Cycling Road Safety

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Important public service notice on a very quiet road

I recently completed a 4 day bike trip through a wide variety of traffic conditions. The experience left me appreciating many of the professional drivers on the road and dismayed at the lack of considerations that I encountered at other times.

One thing that is lacking is signs that educate drivers, informing them what “Share the Road” means. Too many drivers don’t seem to realize or don’t seem to care that they must give cyclists a 1 meter safety margin. I have thought about putting a pool noodle on the back of my bike that extends 1 meter into the traffic lane. At times I’m tempted to put a nail on the end of the noodle to leave my mark when a driver fails to give me my safety margin. Don’t worry, I’ve resisted the temptation so far.

Secondary roads

I prefer biking on quiet roads. While biking on secondary roads my experience with 100% of the drivers was one of courtesy. Each driver would make a wide berth around me as they approached me from behind. With no other traffic on the road, that was easy enough without impeding their own progress.

County roads

When I choose county roads, because it’s not always possible to get everywhere on secondary roads, it’s a different story. Most drivers will slow down behind me and wait to pass when the lane of on coming traffic is clear, giving me a wide berth of a full lane. Others will slow down and then give me the minimum 1 meter. The slower speed is a compromised courtesy which gives some margin of safety.

Truck traffic

While cycling it didn’t take long to recognize the professional drivers from the irresponsible ones. Every 18 wheeler, concrete truck and other large vehicle consistently gave me a full lane when they passed me. At times when one of these vehicles would slow down behind me, and the road was wide enough for my comfort, I would signal them to pass me rather than waiting for the on coming traffic to clear. That allowed them to not lose as much speed. Invariably I would get a signal from them that they appreciated the courtesy I gave them.

The truck traffic that was most discourteous and therefore very much reduced the margin of safety were usually the straight trucks or cargo vans. Many of them would over take me without slowing down and often without using the on coming lane even when it was clear. This left me wondering about the safety training and commitment to safety that the smaller companies who operate the straight trucks and cargo vans have compared to the heavy haulers or the long distance drivers.

City Driving

When I cycled in Toronto it was readily apparent that on the whole drivers in Toronto have a strong general awareness of cyclists. Drivers look out for cyclists when making right hand turns or check for cyclists before pulling away from a stop sign. The extensive road markings for cyclist and signage along with the sheer number of cyclists on the road seems to keep drivers alert to cyclists.

Even so, I would occasionally come across a driver who was blocking the bike lane while waiting to make a turn. On the whole the awareness of the majority of drivers is reassuring as a cyclist.

When I cycled in a few smaller cities I noticed reduced awareness and courtesy towards cyclists. With fewer cyclists around drivers had fewer reminders despite the ‘share the road’ signage that was posted along many streets.

Driver Education

It is disconcerting how little driver education has been done to inform drivers to enhance bicycle safety. It would be good if more public service announcements and other forms of driver education would be used in the province.

There are several areas of confusion when it comes to mixing bikes and motor vehicles.

  1. The law is not clear on whether cyclists should use a flashing red light on the back of the bike. I prefer using a flashing light over a constant red light as it will get a driver’s attention more readily. It seems like the approval of using a flashing red light is a recent upgrade to the traffic act.
  2. The law is not clear on whether it is legal to ride bikes two abreast. On the one hand it would appear safer to ‘own’ the whole lane. When a cyclist keeps to the extreme right side of the lane it creates opportunities for aggressive motorists to ignore the safety margin for cyclists. According to the CANbike training videos developed in Manitoba, a cyclist should ride 1 meter from the right edge of the road, to avoid pot holes and debris, and motorist must give cyclists a 1 meter margin for safety. That doesn’t leave much additional room for motorists to pass without moving over 1 lane.

Bicycle safety is everyone’s business but it’s the cyclist that carries all of the risk. As the bumper sticker reads, sent by a friend:

  • Bikes don’t have airbags. SHARETHEROAD *

http://www.sharetheroad.ca

The one item that I haven’t seen a definitive statement on is whether cyclists when approaching a red traffic light, stay back with the last car or move past all the cars, on the right hand side to the front of the line. The strongest statement I have seen about that is to move to the front of the line so that the cyclists are clearly visible to all traffic and less likely to get cut off by a vehicle making a right hand turn.

