastic and a metal frame. A nearby tree was scorched about 7 feet high. There were leaves on the tree, but they were all brown or yellow. The tree was dead. The fire had happened recently, since the tree had its leaves for the season. We could make out the word “Wash” on the melted banner. There was a perfectly good, but soggy towel on the burnt ground. It all seemed quite surreal; even eerie. Sometimes when I stay in remote, rural places that aren’t so scenic, it doesn’t take much to get my mind thinking scary thoughts. I have to admit, my eyes were scanning that large burnt area for traces of human remains.

The mysterious burnt area

Good night. I’m tired enough that creepy scenes will not be keeping me awake. Any murderous psychopaths trying to create a nightmare will be turned into a sticky goof covered in chrysanthemums in my surreal dream…and ferrets, deer, and Wiener-dogs will be chasing this villain, trying to eat the flowers.

-Skye

Day 56 – Saint Marc-du-Lac-Long, PQ to Woodstock, NB – 236km

We stayed the night in Edmundston, New Brunswick. My day
started at 6 in the morning. My brother and Mia were sleeping in the van. My
dad and I got in the van at quarter after 6 and began to drive the 50km back to
the where I had stopped the previous day—in the middle of nowhere. Kerr and Mia
snoozed as we re-entered Quebec. I ate bread, salami, and fruit while I
listened to some pump-up music. I didn’t feel too pumped.

 

I got let off where I had stopped. It was a cool morning
with light clouds. The mist coming off the Appalachian hills was dense. My dad,
Mia, and Kerr drove back to the campsite where we were staying after they let
me off. I cycled 57km back to our site, which was where I was supposed to
arrive the day before, but didn’t due to thunderstorms.

 

I was at the campsite again around 9am. I ate my second
breakfast—fried eggs, granola, more fruit, and some bread. Sadly, today Kerr,
my dad, and Mia were turning around to go back home. This trip turned out to be
quite the test of endurance for my brother and all of us. I was sorting through
stuff in our storage compartment, seeing what was theirs to take back, and what
was ours to keep for the remainder of the journey. That made me sad. I felt
mopey.

 

There have been 5 of us on the road since Tobermory,
Ontario: Kerr, Mia (Kerr’s assistant), Burns (my dad), Gail (my mom), and me.
My mom and I are quite used to the intense schedule of the campaign, and the
stress, but I think it was a shock to the rest of the group. As well, each
night, someone has had to sleep on the floor of the van (with some foam) or in
the front passenger seat. In addition, both Kerr and I have had our days in the
last week where we have had lousy health. This has also been the busiest 2
weeks of the entire journey. I missed our event in Ottawa and Kerr missed our
Montreal events. Anyways, our crew was feeling quite worn out, so my brother,
Mia, and my dad decided they had to turn around. I understand, but I’m sad they
had to leave after barely being with them for two weeks. Now it will be another
month until I see them.

 

One of the most difficult parts of this trip for me is
the loneliness. I’m meeting lots of amazing people, and seeing beautiful
scenery, but I miss my friends and family. My dad cycled with me for several
kilometres away from the campground, but then he had to turn back to continue
packing up to get on the road. I know he would love to do some bike touring
again if he had the lifestyle that allowed him to do it. I know my brother
would love to ride with me and finish at the Atlantic. Sadly, they’re going to
be living the rest of this trip vicariously through my helmet cam—but that only
captures the smallest fragment of this trip’s whole, and often I don’t post
helmet cam footage for weeks due to slow internet.

 

Anyhow, this was a sad morning. I’m counting down the
days again. Melisa, Jeff, Timo, and Sari came to our campsite to say good bye
and have breakfast with us. So many good byes were said on this morning. The
last 2 weeks I’ve had lots of company, my family s been around, and I’ve gotten
to see many of my friends. Now suddenly, I’m back on the road, by myself again.
There’s a part of me that looks forward to it, that likes the quiet time to think
and go my own pace. But I know the dominant me doesn’t want to be alone. My
nostalgia and sadness are strong today. Tomorrow they’ll be a little weaker.
Eventually, the feelings will numb, I’ll become distracted by many other
things, and before I know it, I’ll be back at home.

