Journey Across My Canada

Start of this journey

I find it fitting that my goal of cycling across Canada which took just under four years to complete ended during the Canada 150 commemorations. In those four years I have experienced significant personal changes.

I started my ride across Canada on September 28 in 2013 in Victoria. Victoria is the starting point or end point of the Trans-Canada highway. That was a one day ride that I did with one of my colleagues.

On June 26 in 2017 I continued that journey with Sea to Sea. That part of my ride went on for 64 more days. This part included about 80 other cyclists who rode parts of the journey and about 50 other riders who rode all the way to Halifax.

On August 30, the day after arriving in Halifax, Nova Scotia I continued the journey for 5 more days. This part of the ride included 2 other cyclists who rode along to St.John’s, Newfoundland ending at Cape Spear, the most eastern point in Canada, on September 3, 2017.

Inclusivity

Finishing in Newfoundland was a fitting way to end the cross Canada journey through all ten provinces during the Canada 150 year. Even though Newfoundland came late, joining Confederation in 1949, this makes the cross Canada ride complete.

This is not meant to overlook the 3 territories, Yukon, North West and Nunavut. Cycling through them would be a whole new level of cycling. There isn’t a continuous road connecting the three territories.

Crossing Canada at some point from the southern border to the Arctic Ocean is possible now that the Yukon Territory has completed a highway to the north coast.

Tasting a thin slice

Having crossed Canada from West to east only represents a thin slice of an amazing country with such diversity in terrain and more significant a diversity in people.

As a country with two official languages, that simply doesn’t do justice to the multitude of languages spoken in Canada.

There are quite a number of different languages spoken by the various First Nations communities in Canada who have lived on this land from time immemorial (as one Nation in Nova Scotia identifies themselves). Only one province in Canada, namely New Brunswick has a beginning sense of inclusiveness by being officially bi-lingual. In my understanding, of the territories, Nunavut is the only territory that operates with two official languages.

My language experience in Newfoundland is even more unique in that they speak English but have unusual variations of it. The variation includes expressions that most people from away would simply not understand. Also, depending on which part of Newfoundland one is from words are spoken differently, adding letters or omitting letters when it is spoken.

Identity is key

Language gives a community a unifying identity. Language is a key factor in capturing a culture and a people.

My sense has always been that when people are comfortable with their identity they have a greater acceptance and appreciation of other groups, cultures and diversity of view points. Those are important qualities for people to be able to live at peace with each other.

Canada is a confederation. A confederation only works when people choose to work together and value what others have to offer.

Even though my journey across Canada has been a very thin slice it has raised my appreciation for this country I call home and want to see the diversity within unity thrive by learning from each other.

Stories breathe life

The most effective way we learn from each other is by listening to each other’s stories.

In my journey across Canada I heard an interesting comment about sharing stories.

Within one of the cultures in Canada, they do not want a story electronically recorded. The reason being that a story is something alive. You lose it when you try to capture it.

It is only in the telling that a story stays alive. Each time a story is shared the ambiance where it is shared, the mood of the group in receiving the story, the intent of the story teller in sharing it and many other factors is different each time a story is shared. With each telling the story comes alive.

I want to live in a country where each community, each ethnic group or nation is proud to keep their stories alive. They might be stories of celebrations or of pain. In sharing a story one is sharing a sense of hope for themselves, their community or their country. Sharing stories is what I believe would make the Canada 150 celebrations successful.

What stories will you share about the community you identify with?

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Simulating Poverty?

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Daily essentials

I will remember the summer of 2017 as the summer of adventure as I cycled across Canada. It was a charity tour to coincide with Canada’s 150th celebration. A charity to raise funds and awareness to help end the cycle of poverty.

One aspect of the tour included one member who shared a daily reminder informing us of the specific First Nation’s traditional lands we were camping on each night, unceeded territories, treaty territories or peace and friendship treaties.

It is not coincidental that much of the poverty we experience in Canada is among the first nations communities. A poverty of resources, a poverty of spirit, much of it a direct result of our collective short sighted understanding of what these treaties did not honour or failed to respect.