Come June 26 I will be spending the balance of my summer cycling 7000 km (4000 miles) across Canada with Sea to Sea. I won’t be home again till September if all goes as planned. When it comes to cycling, the long and short of it is, bikes are part of the traffic and subject to all aspects of the highway traffic act.

One stop sign near the CNE grounds in Toronto had an additional note on it. STOP – including bikes. When cyclists follow the rules of the road it enhances their safety.

Escape Plan

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Ready to roll – new drive train, accessories attached

In my recent session with my OT we spent over an hour developing an escape plan. While I have looked at many aspects in preparing for a successful Sea to Sea trek across Canada, I had not thought about developing an escape plan. Why? Well I was thinking in terms of success, not planning for failure.

I know from experience, that with my ABI, effective problem solving is a real challenge. Effective problem solving when I most need it, when I am in a situation in which I am dealing with severe sensory overload, will most certainly fail me. In failing me, it will likely create embarrassment for me, put extra demands on other people, result in poor decisions, in short it will likely make matters worse.

Get me out of here

The challenge of starting the trip so far away from home is that I can’t just quit after a difficult week or two and get a quick ride home. So, I have worked through a plan of how to exit the Sea to Sea tour ‘gracefully’ should it be necessary. I have settled on the likely exit points: Calgary, Regina, Winnipeg, Michigan, Owen Sound, Ottawa, Charlottetown. Each possible exit point comes with certain supports to minimize the potential challenges.

After developing the various exit points it gave me a sense of assurance. It took away the fear or anxiety of possibly creating a crisis should I find it too difficult to continue. With my fears reduced that is one less factor to weigh me down and in turn give me more energy to channel in a positive way – turning my pedals to keep me moving.

How do I know how I’m doing

In order to not end up exiting prematurely or at all, I need to know how I’m doing. Failing to properly gauge myself will result in being blindsided. With six days cycling and one day rest for each of the 10 weeks I need to be mindful of maintaining my reserves.

What to look for:

  • if I experience vertigo at the end of a ride or at rest stop I know I need to reduce my pace.
  • if I experience fatigue on waking, ride at a reduced pace that whole day. The thrill of biking once I get moving can falsely mask the fatigue and in turn show up in the form of greater fatigue the next morning.
  • if I am not sleeping well I need to reduce my pace. With too much physical demands it becomes harder to relax and sleep properly.
  • if I experience an increase in emotional loading, it will signal that I’m am not able to recover from the physical demands of the day or I need to curb some of the additional activities that could be causing the sensory overload.

Strategies for avoiding ‘trouble’

Even though I have done a four day ‘warm up’ bike trip, I need to be prepared for the unexpected. While I am aware of some of the activities that contribute to my sensory loading, there will be new activities which I need to be mindful of. For that reason I need to re-evaluate on a daily basis.

There are some simple strategies that I have agreed on that will hopefully stand me in good stead. I will schedule a nap as soon as I get into camp each day. From experience I know that after a physically strenuous day, I will likely be restless the first part of the night before sleeping better the second half. So it would make sense that a pre-sleep session should help make the whole night restful.

Riding in a large group can create a greater sense of camaraderie, but experience tells me that it will add significantly to my sensory loading putting me at risk of sensory overload. So, riding with no more than four cyclists would be advisable.

I’m going to have to see about the weekend celebrations as the tour is scheduled to hit a major centre each weekend to connect with supporters and donors. Participating in that might be a non-starter.

Despite the many contingencies that I have looked at, I find that cycling helps to dissipate much of the sensory loading that builds up as the day progresses. It seems like the physical, rhythmic action of cycling, along with the slower and simpler way of seeing the countryside provides relief and healing.

After analyzing all the different things that could go wrong, I actually found it to be a positive and a reassuring activity.

I have found some quotes about failure that are appropriate to different aspect of my upcoming bike trek:

“Failure isn’t fatal, but failure to change might be” – John Wooden

“Failing to plan is planning to fail.” – Winston Churchill

 

Intriguing Four Days

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Minimum Bicycle Safety Margin

It’s been an intriguing four days. Rather than driving the four hour trip to visit my daughter I decided to cycle to her house. A four hour drive has it’s challenges but so does a 4 day cycling trip.

