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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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

Headwinds, Tailwinds, Lessons Learned

June 8 – 12, 2011

Today I made my first U-turn in the RV.  It’s one of many new skills I’ve acquired as a result of Kilometres for Communication.  Most of these new skills have to do with the RV and are not very glamorous:  how to attach the sewage hose and do a “dump”, how to prepare meals and do dishes with zero counter space, how to take a shower with almost no water, how to load up the kitchen sink with our oranges, potatoes, onions, etc., so that when traveling on winding roads or through rough construction sites  our “stuff” doesn’t go slipping, sliding and winding through the RV.

Some of these lessons have been learned through trial and error.  So, for instance, there’s my first experience in refilling our 18-litre bottles of spring water.  I know Skye mentioned what he calls our “annoying” pile of firewood, which I bought at Banff National Park with the hope of an opportunity to build a campfire.  (Sometimes my optimism also can be annoying.)   Since this opportunity has not yet manifested, the firewood remains stacked for easy access right in front of our side door which is the main entrance to the RV.  Now back to the 18-litre water bottles.  I had refilled two such bottles, and I was sure I had securely attached the caps. It’s just those caps weren’t attached quite securely enough to endure my tripping over the firewood as I was lifting the large, heavy bottles into the RV!

So, today when Skye and I refilled those very same bottles at a store in Moose Jaw, and the clerk informed us they had run out of caps for those bottles, I felt a certain level of rising anxiety.  I’m happy to report there have been no more floods inside the RV.  Lesson learned.

On the other hand, there have been many floods in the land we’ve been traversing.  Last night after Skye  finished his 242 kilometre cycle to Chaplin, Saskatchewan, we went for a ride in our trusty RV looking for a campground.  At one point we went down a hill to a valley with a lake on either side of the little highway we were on, but the lakes were encroaching on the highway, and in both lakes were hydro poles and the tops of fences.  This seems to be a typical part of the landscape here.

I was reminded of the story we heard on our drive through Manitoba before Skye started cycling.  We were told about two people in an RV who were driving on a road that at one point disappeared into water.  The RV abruptly descended into a sink hole, and the passengers, we were told, had to roll down their windows and swim out of their vehicle.  This story seemed far-fetched when we first heard it, but through the prairies, evidence of flooding is ubiquitous, the land is saturated like a wet sponge—not the stable foundation you want for your roads.  Skye and I held our collective breath when heading towards the lake-encroached dip in the highway.  There was no place to turn around.  The RV-gobbling sink hole now seems all-too-real.  I don’t want to drive on a piece of road that looks like that ever again!

It is now a number of days after I originally began writing this blog entry.  I’m sitting in the RV by the side of the road in Moosomin, Saskatchewan, waiting for Skye to appear on this windy, rainy afternoon.  By the time he arrives, he will have pedaled 48 kilometres since we last met.  The promised tailwinds that are supposed to assist Skye on his journey have been elusive.  Tomorrow, they are supposed to blow tomorrow, just as yesterday, they were supposed to blow today.  It’s a mental challenge, waiting for these helpful tailwinds, yet getting back on the bike to pedal in the face of more headwinds.

In so many ways, this is the story and the feel of Kerr’s life—the hope and promise of helpful tailwinds; the disappointment when instead he is met with headwinds:  the funding that doesn’t come through, the education that doesn’t happen, the waiting lists that never seem to get shorter, the well-trained assistants that need to move on in their lives.  How does Kerr—and how do we with him—get back on the bike and keep pedaling?

As Skye and I drove through Manitoba in May, we listened to a special call-in show on the local radio station as communities gathered to build sandbag dikes around their homes and properties in preparation for the predicted flooding.  They were working together—in community—against  adversity.

So far everywhere we’ve been there are funding issues which have an impact on the availability of AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) services, supports and technology which enable and empower voice.  Waiting lists for AAC assessments and services are an inevitability.  Yet, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who would say it is an acceptable situation to have to wait for weeks, months, or years to communicate.  When we explain Kilometres for Communication to people who don’t know about AAC, they understand the importance of communication right away. Some of them have become passionate and committed volunteers .  Others have donated generously. This is what gets us back on the bike and pedaling against the headwinds.  We are inspired by the spirit of community, collaboration and generosity, and the synergy that results.  We are also inspired by the many emails we are getting from people who are all too familiar with the headwinds, people who cannot get the AAC assistance they need, or those for whom AAC has opened up not just their communication, but their lives.