Shifted luxury

Many times during the tour I heard statements like this. By camping and living out of two laundry baskets we are living a simple life, a life that helps us better understand poverty.

We have left much behind to do this tour. Our beds at home have been empty for two months. The use of our house with all it’s appliances, furniture and yard have been abandoned for the summer.

My reflection

For me living in a tent with two laundry baskets holding all my essentials has been a life of abundance and may I even say luxury. I did not experience being deprived of my daily needs.

All summer I have had a campground arranged for me. All I needed to do is pitch my tent, a brief task each evening and pack up my tent each morning, a slightly longer task each morning.

In contrast to that my son and a friend spent more time this summer doing an emergency repair and basic maintenance on my house than spent setting up and taking down my tent.

Every day I had meals prepared for me by hard working volunteers. All I needed to do was walk up to the buffet table and enjoy a full course breakfast and supper each day. In return I would  wash my own plate and cup before applauding the hardworking volunteer staff.

Each night I had a place to sleep. I had a tent that was dry or a few times I was offered a billet for a night or two. Sleeping outdoors in a weather tight tent has left me refreshed and healthy.

Each day I have had over six hours available to do a ‘gym’ workout while viewing the most amazing and varied vistas that anyone could ask for. Even a high tech gym with quality video wouldn’t compare to the real life experience of smells, sounds, temperature variations, breezes and headwinds. In other words, a multi-media experience could never match the multi-sensory experience. And each day I was congratulated for having put in another great day of commendable effort.

Each day I have experienced the support of a SAG (support and gear) team providing refreshments every 25 kilometers with other people along the road to ensure everything was well. On top of that each turn was clearly marked so as not to let me get lost.

While living out of a laundry basket and a tent I had the benefit of the best technology. I could post pictures of my adventure to Facebook, update my blog on a fairly regular basis. When my cell phone ‘died’ I was up and running again by the end of the day with a better cell phone, a better plan and at a reduced cost.

Poverty

Poverty to me is living a life of uncertainty. Living a life in which each set back becomes another insurmountable burden. Living a life where no one else seems to care. Living a life that has no relief in sight.

Simulated poverty?

I will be the first to admit, that the way I lived this summer did very little to make me more aware of what it is like to live in poverty. Living supported, cared for, provided for, looked after and then given additional consideration when I was experiencing difficulty is for me the furthest thing away from poverty.

However, this charity ride had raised my awareness of poverty. An awareness that has come not from experience as much as it has come from observation. As the tour moved through different regions of Canada, one would have to be blind to not notice the demise in certain regions. One would have to be blind to not see the contrast with the affluent regions.

The signs of contrast are sometimes the seriously dilapidated condition of houses or outbuildings. Other times is was the proliferation of high end cars in the driveway. Somehow it was usually evident when we cycled through a First Nations community. If it wasn’t the condition of the neighbourhood, it would be the increased presence of police or the lack of community services.

Catholic after affect

In cycling through the villages and towns of Quebec the focal point was consistently the Catholic place of worship, sometimes a cathedral, other times a church of less grand proportions. It’s like you could assess the standard of living of a community as a whole by the size of the Catholic focal point. The traditional houses within the town or village would all be very similar.

In a time when the Catholic church was a vibrant part of the community, the poor would be looked after, the rich would contribute to the church. The wealth of the community for the most part would not be seen in the statement of affluence represented by individual houses, but rather in the size of the church.

Presentations

For me the presentations done by Partners Worldwide and World Renew was the most effective awareness raising for me. In sharing their stories I realized that my living situation this summer exemplified luxury and more to the point, privilege. The presentations showed time and again that as the issue of poverty was understood and then addressed, that people began to live with a sense of hope.

It’s the poverty of spirit, and the conditions that create a sense of hopelessness that needs to be addressed. Hearing  about projects where people and families are mentored, provided with resources and training helps me begin to understand the amazing impact we can make.

A spirit of hope develops when we work with the poor in a way that shows a love for neighbour – respecting their dignity, recognizing their skills, befriending them ending the injustice that has deprived them of self-worth and in that way push aside the spirit of poverty.