Challenge #1

My main challenge when I am driving is managing the sensory loading, some of which comes from an underlying hyper vigilance, a side effect from the car accident that caused my ABI. I am still trying to reduce the effects of post traumatic symptomology that lingers following the collision. The hourly breaks helps reduce some of the sensory loading that occurs from simply being in a car.

In the four days I cycled I did not experience sensory loading to a level that it would interfere with my normal functioning. On the second morning I intentionally cycled through down town Toronto at the height of rush hour. I proceeded down Dundas Ave which has a marked bike lane. That allowed me to move much quicker than the cars that were crawling across town. I was aware of the need to watch for cars coming out of side streets, watch for turning vehicles at each intersection and be aware of many other cyclists that were either overtaking me or as I was passing them. At the same time that I’m focusing on the traffic, I’m taking in the honking of car horns, the noise of trucks, police sirens. Add to that the smells of sewage, exhaust fumes, bakery smells and other unidentifiable smells in a quickly changing smorgasbord of odours.

When I reflected back on the 15 km ride through the Toronto rush hour I noticed no lingering sensory loading at the end of the day. Had I ridden in or driven a car the accumulated effect would have required several hours or a day to clear my brain.

What seems to make cycling different? I’m not really sure. As part of my training by my occupational therapist to become my own detective, I have some possible theories:

  1. When I’m cycling I am moving through traffic in a different way then driving a car. I am not dealing with the possible errors that could result from something going wrong with on-coming traffic as I am way off to the right side of the road.
  2. I am moving slower than in a car or in the case of rush hour traffic, not dealing with the stop and go matter, so the neurological demands are less. I don’t need to process sensory input at nearly the speed on a bike that I need to while driving a car.
  3. I am cycling, which is a highly physical and a highly repetitive activity. Yes, I have to shift gears, and pay attention to various factors in my environment, but it seems like the physical part helps dissipate the negative effects of the accumulation of sensory impressions. Driving a car involves very minimal physical activity – moving one’s foot between gas pedal and brake. As such there is an accumulation of stresses that will continue to build till I step out of the car and do something physical. Taking a walk isn’t very strenuous but it’s repetitive and 20 minutes or so of that makes enough of a difference to continue the trip.

Challenge #2

There are times and situations in which the emotional sensory loading brings me to a point where it interferes with my normal functioning. The day before I started the trip I had just been through an experience of extreme emotional loading which left me totally incapacitated for over a half hour. Such an experience would often take 2 days and sometimes longer to clear my system. As I was biking along on the first day I had two momentary relapses that reminded me that my emotional loading was still a concern.

The one relapse happened when I stopped in to see a friend of mine. I was explaining to him that I would be cycling across Canada next month. I was overcome when I shared with him what my occupational therapist has shared with me a week earlier. She told me that when she started working with me 18 months ago, she had done an extensive assessment, she did not think my condition would improve enough to be able to bike across Canada. She was overjoyed that I had proven her wrong.

By the second day and the following days I experienced no relapse with my emotional sensory loading. I can only attribute that to the repetitive, physical workout. While being repetitive, cycling is never boring. How can it be when you are seeing the countryside or the cityscape at pace that brings out many wonderful details and surprises.

Challenge #3

Conversing with more than one or two other people at a time will put me into sensory overload in about 15 minutes and often sooner. Each night, when I came to my lodging place I visited with two people. It was a chance to share experiences and insight of the day. After completing the 4 day ride I was visiting with my daughter. Shortly after I arrived a few more people joined in. I was able to enjoy being in a group of 6 people for over two hours and later in the day with a group of 9 people for about an hour.

I won’t jump to any conclusions too quickly as there are various factors to consider. There are many different factors, many subtle, that affects how well I can survive in a group. Some things that I consider are:

  1. The nature of the topic and how it engages me has some bearing.
  2. The type of personalities within the  group. If someone is boisterous and dominating that will overload me quite quickly.
  3. The rhythm of the conversation has a bearing. By that I mean the ease with which I am able to interject into the conversation or how in tune others in the group are to noticing a quieter person who is trying to share.
  4. The coherence of the conversation. The more often the conversations breaks up into subgroups and then reemerges again has a noticeable wearing effect.

