A Heart for Helping

 

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Trans-Canada Highway near St. John’s, Newfoundland

How can I capture or summarize the impact of ten weeks of continuous cycling. Each day, though it followed a similar pattern of “eat, sleep and bike, was filled with many impressions, unexpected events, chance encounters, spectacular views, heart breaking situations, terrorizing situations, sheer bliss, uplifting conversations, ABI challenges, and so much more.  The abundance of experiences will percolate in my thoughts for a long time.

One of the main threads is an increased appreciation for those living in poverty and an increased conviction that there are many roads out of poverty. The summer has been a learning experience as different solutions have become evident.

Learning by observing

 

Just like cycling across the widest country in North America takes commitment and a willingness to address challenges, so to does gaining a deeper understanding of poverty. Taking part in the Sea to Sea charity ride gradually expanded my awareness about and demonstrated ways to help to end the cycle of poverty. The ride has exposed me to big projects and simple acts of hope.

Cycling six days a week took me through variety of neighbourhoods, ranging from grotesque affluence to abject poverty. I probably didn’t see the worst situations because I cycled through communities that had roads. It makes one wonder how much worse it is in some northern communities where there is no road access and the community infrastructure leaves much to be desired.

This ride has heightened my own awareness of the many faces of poverty. I know I have only seen a glimpse of the visible side of poverty. The hidden faces of poverty can elude us unless someone points it out.

I need time to consider how my deeper awareness will change what I do. Change sometime begins in small ways.  Let me share one small example.

I do want to clarify that my acts of kindness are not the kinds of things I normally talk about. It’s not for me to announce or brag about what I do for someone else.

But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,”  Matthew 6:3 NIV

As I reflect on my first day back home I realized that even in small ways I am recognizing the needs of others and feeling compelled to act.

I was in a grocery store yesterday. A capable looking senior was ahead of me at the checkout. He was struggling to fit all his groceries in a knapsack. He managed to put the remaining groceries in a second bag he had. I asked if he was biking home. His response was, “No, I’m walking.” When I heard where he lived I offered to take him to his house. He jumped at the offer, saying it would definitely save his legs.

On the ride over to his apartment building Ron, as he had introduced himself, commented about Cobourg being a ‘Nobourg’ kind of place. He had struggled all his life with jobs eventually ending up in Cobourg. Despite having some very marketable skills, each time a company restructured he was the low man on the totem pole and had to go look for employment elsewhere. His life long struggle was evident in the way he presented himself. His appreciation for the lift was heartfelt.

Learning by listening

At various times while cycling across the continent we listened to presentations about projects that had been initiated by local citizens wanting to address specific needs. Many of these projects were run by a small group of volunteers with minimal resources, yet determined to reach out and help. These were projects motivated by people who had a heart for others and were willing to give, give, give.

One community ran a coffee house in which they offered breakfast ‘free or by donation’ a couple times a week. Their facility was small but that didn’t stop them from running a second hand store as well.

Another community re-purposed a church transforming it from a single use place of worship to a multi-use, multi-denominational place of living out one’s Christianity. They lived their faith with the sense that work and worship should be one. It was a place that provided support for people in various ways. They provided shelter, ran a cafe and sold merchandise which had been made locally.

Each time we listened to a presentation we were shown another initiative that would bring a shimmer of hope back into the lives of the poor.

We also heard about projects being done by Partners Worldwide, one of the tour sponsors. Partners Worldwide does work in several developing countries. It’s the business model that they have adopted that I find most intriguing – they are intentional about ending the cycle of poverty. Or shall I say they are intentional about ending of dependency, getting people beyond relying on the kindness or generosity of others to hopefully meet their basic needs.

Partners Worldwide works with people by using the resources on hand to help a person or family become financially independent. They will mentor farmers so they can grow crops that are more productive and help them with getting quality produce to market. In some locations they will assist with fees to verify that the farmer has legal title to the land.

Partners Worldwide will also provide micro-loans so farmers have start up money. With the comprehensive support that is being offered, farmers are often able to repay the loan ahead of schedule.

The most encouraging part of this type of help, is that the farmers who succeed become mentors to others in the community. Living with regained dignity and new found hope, out of thankfulness they want to help others. You could say, helping people out of poverty becomes contagious.

Learning through conversation

When cycling through towns and villages it was very easy to get into conversations with people as people are going about their daily activities. The slow speed of a bike and the fact that bikes don’t have a barrier called a windshield, put me in direct contact with people.  Sometimes it was just a quick greeting and a couple of words. Other times it was a longer conversation in which a person shared their struggles or disappointments.