That’s why it is important for us to meet with individuals, and with large groups, to have press coverage in small town newspapers, as well as in cities and national media.  There are many upcoming events, and many people to thank who are making them happen.  Last week we were talking to a number of friendly voices from the Toronto Police Service and the City of Toronto who are working together to help us make a wheel, walk, run and cycling event happen on the morning of July 3rd, even though it is the very busy Gay Pride weekend.   (We will let you know as soon as details are confirmed.)

While AAC is a provincial issue, the public education has to be done locally and nationally, and we can build on each other’s experience.  For us the networking is inspirational.  The people who speak with AAC, families, friends, dedicated and supportive professionals keep us all pedaling.  Together, in community, we need to continue to educate and advocate, and perhaps—to convert some of those headwinds into tailwinds.

Gail

Day 21 – Rosetown into Countryside, SK – 16.3km

I woke up and listened to fast-flowing techno beats to
pump me up for the difficult pedal I had ahead of me. I suited up in my tights.
I realized that my green cycling jersey didn’t match my helmet, gloves or
shoes. So I got on the road a little late after trying to rearrange my outfit.
It’s really tough not having easy access to laundry every other day to have my
matching cycling uniform washed. I checked my bike for scratches, and set off
for my ride. I was really hauling the first couple kilometres. The road was
smooth and I felt good. The next 3 kilometres the pavement became really rough
and littered with pot-holes, so was lucky to have mountain biking experience.
The average cyclist probably would have had to have walked their bike. About
500m later my gears skipped once. That should never happen, so I got off my
bike, and looked at my bike. I wondered if the screws on the thing that
switches the chain needed to be screwed in more.

The road turned and there was a huge wind. I battled it
but I exerted myself way too much. I came to the top of a hill far outside the
city limits of Rosetown, and felt my legs trembling from fatigue. I took a look
at the view, sipped my protein water, and then using the last of my reserves, I
fiercely pedaled back to Rosetown, realizing that the wind was just too much
today in combination with the not-so-flat Saskatchewan, and the immense riding
the previous day. I needed something to reward myself for my effort, so I cycled
around Rosetown looking for a Starbucks. There wasn’t one, so I found a park
bench, sat down, and called it for the day. My legs were still quivering.

None of that happened. I actually cycled 242km from
Rosetown to Chaplin, Saskatchewan.

Day 21 (the real day 21) – Rosetown to Chaplin, SK – 242km

 

I got up at 6:30am. I looked at the weather for the
region; the winds in particular. Again, more easterlies mixed with southerlies.
My planned route was pure tail wind over the next 2 days. I couldn’t see myself
cycling 160km against a 30km/hr headwind after finding a little over 80km a
challenge yesterday. I decided to get tactical with the wind. I changed my
route, adding an extra 100km onto my route over the next 2 days. I would head south,
then east, rather than heading east and then southeast. With my new route I
would have mostly cross-winds instead of headwinds.

I ate my large breakfast. I woke Nathaniel up (he was
camped beside our RV), chatted with him, checked over his well-ridden bike, and
then we parted our ways after saying “farewell and safe travels”. He was
heading north to Saskatoon, and I was heading south to Swift Current, where I
would get back on the Trans-Canada.

The first 150km went smoothly and quickly. It probably
sounds weird to people who don’t road bike, hearing that said so casually. I
had mostly cross-winds, allowing me to average a decent speed until I hit
headwind about 30km north of Swift Current. It was another 90 to Chaplin from
Swift Current on the Trans Canada. A lot of this section of highway there was a
headwind, and occasionally a strong cross-wind. The Trans Canada actually was
quite pleasant to cycle on. There was a wide, smooth paved shoulder, and lots
of draft from the frequently passing trucks.

