Day 77 – Chapel Arm to Cape Spear, NL – 114km

I didn’t bother to set a wake up alarm on my phone for this morning. Adrenaline and excitement is better than any annoying chime. I was up at 6:30am—Newfoundland time. I put my headphones on and listened to my pump-up playlist as I cooked breakfast. Breakfast was  8 eggs and some fruit. I was on the road a little after 8am.

I decided that I didn’t want to meet with the support vehicle. I just wanted to get to the finish—no stopping to refill water bottles or any of that. I filled up four water bottles of water and put 3 energy bars in my jacket’s pouches to get me through the 110-115km ride.

There was a fine mist. At the top of the hills this turned into a drizzle. It was chilly. The wind was against me. It wasn’t a pleasant day for cycling. Strangely, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. It seems proper that a trip of this magnitude, with the bad weather I’ve had, should have one final challenge to overcome on the last ride. The weather wasn’t wretched as it was a couple days ago between Deer Lake and Grand Falls-Windsor (I had constant heavy rain that day). It was manageable, but unpleasant enough to make the final haul epic, and the fog added a scenic eerie touch.

The lingering mist at Cape Spear

With only 30km to go, just as I was entering the St. John’s area, I got a flat tire. I felt a heat of frustration at first. Then I laughed. I would get a flat tire in the final stretch. It was written. I set myself a challenge three years ago, and I was going to get it; every last morsel of it.

There’s a 12km stretch of road out to Cape Spear from the St. John’s suburb of Mount Pearl. This is Highway 11. Leaving Mount Pearl, Highway 11/Black Head Road has hairpin switchbacks up a steep hill. I was still thinking what goes up, must come down. Start at sea level, finish at sea level. I kept going up and down these really long steep hills. At one point, I looked at my odometer, and figured that I must be on the last hill before the finish. I wasn’t. On this last 12km stretch, I was pushing myself like I haven’t pushed myself before on this trip. I didn’t have to worry about being stiff or sore the next day. I didn’t have to worry about making it through the next 100km. This was it. I felt my heart hammering and my legs burning like never before on this journey. I was earning every kilometre of that last 12km stretch. When I came near, I could hear a foghorn every couple minutes. As I pedaled fiercely in anguish, the finish glaring in my mind, although not yet visible in the fog (and there were some hills in between), I had a smile that wouldn’t leave my face and tears escaping to drip down my cheeks.  Cape Spear, the most easterly point of North America, is actually about 50m above sea level. My mom, Linda, Martin, and Robert were parked in a parking lot near the sea about a half kilometre before Cape Spear. I pulled in, said a tired, distracted ‘hi’, and told them I wanted to go all the way. I pedaled up the final hill to Cape Spear.

Arriving!

Crashing on the grass, overwhelmed. About to call my bro and dad

I dismounted from my creaking bike on a patch of moss and grass next to the parking lot. I lay my bike down. It deserved a rest after two and a half months of strain. I collapsed next to it. I was overwhelmed. I felt confused as to what I should be doing first. My mom, Linda, Martin, and Robert pulled into the Cape Spear parking lot, got out, and we had a proper greeting and celebration. My mom came and sat on the grass beside me. We had a long hug. We both cried and laughed.

The sign says it

It was quite magical. Where I had stopped, there was a fog that limited visibility to about a half kilometre. Waves crashed ominously against the rugged rocks below us. The water looked cold and fierce. I wouldn’t be surprised if these waters had a fierce undertow. Whales were emerging from the water. Occasionally they would flip their tails elegantly out of the water. I’ll never forget that moment.

The furthest east point of North America

I remember my fear back in May, driving out west, seeing the poor roads without shoulders in Northern Ontario. I remember stopping at a picnic area in Saskatchewan off the Trans Canada. I stepped outside the vehicle and felt a fierce wind from the east. I was rattled. I hadn’t thought too much about getting headwinds in the prairies; not until that moment. I was scared of being clipped by a trailer. I was scared of not making my distances in the prairies, and getting so far behind that I would have to hop in the support vehicle to make events; and not truly cycling across the country. But we humans are adaptable creatures. When you’re feeling safe in a car, and you feel the wind from trucks whizzing by you in the opposite direction on the two lane highway, it’s easy to think: “a cyclist would be doomed on this road”. Once I was cycling on these roads, I realized that the shoulders were wider than they looked from driving, the truck drivers were usually quite considerate, and when they did pass close the gust could be harnessed to help me accelerate.

