The Kilometres Story

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

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

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

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

Day 35 – Cavers to Hemlo, Ontario – 157km

Over a month ago, as we were driving out west, I was feeling quite scared seeing the roads that I’ve been on today and yesterday. I saw the speeds that the trucks were driving, narrow shoulders, and countless steep climbs and descents. I had some long distances planned—I really wondered if my itinerary was realistic. As we drove into Thunder Bay, a lane was blocked on one of the arterials. A dog had been hit by a car. A line of cars had stopped behind the car that had hit it; there was a crowd of people around this poor creature struggling for its life. There was a noticeable pool of blood around the dog people were trying to wrap in blankets. It was quite a disturbing scene. We drove by, but didn’t stop.

Shortly after, we stopped for the night in a Walmart parking lot. I couldn’t sleep. The image of that dog, the blood on the road, and the unexpectedness of the situation for whomever was involved—they triggered something in me. There was a bit of homesickness. I wanted to see my dog and my loved ones. However, there was another fear. After driving over 800km on roads that scared me, seeing all the truck traffic, and seeing how impatient and fast the truckers were—I felt terrified that I would be riding this stretch a month later.

Well here I am. The roads aren’t as bad as I feared. My distances were long, but despite wind and rain, I’m actually 30km ahead of schedule. I should be a full day ahead of schedule by the end of tomorrow. The shoulders are great at times, but quite narrow for the most part. Usually the trucks and RVs will go into the other lane to pass me. I do have to be hyper-alert, but I wouldn’t call it nerve-racking.

Anyways, I probably shouldn’t even bother writing about the weather, because it seems to have been the same for the last number of weeks: headwinds, cloudy, and patches of rain. The scenery has been spectacular (I did get the helmet camera out for the first time today since the Rockies). Small mountains of Canadian Shield line Lake Superior, and the highway goes down to the shoreline, in-land into river valleys, and up several hundred metres to the top of these mini-mountains for stunning views. The road goes up 200 to 300 metres, then it goes down. Up, then down, up…then down. Today was mostly slow on the climbs, fast descents to compensate, and fairly slow on the flats with the fierce wind. The wind was a little ridiculous at times today. I climbed to the top of a mountain, and was met by a fierce gust at the top. Ok, I’ll be going downhill soon enough, not a problem. Nope. The road did go down. There was actually a long descent with about a 3-4% grade, but the wind was blowing fiercely against me. I descended this mountain in my lowest gear. I was going only slightly faster downhill than it took me to climb. I kept checking to see if I had a flat tire. Nope. I felt like a piece of paper. I needed more weight behind me. Gravity wasn’t a strong force compared to the wind.

I’m leaving the coast of Superior for the next day as I travel to Wawa. Today I passed through Schreiber, Terrace Bay, and Marathon. Hopefully I’ll be in Sault Ste. Marie a day early for a rest day! I’ve been making good tracks in Ontario; 860km in 5 days of cycling.

In my mind, challenges have 2 characteristics. One: they are daunting. Two: they can be overcome. Two years ago, at the beginning of my year off between high school and university, I knew what I wanted to see out of Kilometres, but had no idea how to go about it. Bit by bit, things came together. I was lost at times, excited, and sometimes had no clue. Bit by bit, I’m cycling the roads I feared, and exceeding the distances that I thought were ambitious. Many people were telling me before the ride had started that my distances were too long.

So, we’re faced with this challenge: in Canada, waiting lists for communication devices and services are long (lengths vary from region to region). Every day, there are adults in Canada who get talked to like kids, because people don’t understand that “speech disability” is not a synonym for “slow, immature, or stupid”—there are many other common attitudes and assumptions that need to be extinct. Policies aren’t what they should be in many places, AAC isn’t a high priority in most governments (but what is one of the most important things in life…communication?). There are people out there who can communicate, but don’t have a way to because they don’t have the access, or there isn’t the recognition in their community. All of this is a challenge. Bit by bit, it can be overcome. Is there a clear linear path? No. We don’t really know where the road will wind, how many hills and valleys it will climb, or what the weather will be like. We do know where the road ends. We keep going until we get there. We don’t know how long it will take, but we do what we can, and one day we’ll get there.


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.


Day 24 – White City to Grenfell, SK – 110km

Today was a paced day. I woke up and heard the wind. I knew it wasn’t a westerly. I slept in, ate a hearty breakfast, and set off from our campsite around 11:30am. The wind was strong today—about 30km/hr consistently with stronger gusts. At least it was coming from the south. I made decent time for the first 50km of my day with the wind as a crosswind. However, the road changed direction to go southeast, and this meant that I got a headwind. My efficiency dwindled. Slowly and steadily I cycled on, tucking low, and keeping a steady rhythm of pedal strokes. I didn’t exert myself. I had time. I get there when I get there.