I got a sense that when a person shares their story there is an underlying sense of  hope. They might be describing their struggles but in sharing they told their story, a story of perseverance, a story of hope.

These were stories of celebration. These stories weren’t about a life of abundance, but rather one of simplicity, one of thankfulness because their basic needs are met. They were out and about. They were participating in their community.

The poor, those who have lost hope are not interested in sharing their story.  My sense is that once someone reaches out and partners with them they will begin to regain their self worth. As they start to feel the stirrings of hope they will begin to share their story.

A Cobourg initiative

for many people, poverty is only one mishap away. It might be a car breaking down and no longer being able to get to work. Repairing the car might mean there is not enough money for rent at the end of the month.

Last spring, a report was shared at a meeting in Cobourg. According to a survey conducted in the spring of 2017 there are over 1000 people in Northumberland County that are homeless. Some of those people are on the street. Some of those people are ‘couch surfing’. Some of those people are hidden from view in other ways.

Cobourg has a unique way of helping people with one of their essential needs. A group of volunteer have set up a ‘do it yourself’ shop to help community members with some basic transportation needs. Cycle Transitions helps community members acquire an affordable bike and teach them how to maintain it. The shop has volunteers who offer their experience with bicycle repair and take the time to teach cyclists to do their own repairs. Those who can’t afford a bike can earn one by volunteering at the shop and build up ‘sweat equity’ towards owning a bike.

I love this model of working with people who have minimal resources. It is empowering. Each person who works through Cycle Transitions not only gets a bike for basic transportation, but learns how to maintain a bike. They’ve earned the bike and have a vested interest and the knowledge to keep it in safe working order.

What’s next

I hope to explore ways in which I can make a difference for people who live in poverty. I started the ride with a general sense of it is good to help the poor. I completed the ride with a strong conviction that there are effective ways to help people. The dozen or so success stories I heard this summer means there are a thousand more untold success stories out there.

I will continue to promote awareness of ways in which we can work to end the cycle of poverty, one person or one family at a time.

The oldest rider who cycled with us the whole way was 81 years old. He has many years on me. Don’t be surprised when I find another opportunity to take on another cycling adventure that helps raise money and awareness about poverty. There will always be people who need and would welcome a hand up, a mentor or someone to partner with them.

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Matthew 25: 35-40 NIV
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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.

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

Overwhelmed by…

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One kilometer view of a Century Ride

Set up for a Century Ride

About a week ago, after having struggled with sensory overload for a couple of days I was happy to be riding, enjoying the countryside and taking in the sound of birds during the quiet moments along Highway 1, also known as the Tran-Canada. I was doing a century ride of 163 kms into Regina.

The first two weeks of the ride had it’s challenges. At this point things had settled down and I was getting into a workable routine.

I woke up that morning to find out that my glasses had fallen out of the mesh holder and and must have broken when I rolled onto them. The lens was lying in one place and the left arm was broken. My attention was initially on salvaging my glasses as best I could. I got the lens reseated with no apparent damage. I taped the broken arm which not surprisingly failed later in the day.

The scenario with the glasses put me behind schedule. Of all days to encounter a delay. It was going to be a hot day, and we were scheduled to pull out of camp at 5:30 rather than the usual 7:00 start. The intent was to get as many kilometers behind us before it got hot and before the favourable winds would turn against us.

After about an hour of hard cycling, partly to make up for lost time and partly to help dissipate the sensory loading of the morning’s setback, I was gradually finding myself in a better space.

On schedule, as predicted, at about eight o’clock as the thermal convection overpowered the predominant westerly flow of air, we began fighting a headwind. For the remaining 80 km of the ride we were fighting either a headwind or a crosswind. The occasional windbreak gave some appreciable relief.

Despite the elements we were facing, I was doing well and enjoying the ride. It looked like it would be a ride that would leave me with some energy to spare.

Turning Point

Just fifteen kilometers from the campground we were passing through a highway construction zone. As we approached the active working area I was sizing up the pile driver that was working in the median. I could see from the regular puff of smoke rising from the hammer, that it was on a 10 second cycle, pounding in steel columns for a new overpass.