My life of luxury and privilege will continue when I move out of my tent and back into my house. I will be more conscious of looking for ways to bring hope to those living in poverty.

The Pitfall of Success Stories

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Each person carries their own load.

When one is living with ABI (Acquired Brain Injury) success stories shared by others can be more trouble than they are worth.

Some recent discussions reinforced for me that publishing success stories is akin to walking a tightrope. Sharing one’s success in conquering certain limitations are definitely something to celebrate. Explaining how one experiences the incremental improvements can be helpful to others. However, to claim that one is ‘cured’ of an ABI is a tough claim to believe.

To claim to have been cured is to claim one has moved from being neurologically atypical to being neurologically typical. If that does in fact happen, I would definitely join in the celebration.

When a person makes generalizations about their success story, to apply to others, I begin to cringe. What works for one person and the process of achieving that success cannot be assumed as a template for anyone else carrying the ABI label.

Lesson one

Let me explain. I began to work with an OT (occupational therapist) a year after my ABI. My OT is a very experienced therapist focusing strictly on MVA (motor vehicle accident) brain injuries. The first thing she told me is that no two injuries are the same. In working with me there is no template to work from. With each client she is starting from scratch.

The OT sessions which were weekly at first and later monthly focused on two things:

  1. The OT as the detective, finding out what factors in my life needed to be modified,
  2. The OT as the teacher, training me to become my own detective.

I had to learn to identify what what type of activities were causing me setbacks, or more to the point, what factors in my activities were creating sensory overload (also called flooding).

As the months progressed I learned how to adjust my expectations, the intensity and duration of my activities, the choice of environments, and other factors in order to have a successful day.

Avoiding sensory overload became one of my measures of success. (The quality of my interaction with others, the purpose of my activities was another measure.) I did not relish needing up to four days to recover from an activity that brought on sensory overload.

One of a Kind

Every brain injury is unique because no two people experience injury to the same extent or in the same area or areas of their brain. The direction of the force, the person’s body position, the amount of muscle tension at the time of impact are just some of the contributing factors determining the severity and extent of the brain injury.

The brain is a very complex system of the body. While neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to heal itself or to compensate, can show amazing results there are limitations to what healing can take place.

No two impacts to the brain are the same. Think of a batter hitting a ball. One mighty swing and the ball goes dead in the infield. Another mighty swing connects with the sweet spot and the ball sails out of the ballpark.

Other factors that affect healing is the level of motivation that a person has, not to mention the life goals a person has their heart set on. In some cases the part of the brain that is injured directly affects a person’s ability to be motivated.

Life stage

Another factor that affects a person’s rate of recovery is what responsibility they are able to shed. In my situation I have no children at home, no work demands, a caring community and a supportive extended family. I have no restrictions on my personal schedule or regular obligations to meet.

I choose to share my set backs and successes so others might learn from my experience. Sometimes my experiences help a caregiver better understand the person they are supporting. Other times I hear from others and gain a better understanding of myself.

Assumptions

What I find least helpful is when people make assumptions about which challenges I am dealing with.

“Oh, bright lights must bother you.” (Actually no.)

“You must be dealing with headaches regularly.” (No, that’s very rare.)

The stereo-type impressions that people have are unhelpful and often annoying.

It’s not a matter of defining different environments and putting them into neat little packages – this one works – this one doesn’t work.

Nuances

Living with ABI has it’s nuances. That’s why it takes detective work to learn to live with it. Let me share a few examples.

I have been in a room with a crowd of people noisily chatting over supper. Within five minutes I need to walk out because I’m going into sensory overload. Another time I will be in a room with a crowd of people and will be fine. The difference can be as subtle as the height of the ceiling in the two different rooms.

My ability to listen to live music is very much limited. In enclosed spaces my limit might be 5 minutes. In an outdoor venue I can manage for up to an hour and sometimes longer. On the other hand, I can happily listen to recorded music all day.