Challenge #4

When I first started biking after my ABI, I would startle every time a car or truck would come up from behind me and pass me. It was annoying and difficult to deal with because even with a rear view mirror when I could see the approaching vehicle I would be startled by the ‘whoosh’ as the vehicle passed. Thankfully that happens very rarely.

When I am cycling I regularly keep an eye on what is happening behind me. When I see a car approaching I check to see whether they are moving over, an indication that the driver has seen me. Once in awhile someone passes closer than the law allows. When that happens it leaves me slightly annoyed but it doesn’t startle me.

I don’t know why keeping an eye on traffic behind me leaves me feeling okay, while driving a car and the hyper vigilance that it induces leave me worn out.

I have taken measures to ensure a greater margin of safety as vehicles pass me. I wear a bright orange safety vest at all times. When the sky is overcast I use a flashing LED light that can be seen from a kilometer away. I put the light on flashing mode figuring that an inattentive driver will notice that much easier than a constant red light.

Conclusion

While the main motivation for my four day bike ride was training for a Pacific Ocean to Atlantic Ocean bike ride, it also gave me some insights into traveling by a different mode and how that impacts my ABI. Once I arrived at my destination I slept for 10 hours and then twice in the same day a 2 hour nap. Recuperating from physical fatigue is a much more enjoyable experience than recuperating from neurological fatigue. The sense of accomplishment without having incurred neuro fatigue is very satisfying and a real encouragement.

In the past four days I put myself through a more rigourous workout than the Sea to Sea cycling will be. This workout gave me insight into one part of the challenge I will be dealing with this summer. Cycling this summer with a group of about 100 people will likely give me new insights into dealing with other aspects of my ABI challenges.

And so the detective work and the detective training continues.

Over Compensating is my Insurance

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Every hill a new vista

In planning and preparing for my first multi-day (14 days) cycling event 4 years ago I did not have much time to train. As a result I decided that doing a 15 km (10 mile) ride 5 mornings a week would have to suffice for ‘training’. Now I should mention that the 15 km included about 120 meters of climbing and I gave it my all. Eventually that meant I could complete the 15 km in under 30 minutes. That give me a good aerobic workout and help build some strength in my legs.

Here I am 4 years later and once again preparing for a multi-day (70 day) cycling event. This time I have more time to do my training. No excuse this time for not having enough time to do the training.

It’s not my extra time that is making me diligent about my training. It’s that I am not sure what my endurance will be like this time. I don’t want my injuries to be a hindrance to my participation. Since my recovery and adjustment to living with ABI creates a big unknown factor, I feel compelled to over compensate. My diligence in training is focused on eliminating as many possible snags as I can.

So I make sure I can handle the distance – doing as many long distance rides as I can. Four years ago my longest pre-event ride was about 50 km.

So I make sure I can handle the climbing – I have taken on a Mt. Everest Challenge of climbing 8848 meters in one month of cycling. Last time I just didn’t check it out.

I have had some people wonder how I could possibly do a cross Canada (6700 km) ride while dealing with ABI. Fair question. While there are physical side effects to living with ABI, working on my physical endurance helps deal with other factors related to my ABI.

Cycling is a relaxed way to enjoy the countryside. Cycling is a way to live life at a relaxed pace. It means decisions that need to be made have time. The activity is not neurologically demanding. Recently while riding, I was doing fine, things were relaxed, the traffic decisions were fine. Then I stopped to pick up some granola bars at a grocery store. By the time I left the store I had encountered difficulties with 2 cashiers and in an attempt to moderate my frustration went back to the display shelf twice, and had the manager come over to see if she could be of help. I hope I had not been too irate with the cashiers, but I told the manager that the pricing of the products was just too confusing. The tags did not clearly show which products were on sale – or let me say I found it confusing and quickly overwhelming.

