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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Biking and running were my emotional releases.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Skye

August 2/11

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Day 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 65 – Halifax, NS – Rest/Event Day

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

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

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

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

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

Strawberry Shortcake!

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

Mark Cameron and Brian Baker

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

Everett talking with his mom using his communication device

Everett introducing himself to me

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

The "try a form of AAC" table

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

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

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

Keith's Gravestone

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

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

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

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

On to the last leg of the trip!

-Skye

Day 64 – Truro to Halifax, NS – 100km

I had set my alarm for 7:30am. I was dozing half-awake in
bed, trying not to let myself fall back asleep. I was stretched out in the
comfortable queen bed. I felt the perfect temperature. My body felt stiff, yet
momentarily relaxed when I flexed, stretched out. My pillow was one with my
head.  I didn’t feel restless. I felt a
plethora of relaxation and laziness that a pampered cat might feel.

I had a strange mental deliberation. I really wanted to
get myself down to the dining room for the breakfast which D’Arcy and Anne (of Belgravia
B & B, where I was staying for the night) were preparing. I knew it would
be good. I was hungry. I had read an entry in their guest book about fresh strawberries.
At this point, only hunger could get me out of bed. I lay in bed, trying to maximize
my time drowsing, trying to figure out the latest time I could possibly roll out
of bed.

After procrastination, I forced myself to get up. I
changed into my bike gear and made my way downstairs to the dining room. There
was a large bowl of fresh strawberries, a basket of muffins, and there was more
to come. D’Arcy and Anne brought out a plate with Canadian bacon, eggs Florentine,
and an extra helping of scrambled eggs to accommodate my large calorie intake.
I don’t normally eat this well on the road.

Janice, Gail, and I well rested, about to leave Belgravia

Leaving Truro

After further procrastination and relaxed conversation,
Janice and I were outside with our bikes and ready to pedal. We took Highway 2
to Dartmouth, cut through Dartmouth on an arterial, and took the bike lane
across the MacDonald Bridge to the Halifax harbourfront where we finished our
pedal. Other than a 6km stretch of construction on Highway 2, it was an
enjoyable ride. Actually, not quite, we hopped onto the sidewalk in Dartmouth
to avoid more construction. The last 30km before Halifax, Highway 2 winds its
way along the shores of lakes and basins. It was quite pretty.

Janice and I arrive at the Halifax Harbour

Take II

Janice and I finished our pedal on the boardwalk near the
Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. Last night, Janice, my mom and I were joking
about the funny pictures on the RV. We talked about doing certain poses with
them. Janice hadn’t forgotten this conversation. She insisted on taking the
photos of us posing next to the tacky picture of kids peering out the fake
window on our RV. I thought it was funny, but after a 100km ride I just wanted
to sit and sip my recovery drink. I did eventually pose for those silly photos.

We've made it this far!

Tacky RV photo #1

Goofy RV photo #2

My brother and mother had met a woman at a conference
several years ago. Her name is Penny Kitchen. She raises her eyes to say ‘yes’.
She lowers her eyes to say ‘no’. She raises and lowers her eyes to say ‘maybe’
or ‘I don’t know’. She can also spell quite quickly using her eyes. Her
communication assistant will ask her: “first, second [half of the alphabet],
vowel?” Then, using a chunking system and saying the most frequently used letters
first; Penny will indicate the letter she wants. It sounds slow, but Penny is
able to communicate at a remarkable speed considering the method she is using to
communicate. It’s quite fascinating to witness. Penny also communicates using a
communication device. She is currently trying to obtain a communication device
which uses eye-gazing technology.

My mom and I were staying with Penny’s parents, Dorothy
and Laurie.  Penny and her assistant,
Monique, joined us for a spaghetti dinner at Dorothy and Laurie’s house. This
was the first time I got to meet Penny. I had only heard about how she spells
with her eyes. I was told she was quick. I didn’t realize how fast she is.