Looking back on it, I don’t know how I mentally handled
riding 9 hours and 40 minutes on my bike with only a few short breaks every
hour and a half to two hours. The first three or four hours, I was enjoying the
scenery; grassy fields, hazy horizons, and swamped fields filled with cities of
ducks. After that, I focused on my technique and tried to think of other things
in my life or future. I think I must have dissociated a bit too, because I
simply don’t remember that much about my ride after Swift Current. I do
remember the final hour of the ride. I saw a sign saying “Chaplin: 29km”. This
gave me energy. I suppose my hormones started kicking in more. Again, I found
myself hammering away with new energy as the sun was near setting. The
cross-headwind never let up, but it was all the more satisfying when I
finished. It was much more difficult cycling 242 in Prairie winds than 222km in
the mountains.

For any cyclists planning a cross-Canada trip or
trans-Prairie trip, all the roads I’ve been on have had generous paved
shoulders, with minor 1-3km exceptions here and there on Highway 9. The Trans
Canada has smoother pavement, and is flatter than the country roads. The
Prairies are very flat, but on the roads, you’re either going gradually uphill
or downhill. Everything is left up to the wind. I’ve had the personal goal of
getting a fierce tailwind one day, and doing over 300km in a single day, but it
doesn’t look like that will happen. There are only easterlies in the forecast
for the next week, and I’ll be out of the Prairies in a week.

It seems unfair to me that I have to work so hard to
overcome something that isn’t in my control. The wind disables me. Now,
remember this. People aren’t disabled. Society disables. If you can take the
subway like anyone else and communicate your ideas and feel heard the same in
the end, you are merely differently abled. Now, let’s say you can’t take the
subway because it isn’t wheelchair accessible, or you can’t contact your
utility company by phone because they don’t have a text-talk service, then the
society around you is disabling you. Perseverance often is the key. I hope
people see the perseverance that Kilometres for Communication
demonstrates—through the stories on our website, and my own struggle to push my
body way beyond my comfort zone. Disability isn’t a perfect parallel to cycling
against a headwind. The wind cannot be changed. Society can be sculpted.
Attitudes can be changed, people educated, policies changed. Finally, I can see
the finish line—the tree line in Ontario, and ultimately August 4th
in Newfound Land. Also, if I want to be a quitter, I can be. I could quit
anytime (don’t worry, that won’t happen). If you are differently abled, and
society is disabling you, and you’re tired—tired of struggling, you’re tired of
waiting for funding, tired of the uncertainty of when your communication device
will arrive, tired of people assuming inability, tired of not being able to get
places, tired of not living independently—you can’t quit. That isn’t an option.
Headwinds can be overcome, but often there is a detour, and there doesn’t have
to be a headwind.

Kilometres for Communication has a focus on people who
speak with AAC, but it is a campaign for the more than 3 million Canadians who
are differently abled.

Now, I’ve got a proposition. If you laughed out loud at
this post, made an embarrassing snorting noise and made someone look at you, or
were completely fooled by my fake post, please share this blog with your
network.

Deal? Deal. By spreading word of our campaign, more
people will become educated, involved, and we will be a stronger force.

-Skye

Day 20 – Kindersley to Rosetown, SK – 84km

I woke up, ate some granola, and checked the winds in the
forecast while I waited for the two reporters to come. I couldn’t care less
whether it rained or not. Please wind, just one day in the Prairies, give me a
tail wind. No dice; it’s been easterlies so far, and the forecast had the wind
coming from the NE, SE, E every day of the week in every town I searched along
route. There’s this big lazy low pressure system that doesn’t want to move.
Unfortunately it’s in my way. But I’m a determined fellow.

Around 10am, Elise from the local Kindersley newspaper
came and interviewed myself and Gail. It was a good interview. Unfortunately,
the Kindersley newspaper is one of the few papers in Canada which doesn’t have
an online publication so I don’t have a link to the article. We’re learning
that there are some simple, old-fashioned aspects of Saskatchewan culture that
people are hesitant to change. After Elise left, Matt from a local radio
station arrived. He had some good questions prepared as well. I never did get
to hear the radio show; I was on the road pedaling. Elise wrote quite a good
article in light-speed to meet her deadline. In no more than an hour’s time
after she had driven off, Gail had received an emailed copy of the article she
wrote.

We also learned that morning that Saskatchewan doesn’t do
daylight savings. Half of the year, they’re on Central Time, the other half
(now), they’re on Mountain Time. Apparently, when everyone converted to
daylight-savings a half-century ago, the people of Saskatchewan decided it
would be too complicated.