There was no alternate route. As I approached the rig I covered my left ear with my hand hoping to block as much of the shock waves as possible. The bombardment of the sound waves got progressively stronger. Before I was even abreast of the pile driver I knew I was in trouble. I could feel my brain going into shutdown. I had no choice but to keep pedaling. Traffic was moving slowly but was heavy. I put all my energy into keeping myself moving forward as I felt my brain turning to mush. When I was almost past the rig I was in tears. The pounding was overwhelming, bombarding my whole body. The hand covering my left ear virtually ineffective. My eyes were stinging because of the mix of sweat, sunscreen and tears.

I remembered how one air horn blast from a truck a few days ago set my recovery back a half hour. I lost track of the number of hammer blasts. Given the time it took to pass the rig  there must have been 20 to 30 hammer blasts before I was out of range.

When the bombardment of the pile driver faded enough I stopped at the side of the highway trying to pull myself together. At the urging of my cycling buddy I started cycling again to get out of the construction zone and away from the traffic.

A kilometer further was one of our refreshment stops. I made it to the stop and then knowing I was out of danger, I physically, mentally and emotionally fell apart. I stumbled around trying to get my bearings, searching for a sense of pulling myself together. Meanwhile I was too incoherent to explain to the attendant that I would be okay. At least I wanted to convince myself I would be okay. Her concern was in order because she said she had never seen me in such a rough condition.

I sat down for about five minutes to let the worst of the sensory impact fade. After a bit my riding buddy decided that if I was not ready to ride in two more minutes I should be sagged into camp.

Problem solving challenge

I was in a tough situation. When I am in crisis my ability to problem solve is seriously compromised. I had not anticipated the scenario that had just unfolded in the past 15 minutes and therefore had not considered possible exit plans.

Yet I was forced to weigh the options. Ending the ride there with 15 km to go would mean I would miss the exhilaration of completing the ride and instead have to deal with emotions of disappointment on top of the sensory overload I was already dealing with. To stay at the SAG stop meant I would not be able to do my end of the ride recovery protocol within the most effective time frame. Also, cycling is an effective way to help dissipate some of the sensory loading (unless I am feeling physically exhausted), while taking a ride in a vehicle would add to my sensory loading.

I opted to continue cycling since there were only 15 km left. I was trying to determine how much of my decision was influenced by being too proud to stop when I had managed other rather difficult parts of the tour. Had it been significantly further to the camp I would have packed it in for the day. (Easy to say that now as I look back on it.) Despite the heavy traffic getting to the far side of Regina, the rest of the ride went well, though I noticed my riding was not as steady and needed a few reminders to be attentive..

Willing support

When I arrived in camp I experienced a supportive community at it’s best. My riding buddy stepped in and arranged for people to help with my end of ride protocol. This involved getting my recovery drinks ready, my tent set up and for this situation to have one person attend to me while the supports were carried out. Once things were set up I lay down in my tent for about an hour. Didn’t sleep much in that time but was away from others and could relax. A couple people told me later they adjusted my tent fly so that I would be out of the direct sunlight. The tent fly had only been installed part way so there would be additional venting as it was still in the mid 30’s C.

I am interested in see if the earplugs would make a difference. Not that I’m interested in finding out at this time. I was told the earplugs would likely have minimal effect. The nature of the pounding is such that the whole body is impacted, not just the ears. I now pack a set of earplugs with my bike just in case.

After thought

What an experience to travel with a group of people who are focused on each person being cared for. It’s like the success of the tour depends on the success of each person who is part of the tour.

There is a strong sense that we are on a big ride for an even bigger cause.

Life in the Bicycle Lane

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Bison Transport, a company with the most courteous drivers on the road.

More than a Routine

One could try to summarize the Sea to Sea ride as a simple routine of ‘Eat, Sleep, Bike’ though not necessarily in that order or at the same time. One couldn’t be more mistaken.

It has become very clear to me that life in the bicycle lane has a daily routine that is designed with a similar template. However, it’s the content that goes into each day that is as varied or rather more varied than I would sometime like it to be.

Reading My Gauge

I have learned to read my overall well-being according to how well I am able to carry out the numerous early morning routines. Once I have gone through the routines of breaking camp, getting breakfast, making lunch, doing the personal details of sunscreen and having the bike ready to roll, I measure my well-being based on how many details I missed.

I’ve decided that a score of ten is tops. For every item I forget I lose one point. If I score less than 6 I know I need to make focusing on the ride a priority. That means, minimal conversation while riding, focus on riding steady, and focus on the traffic from behind. A score of 1 or 2 probably means I shouldn’t ride that day.

A difficult visit

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to visit a friend and former colleague that took me back to my teaching time in Alberta. As the tour approached Picture Butte I made inquiries and was able to have a wonderful and meaningful visit.