Listen and ask

What I appreciate most when someone has an inkling that I am living with ABI is their willingness to ask questions and listen. That signals to me that the person is willing to learn, wants to gain a better understanding, and has taken a personal interest in my well-being. That is the building blocks for developing a supportive bond.

Love to hear your success story. Great to hear about your personal insights. Tell it with the respect that each of us have our own life to live.

This is Not a Race

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A 44 seat bike – Russell,  Manitoba

This is a cycling tour.

No time trials to qualify

No carbon fibre needed

This is not a race.

 

This is a cycling tour.

Prudent to train ahead of time

No risk of being disqualified

This is not a race.

 

This is a cycling tour.

Giving fellow rider support

With flats or worse

This is not a race.

 

This is a cycling tour.

Time for a photo op

Pausing for a leisurely break

This is not a race.

 

This is a cycling tour.

Compassion for the poor

With tangible results

This is not a race.

 

This is a cycling tour.

The fastest cyclists

take bragging rights

The strongest cyclists

get the best SAG treats

The fittest cyclists

get the best campsites.

The strongest cyclists

whiz by the others

Those with the ultra-light bikes

Oh wait, who said, “This is not a race?”

 

A World without Poverty

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Stickers for kids and young at heart

A few days before the start of the Sea to Sea tour my greatest concern was that the ride would be over too fast. Not that nine and a half weeks is a short block of time to be away from home. Somehow the uniqueness of the experience leaves me dreading the end. Reaching Halifax will signal the end.

Circus Life

As one person commented recently, “This is what it must be like to live in a circus.” It’s like leaving my real life behind for a whole summer. The real life with it’s responsibilities of paying bills, looking after the yard, weeding the garden and all the other things that make up day to day living.

Oh, yes, don’t forget to go to work five days a week if one is still in that phase of life.

Instead, I’m living the simple yet luxurious life.

Simple in that I have a basket of clothes that I keep laundered by hand, set up and take down my tent as needed each day, and then focus on getting to the next camp site and do it all over again.

Luxurious in that every day I have breakfast and supper prepared for me. All I need to do is walk up to the table, have my plate filled and find a place to sit down and eat it. In exchange I simply need to do one task for the whole group each day.

Moving Billboard

Each day that I ride, along with a few dozen other cyclists, I have no idea what variations I’ll experience in my day. It’s the chance meetings that turns our riding into a moving billboard. A motorist on the highway or a pedestrian in a small town will have seen several cyclists in identical gear. At some point their curiosity gets the better of them.

When the curiosity overflows the question gets popped. What is going on? Where are you going? Why are you riding?

How I answer the question depends on how the inquiring person strikes me. In a Mac Donalds in Baudette, Michigan some seniors were very intrigued. As I was explaining that we had been riding since June 26 from Vancouver they were impressed. They were complimentary about me as a 64 year old riding all the way to Halifax, Nova Scotia. They dismissed the idea that they were past the age of joining in on such a venture. When I told them our oldest rider is 81 and three quarters their jaws just dropped.

It’s only when a person asks why we are riding will I mention that we are riding to raise money to End the Cycle of Poverty. I will then give them a sticker of a bicycle with a heart. The heart is a great symbol. A heart for an adventure that involves an intimate connection with a bicycle, and an even greater heart to help the poor.

Other times, when I see a parent with a young child or two I’ll stop and tell them I have a sticker for them. As a former teacher I know that kids love stickers. I’ve also learned that adults will get just as excited to receive a sticker.

The end in sight give Hope

Cycling across the continent each day can sometimes be grueling. However, we know that at some point we will reach camp. Just keep pedaling. If things get really tough we know we can get a SAG vehicle to bring us in. A broken down bike, an injury along the way does not spell disaster. We have a way out. And a convenient one at that.

For many living in poverty, there is no end in sight. Each day is a struggle. Each day brings with it the possibility of unknown challenges. And worst of all, an injury, a breakdown of something essential could very easily spell disaster. For many people they are not living with a safety net of a SAG type vehicle that will ‘airlift’ them to a place of help.