In reflecting on the situation later, a different manager might have has less patience for my confusion and possibly thrown me out of the store. I decided it’s easier to bike 50 or 80 km then to buy some granola bars in a busy grocery store with too many products on display and double and triple pricing information. (Regular price. Sale price for 1 item. Sale price for 3 items.)

When I started outdoor part of my training lately, the real significant of my ABI and physical effort started to become noticeable. On a regular ride I felt fine. On the longer and more strenuous rides I would arrive back at home and feel light headed. As I continued with my training the light headed experiences became less noticeable. My most recent ride of 140 km in one day left me with no side effects of being light headed. I have decided to do a 4 day ride in a couple of weeks to see if I need to make any adjustment before I leave for Vancouver to begin my cross Canada ride.

I chose to do a 4 day ride as part of a pattern I have developed while working with an OT. Each time I would undertake an activity she would ask me if it was the first time doing it since my brain injury. As a result I have camped in the back yard for a couple of nights before leaving home for a camping trip so I could make adjustments before doing the real thing.

The over compensating is partly due to not necessarily being able to adjust on the fly, something that I wouldn’t have thought twice about pre-ABI.

Balancing & Cycling

 

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Main structure completed – Break time

I’ve completed two weeks of serious outdoor training for my cross Canada ride. While on the one hand it is more motivating to be training outdoors, it is also more challenging. There are several reasons for the challenges which I have been only partially prepared to deal with.

Location

While living at the top of the highest ridge in the area (600 ft above Lake Ontario, 1000 ft above sea level) gives some great panoramic views. However, no matter how I plan my route I am in for a long climb every time I’m nearing the end of my workout. Climbing the last 4 km to get myself home takes a lot of will power. Somehow, it doesn’t seem to make much difference whether I have just completed a 25 km ride or a 65 km ride, the climb seems to be equally daunting.

Choosing to stay on the ridge doesn’t reduce the amount of climbing as there are numerous creeks and ravines with tend to be carved deep into the landscape. Wonderful for great views and vistas.  In one week I logged 2300 meters of climbing. So I’ve decided to challenge myself to complete the Mt Everest Challenge during the month of May. The goal is to climb 8,848 meters in the next 31 days.

Season

While the snow just disappeared a little over two weeks ago, spring is not really here in full force. This morning I headed out prepared for the 5 Celsius temperature with a brisk wind out of the east. Alas, at about the mid point of my 26 km ride it began to rain. Rain at 5 degrees is not pleasant at the best of times. Going downhill with a headwind requires one to pedal hard just to try to generate a bit of warmth. However, going 40 to 50 km/hr into the wind just seems to blow every shred of body heat away. The main consolation was knowing I would get to the bottom of the long decline soon enough regardless of the effort I put into it.

When I compare the cold weather cycling to the summer weather, it’s a tough call as to which I prefer. While it’s easier to dress for the weather when it’s cold, I would prefer to avoid both extremes.

Recovery

I find cycling beneficial for my recovery. If I’ve had a day with activities that have put me near my limit for neural loading, getting out on the road helps quite a bit with recovery. The physical workout, with it’s regular rhythm, requiring minimal cognitive functioning, does wonders in alleviating a good amount of neural fatigue. I choose routes away from heavy traffic and city type distractions. Most of the county roads have wide lanes and paved shoulders much of the way. Secondary roads work well because I encounter minimal traffic.

While I am encouraged that cycling helps alleviate symptoms related to the after effects of my injury two years ago, I still need to be mindful of what sensory loading my cycling has on my overall well-being. This week it’s been a bit of a mystery whether the increase in my training has contributed to my sensory overload or whether I have taken on too many other activities while doing my outdoor training.

Mindfulness and Balance

On Friday I volunteered at an outdoor education centre for 4 hours helping build a set of stairs out of cedar logs. The physical part of the work was not very demanding. I took a couple of breaks to ensure I would have the necessary endurance. In hind sight what wore me out was working with 2 other people, discussing the finer points as we were working, deciphering instructions, and adjusting my thinking as the job progressed. The demands on my mental flexibility is what was most wearing. In the end it wasn’t physical fatigue, but neural fatigue. The drive home, only 8 km was difficult. The bike ride later that day helped me recover from the neural demands of the morning.