I was planning to get about 50km ahead of schedule today, but again; the wind was being rather rude. Tomorrow, the wind is supposed to come from the southwest, so I’m hoping to get a solid 160km in. There are also forecasted thunder showers, so I don’t want to bank on doing too many kilometres. Monday, a westerly wind is in the forecast with rain but no thunder and lightning (yippee), so I’m hoping to do a 200km+ day then and finish in Portage la Prairie a day ahead of what’s scheduled on the itinerary so I can have time to meet some new friends in Portage and get well rested for our event day in Winnipeg. Hopefully the wind can demonstrate some generosity.

I have a comfortable bed to sleep in tonight—thank you to Nicolle, Aaron, and Winter for your hospitality. I met Aaron 2 years ago. We worked at Cyclepath together in Toronto and became friends. He recently moved to Grenfell with his wife, Nicolle, and Winter, their 1.5 year old, mobile and rambunctious, son.

I finished my pedaling early. I didn’t see the point in struggling an extra hour to do a distance that I could easily make up with a tailwind tomorrow. Thanks to our generous hosts, I’ve had a relaxed evening—a nice meal, a beer, and a tour of the quiet town. Aaron’s been building a mini skate park inside a storefront of what used to be a grocery store. He has a cool set-up going on. I’m glad I got to see his sanctuary. It was great to catch-up and have a stress-free evening after battling the wind and fixing a flat tire next to the highway. Oh well, only the second flat tire in 2386km; can’t complain.

A corner of Aaron's small-town grocery store skate park

I found this sign can see its purpose in the above skate park photo

I’ll be leaving Saskatchewan tomorrow. We did have a little bit of media in the province—a newspaper article and a radio show. Overall, there hasn’t been the same interest or involvement in Kilometres for Communication on as there has been and will be in other provinces. As we’ve travelled through this province, we’ve learned that the funding and supports for AAC, and other programs related to disability and childcare, aren’t what they need to be. The mother and father of a young girl who speaks with AAC in Sakatoon contacted us. They wanted to know about events planned in Regina. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get the momentum going in the area, and as a result, there were no events planned. This family has an issue with the lack of support and not enough access to professionals who specialize in AAC. Communication devices are not easy to operate, are tedious to program, and consistently need to be updated with new vocabulary to fit upcoming events or new situations. Often, parents just want to know what the next step is in progressing their child’s ability to communicate. Our family has felt this feeling of despair as well, in Ontario. This isn’t just a problem in Saskatchewan. This is a national issue. Families and people who speak with AAC in Canada need to have better access to services and supports. If you are feeling hopeless because you don’t know the next step to improve your child’s communication, and there aren’t any trained professionals who you can regularly access, wouldn’t you feel frustrated and alone?

I’ll be in Manitoba tomorrow. If I have enough energy, and I get to my computer early enough, I hope to go into more detail about what we’ve learned about the situation in Saskatchewan for AAC, and how it compares to the other provinces we’ve visited or lived in (Ontario!). As for now, I really need to sleep.


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

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


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

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.


Day 19 – Youngstown, AB to Kindersley, SK – 151km

We pulled over last night in an empty gravel lot next to
a small local gas station. We were right off the highway. It wasn’t the nicest
of places to camp, but it was free, and the view over the nearby fields was
significantly better than the view department store parking lots have to
offer—not that there were any department store parking lots in the hamlet of
Youngstown, Alberta.

There’s something that I find quite amusing about
Youngstown. The signs proclaim it to be the “Sportsmen’s Paradise”. This is
hilarious for two reasons. One: I can’t see a lake on Google Maps anywhere near
the town. Nonetheless the town sign has a picture of a fish struggling as it is
being hauled in. Two: there are “no poaching” signs every 10km before and after
the town. I saw deer, elk, moose, foxes, goats—some sort of wild life—everyday
in the mountains. I have not seen any deer, or any signs for cars to watch for
deer. I have seen signs to watch for cattle. Perhaps they hunt prairie
dogs…maybe gophers. I suppose there are lots of ducks around with all the
flooded fields. I have never lived there, and probably never will, so I
shouldn’t be so critical.