Help

As I am hearing some of the presentations by Partners Worldwide I am learning that it is an agency that is working with a model that is very attainable and can easily be replicated. Their tag line is “Business People Faithfully Pursuing a World without Poverty”.

Does it sound like a dream? Only in that all good ideas start out as a dream. They are making the dream a reality in so many different ways.

Because they are business people they are not interested in giving handouts. Handouts create dependency if the support doesn’t go beyond that step. Also, their model would also not be described as a hand up. They are committed to ending the cycle that is holding so many people down.

As business people they work with a viable business model. As such that means providing families with the resources needed to give them hope by helping them leave behind a spirit of defeat, a spirit of poverty. This means providing individuals with micro-loans, advocacy, education, skill development and mentors or any combination of these supports.

At times the support is providing a loan and teaching the skills needed to raise a crop that has a viable market. Other times it involves securing proper land ownership so the family have a place to farm needed crops. Other times it’s setting a family up with equipment and a market for small scale home manufacturing.

The possibilities are only limited by one’s imagination. Each project is designed to ensure a high success rate. Each successful venture becomes the model for other members in the community to imitate and work their way out of poverty.

The beauty of the work done by Partner’s Worldwide is that it costs on average $150 per person to help a family out of poverty. That means financial poverty. That means poverty of spirit. With each success another family is making a positive contribution to their community. The outcome is a spirit of generosity as they in turn are motivated to help others.

Dreading the End

This ‘circus of a ride’ while it seems like an unreal world to be living in will come to an end for me on August 29. However, this ‘circus of a ride’ has been a further eye opener for me that working to eradicate poverty is not a hopeless venture. It is attainable.

In that way, this experience does not end for me on August 29. I pray that in some way the 56 days of cycling is only a prelude to further understanding and working on ways to end the cycle of poverty, both in Canada and in developing parts of the world.

Poverty, at heart is an issue of justice. It comes down to resource distribution. When families are deprived of access to resources because of corporate greed or war. It beats people down to a point where they are at risk of losing all hope.

We have the eyes to see. We have the means to bring change. We need the will make that happen.

In other words, there should be no end to my ride experience. Rather a precursor to instill in me a greater spirit of generosity.

 

Domino Effect

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Mystery part

Domino Effect.

A break in routine should not be a big deal. Little did I expect the domino effect it would create. Given the strenuous nature of the activity I should have had some inkling.

I was the last of 85 cyclists to leave camp that morning. In hindsight I should have left later. Being the last rider did not concern me as we were scheduled to meet at the 120 km point in the century ride for a photo op. The midpoint was a milestone, an occasion not to be overlooked. It had been 3490 km since we had dipped our tires in the Pacific Ocean, with 3490 km to go before we would dip our tires in the Atlantic Ocean.

I arrived at the midpoint with a little over an hour to spare. I was a great opportunity to take in a nap… well, more to the point, a nap just happens when I relax after being very active for a few hours.

Failed recovery

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Steam whistle

After the photo op I completed the last 40 km of the century ride for the day. With the long break in the early afternoon and the heat I arrived in camp knowing that my recovery protocol was essential. I couldn’t afford any short cuts or missed steps today.

This is where a seemingly very good day began to unravel. I didn’t have sufficient time for the full recovery protocol. I had set up my tent and prepared my recovery liquids as expected.

About forty minutes into my recovery time, supper time was announced. I had relaxed a bit, but had not had the benefit of a nap (a key element for brain recovery). The nap at the midpoint was to blame. I decided to get up and head over to the pavilion some 200 meter away. Missing supper was not a good option.

My walking was very slow and difficult, not a good sign. As I approached the pavilion with almost a hundred people engaged in animated discussions I looked for an empty spot near the edgge. No luck. I knew I couldn’t take the level of noise in the middle of the pavilion.

I chose a picnic table about 30 feet from the pavilion. By this time, the effort of walking, the unsuccessful attempt to find seating, added to my sensory overload, further reducing my functioning to the bare essentials. I sat down at the picnic table in tears.

The other term that is used instead of sensory overload is the term flooding.