I started pedaling around noon. I only had to go over a
little over 80km. This was supposed to be a partial rest day placed in between
a bunch of heavy days. The sun was shining, but the wind was blowing in my
face. I tucked as much as I could, until I was forced to change to a different
position because I got stiff. There was a constant 25-30km/hr headwind. Often
there were stronger gusts. Similar to many days before, I was appreciating it
when trucks travelling in the same direction roared by me so I could ride their
drafts. I loathed getting passed by oncoming traffic.

The highlight of my ride was when I came to a
construction site. The woman controlling the traffic through the stretch of
one-lane traffic on gravel asked me if I wanted to follow the pilot vehicle. It
seemed to be moving slowly. I said “yes”. It started at 20km/hr. I tucked in
right behind it, two feet off its bumper, coasting on the draft. I suppose the
driver took this as a sign of aggression or desire to go faster, instead of a
cyclist sheltering himself from the gusts. He sped up to 25km/hr, which was
fine. Then he went to 30km/hr, which was perfect, but about the limit of my
capability on gravel. I was still right on his bumper. He sped up, the wind hit
me, and I had to drop off to the side and let the whole line of traffic dust
me. I was only a couple hundred metres from where the construction ended when I
got ditched, but I had an efficient draft session for a couple kilometres which
saved me some energy and time. I struggled to keep my average speed above
20km/hr. On such a day, if you’re willing to compromise with the wind and lower
your cadence or shift to a lower gear without raising your cadence, your speed
will slowly dwindle as you cycle on. The wind will blow you down to whatever
speed you start getting stubborn at.

Just before I hit the construction, I passed a fellow
cyclist taking a break at the side of the road. He was playing a ukulele and
seemed in great spirits for someone with full gear travelling against such a
spiteful wind. His name was Nathaniel. He was travelling from Victoria to
Saskatoon, and eventually out to Halifax. He wasn’t sticking to a strict
itinerary, and the wind was fierce, so he was unsure if he was going to make it
to Rosetown that night. He had seen Kilometres for Communication support RV
with goofy pictures pass by. I told him to come and knock if he did manage to
make it to Rosetown.

You can tell that we travel in different ways. Nathaniel and I at the campground in Rosetown, Saskatchewan

I made it to Rosetown in the early evening. The wind
hadn’t settled at all by then. We camped in quite an interesting campground.
The Rosetown campground is a municipal campground which has all the revenues go
towards people with disabilities. Just as we were finishing up our chicken
stir-fry dinner with a spinach salad (and lots of extra brown rice for me) and
it was getting dark, Nathaniel pedaled into the campground. We invited him in
for a meal. Gail, Nathaniel and I chatted until midnight. It’s such an
experience meeting people on this trip. Everyone I’ve met is interesting. Nathaniel is
a chef, doesn’t camp with a tent, but has instead mastered setting up a
tarpaulin, cycles with a ranch hat, and has plenty of stories to go with his
seasoned traveller’s aura. If you ever go on a long cycling, running, hiking,
paddling, rail road bumming trip (!), or any trip that sets you in new
environments day after day and takes you out of your comfort zone, you will
have stories to tell.

We walk by so many people every single day, not knowing a
thing about them. Odds are, we’ve walked by some pretty accomplished
people—maybe even famous people—geniuses, sports stars, people who have
overcome tremendous suffering, people who have saved lives, and maybe even a
murderer. We don’t know. We just walked by. We’ve probably walked by a city of
people, not knowing a thing about that city of people. Here’s the thing, each
of those people has people who know who they are, what their stories are, what
they’ve accomplished, what they’ve overcome, what experiences they’ve had that
influence the way they act.