I woke up to the sound of rain pounding on the roof of
our RV. I heard trucks whooshing by on the nearby highway. I could even hear
the wind. “Oh boy,” I thought to myself. It was one of those days where you’d
want to stay in bed, curled up in the covers. Part of me also really wanted to
get going and just get over—or perhaps there was part of me that knew I’d be
fighting a headwind and was doubtful that I’d finish my day if I didn’t get
going. I geared up; rain pants, shoe covers, rain jacket, goggles, hat under
the helmet, water proof winter gloves.

Most of the day was gusty headwinds and rain. I did a lot
of visualizing of more pleasant moments. I tried not to think about the
present, but about the future, or random stuff like possible inventions. The
loneliness of long-distance cycling, running, paddling, swimming, anything,
requires more mental conditioning and perseverance than physical. Struggling to
maintain an average speed around 22km/hr, I finally came over a hill, and saw
my final destination, Kindersley, from about 40km away. At this point, it was
about 7:45pm, despite getting on the road early. The rain had stopped. The sky
was relaxed and hazy in the dusk. The wind had settled down to a gentle breeze.
I picked my average speed up to about 30km/hr, and pedaled fiercely to get to
Kindersley before dark. I made it by 8:30pm.

After my long day. I don't look as tired as I am

I was drained of all my energy. I ate a meal, went to
sleep, and deprived my readers of a blog post.

It’s amazing how one day can have a domino effect on the
entire schedule. As a result of going to see the dinosaur museum in Drumheller
(which astounded me), I arrived in Youngstown very late, and needed to sleep
later the next day. I woke up and started cycling much sooner than my body
wanted to. I finished late again in Kindersley, but I would have to wake up at
a reasonable time the next day for media interviews.

Sometimes the greatest feelings of accomplishment are sparked
from triumph over struggle, frustration, and hopelessness. When I cycle, it is
up to me whether or not I accomplish my set goal—whether I keep pedaling, or I
quit. I can’t imagine not having that control. There are people in our country
who fight mental battles of loneliness daily and know the deepest meaning of
frustration because they don’t have a way to communicate. Often, many of these
people don’t have control over this; no matter how consistently they
demonstrate their abilities, no matter how much strain they sacrifice, whether
or not they get what they need to communicate is reliant on the people around
them and the policies of their government.

If you meet someone who doesn’t have an obvious form
communication, often the first thing to do is to find out how they signal yes
and no. It may be obvious, such as a nod. It may be very subtle. It will depend
on what muscles in their body they can control with the most consistency and
ease. “Show me your yes…maybe several time so I’m sure to see it,” is often
what I say to people when I’m not familiar with their method of communication
or and/or if they don’t have a communication device. I watch their whole body.
Some people may even tap their foot (because that’s what they can control
best), look to the right or left, blink, or swing their arm. If you think you
figured out their yes, confirm it with them: “do you lift your leg to say
‘yes’?”. If they lift their leg to that, you’ve figured it out. Once you’ve
established a yes, you can ask yes/no questions. Once you can ask yes/no
questions you can be amazed.

Often, people have a communication device, or a
letter/picture board. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about how it works. Most
people who speak with AAC won’t consider it rude; they’d be delighted to show
you how it works.

You can be an enabler. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Giving someone the control of being able to communicate is something that
should be expected in our society, but it is also a kind gesture which requires
thoughtfulness, and ultimately allows people to be control.


Day 7 – Penticton to Oyama, British Columbia – 95km

I started early today. Surprisingly I wasn’t as stiff as
I thought I would be after cycling for 9 hours the day before. I didn’t find it
a challenge to get out of bed—this astounded me. We had an event to attend north
of Kelowna at the Easter Seals camp in Winfield—I had to be there by 12:30.

Just south of Kelowna, BC

I got on the road by 8:30am. The road was flat between
Penticton and Summerland. Then the road was forced to leave the water’s edge
and weave into the hills and mountain bases. The weather was co-operating. The
rain was just holding off, and there was little wind. I made decent time. What
stunned me was the immense size of Lake Okanagan. It’s not the widest lake, but
its length stretches all the way from Penticton to Vernon (about 140km). It was
quite beautiful to cycle beside—experiencing the fusion of water, with
mountains, desert, forest, and burnt forest (from previous forest fires). The
heavy low-lying clouds also enhanced the scenery in addition to shading me from
the sun, which never did make an appearance today.

The real story today was the event at Camp Winfield. The
Cool Communicators had made a vinyl banner for us to take across the country.
On the banner are the handprints of the children and teens that made it. Inside
each handprint is the name of the individual and the communication device he/she
uses. It really was quite touching to accept that banner. Terron, Luke, Taylor,
Connor and Connor, Jordan, Caleb, Tyler, Elan, Justin, Cordell, Andrew,
Francis, Ethan, Lucy, Jacob, and Blaise—thank you. I’ll take your handprints to
the Atlantic.