Kilometres for Communication is about promoting values of accessibility and inclusion. It’s about advocating for new policies that don’t act as barriers to people who are differently abled. It’s about hearing and sharing stories to create change. It’s about increasing services, supports and technology to help people communicate. It’s about making sure that everyone is heard. It’s about teaching people so that all of this can happen.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, this journey is not over. I may be on the eastern coast of Newfoundland, but the journey towards empowering the voices of Canadians who have little or no speech is still back in the Prairies fighting headwinds. We want to expand our network further and create an inter-provincial coalition to advocate with strength. We want to develop our website further and keep it as a resource of stories and educational info on AAC. We want to continue teaching people.

We’ve received tremendous support on this trip. Some of what was behind those tears to the finish was the generosity and devotion that many have shown us. Everyone who arranged events, offered us your hospitality, shared your stories, taught myself and many others, wrote us comments of encouragement, donated, cycled, fundraised, sported a Km4C shirt, and contributed to this campaign in your own unique way, you all have touched me. Generosity, creativity, courage and charisma exist in all of you. If such a large number of people, across such a large country, can possess these traits, I have faith that the quality of life for Canadians who are differently abled will improve.

We brought the banner from the Cool Communicators at Camp Winfield (near Kelowna, BC). Each hand print on the banner has the child or youth's name written inside it and the communication device they use

I want to say a special thanks to Cyclepath in Toronto, our first official sponsor. I’ve worked there for several years and consider them my second family. Without hesitation, the Wilsons and the rest of the crew at the bike shop were behind me.

A huge thanks to Norco Performance Bikes. That bike persevered through so much abuse. Norco helped to ease the financial strain on our family by covering spare parts, the spare bike, and auction items and goodies for events.

ISAAC Canada has been a terrific partner. The support and networking that our partner has offered us is remarkable. We look forward to continuing on the road towards our mutual goals.

I won’t be blogging daily anymore, however I will continue to blog. There are lots of photos and video that will be posted when we have arrived back home and have access to high speed internet.

I have learned so much from this trip and I hope many have learned from what I’ve shared. This experience was profound, has changed my life, cannot be done justice by any sentence, and will likely remain the most memorable 77 days of my life. This was the toughest challenge I’ve ever had.

-Skye

August 3/11

P.S. If anyone has questions which I have not addressed, please ask them by commenting, and I’ll be happy to reply or address them in a future post!

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 75 – Grand Falls-Windsor to Terra Nova National Park, NL – 175km

Last night, the local campgrounds were all full from the summer tourist traffic. We ended up in the free Walmart RV Park. It’s quite funny. Here you have a large empty Walmart parking lot. There’s ample space to park so that you are secluded from any other vehicle and you don’t have to contend with customer traffic. Despite this, all the other RV drivers choose to park their vehicles side by side, a couple metres apart, literally creating an RV park in a Walmart parking lot. We didn’t join the cramped crowd. We parked in a more secluded area of the lot.

Anyhow, in the morning I lugged my bike stand out from our RV’s storage compartment. I put my bike in the stand and tilted it upside down. A rush of water came out from all the bearings, creating a big wet spot on the dry ground. I probably shed a couple pounds from the bike right there. I started working away at fixing up my bike, in the Walmart parking lot a bit before 9am. Customers were staring at me as they drove by. I’m sure it’s a strange sight to see someone fixing a bike in a department store parking lot. I definitely wasn’t fixing my bike in my natural shop habitat.

The weather was fantastic today. Perhaps Mother Nature felt guilty about yesterday. The sun was shining, and the wind was in my favour for 60% of the day. I need all the help I can get to assist me through these last couple days. My mindset earlier in the trip was about pacing, calmness, and enjoying seeing Canada slowly. That was my coping mechanism. Without that way of thinking, I wouldn’t have made it as far as I have. Now, my mindset is about survival and making time.