 

I took a windy, narrow road that can hardly be called a
highway down from Grand Falls to Woodstock. Highway 105 follows the Grand
River. Near the beginning of the highway, the road is high up on a plateau next
to brown cliffs that dive into the river. The cliffs dwindle down to steep
shores. There were many hills, and the road was bumpy. I would have had a more
direct, faster, and safer route on the wide, smooth paved shoulder of the Trans
Canada, but for one day, it was worth it to take this route for the scenery. This
is also the route to take if you want to see covered bridges and small town
charm.

 

To anyone planning a trip: there was a beautiful, free
place to camp about 25km north of Andover-Perth at a picnic area on a Lake
(near the junction of Highway 105 with another small highway).

 

In the end, I pedaled 236km between 6am and 7pm. I had a
paced day with many breaks, so it didn’t seem too bad. The scenery was great,
and I had lots to think about (distracting me from the anguish that the many
steep hills could provide). I did somehow manage to do that day without padded
bike shorts. All my padded shorts were dirty or wet. I ended up aggravating
some of my saddle sores from earlier in the trip.

 

I’m back on schedule. It’s been a struggle recently just
to keep up my energy through the days. I’m way behind on blogs. I’ve been
making notes and writing some of them each day. I’m hoping that over the next
several days without events, I’ll be able to catch up.

 

-Skye

Day 55 – Saint André to Saint Marc-du-Lac-Long, PQ – 95km

I woke up to a gentle breeze flowing through my tent.
There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. I had my main rain flap rolled up to the side,
so I could see outside my tent quite well. I had pitched my tent at the edge of
a cliff overlooking the St. Lawrence River. On the other side of the river, the
north shore, the rolling mountains/hills of the Laurentians lapsed into each
other in a haze. It was one of those moments that I wanted to cling onto. I
wanted to lie there,–in that moment—for a whole day.

But I didn’t. I actually woke up at 7am, turned the
laptop on, and started trying to catch up on blogs from several previous days.
I made some progress, but nothing got posted. Time crept up on me. It was 9am
before I knew it. Jeff, a family friend cycling with me, was all dressed to hit
the road. He was eager to get an early start. After eating and packing up the
site we were on the road around 10:30am. It was now somewhat cloudy.

Jeff and I before embarking on our ride

No, we're not flirting. About to set off from Saint André

The first 20km would turn out to be a tease—flat, scenic,
and fast. We had a tailwind. Then we turned onto Highway 289. We climbed for
about 10km, leaving the St. Lawrence River shores for higher grounds inland.
Then there were hills. Jeff plays tennis. He doesn’t bike too much. He did
great on the 175km ride yesterday (a bit sore though), but he began to struggle
with the steep and frequent climbs. The road was extremely bumpy, there was no
shoulder, and the odd time there was a flat stretch, a cross head wind halted any
momentum. At 35-40km, after about 210 kilometres of riding in 2 days, Jeff
decided to take a rest with the intention of joining me later in the ride.

Leaving the campground

Me following Jeff through a cute and tidy riverside Quebec village

The flat St. Lawrence River scenery early in the day

A change in scenery as we travel inland (and into the hills) towards New Brunswick

Following 289 next to the Maine-Quebec border

I wasn’t having much fun with the hills. The Appalachians
come up into this area, so it was rolling hills, except the hills were steep
and long, so it wasn’t possible to carry the momentum from one downhill to the
crest of the next hill. I cycled another 20km before stopping at a side-of-the-road
food stand, a Caissez Croute. I had stated a day earlier that I wanted to stop
at a Caisse-Croute for some authentic Quebec poutine. Eventually, everyone in
our crew except my mom ended up stopping for lunch at this tiny restaurant.
Kerr, Mia, my dad, Melisa, Jeff, Sari, Timo, and our chocolate lab sat on the
roadside patio. I thought the poutine was ok. It wasn’t special. I’m sure there
is some really unique poutine out there that would astound me, but it is yet to
be discovered; perhaps on the drive back.