I heard many stories from the Kitchen family. I think there’s
a valuable lesson that can be learned from each and every one. Penny received
her university degree in business from St. Mary’s University in Halifax. She
lives independently; however, in order to do so, she needs to have an attendant
24-7, and  receives funding for her
attendants. Once she received her degree, a social worker told her: “Don’t
bother looking for a job because you’ll lose your attendant care funding”.
There’s clearly a huge flaw when policy prevents someone from working who is
able and wants to work. The money Penny would earn from a starting-position job
would not come near to matching the funding she requires to pay her attendants.
Perhaps if provincial policy allowed Penny to work and collect a good portion
of her funding, she could work her way up to a higher-paying job and eventually
not have to rely as much on funding. Simply put: the “if you work, you don’t
get funding for attendants” policy is completely absurd. Penny is brilliant,
and because of this policy, she literally can’t afford to work.

That was just one story. Many experiences were shared
between our families. It’s sad that these stories exist. It’s frustrating.
Hopefully policymakers can learn from these stories. Hopefully people’s
attitudes will change to assuming ability. This is why we’re doing what we’re
doing. We get media, I write my blogs, we tell the stories, and hope that lots
of people will listen or read.

We never tell all the stories. There are too many. Some
of the stories are dark and cannot be told for personal privacy or political
reasons. I’ve learned more in the last 2 months than I’ve learned in an entire
year at school. A lot of what I’ve heard is tough to swallow. It makes me sad. It
makes me angry. I hate that these things have happened. I hate that they are
happening. But I see hope. It’s easy to get caught up in all the dark, sad
negatives. There are lots of positives. The perseverance of many people, such
as Penny and her family, has been inspiring. Barbara Collier’s  (from ACCPC) Proposed Communication Bill of
Rights (http://www.accpc.ca/BillofRights.htm)
could make a significant difference in
the lives of many if put into practice. If Canada signs the Optional Protocol,
the U.N.  Convention on the Rights of
Persons with Disabilities (http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/enable/documents/tccoptprote.pdf
) could finally have some teeth in Canadian policy, ultimately improving lives
of Canadians who are differently abled.

That’s it for tonight. Tomorrow we’re on CTV Breakfast Television
bright and early.

-Skye

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

-Skye

Day 50 – Ottawa, ON to Oka, PQ – 180km

My day began at 2am. I woke up with a sore throat. If you
want the details, I’ll tell you. If you don’t, you’re welcome to skip ahead to
the next paragraph. My throat was foaming with mucus and I could hardly
breathe. I was unzipping my tent every 2 minutes to spit. After getting fed-up
with that, I left the tent, and went into the RV to get some honey lemon tea.
That helped a bit, but I never really got back to sleep after that. I half
slept from 3 to 6am. We had to wake up a little after 6am anyways for an event
in Ottawa at the Ottawa Children’s Treatment Centre which began at 8:30am. We
had to pack up and beat the morning rush hour into the city so everyone was
waking up as I was still struggling to get some sleep. I got up, deciding that
I would try to tough the day out.

After doing a few laps around the side streets and
parking lots of the Ottawa Hospital General Campus, we parked. At this moment,
my mind was turning off, I could hardly speak, and I decided that I couldn’t
rationally walk into that building and engage myself in conversation for the
next hour or 2. I slept in the RV, while the rest of the Kilometres crew went
inside. I heard a little bit about the event—it sounded great—but it’s just not
the same not being present. My apologies Ottawa, I really wanted to attend, and
I tried, but my body wouldn’t let me.

The good folks in Ottawa at the fundraising breakfast who I never got to meet

 

Friends of ours who drove from Toronto to Ottawa for the fundraising breakfast

 

The 2 hours of sleep in the hospital parking lot was my
saviour. When the crew returned from the event, they had a platter of fruit,
croissants, and waffles. The good people inside who I never had the pleasure of
meeting were sweet enough to send the sick stranger sleeping in their parking
lot a bundle of tastiness.