I got a really bad rash from my ride yesterday. A combination of constant wetness, sand and dirt from the road, and the rubbing from my pedal strokes led to breaking skin on both sides of my inner thighs. I also aggravated some older riding sores on my butt. I lathered my sores/rashes in calendula, then taped them with kinisio tape, and then slabbed on a thick layer of Vaseline. That helped a bit, but not enough. I don’t know what I would’ve done if it was raining again today. Thankfully the good weather made it possible for me to make it to where I did.

Here are some things I’ve noticed in Newfoundland.

One: there are a ton of brand new Chevrolet Impalas and Dodge Caravans, often sparkling clean. They dominate the road. Actually local pick-up trucks dominate the road. After the pick-ups, these sparkling clean rental vehicles are the most common on Trans Canada Newfoundland pavement. That probably gives you a bit of perspective on the scale of Newfoundland’s summer tourism.

Two: Every 200km or so, there’s a “Watch for moose” sign that is covered in ‘Navy’ stickers. I find it a little odd. Did someone on a road trip across Newfoundland make it their goal to put stickers on moose warning signs every couple hours?

Three: Newfoundland has to be the ATV capital of Canada. There are log bridges everywhere across the Trans Canada’s ditches from the shoulder into the forest. I question whether some of these bridges could hold my weight. Some of these bridges are built with care, precision and pride. One bridge over a ditch which led to an overgrown seemingly unused trail was built using brand new 4×4’s. That’s a lot of money spent to get over a ditch.

Four: Newfoundland RV drivers like to park close to each other in Walmart parking lots. I haven’t seen anything like this in any of the Walmart parking lots we’ve parked at in other parts of the country.

Five: In other provinces I have to dodge car debris and sometimes glass on the road’s shoulder. In Newfoundland, I have to swerve around moose pooh. Not kidding.

Six: I think people had fun naming places in this province: Dildo, Come by Chance, Random Place, Jumper’s Brook, Heart’s Desire, Old Pelican, South Dildo…weird, but entertaining.

Most of today wasn’t spectacular scenery like the western part of the province. It was much flatter, and there were lots of rocks and  trees. Near the end of today, when I entered Terra Nova National Park, the rugged hills emerged again, and so did glimpses of the ocean.

I’ve planned out my distances so that each day I’ll have to pedal a slightly shorter distance. Yesterday was 185km, today 175km, tomorrow 140km, and at last, on Wednesday, I should only have to pedal 120km.

It doesn’t seem real that I am so close to the end. On one hand, I’m excited and proud. On the other hand, I feel like there’s so much more that needs to be done to improve the lives of Canadians who communicate with AAC and all Canadians who are differently abled. I have a towering mental to-do list that gives me ambition, yet can also be a burden. There have been many profound moments, many people have learned from this campaign, and there have been many fantastic events thanks to many fantastic people. Kilometres for  Communication has been a catalyst for a lot. Despite these positives, I am hesitant to call what we’ve done a complete success. There’s so much that needs to be done. We’ve given it our all, but that never seems to feel satisfactory when we hear stories first hand of systemic discrimination, segregation, and other barriers that need not exist. We’ve been giving it our all, but it always seems like we could be doing more.

This trip may be over in 2 days, but this journey towards accessibility, inclusion, equality, empowered voices will continue.

-Skye

August 1/11

Day 74 – Sandy Lake to Grand Falls-Windsor, NL – 185km

I’m losing my tan in Newfoundland and I don’t like it. Today was probably worthy of the top 10 most difficult days of the trip list. The combination of the long distance with cool weather and rain blowing in my face made the 7-hour day quite gruelling. I suppose  there’s always a trade-off. The weather was quite kind to me the last 2 days in Gros Morne National Park.

I had put on a spandex base layer. Above that layer I had my 80% waterproof jacket which was my warm jacket for the mountains. Over that jacket, I had a light ‘100%’ waterproof shell wind-breaker layer. There’s no such thing as 100% waterproof. The fine mist from vehicles whizzing past will always soak through. I was wet and cold.