By the end of lunch, the day was cloudy and humid. Some
parts of the sky were quite dark. There were some freckles of blue sky that fed
my optimism. I kept pedaling. As I cycled the bumpy, windy Highway 289 (that
goes along the Maine-Quebec border), the clouds became dark. There was rain—a
downpour. I kept pedaling. I was soaked. Have you ever been in such discomfort
that your discomfort has fuelled you, arousing some intensity from deep within?
That happened to me in that last 20km of the day (and last 20km of Quebec) in
torrential rain. There were patches where it was raining so hard that it was
hurting my bare skin. Inevitably there was the thunder. It started to get
louder and then a flash of lightning off in the distance—time to get off the
bike. I leaned my bike up against the metal highway guard rail, walked a little
ways away, and crouched in some grass beside the road. I did this for about 10
minutes. It wasn’t so bad. I actually found it somewhat meditative. I know.
This surprised me too. I’ll get a video of this posted when I’m back in Toronto.

The support vehicle came by. I got inside with my bike. I
decided to wait for the storm to let up. The rain eased off, but the thunder and
occasional flashes of lightning did not. An hour passed; still thunder and
lightning. Another half-hour passed, I dozed off. I awakened. It was almost
6pm. I still had another 50km to bike. There was still a storm. Intense rain is
negotiable, lightning I don’t deal with. I called it a day just before the New
Brunswick border.  I’ll be back early
tomorrow morning to start where I stopped. We’ve already arranged a campsite
50km down the road in Edmundston, so that’s where we’ll be tonight.

-Skye

Day 39 – Sault Ste. Marie to Thessalon, ON – 85km

I woke up sprawled across my extra-large bed; something I haven’t had the luxury of doing for a long time. After eating a hearty trucker breakfast in the Travelodge restaurant, Lynne, Max, and David met my mom and I outside our hotel. We went on a quick sight-seeing tour of downtown Sault Ste. Marie—the bridge into the States, the scenic boardwalk on the peaceful river, the Roberta Bondar tent. Thanks to Lynne, we saw the Soo with efficiency and got all the photos! It felt like a Sunday. The sun was shining. The river was peaceful. There was hardly any wind. Traffic was almost non-existent.

Max, Me, David, Gail

After our sightseeing, we went to the Central United Church where “Koncert for Kilometres” was held. There was a genuine friendliness to everyone we met at the church. It seemed like they had met us before, or that we were from their town. These people reached out and strived to understand how they could improve the lives of others in their communities and wanted to do all they could to help our cause; even though they had never met us. Gail and I were given a brief introduction, and then we had our chance to say thank you. Many of the people in the room helped Kilometres for Communication in some way—attending the event, performing, organizing the event, or broadcasting info about “Koncert for Kilometres” on a local radio station.

Just before going into the church

Often, I find the pace of the campaign is too fast. It has to be fast, otherwise costs would be higher and we may never get across the country. However, there is a slight frustration that accompanies the rapid pace. I’m constantly meeting people on this trip—generous, brilliant, intensely active, and people who have stories to tell. Some people I get to know better than others, but almost always, when it’s time for me to leave, I feel sad. I haven’t really gotten to know them that well. If I have, then I’ll miss them. I always have more questions to ask, and almost always, I feel like my simple “thank you” doesn’t do justice to the warmth that people have shared with us.

We didn’t stick around at the church for long. We were meeting people at Velorution (a local bike shop) for 11:30am. Gavin and Jav (apologies if I’ve made a spelling error) were waiting. As David, Max, and I were getting ready, more people started arriving. Quinn and his mother Suzanne came. Ben brought his dad, Stan, along. Both Ben and Quinn are fairly young fellows, so we figured that they might like to see the banner that the Cool Communicators at the Camp Winfield Easter Seals camp had made for Kilometres. We showed them the banner with the children and youth’s handprints with their names and the communication devices they use written inside their handprints. I looked up, and we had a fleet of road bikers ready to pedal; Christine, Robbie (the mech at Velorution), Gavin, Jav, and Max and David (again, apologies for any spelling
errors). There was a 15-minute gathering in the sunshine as we got organized to hit the road. We took a group photo, said our farewells, and then it was time to pedal to Thessalon, about 80km away.