After making a quick meal of the platter, I dressed up
and got on my bike. I took a bike trail from the centre which is a bit outside
of the downtown area, down to the river front a bit east of Rideau Hall, on the
Rockcliffe Parkway. The sun was shining, the trail was great, but I just didn’t
feel like biking today. We were going to meet Will and his brother Zachary, and
their mother, Genia, at a scenic pullover just off the Parkway, near the Ottawa
River. As I was cruising through Ottawa, keeping an eye on time so as not to be
late, yet trying to pace myself to not wear my body out, my bike started making
a noise (the most common line that bike mechanics hear). About a minute later,
the noise escalated to a loud clinking, “something is broken, stop now!” noise.
So I did. The bolts for my smallest chain ring in the front had all come out. I
had a chain ring bouncing around against the frame of my bike, trapped by the
outer chain rings which were still bolted into place. Of the 5 bolts holding
that piece of metal in place, only 1 need not be cranked down, and the rest of
the bolts can loosen off over time. I suppose that after several hundred
kilometres since Toronto, that’s exactly what happened. I was in no mood for
this. Luckily I only had a couple kilometres to go. I made quite the racket and
other cyclists looked at me in horror, disgust, and confusion as I went by them
clinking and clanking. Ottawa is a fine, royal place of smooth bike paths,
peacefulness, serious cyclists, and properly tuned bikes to whiz next to the
manicured lawns and watered flower beds. I didn’t fit the scene.

My day would get better. I met Will and his brother
Zachary. Their mother, Genia contacted us because she was frustrated with lack
of service and support that she could get for her young son, Will, who doesn’t
have speech due to a disability. Our family can relate to that feeling of
helplessness—especially Kerr and my mom. Many families don’t necessarily have

an issue obtaining the actual technology, they need the expertise and experience
of someone who can assess, recommend, and foster progression of their family
member’s communication. There are many things that we find change from region
to region as we travel across the country. One thing that doesn’t seem to
change is that there’s a lack of accessible professionals to help parents such
as Genia move to the next step. Every parent wants their child to reach their
full potential, but there’s a sense of helplessness when time passes and day
after day, week after week, month after month, the same question persists—what’s
the next step? What’s the next step? What can my child do that we’re not
enabling him/her to do? What is his or her potential? Zach, Will’s brother (who
I think is 10? Correct me if I’m wrong), raised a considerable amount for
Kilometres for Communication. After meeting Zach, I’m not surprised. He’s has a
warm charismatic character, and he’s full of energy and friendliness. Gail,
Genia, Zach, Will, Kerr, and I went for a bike ride near the Ottawa River. The
path we wanted to follow disappeared and we ended up cycling though the Ottawa
neighbourhood which is home to many of the ambassadors from other countries.
There were lots of flags, extensive properties, striking architecture, and
life-saving valued cars. We cycled 10km, but the real purpose of the ride was
to talk and for our families to meet.

Myself, as a brother of someone who lives with complex
challenges (Kerr is cortically visually impaired, has absent seizures, and has cerebral
palsy which prevents him from voluntarily controlling most of the muscles in
his body), I find it comforting to meet others siblings who are in a similar
situation. It’s the comfort in knowing that they know too, what the struggles
are. Genia and Will, I know that you will reach the next step—whether you
receive the support that you’ve been searching for, or if you stumble across it
yourselves. Zach, in the last couple years I’ve realized that Kerr’s been the
most influential teacher in my life. I hope that learning the world next to
Will gives you a profound and sensitive perspective that most people won’t ever
get to experience. I’m glad I met your family, stay in touch.

Will, Zach, Skye, Kerr--Brothers in arms

After saying good bye, I cycled out of Ottawa on bike
paths, along the old Highway 17, which was quite busy and bumpy, and then on
country roads. The country roads were smooth and beautiful, but they added some
distance—especially the construction detour. The sun was shining, the wind was
a light cross wind, and it was a perfect day to cycle. Nonetheless, I didn’t
feel like cycling at all. But I suppose I’m lucky the weather was what it was
because I would have probably called it a day before my final destination if it
rained or gusted wind against me on my couple hours of sleep day.