We needed a few groceries, so we decided I would end my day in the Dominion parking lot of Grand Falls-Windsor. I checked my Google Maps. I thought I knew where I was going. I did know where I was going. I got off the Trans Canada and biked through the town. There was no Dominion where my map had indicated. I checked my texts. My mom had gone to the same place, discovered there wasn’t a supermarket there, and then driven to the correct place—the Dominion on the other side of town and the other side of the Trans Canada. I pedaled back across the town.

I kept thinking about taking a warm shower at the end of the day. By the time I had found the Dominion parking lot, got inside the RV, changed out of my soaked gear, and dressed in sweatpants and a soft, comfy sweater, I didn’t feel like showering. My skin was pruned and all the sweat had been washed off by the rain. I had been soaking in water all day. I curled up in my sleeping bag and took an evening nap.

It’s a good thing that I have 3 days and less than 500km to go. My bike is aching. I wasn’t able to use my third front gear for the last 100km of today’s ride. Everything seems normal. My shifter isn’t broken. The cable is relatively new. Perhaps the spring in the derailleur is near its end. I don’t really know. I have to fix this tomorrow morning. Bikes do mysterious things after thousands of kilometres. The bearings in the hubs of my rear and front wheel need to be overhauled. They’re super gritty and in need of some grease. Unfortunately, I don’t have an axle vice, a vice, or the cone wrenches to fix this. Only three more days, my dear bike. Hang in there.

I’m also feeling quite stiff from my trail run up Gros Morne Mountain yesterday. It may have been foolish to do such a thing on a ‘rest day’, but it really was an opportunity that was begging. I may not have been able to stand up and push hard on the hills today, but it was worth it for the sights and satisfaction I had yesterday. I kept a very high cadence today. I was rotating my pedals’ cranks about 120 times a minute. I kept telling myself: loosen up, break a sweat, make body heat, warm up, get there quickly. I guess it worked. Only three more days, my dear body and mind. Hang in there.

-Skye

July 31/11

Day 71 – Barachois Pond to Sandy Lake, NL – 144km

Like yesterday, I began today with rain. Sun was in the
forecast and I could see blue sky, so I knew the road would dry up soon, and so
would my clothes. I got soaked from trucks’ spray and my own front wheel
flicking water up. The sun came out, the road dried, and so did my gear in the
breeze. The best way to dry gear on a long day is to keep biking.

I went through Corner Brook and then along Deer Lake. The
Trans Canada follows Deer Lake for about 40km before it reaches the actual town
of Deer Lake. The sky was clear today, so the lake took a deep, dark blue hue. The
wind was against me and I was thankful for the distracting scenery.

By the end of today, I was 2 days ahead of schedule. Some
family friends of ours had flown out from Toronto to join me for the final leg
of the trip in Newfoundland. I’ve known the Vaughan’s since I was 4 years old,
so it’s fitting that they’re here with me to share the joy of completing this
profound journey. Tomorrow and the day after (Saturday), I’ll be in Gros Morne
National Park. I’ve always wanted to see the inland fjords (I know, a bit of an
oxymoron—fjords must be connected to the ocean). I hadn’t originally planned
visiting Gros Morne because it was out of the way. However, this was an
exceptional opportunity, so I decided to try my hardest to get ahead of
schedule in order to make the detour possible.

It felt fantastic finishing today. The headwind made the day’s
end all the more rewarding. More importantly, I knew I had two spectacular days
ahead. This was my finish line before the finish line. When I get back on the
road Sunday, Cape Spear will feel near, my goal in sight, and my mind focused
to pull my body through the last several days.

-Skye

July 28/11

Day 70 – Channel-Port-aux Basques to Barachois Pond, NL – 155km

Last night, our ferry to Newfoundland docked around
9:45pm. We watched remnants of the sun set streaked hazily across dark cloud as
a mystical, behemoth rock rose out of the sea.

The rock rising out of the sea

By the time we got off the boat,
it was dark. There were no campgrounds nearby so we parked in a Foodland
parking lot. It turned out that this was the parking lot where the local teens
came to drink and do drugs. At one point, someone was lying on the ground
nearby kicking their legs in the air—probably close to midnight.

I slept better than my mom. I wasn’t disturbed or worried
at all, so I fell asleep quickly. When I woke up this morning, the wind was
howling. This can be a good or bad thing depending on which direction the wind
is coming from. It turned out to be a cross-wind.