The crew at Velorution

Quinn and Ben meeting

We tucked into a line, and cranked it to the turn-off for St. Joe’s Island—about the halfway point of the day’s ride. We were making great time with the echelon-style of riding. We averaged just under 35km/hr in a headwind. It makes all the difference drafting, but inevitably your turn to lead the pack will come. At this halfway point, Detlef and Dan joined us (again, apologies for misspellings). Gavin, Jav, and Robbie went for another couple kilometres before they turned off to go home. Detlef, Dan, David, Max and I remained. We maintained our pace and made great time to Thessalon. We learned later on that the email sent out requested  the ‘fast road bikers’. David, Max and I have been used to riding at a much slower pace so as to not wear down our bodies on our tour, so this was quite the change in riding style. We definitely had fun cranking it, but tomorrow will have to start out quite lightly.

The gathering at the St. Joe's turn-off

Departing from the halfway point

We did 85km in 2 hours and 40 minutes, so we arrived at the campground quite early. There was a beach across the road from our site, so we decided to go for a swim and have a stretch. I still am trying to catch up on all my missed blogs as well as everything else. I took a little time to relax earlier, so now I’m up late typing away. I probably won’t have the patience or time to wait for the slow internet to upload all my photos tonight, so it will still be another day until my blogs are up. Then again, if you’re reading this, my blogs are up, so this fact is irrelevant.

Max et David sporting the Velorution jerseys--thanks to Lynne

How to sum it all up? The last 36 hours in the Soo have been fantastic. I have so many people to thank. Lynne, your generosity was legendary. Huge thanks to the local riders for the tow and company; I felt excited to ride my bike. Thank you to Rachel, Suzanne, Quinn, Ben, and Stan for coming out to Velorution—it was a delight to meet you. To everyone involved with the “Koncert”, you did a fantastic job that won’t be forgotten by those who attended. Marcella, I didn’t get to ride with you, but I adored the comfy bed and spacious shower of the Travelodge; thank you! What a gift! And what a crew in the Soo!

-Skye

Day 34 – Thunder Bay to side of the road camping spot – 154km

It will be several days until this blog gets posted. I don’t have any cell service, which means I don’t have access to internet. We are parked for the night at a rest pull-off a little west of Rossport. We have quite the view. We are also on quite a bit of a slant, but it’s worth the look-out over Superior and the chunky islands that fade into a horizon haze. There is quite a bit of noise—another price for the view is listening to trucks struggle as they climb the hill or use engine brakes going down.

The view from our slanted side of the road camp site

I got on the road around 11am today. Other than the wind, it was a perfect day to cycle—about 20 degrees and partly cloudy. There was a 20-30km/hr easterly. This may sound a little gross, but sometimes I spit when I cycle. At one point today, I had a strong cross-head wind. I spat to my left. The wind was so strong that it wisped my spit about a tractor-trailer length behind me, and across the road onto the on-coming shoulder. There were times today when I was going nowhere, even going downhill. In many places, the hills and trees provided enough shelter to allow me to maintain a decent speed. The wind was coming from the east, and I was riding near the shore of Lake Superior. The easterlies have all the momentum from travelling hundreds of kilometres over open water. I was heading northeast today, so fighting wind wasn’t as frustrating as it was in the Prairies. It would be nice though if the prevailing winds actually were prevailing winds. I’ve only had 1 tailwind this whole trip, and the forecast has all easterlies for the next week; just my luck.

The road from Thunder Bay to Nipigon isn’t the most pleasant to cycle—it’s ok. The shoulder changed from car-length wide and smoothly paved, to crumbling half foot, to nothing, but it was mostly a handlebar wide, which satisfies me. There aren’t any scenic lookouts, and there are some hills. Just before Nipigon, it starts getting quite beautiful. There’s a cliff of red rock. The contrast of the pinky-red to all the coniferous green
is quite stunning. Nipigon is a cute town on a bay surrounded by island. East of Nipigon is when the road becomes spectacular to cycle. There are lots of hills—mountains to some people—gorgeous rock faces, and stunning vistas over-looking Lake Superior. The altitude of the climbs here is similar to that of the climbs in the interior of British Columbia. I’m still in awe of the Pacific Coastal and Rocky Mountains, but I think the northern shore of Lake Superior is under-rated by tourists. I know I’ve forgotten how beautiful Ontario is as I’ve travelled other parts of Canada.