The next 7 weeks of training will be a balancing act. I will need to be mindful of balancing my training activities with my other daily responsibilities and routines. My one consolation is that the cross Canada cycling will most likely be less demanding than the terrain that I’m dealing with during training. Will it be a ride in the park… ? Who knows.

 

Defining Success is Personal

20170303_130700I made a choice a few months back. I have been hesitant to move ahead with my decision because my fear of failure has been nagging me. I gradually realized that my fear is rooted in my perception of what defines success or failure.

In learning to live with noticeable limitations with my physical and cognitive stamina I have lost a level of confidence that previously allowed me to persevere and push ahead. My confidence is shaken because my limitations will suddenly stop me in my tracks. In the past my body would gradually signal that I am approaching my limit. If it was a physical limit, fatigue would gradually set in. If it was a cognitive limit, I would lose focus or begin to nod off. If I was dealing with something urgent I would find a way to push ahead and get a good night’s sleep a couple nights later.

Living with ABI has a direct bearing on my stamina. I now need to deal with the realization that I might suddenly be ambushed by some form of sensory overload, be it emotional, neurological or vestibular. I will not only be suddenly incapacitated, but could require a day or several to recuperate.

The decision I made a few months back was to cycle across Canada with Sea to Sea. The cycling tour is to celebrate Canada’s 150 years and to raise money for various poverty projects. Sea to Sea will partner with any local project that a cyclist would like to designate. This enables the funds to be used effectively for projects that are already happening and viable.

In order to move ahead with this commitment I need to redefine what success means. Pre-ABI I would have defined success as raising the $12,000 target (Canada or US tax receipts issued), riding each day and completing the whole 6700 km route.

Living with ABI means I need to redefine my idea of success. For me success is not necessarily completing each day or each leg of the route.  Success would be better defined as completing each day within my physical and cognitive limits. That means recognizing any of my ‘early warning‘ signals and adjusting my activity in response. That could mean allowing SAG support to take me the balance of the distance on any particular day. That could mean choosing to not ride for a day if I need time to recuperate. Even if I need to deal with minor setbacks, staying with the tour would be part of my definition of success.

Another part of my definition of success it doing my part in raising awareness of the need to help people who are trapped in a cycle of poverty. The cycle of poverty can be a result of poor life choices, health issues, disabilities, lack of education or many time simply being born into a demographic that creates insurmountable obstacles to becoming a vibrant, contributing member of a community.

Why would I choose to bike? Why such a long goal? For one thing, I keenly enjoy cycling. Also, for me, an encouraging indicator with my recovery is that cycling helps minimize some of my sensory loading. Cycling has a way of reducing the effects of neural fatigue or clearing nausea and headache that develops from certain activities.

As the snow and ice clears I can begin to train outdoors. Hopefully the non-ABI related health challenges of this past winter is behind me. As the weather warms up I can step up my training. Last fall I had worked myself up to doing 40 km a day. My target by June is to be able to cycle 130 km a day.  Just recently I did my first unicycle ride in about 2 years. I managed to cycle 18 km over a two day period averaging 10 km/hr. I figure doing a bit of cycling cross-training should provide some helpful benefits.

In early February I purchased a one way airfare to Vancouver. Imagine flying 5 hours and then taking over 5 weeks to cycle past my house before continuing another 3 weeks to Halifax. A friend has stepped forward and offered to pick me up in Halifax to then spend a week on PEI.

Each completed step in the planning is making this choice a more tangible reality. Each step in the planning is increasing my confidence in being able to be an active participant in Sea to Sea 2017. Every word of encouragement is a step towards realizing success. Most recently, tending the Sea to Sea booth at the Toronto International Bicycle Show has been an exciting way to share the project around thousands of cycling enthusiasts.

 

Third World Resourcefulness

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National Sport – Baseball

I recently had my first experience in a ‘third world’ country. While having traveled in more than a dozen countries, this recent visit stood in sharp contrast. Prior to leaving home we had been coached as to what goods and resources would be helpful to bring for the local people.

We had arranged accommodations at an all inclusive resort. We noticed that the people in the nearest village did benefit from the ‘gifts’ that people had given them during their holiday at the resort. So we decided to visit a distant village to share the goods we had taken along.