I was pedaling by 9am. I’ve heard that Newfoundland
weather can be unpredictable. I want to give myself a full day to get to where
I need to go in case bad weather comes along at some point. The beginning of
the day was rainy with a gusty tailwind—this lasted about 30km. I was wet, but
I enjoyed the light misty rain with the wind mostly at my back. Sometimes the
twisty highway would curve into a cross-wind. The Table Mountains looked eerie
in the dense mist to my right. To my left, I could make see a peaceful ocean.

The weather cleared and the sun came out. The road
changed direction, and I think the wind may have as well. I now had cross-winds
and headwinds. There were lots of hills: some long gradual climbs, short steep
climbs, and even some long steep climbs with stunning views at the crest. If
the wind isn’t in my favour, I don’t mind some hills.

The scenery was mystical. The clouds, the sea, the hills
and mountains, the little waterfalls emerging from rock faces at the side of
the road, and the rushing brooks created this natural fusion of ruggedness and
calm.

I finished my day at Barachois Pond Provincial Park. We
had a pretty campsite nestled in a dense coniferous tree forest. Some of trees’
roots had clenched on to boulders. There was often no soil or mass to be seen
between the tree and the rock. I’m in awe how some of these trees managed to
grow and thrive from the nutrients in the rock.

Rather than taking a shower, I decided to go for a swim
in the lake. It was cold; similar to Lake Superior in June. I didn’t stay in
long. One of the first things I’ve learned about Newfoundland: lakes are called
ponds, except for several large lakes that span at least 50km.

Barachois Pond Provincial Park: the pebble beach near our campsite

The weather held out for the most part today. The
temperature was awesome. I had a wave of adrenaline as our ferry came closer to
‘The Rock’, but that adrenaline was gone today. I feel lucky that I had the
weather I had. Although I love the scenery, I can’t say I’m looking forward to
the pedaling ahead. I’ve seen the sign saying: St. John’s 810km, St. John’s
780km, etc. I’m still a long ways off, so I won’t have that final rush of
hormonal energy until the last 2 or 3 days of biking. Most significantly, it’s inevitable
that I’ll have at least a couple days of bad weather in this province, which is
surrounded by ocean.

The Trans Canada has a paved shoulder for all of
Newfoundland. There’s no figuring out all the left and right turns each day—it’s
the Trans Canada all the way. Hooray.

-Skye

July 27/11

Day 69 – Ferry to Newfoundland

As my mom says, rest days on this trip are a bit of a misnomer. They truly are catch-up on blogs and email days. That’s what I did yesterday. Today, I didn’t have to bike; I didn’t have to write. I didn’t have any events. This was the first true rest day of the trip. Last night, as I went to bed, I realized this. It was wonderful feeling my adrenalin subside.

We packed up our campsite and were at the ferry terminal a little after noon. The ship was scheduled to set sail at 3pm, and we were supposed to be registered and on standby to board by 1pm. We didn’t board the ship until quarter after 3, and the ship didn’t set sail until a half-hour later. The lateness didn’t matter to me, because whether I was snoozing in a reclining seat on the ship, or snoozing in our RV, I was snoozing, and that’s what I wanted to do today.

I did wake up for the ship’s safety and feature video—how to get to the lifeboats, how to put on the lifejackets, and all that. I’m totally comfortable with being in the air. Speed doesn’t scare me at all. Water has always churned my sense of comfort. I do take the Atlantic Ocean seriously. I watched the instructional video.

The safety video transitioned into a “check out how cool our boat is” video. There was all that stuff about the restaurant, reclining seat features, kids’ play area, the TVs. I was secretly laughing at the teen zone part of the video. There was a clip of an elevator door opening. Out walked a skater-style dressed teen. He scanned the room, flicked his long hair to the side, smiled, and looked somewhat in awe. A bunch of other teens were sitting around in this area listening to their headphones, and reading magazines.

I decided to forego checking in at the teen zone.