On almost every rock face, and there are rock faces almost every kilometre of the 700km stretch of road, there is tasteless, sloppy graffiti. Right now, I can look straight ahead, and see “KATIE and BRIAN JULY 2010”. Riding through this country, seeing everything slowly, I get annoyed when I see all this spoiled nature, and some of the graffiti is quite tasteless, and sometimes visually profane. But this rock slop gets me thinking. What’s the demographic that decides they need to pull-over and mark their presence on nature? Are they a newly-wed couple, choosing their honey-moon rock? Are they two people in the bliss stage of a beginning of a relationship, or are they a retired couple who’s celebrating their 30th anniversary with a cross-country trip and some graffiti? Probably not the latter. Perhaps some of these people feel they have something to prove; marking their territory, another photo that can go on Facebook, who knows. I wonder how many of those people with their name eternally painted next to someone else’s, are still together. Questions…have to occupy my mind in some way on the road. My curiosity keeps me sane.

I doubt that anyone would have guessed that I was thinking that while riding my bike. That just goes to show how unique we all are, how different our thought processes are, and that we all need our own unique way of communicating.

You’ll notice that I’ve included some photos in this post from our event yesterday in Thunder Bay!

Dawn, Me (Skye), Tracy, Gail

Robin, George, Me, Nicole in a more natural shot. This is the crew that cycled me into our event.

Robin presenting the funds that the George Jeffrey Children's Centre raised

Days 31-33

I’m in Thunder Bay tonight. We haven’t had cell service for three days, and we likely won’t have service for the next 5 days either. My apologies, but these are fairly quick blogs. It’s late, I’ve lost an hour transferring to the Eastern Standard Time Zone, and I need to wake up early tomorrow to get a good distance in while the rare pleasant weather lasts. As you’ll read in a moment, the last couple days haven’t been enjoyable—with the exception of this afternoon.

Camping spot east of Kenora to a rest area past Dinorwic – 165km

I felt great coming off my first rest day since Calgary. I didn’t feel stiff. I forgot what it felt like not to feel stiff. It was raining, but I didn’t care—all my gear was dry and clean. I ate a good breakfast, suited up, and headed out for my pedal. I was on the road around 10am—later than I like to get on the road, but the extra rest was nice and needed.

It was a fairly slow day. Hills and wind were against me. It rained for the first two hours of the pedal. Eventually it cleared up, and the wind from riding dried my gear. I wasn’t under any stress, I was well rested, I had recently come from the Prairies (so the hills were welcome), and I found it fairly easy to keep a relaxed mindset…for most of the ride. I tell myself: “just pedal quickly and easily, don’t push it, you have time, enjoy the scenery, enjoy the privilege of seeing everything slowly, and don’t worry about the time—you’ll get there”.

I passed through my original destination, Dinorwic. There were still a couple hours of light, so I decided to meet the support vehicle later on, and to keep pedaling. I wanted to be certain that I could get to Thunder Bay on time for our Monday event. It started to rain again. Oh well, I was dressed for it. The support vehicle passed me—‘see ya in another hour and a bit’. I cycled contently for about 5 minutes. Then I noticed how hard it was raining. Then I noticed that although I was dressed in 100% waterproof gear, I was soaking. It didn’t feel pleasant, but I was still warm. Trucks were misting me. I began to start regretting my decision to pedal on. Then I got the flat tire. Side of the Trans Canada, middle of nowhere, gravel shoulder, soaking wet, trucks whizzing by with their mist, limited time before dark, I was less than thrilled. I took my wheel off and did the routine. I took the tire off, and was trying to check for what caused the flat. I couldn’t find anything in the tire. I was getting really frustrated. Now I was cold because I stopped moving. I popped my wheel back on, not fixed yet, and walked on. There was a rest area 1km ahead. I found a gazebo. I took another stab at the tire. I found a fragment of glass embedded in the tire. Normally I would use a pair of micro-pliers to take something so small out, but I didn’t have that luxury. I was shivering, and trying to get that hated sliver of glass out. I couldn’t do it; my hands were trembling too much, had no grip because they were wet—I pretty much had a mental breakdown right there. I eventually got that sliver out, but it was getting dark, it was raining hard, and the visibility was miserable. I decided to call it a day. I couldn’t reach Gail in the support vehicle because she had driven out of cell reception. I assumed that she would figure out something was wrong and turn back. It wasn’t pleasant for her; she had quite the scare when I didn’t show up, but eventually she came back and found me. Sorry mom. She would probably like to elaborate on that story, but I’d like to move on.