At Hawkesbury, I left Ontario, crossing the Ottawa River
on a bridge, entering Quebec. For 60km, I followed a beautiful road with a
paved shoulder that followed the shores of the river. Just a little north of
Montreal, near a town called Oka (there a stand-off here many years ago that
made national and international news), there was a 15km strip where every 2nd
or 3rd property was a cigarette stand. These stands had flashing
lights, signs that were almost on the road, huge banners, and sculptures of
cigarettes. It was quite sad to see that the culture and economy of an area was
so heavily centered on something that’s bad for our health. What amazed me was
that all these places co-existed, and by the looks of it, seem to be turning a
profit in order to afford cigarette sculptures and elaborate flashing lights. This
would indicate that despite the 100 shacks in the 15km stretch, the market wasn’t
saturated. That’s a lot of people taking a lot for granted.

At the end of this long day, I arrived in Oka National
Park where we had reserved a spot to camp. We found out that dogs weren’t
allowed in the park. This messed up all of our arrangements. My dad had to
sleep outside the park in the nearby town of Oka with the dog, in the van. Oh
my! What a day.

-Skye

Day 40 – Thessalon to Espanola – 163km

We slept in a bit today. I was up late last night trying to catch up. Max, David, my mom and I ate breakfast at our site’s picnic table. It was another nice day. I suppose we have lots of sunshine days in the bank after all the rain and headwinds the last couple weeks. Ha! If only the weather worked like that. Thunderstorms are in the forecast for tomorrow.

Max, David and I rode 125km together today. We made decent time and had a fairly relaxed day taking turns drafting each other. We were a bit stiff to start after yesterday’s change in pace, but we loosened up after the first 2 hours. At Massey, Max and David stopped at Chutes Provincial Park to camp for the night. We said our goodbyes. I’m heading down into southern Ontario whereas they’re cutting across the north to Quebec to reach their finish in Chicoutimi by the 8th of July. I kept pedaling on to Espanola. I’ll miss those guys.

I passed through a tiny town called Webwood. I think this town had the most visually apparent sexism of any place I’ve been on this trip. There was a huge ad for Old Milwaukee Beer: “Get a free girl with every can”. Just a couple seconds later, I had to laugh, but I was a little shocked. The town’s general store was called, “STEWART and wife’s General Store”. “STEWART” took up most of the sign and the word “wife” was stuck in there, literally in lower case, and there was no mention of her name on the sign. Ironically (and supposedly), Webwood elected Canada’s first female mayor. A sign at the beginning of the town reads: “Webwood, Home of Canada’s first woman mayor”. Grammatically, that doesn’t sound right. Neither does the tone.  Ok, enough torching of Webwood for now.

We were staying at the Thessalon Municipal Campground. Chris, the manager, was quite supportive of our ride. He was very interested in what we’re doing, and kind to us.  Have you ever met someone who just seems to love and appreciate every morsel of life? I got that sense from Chris, although I hardly know him. It came up in our conversation about cross-country charity campaigns that he is a cancer survivor. It makes sense that if he thought he was going to lose his life, and ended up keeping it, that he would never take life for granted again.  Life is precious, and part of what makes it precious is our ability to communicate. It’s one of the lessons I’ve learned from Kerr.

Follow me on this one. Let’s say you’re a clever person. Perhaps you’re creative and full of other talents. Let’s say you didn’t have a way to communicate efficiently for years. Let’s even say you didn’t have a way to be heard at all. Let’s say that just recently, your life changed. You got the services and supports you needed to communicate. Let’s say that the people around you became educated, and ensured your participation. How would you feel, now that you finally have a way to be heard? Would you take your voice for granted? Unlikely.

At this moment, I’m camped at Lake Apseley which is several kilometres south of Espanola. I’m just a little over 100km from rolling onto the ferry which will take me to my reunion point with Kerr and Burns on Wednesday morning. Owen Sound, Toronto, Peterborough, everyone, here I come!

-Skye