It amazes me how about 10 tractor trailers, 15-20 RVs, and a countless number of cars can fit on this boat. What amazes me more is that it floats. The boat itself is steel, and filled with hundreds of thousands of pounds of things that would plummet into the depths of any water. Really it’s amazing how far our race has come. Dump 500 steel beams into the ocean: they make a huge splash and sink. Now, take that same amount of steel and put it together in a different form; in the form of a boat: not only does it float; it holds hundreds of thousands of pounds and floats. How you get a colossal hunk of metal to move at 30km/hr across choppy water, and then navigate through a narrow rocky channel to dock is a whole other matter.

The boat that amazes me

Humanity has these complex triumphs of engineering, almost always as a result of a collaboration of ideas facilitated by communication. I think that it’s safe to say that there’s an inspiration behind every invention. Perhaps a floating log inspired someone to make one of the first boats. Perhaps a monkey sucking ants out of a hole using a rolled up leaf inspired the human use of the straw. We now pump billions of gallons of oil out of the earth with ‘straws’. The typewriter wasn’t originally intended for commercial use or business. A man invented it to help his deaf friend communicate more efficiently.

Open mindedness. Some of the best inventions were disbelieved, thought to be impossible, stupid, a waste of time. What would a world without airplanes be like? When our environments disable people, when our schools segregate, our policies act as barriers, and narrow-mindedness is the foundation of many attitudes, the sphere in which we all live is hindered from expanding.

-Skye

July 26/11

Day 67 – Linwood to North Sydney, NS – 152km

Something happens when a goal is in sight. The weather
doesn’t seem as relevant. Rain will dry. Winds; I don’t have to let them slow
me down. Time seems to pass by. Hills aren’t feared or resented. They are
merely another thing between where I am and where I want to be.

I pedaled on the narrow bumpy Highway 4 towards the Canso
Causeway—the entrance to Cape Breton. It was cloudy. I would enter a patch of
rain, get wet. Then it would clear up. The wind would dry me. When I wanted to
dry my gloves, I would take them off and strap the Velcro around my handlebar.
Hanging from the handlebar, they would dangle in the wind and dry quickly. The
wind was coming from the North, meaning that I had either a headwind or
crosswind depending on which way the road curved.

I knew Cape Breton was a special place from my first
glimpse of it. I came over a hill, and in the fog, I saw the behemoth mass of
rock and trees rise out of the sea. Big freight boats waited patiently near the
cliffs of Cape Breton. There are a number of mines on these shores. These large
boats wait nearby to take the mined rock to faraway places.

At the campground we stayed at last night, we met 2
cyclists travelling from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Halifax where they
live—Ron and Joe. Joe recommended a route for me to take. I was originally
going to take the Trans Canada (Highway 105) all the way to North Sydney. Joe
and Ron had taken Highway 223 which they recommended that I take. The only
tricky part is finding which side roads to take in order to get to 223. I took
Exit 4 off of 105, and then took a left onto Portage Road, which goes over to
223. It was actually quite simple.

Jen Kang from the L’Arche community near Whycocomagh,
Nova Scotia, had contacted us several months ago after her coworker, David,
spotted an article about Kilometres for Communication in the Toronto Star. We
had planned to meet several days ago, but our correspondence was loose.

Just by chance, I told Gail that I wanted to meet her
about 60-70km down the road (I leap-frog with the support vehicle).
Sixty-and-a-bit kilometres down the road was just off of exit 4 on the route
that Joe and Ron had recommended that I take. Gail pulled over in a closed gift
shop’s gravel parking lot. Serendipity: it just so happened that the gift shop
was part of the Whycocomagh L’Arche community!

I took an hour break from cycling and walked around the
L’Arche community. I met several people who live in the community. I met a
fellow named Trevor who was extremely interested in shoes. He was curious about
my bike shoes. He wanted to know if I had flip flops and a pair of rubber rain
boots. I wonder if Trevor has ever been to the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto. All
of us had a quick talk, but they were busy preparing for a birthday party later
in the day, and I had to get back on the road.