Camping spot east of Dinorwic to camping side of the road past Upsala – 180km

I woke up to the sound of torrential rain. My gear was still damp from the day before. I ate my breakfast slowly, spaced out, hating that I was up at 6:30am and about to go out into heavy rain for hours. And that’s exactly what I did. There are some days where you say to yourself at the beginning: “How am I going to do this, or is this possible?” Often, I re-evaluate the situation: “There’s got be another way”, and then I realize there
is no alternative. At the end of the day I looked back, and thought to myself, “I would do anything to not be where I was this morning, what lay ahead of me is now behind me…somehow”.

I thought of myself as a vehicle, and my mind as the passenger, my body as a machine. Underneath the rain gear, behind the windshield of my goggles, I have to tell myself that all I have to do is stay seated. Keep those legs moving, fuel yourself with the right fuel, don’t run on empty and just keep going. I didn’t want to get off my bike. I think of it this way. If you choose the right equipment, maintain your equipment, train properly, and fuel yourself properly, you’ve done the hardest part. The rest will take its course.

Another day in the rain; 6 of the last 7 days of cycling have been rain. That was also a headwind day.

Camping spot east of Upsala to George Jeffrey Children’s Centre, Thunder Bay – 147km

I woke up at 6am today. I knew I would be losing an hour to the time zone change. It was annoying, yet exciting at the same time, changing back to my native time zone. Today was a hustling day. I was riding a moderately relaxed pace for the first 3 and a half hours. I passed the Atlantic Watershed point today, which I found interesting how they determine such an exact point. Every rain drop that falls after this point that runs off into a river, will end up in the Great Lakes basin, with a chance of graduating to the Atlantic.

Leaving the Hudson Watershed

I had to be in Thunder Bay by quarter after 3 to meet some new friends who would be riding with me. The last 2 hours of my ride, I was really pushing it. I didn’t want to take a chance of being late—so much so that I didn’t stop to look at the time on my phone. It turned out that I was 45 minutes early. Then the sun came out. I had a pleasant afternoon break.

I relaxed in a grocery store parking lot about 5km away from the George Jeffrey Children’s Centre. Robin, Nicole, and George rolled into the parking lot. We met, and then pedaled to the fundraising BBQ that Nicole and Robin had arranged—they deserve many thanks for the event they arranged. It wasn’t huge, but there was a relaxed atmosphere, we met great people, they had made a lovely welcoming banner for us (which looks like it involved a fair bit of effort), and between an employee “dress-down day”, a donation from Nortec Computers, and funds raised from the BBQ, the George Jeffrey Children’s Centre raised a little under a $1000 for Kilometres for Communication.

I continue to be amazed by the generosity of people as we travel from place to place. We continue to talk with delightful and inspiring people. We continue to hear that the same issues loom in every region we’ve visited so far. Long waiting lists, but also, the problematic attitudes of people—talking to adults like children because they have a visually apparent disability, talking around people as if they aren’t present, and a lack of openness. What do I mean by a lack of openness? Dawn and Tracy whom I met today gave a good example of what their experience was with some Thunder Bay bus drivers—one in particular according to Tracy. When the bus stops, and lowers, and it is taking someone a while to get on the bus, there is this bus driver who ignores the person who is elderly or disabled who is boarding. Imagine if you felt the tension of someone turning their head, looking in the opposite direction while they wait for you, seemingly annoyed. Now imagine if you have a condition where your muscles spasm or you don’t have great voluntary control over certain muscle groups which you need to move around—when you feel that tension, it might take you a little longer to get on the bus if your muscles stiffen up. In contrast to this silent bus driver, Dawn gets on the bus much more quickly with the notoriously snarky bus driver who’s been known to offend many people. When Dawn wants to board this fellow’s bus, he teases her. But they have inside jokes, and it’s a friendly tease. Dawn feels relaxed, and she’s able to get on the bus more quickly.

Today was a success. I’m exhausted and having difficulty writing coherent sentences. Thank you spell check—but my creativity is lacking a bit right now. I’ve caught up on almost everything that I need to before I go back out of cell service. I think blogs are unlikely the next number of days as I will be out of cell service until Sault Ste Marie.