My friend had a stroke a few months ago and so I knew that with my lack of sensory filters that the visit would take it’s toll on me. It was a short and focused visit. During our visit we had some tearful moments, but for the most part I was able to hold it together. We both understood from experience the difficulty of dealing with loss.

We laughed about things that I didn’t realize she remembered from when I worked with her. She thanked me for visiting. It would have been harder to ride by without stopping to visit. It really was my honour to visit her.

Once I left the building, the full impact of the visit hit me. I was in tears. I was unable to talk. It felt good to be riding, but the tears kept coming. As I turned the corner to get back onto the route I heard someone call my name. I saw a crowd of riders getting treats, and in that crowd was my riding buddy.

Caring support

I had prepped my riding buddy about the visit and so she wasn’t surprised by my condition. I walked past the group of riders to a quiet spot a couple store fronts further away. My riding buddy came over and sat with me. She explained to some others who didn’t know why I was upset that I had just had a difficult visit and needed some quiet time. Our tour chaplain while respecting my need for a quiet space came over and prayed for me.

In the next two hours as I rode I once more gradually became aware of the southern Alberta scenery around me. My riding buddy was able to give me a balance of time alone and offer occasional diversions. Over the next 50 kilometers I was gradually feeling more at peace.

Moving ahead

The next morning I knew I was still dealing with some significant emotional sensory loading of the previous day. The shorter ride mapped out for the day was a bonus.

Not thirty kilometers into the ride a passing truck driver intended to give a friendly honk. What came out was an ill-timed blast of the horn just as the truck was beside me. While my riding buddy noticeably jumped in her saddle, I was overwhelmed by the blast. I was instantly into sensory overload. I was in tears off and on for the next hour. The blast set my recovery back a half day.

The emotional sensory loading from the previous day was still at a high and sensitive level. The emotions reside in the Temporal lobe of the brain which is near the ears. The assault on the ears will suddenly put a person back into a recent emotional event. It’s like suddenly and unexpectedly being dropped right back into the event.

Despite this additional setback, when it comes to ‘cost / benefit’ I had no regret making the visit the day before. I was fine dealing with the setback and letting the rhythm of the ride gradually bring me into a better space. The routine of looking ahead, checking my rear view mirror for traffic and scanning the countryside was helping to dissipate the acuteness of the sensory loading.

The need to be aware

Not fifty kilometer further the healing affect of the cycling abruptly ended. I noticed an oncoming transport truck suddenly swerve towards me. The driver having noticed too late some debris in his lane. As he focused on straightening out his rig, I noticed the second trailer was out of control and swaying wildly as it moved towards our lane.

My riding recalls me saying, “What’s going on.” Then, “Whoa!!!”

I was trying to get her attention because she was about 3 or 4 car lengths closer to the impending disaster. I was concerned about her not having enough time to get out of the way.

My riding buddy was concerned about me. From her position she saw she was out of the trajectory of the second trailer. She pictured me being right in the path if the swaying trailer.

The driver was able to regain full control. We tried not to think about the further complication had a car been coming up behind us.

It took me about ten minutes to recover from the immediate effect of the close call. I decided I would carry on. Can’t change was had just happened. I reasoned that should a third incident happen that day I would call for SAG support and call it a day.

Coming into camp

As we approached the end of the 150 km ride my riding buddy was ware that I was still struggling with the sensory loading of the previous day, compounded by the two incidents this day.

As we rolled into camp she immediately summoned help. She had one person take the bike off my hands. She sent someone else for my tent and sleeping bag. She herself got my recovery drink ready and made sure that I lay down and begin the recovery protocol. Slept for almost two hours before supper time.

After a good night of rest, the next day was a great ride. It was a long day with 165 km to cover. Thankful for a shorter ride the day before, and ready for a long ride that day.

Why do what’s hard?

I am beginning to understand people who are able to be passionate and enjoy an activity despite dealing with suffering and difficult experiences in the process.

It’s not that I would go out of my way to do something that causes pain. So why continue with one major set back each week of the first three weeks. Somehow, with this group of riders, the greater the need, the great sense of community that one experiences.

Also, this ride which I hoped would help my rehabilitation is giving me new insight into living with ABI (acquired brain injury). This new insight is based on my own ‘detective’ work and then reinforced by a scientific analysis of the different responses my riding buddy observes. (She told me that I was providing her with a very interesting case study.)

The harder the learning, the more exciting the outcomes. It is definitely rewarding.