About three times a year, the children and youth in the
Interior Region who speak with AAC meet for a social event at Camp Winfield.
This was one of those days. They have ice-breaker activities, they mingle, and
at the end they have a scavenger hunt. The unique part of today was that Kerr
(my brother) connected with everyone at Winfield on Skype from Toronto. The
computer was hooked up to a 50” screen TV, and the AAC users today took turns
going up one by one and asking Kerr questions. Unfortunately, the connection
failed after a while, and a lot of the Cool Communicators had to leave early to
accommodate their bus driver’s schedule. It was quite wonderful to see Kerr’s
face for the first time in weeks, in addition to seeing the youthful AAC
speakers’ keen interest in getting to know Kerr.

I’ve had slow internet or no internet, and crammed days,
so I haven’t had the chance to Skype at all—nonetheless make many phone calls.
I miss the rest of my family. I don’t have too much time to sulk about
nostalgia of family home life, but it does bother me a little when I’m trying
to go to bed at night.

Anyhow, to all the Cool Communicators who were at
Winfield today, and to everyone who was there, your greeting was much
appreciated and will be remembered. To Kathy and everyone who helps to organize
these tri-annual gatherings: keep it up. It’s a great thing you have going and
I know your hard work results in a fun, significant, and memorable experience
for the AAC speakers who attend. I’d also like to thank Terron and all the
other Cool Communicators who collected pledges to fundraise $275 for Kilometres
for Communication.

He's not grinning because his team won the night before. Terron presenting the fundraised pledges. That was a great moment.

Justin and I

It’s been a long and busy two days. I’m feeling a bit
drained about now. I only have to cycle 25km to Vernon tomorrow because I got
ahead of schedule. I have a rest and event day scheduled in Vernon for the 27th,
so I have back-to-back rest days as a reward for hauling derriere the last two

A huge thanks to John for all the photos!

Until next time,


Catching up in Hope, B.C.

May 23, 2011
It is hard to believe that it is only 17 days since we left Toronto, and 14 days since we began our drive across the country for Kilometres for Communication.  Having come down with a wicked cold which quickly turned to bronchitis, I’ve had to conserve my energy as much as possible, while at the same time driving about 700 kilometres a day on the journey out west, learning how to drive and operate a recreational vehicle (hmmm-black water, gray water, fresh water, propane—and how wide is that one-lane bridge, will my mirrors be clipping those pedestrians, and where can I park this monster?), dealing with the vagaries of unpredictable cell phone reception and internet, while taking care of many other daily tasks, all with my energy on low volume.

It has been wonderful, exhausting and exhilarating.  I feel honoured to be Skye’s and Kerr’s mother, and grateful and in awe of the generosity of the many people who have already made Kilometres for Communication a moving and successful campaign.  While this is a public education and fundraising campaign, it is also a campaign about human connection, synergy, and inspiration. There are people all over Canada putting their hearts into awareness, education and fundraising events.

We are also hearing from many families who have been inspired by Kilometres for Communication. It can get very lonely, not just for the individual who speaks in different ways, but it can also be isolating and painful for families who experience their family members being misunderstood, segregated and excluded in so many ways and in so many circumstances. There have been many times when we’ve spent an evening with friends, and I feel sad because in the hurry and flurry of socializing and entertaining, we haven’t been able to ensure Kerr’s full inclusion and participation if he’s without a communication assistant.  Conversation is moving rapidly, and Kerr gets left out if there are more than a few other people involved and we are the only ones paying attention to what Kerr thinks, feels and wants to say. It’s wonderful when everyone makes Kerr’s participation important. All of us slow down, and there’s a different feeling to the whole experience. So I imagine families are inspired by Kilometres for Communication because it brings hope—for more understanding, for more possibility for communication, for more inclusion, and for networking among “Cool Communicators”  (I think this is a wonderful way to describe people who communicate in different ways) and among families.

Before we left Toronto, Barbara Collier of Augmentative Communication Community Partnerships Canada (ACCPC), asked me to spread the word about their “Proposed Communication Bill of Rights for People who have Speech and/or Language Disabilities” (  Please take a look, and tell ACCPC what you think about it before July 8, 2011.

I’m not sure I’ll ever catch up with all there is to do, but as I am writing this, I am sitting in our rented RV, surrounded by snow-covered mountains, glad to be on this journey.