Tomorrow I want to get a good distance past Nipigon, maybe even Schreiber (200km away). The day after that I want be in at least Marathon, and then the following day, near Wawa. After that, it is off to Batchawana Bay near Pancake Bay Provincial Park, and then to Sault Ste Marie the next day. If I stick to that, I’ll be a day ahead of schedule to catch up on blogs in the Soo!

That’s all for now; there should be some gorgeous cycling, lots of big steep hills, and rain is in the forecast again.

-Skye

Day 28 – Winnipeg to the side of the highway in rural Manitoba – 80km

There was torrential rain when we woke. It was quite the sight, but it didn’t last long. Rather than dressing in full water-proof cycling gear as I usually would, I decided to wear jeans and a dress shirt. I also put on my leather dress shoes rather than my clip-in bike shoes. Seriously; I’m not kidding you.

We drove to the Deer Lodge Centre—where I had cycled yesterday from Portage la Prairie. No, I wasn’t going to bike dressed like that—as you may have guessed. Ben Adaman, the co-ordinator of the Communication Devices Program at Deer Lodge Centre, had organized an event for us. Gail and I presented Kilometres for Communication and moments from our journey to a room full of people—speech language pathologists, people who speak with AAC, communication assistants and other professionals affiliated with the Assistive Technology program at Deer Lodge.

The message on display at the Deer Lodge Centre promoting Kilometres. A quick phone photo taken after we noticed the message on our way out after the event.

Almost every time I speak in public, I get to a point when I talk about my motivation for Kilometres for Communication. Always, I talk about how I am frustrated when people talk around my brother, Kerr, by asking me questions that should be addressed to Kerr. Almost always, when I talk about this, I get an emotional reaction from someone in the audience who speaks with AAC. Clearly, inability is often assumed when it
shouldn’t be. On this day, it was Janine who had the reaction.

It was nice to meet Janine; she had written to us earlier in the year. As we’ve been meeting people who speak with AAC across the country, we’ve been asking them what they want to share, what they feel needs to change, and what they find some of the greatest barriers are. Janine brought up a question. “What about after high school?” Now, Janine is not in high school, she is older. What she is referring to is the lack of support for transition from high school.  There are many barriers which can make it difficult for someone who speaks in alternative ways to carry the momentum from one stage to the next. Janine’s story is on our website, so please, if you’re interested, do check that out.

I met a young woman by the name of Dorian at Deer Lodge. She can speak, but often it is not clear, so she needs a communication device for when she interacts with strangers or in circumstances such as using the phone. She told me one of the most absurd stories that I’ve heard so far on this trip. Dorian is originally from Brantford, Ontario. She went to a school where she was integrated. One day, they took her communication device away. They locked it in a closet. They didn’t want it to get broken. Yeah right. A similar thing happened to Kerr. A teacher once took away the switch that activates his communication device because she found the computer-generated voice annoying. Yes, these things happen, in Canada. It’s appalling. It’s shocking. It’s the equivalent to a teacher going up to any one of the students—even a good student who rarely talks—and saying: “I don’t like your voice, and I don’t really care for what you have to say, or what you think and feel, so I’m going to put this piece of duct tape over your mouth. You can take it off at the end of the day.” Dorian had other stories too. I hope they’ll be up on the Kilometres website sometime in the near future.

After the official event, several of us sat around talking. It was quite nice, but I was beginning to get anxious about the time. It was 3:30pm and I still needed to get on the road to pedal. We said our good byes, and I dressed up in my bike gear, and set off from the Deer Lodge Centre parking lot around 4pm. Winnipeg is not a bike friendly city to begin with. I didn’t see any bike lanes. The roads are bumpy and cracked. The motorists aren’t used to cyclists, so there is very little space left between the curb and vehicle, and people don’t check their blind spots. To make it worse, I was heading out in the rain, in rush hour. I’ve biked in the rain through the downtown core of Vancouver, Calgary, and Toronto. None of those came close to matching the agony of pedaling through Winnipeg that afternoon. Eventually, I made it out to the country. On this day, I officially left the Prairies. No more fields. No, there were deciduous forests; a welcome change in scenery. It was also nice to have the shelter from the wind. We ended up camping at the side of the road, literally in the middle of nowhere. We were tired, and that’s where we managed to get on that busy, rainy day.

-Skye