There are an estimated 375,000 Canadians without speech.
That’s about the population of Kingston, Ontario or many suburban regions. Many
of these people have a way to communicate through using alternative methods.
These people who have a way to communicate fit in with the crowd that I
described in the paragraph above. They have stories, and people who know the
stories. However, there are many people of that 375,000 who don’t have a way to
communicate because they haven’t been enabled. Who they are, what they can
accomplish, their potential is unknown. Often services are unavailable to young
children and toddlers when they are in their key stage for learning language.
They are locked in. Imagine if services such as speech language pathologists,
funding for devices and communication assistants weren’t available. Imagine if
all the stories, talent, and brilliance of a city the size of Kingston,
Kelowna, or Moncton was undiscovered. There would be a colossal cultural loss.
So, what’s my point? In many places services aren’t available, period. Across
Canada, there is no province which doesn’t have huge waiting lists for funding
of supports and services which enable communication. There are people out there
whose brilliance is undiscovered. Our attitude should be to assume ability
instead of inability when we walk past these cities of people throughout our
lives, because we will meet many of the people we walk by, and by assuming
ability, you may meet someone who profoundly influences you, or perhaps you’ll
be the influence.

-Skye

Let the blogging begin!

This blog is about communication. It’s about a special kind of communication called AAC. (I personally struggle with this term; it stands for Augmentative and Alternative Communication, which is too much of a mouthful for me. AAC is simply an alternative way to communicate when someone has limited or no speech.) This blog is about disability, and navigation of disability in a society which orients itself towards people who are able-bodied. But this blog is also about ability, diversity, capability, possibility, hope. It is about our humanity, and about our connection–one person to another. It is about community and inclusion, and about how wrong it is for any of us to exclude and to make the decision that someone does not belong because he or she is different. So this blog is also about the importance of accessibility, because accessibility is a key to inclusion, belonging and community.

Kilometres for Communication was inspired by my son Kerr (pronounced “Care”), who is an artist, educator, social activist, writer, story teller, gardener, community facilitator. He happens to travel in a wheelchair and communicate with AAC. About two years ago Kerr and I had come back from the ICE conference (which stands for Independence, Community, and Empowerment), where he and I had given a presentation called: “Earth to Dark Clouds: Where are those Silver Linings?” The ICE Conference (which is now called “Breaking the ICE”) is a special experience because it is centred around people who speak in alternative ways. I was one of the few presenters who didn’t speak with AAC. Kerr and I arrived home after an inspirational weekend to meet Kerr’s younger brother, Skye, who was in a thoughtful mood.

Skye was 17 at the time, a senior at North Toronto Collegiate, who was planning on taking a year off before resuming his education at the University of Waterloo.

“I want my year off to be profound,” Skye said.

I was a little taken aback, but curious. “What do you mean?”

That’s when Skye first talked about his idea to cycle across Canada, and when our whole family—Kerr, Skye, Burns (Kerr’s and Skye’s dad) and I first discussed the idea of raising awareness about the many issues—yes, the many struggles—there are for people who communicate in diverse ways. Over time the idea evolved. Skye would cycle across the country. The rest of us would accompany him in a support vehicle. When safe and possible, Kerr would travel in a bike trailer. We would meet with people who speak in creative and diverse ways, and with the help of the media, introduce them to Canadians so that never again could they equate not being able to speak with not having anything to say. We would invite people to wheel, walk, run and cycle with us, and we would invite organizations, small groups of people and individuals to host events across Canada to raise public awareness and funds to empower voices and to make accessibility and inclusion a national priority for the more than 3 million Canadians with disabilities.

Kilometres for Communication was hatched, inspired by Kerr, conceptualized by Skye, and nurtured by Burns and myself. Later we found our charitable organizational partner, ISAAC Canada. It’s the Canadian Chapter of the International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication, an NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.

On May 19th, 2011, Skye will dip his bike into the Pacific Ocean at Port Renfrew, British Columbia, and Kilometres for Communication will be officially launched. It’s grassroots and an adventure. After more than 5000 hours of our planning and hard work, we’re not sure exactly what to expect, since it’s all volunteer. There are many people involved, many to thank (which we will try to do over the next little while), and it is our goal that by August 4th when our trip ends in St. John’s, Newfoundland, that voice, accessibility and inclusion will be on the minds of Canadians in a different way. We are raising money for AAC services, supports and technology, as well as for projects, opportunities and education that will enliven and empower the voices and lives of people who communicate in alternative ways. We will be advocating for changes in provincial policies so that AAC services, supports and technology are readily available to anyone who needs them. We are dedicated to the belief that everyone deserves a voice.

Gail Fisher-Taylor

Website: http://kilometresforcommunication.com
Facebook: Kilometres for Communication
Twitter: km4communicat