Not long after I got back on the road the clouds cleared.
Highway 223 was quite hilly, but it was beautiful. It followed the shores of
Bras d’Or Lake. Steep wooded hills fell into the deep blue of the lake. Along
some parts of the road, there were some extensive properties with impressive
lawns. As I passed these properties, I was pondering the amount of time that
someone spends cutting these lawns. I think some people’s pride grows
vicariously through their lawns. The ride was quite scenic and the time was
flying by. There are so many people who I wish could have seen the sights that
I saw today. Halifax was a special place, but it didn’t feel like a milestone
to me. I was expecting to feel a huge relief and sense of accomplishment when I
arrived in Halifax, but I didn’t; only mildly. Last night, 10km south of Cape
Breton, I knew that the ferry terminal at North Sydney was my goal; the place
where I would’ve cycled the mainland of Canada, the place where I would have
finished cycling my ninth of ten provinces. As I cycled today, I felt a strong drive
the whole day. I usually only get this drive for the final 20km of a day, when
I know I’m close.

I eventually arrived at North Sydney. A massive ferry sat
in the harbour. I had made it. I suddenly felt really tired. I knew that if I
had to cycle tomorrow, and the day after that, I wouldn’t feel as tired as I
did. However, I arrived a day ahead of schedule, our ferry to Newfoundland is
booked for the 26th, so I have two days before I have to pedal. My
body sunk into a relieved tiredness. I know that the adrenaline will kick in no
matter what the weather is the moment I set foot—set tire—in the final
province.

-Skye

Day 66 – Truro to Linwood, NS – 161km

I woke up early to get on the road at a good time, but
there was some really thick fog, so I ended up waiting around until it cleared.
I pedaled on Highway 4, the old Trans Canada, for about 60km. It was hilly and
twisty. I was enjoying the scenery and making decent time. I was thinking: perhaps I can get to my destination early
and catch up on blogs
.

I met up with the support vehicle about 70km into the
day, near New Glasgow, NS. Here, we called all the campgrounds in the
Antigonish area. It was a Saturday, and they all seemed to be booked. We found
a campground on the ocean, about 40km further along my route that had an
available spot. I agreed to pedal the additional distance in order to have a
nice place to camp. We had spent the night before in a little gravel lot in
between a road and a gravel multi-use trail.

I ended up pedaling the final 100km of the day on the
Trans Canada. It varied between wide paved shoulder, narrow paved shoulder, and
almost no paved shoulder. The highway was not a freeway for the stretch I was
cycling it. At one point there was a hill ahead. It looked like there was no
shoulder on my side. It’s one thing to have no shoulder going downhill, or on
flat ground with a tailwind. Cars take a while to catch up on an object going
40km/hr. Going uphill without a shoulder; that can be dangerous. There was a
wide paved shoulder on the other side. I crossed the highway and pedaled
against the traffic on the opposite shoulder. It felt strange, but I kept
telling myself that I was safer.

Twice on this portion of the Trans Canada, I saw cars that
had sped by me pulled over by police a kilometre or two later. I felt some
satisfaction as I cycled by them. There were lots of cops out on this stretch
of highway.

When we arrived at the campground, two other cyclists
coming from the opposite direction were just arriving. Ron and Joe were cycling
from St. John’s, Newfoundland, to Halifax, where they lived. They had actually
cycled across Canada last year. They too weren’t so lucky and had headwinds in
the prairies on their trip. I was glad to meet them—they recommended a great
route for my day tomorrow, which they had travelled today. When I was planning
my route over two years ago, I had considered taking the route they recommended
(Highway 223), however I wasn’t sure how to get to Highway 223. I didn’t want
to take a ferry, and I didn’t know if the side roads linking the Trans Canada
to 223 were paved or gravel. As well, my paper map, Google Maps, and Blackberry
Maps didn’t agree with each other. They all gave different road names and
showed different side roads in that area. It was good to have that all sorted
out and confirmed. Ron’s and Joe’s route also shed about 15-20km off my initial
Trans Canada all-the-way route. Thanks fellas!

Tomorrow I’m hoping to make it to North Sydney, the end
of my mainland cycle, weather providing. That’s another thing I’ve learned:
weather forecasts often don’t mean anything in certain parts of the Maritimes. In
some places they don’t have a clue what the weather will be like in an hour. Anyway,
I’m hoping I’ll reach my milestone tomorrow. My goal is in sight. As long as
the weather isn’t atrocious, I’ll have the motivation to get myself there.

-Skye

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