 

Love and Support

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It’s been two weeks of the tour and last weekend Jane left the tour to visit a friend in Edmonton. While she had signed on as kitchen help, which everyone has benefited from, the more significant part is that she has been here to see me through the first two weeks of the ride.

What a blessing it has been sharing these two weeks with her. She’s helped to keep me on track when the ride became too challenging. She’s made sure I had things ready and organized on the mornings when I wasn’t in the space to pull things together. She made sure I got supper when I overslept my 2 hour post-ride recovery nap.

Jane is leaving the tour knowing that there are other riders who are looking out for me. Several riders have offered their help. All I need to do is ask. It would do me well to ask Andrew or Stuart to make sure I don’t over sleep in the afternoon and miss supper. It would do me well to not be hesitant to ask for help with other needs, because failure to do that would come at my expense.

It’s become very clear to me, when I see the offers of support that I’m not alone in wanting to have a successful ride. Fellow riders are determined to help me have a successful ride.

In looking back, I realize I would not have managed much past the third day of the ride if it wasn’t for the support I have received from a number of people. I am still dumbfounded to end up with a riding buddy who is not only a brain injury specialist but had been assigned as a member of my Service Team. As members of a Service Team we have devotion and sharing time with 6 or 7 people (depending on which week of the tour one looks at the list.) There is only one word for that, providence.

With Jane taking a break from the tour I know I will continue to receive the support I need. And for Jane it is reassuring to know I have caring and supportive people around me.

Helpers, helping the helpers raise awareness for a cause that aims to help people to End The Cycle of Poverty.

Shelter Valley Folk Festival revisited

20160904_112806One Year Later

What a difference one year can make. Last year I attended the Shelter Valley Folk Festival (SVFF), as it has been our family tradition for almost a dozen years. I was totally blindsided when I succumbed to sensory overload within 30 minutes of settling in to three days of enjoying the music. Exiting from the grounds was a challenge. The sensory overload made walking difficult adding an additional ten minutes of exposure to live music. So much for enjoying a full weekend of music.  …and no refund on my ticket.

Day One

A year later, after realizing a measure of healing, I decided to venture into the live music venue again. I had reason to believe things would go better.  I had made some accommodations. I was rationing the intake of music with the use of custom fitted musician earplugs. Technically the earplugs reduce the sound intensity by 15 decibels. That means less sensory input for my brain to process.  The first evening went well for about two hours. After that I began to get restless, began to lose focus and was feeling ‘zoned out’. That was my cue to head home. Mindfulness in action.

The timing of my decision to go home was prudent. However, the sensory loading of two hours of live music left me wired and out of bed an hour longer than usual. Also, the effects of the SVFF experience disrupted my usual pre-sleep routine. Most notable was forgetting to go through a ‘progressive muscle relaxation’ routine. This resulted in a short night, waking up much earlier than usual.

Day Two

Shelter ValleyThe second morning we once again drove the forty km to SVFF. By the time we had hauled our lawn chairs, knapsack of food and our grandson into the venue I was getting indications of reaching my limit. Having picked up on the cue, (mindfulness in action) I intentionally slowed down my pace for the day. I listened to the music from a greater distance than the night before. I made sure to avail myself of snacks regularly and remain hydrated.

In this manner I was able to take in a second day of music – six hours. No where near the twelve hours of SVFF music that would make up the full day. The part I was able to take in was relaxing and enjoyable.

I arrived home by supper time feeling tired but not overwhelmed.

Day Three

I felt brave enough to attempt day three of the weekend event. The Friday night and Saturday daytime had gone well enough to carry on.

On arriving at the festival, I realized I was not going to be able to relax and enjoy the music. After less than a half hour I wandered over to the display tents. This turned out to be a chance to touch base with people I hadn’t seen in awhile. Great conversations and some caring encouragement. That did more for me than a third day of music, having the music provide a back drop to visiting with artisans and friends.

No substitute

One thing that stands out for me is the difference between live music and recorded music. Pacing myself so as to avoid sensory overload speaks to the vibrancy of live music. Recorded music can not capture the range, resonance and context of music performed for immediate consumption, music that reflects the musician’s connection with their audience. It’s much like there is no effective substitute for visiting with friends, exchanging a hug, the smile, the eye contact and everything else that is part of sharing and being alive.

Music nourishes and revives the soul. Each song finds a place and then gradually emerges at surprising moments replaying some comforting lyrics or simply bringing a sense of wellbeing as the music replays itself.