Cabby for Hire

We hired a cabby for two and a half hours at the cost of the Canadian equivalent of $40 to take us to a distant village, about an hour away. The first thing that struck me was the cab which was older than me. Imagine riding in a car from the early 1950’s still considered reliable enough transportation. What made the durability of the cab even more amazing was the condition of the roads. We spent a third of the time driving on the left side of the road to avoid pot holes and washouts. We spent another third of the time driving on the shoulder where it was smoother than the road. The hour’s drive got us about 40 km (25 miles) from the resort.

Gratefulness

When we arrived at the village we were well received despite arriving without advance notice. The subsistence lifestyle meant there were plenty of people out and about in the village. Once the local people realized we had t-shirts, baseballs, caps and shoes to give away word spread very quickly. They were eager to receive gifts from us and responded with deep appreciation. It was interesting to see some of the young people coaching others, making sure they thanked us in English.

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Next year

One woman who walked up to me did not reach out her hand when I offered a t-shirt. I wasn’t sure what to do till her neighbour signaled to me that she was blind. It didn’t take long before we ran out of gifts. I had a twelve year old lad who asked if I had a t-shirt in my knapsack for him. I told him I had run out. The look of disappointment was clearly evident. Still very polite. The only thing I had left was a can of pop. Not what I had in mind. At best a minor consolation. I’ll have to look him up next year.

As we drove away from the village that look of disappointment stayed with me. We had come too far for me to retrieve something from my room. I was in tears the first ten minutes as we headed back. Even now as I write this I am in tears.

Coffee time

On the way back the cabby asked us if we would like to stop for a coffee. We welcomed the offer even though we hadn’t seen a restaurant or coffee shop on the way down. About 20170130_114615twenty minutes into our return trip the cabby pulled over at a farmstead. On the way out he had stopped briefly and called out in Spanish. I guess that was our drive-by coffee order.

We were welcomed into the sparsely furnish concrete house and given a chair in the living room. The living room had a colourful porcelain tile floor. While we waited I was pleased to see that they had some basic appliances. The house had a fridge, a tv and a radio. On the wall hung a framed medical diploma of an older son who did not live there. The kitchen was in a separate shelter to keep the wood heat used for cooking out of the house. They made sure no goats or chickens wandered into the house while we visited.

The grandmother served the coffee to the four of us in identical navy blue miniature cups. I thought it was excellent coffee – and that from a non-coffee drinker. When we were ready to leave I wanted to leave her a small tip. She absolutely refused it. When I offered her a Canadian flag pin, she felt honoured to receive a gift.

Before leaving I took a picture of the family, grandmother, mother, father and daughter. The grandfather had decided to not hang around while we were there.

Resourcefulness

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Cacti and barbed wire fencing

Visiting a third world country is so different from reading about it. The resource- fulness of the people is amazing. They improvise, they manage without, they do double duty with what resources are available. Everywhere we looked there were goats or chickens. There were no lawnmowers in sight. Between the free ranging goats and chickens and the tethered cows and horses and the penned up pigs, the job got done. No annoying lawnmower motors, not even at the resort. Fences were made of barbed wire and reinforced with a hedge of cacti that were regularly trimmed, probably so they would spread and keep the goats in. Even so, goats would be grazing along every road we traveled, often scurrying to get out of the way of the occasional car or truck that drove by.

Reflecting

The ‘gifts’ that I gave away came completely from my own dresser of plenty. Having collected t-shirts which are liberally handed out at special events, Race Against Drugs, Anti-Bullying, Sea to Sea, SumoBot etc, end up lying unused because the event is over. Had I simply donated them to a local charity I would never have realized how appreciative over 2 dozen people could be with one person’s surplus clothing.

This experience has increased my commitment to raise funds for the Sea to Sea cycling tour crossing Canada this summer. Sea to Sea is an agency that has set a goal of raising 5 million to fund projects in Canada and overseas to help end poverty, one person at a time.

The next time I hear someone around me say, “But I have nothing to wear,” I might be tempted to step up on a soapbox and shout out a rant.