Shortly one of the support drivers came over, having decided something was amiss. She asked me what was wrong. As I was unable to say anything coherent, she followed up with insisting that I tell her what was going on with me. Good intentions but the last thing I needed was to be flooded with questions. My brain was too fatigued. I didn’t need help. I just needed a quiet place with no questions adding to the flooding.

A second person came over out of a sense of caring. He asked me a few questions further adding to my flooding. Again, I was not able to give a coherent response. He suggested I move over to the group not wanting me to feel isolated. He insisted I was among friends and didn’t need to shrink away from them.

Had I decided I felt too vulnerable in my condition I would have foregone supper and remained inside the safety in my tent. I had chosen to join the group because I trusted this group of people based on the generous support I had experienced earlier in the tour.

I managed to convey that I simply needed a quiet place. In response the fellow decided he would join me for supper and just wouldn’t talk so I would have the quiet space I needed. An interesting choice for which I had no objection.

While I was eating my supper a kitchen staff member came over to me and simply put her arm around me. No questions. No need to know what was happening with me. Without adding to my flooding, I could simply convey my appreciation by putting my arm around her. No need for words, yet an unambiguous sharing of support and appreciation.

After thoughts

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Flywheel

I have meanwhile arranged for an advocate to step in should I have another situation of sensory overload or flooding. I would simply refer the well meaning help to my advocate so that attempts to help me doesn’t add to my flooding.

Once again, I have stumbled across a situation that is hard to plan for. I did not have my regular support people near by. It’s just not possible to plan for all eventualities. Can’t be done. How does one plan for the unexpected?

For most people it’s hard to understand how to deal with someone who is neurologically atypical. Their experience with neuro-atypcial people might be rare or non-existent. Trying to help becomes counter productive. Without some careful reflection, the situation can continue into a downward spiral when the necessary answers or responses aren’t forthcoming.

In thinking aloud, I do wonder whose needs are being met with the questions that were put to me. What information was essential to my well-being at that moment?

Suggested guidelines

When someone is experiencing ‘sensory overload’, or ‘flooding’ or severe neuro fatigue, it is most helpful to keep things simple. My suggestion is to focus on whether the person is in a crisis that would require emergency action. The two most helpful questions would be:

1. Are you in pain?

2. Do you need help?

Both of these questions can be simply and clearly answered with a nod or shake of the head.

Some helpful questions could be:

1. Would you like me to keep you company?

2. Are you fine where you are now?

These questions while being less intrusive can be just as effective in assessing what help is needed with neurologically typical people as well.

Comedy

One way to determine the difference between a person who is upset or distraught as opposed to experiencing sensory overload or flooding is to use humour. It might seem strange to use humour when a person is in tears. A person who is experiencing sensory overload or flooding is not able to respond to humour. Since the key purpose of the intervention is to determine whether additional help is needed, using humour would not be considered inconsiderate or out of place.

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Reynold – Corlis steam engine

Ghost Cyclist

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Got my back

Cycling across Canada

Rough roads and smooth

Ghost cyclist guiding me through.

 

Cycling up the Rocky Mountains

Reaching greater heights in Rogers Pass

Ghost cyclist urging me up and over.

 

Cycling across the vast prairies

Crosswinds tossing me side to side

Ghost cyclist steadily leaning into the wind.

 

Cycling into a strong headwind

Pedaling hard looking to draft

Ghost cyclist pushing me forward.

 

Cycling through hamlets and towns

Heavy traffic and quiet roads

Ghost cyclist right with me.

 

Cycling in the drizzle and rain

Looking to stay dry and warm

Ghost cyclist has me covered.

 

Cycling day after day moving east

Loving the thrill of the tailwind

Ghost cyclist moving with me.

 

Cycling in the sun and heat

Longing for shade and relief

Ghost cyclist provides the block.

 

Cycling from Pacific to Atlantic

Great ride, greater cause

Ghost cyclist got my back.

 

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Cycling to end poverty

Sharing a spirit of generosity

Ghost cyclist helping reach our goal.

———- ———-

Credits:

Tandem – Brenna & Missy

Pictured – Russ & myself

Location – on the road