When a man in a wheel chair offers you a racing handcycle to ride you don't say no, or at least I didn’t say no.
750 km later I still wouldn’t say no.
My decision didn't really have anything to do with the man being in a wheelchair either.
When I arrived at the Tilson homestead on Manitoulin Island I didn’t really know what to expect but I had heard mumblings in town about a hippy commune. I was greated by hugs from strangers who instantly became friends. That’s the beauty of being open to a hug or speaking to a stranger. Friendship is only a smile away. Although the Permaculture farm was still in development it was producing a plethora of amazing food and happy people. A perfect place for me to rest out a storm and suss out a new mode of transport. Before I had a chance to sit in it I had already made up my mind. It simply seemed like too much fun to pass up.
I had been warned by Justin that it would be harder and slower but the novelty of it was too good to pass up. The plan was to have some folks from the farm drop it off in Thunder Bay on their way across Canada in Mid September which would be perfect timing for my arrival there in canoe.
A month later after a great finish to my time on the water (a blog to come from Katie) and a lovely visit from my sister I was ready to go. Thankfully I had some new friends to stay with in Thunder Bay as the bike arrived later than expected. I watched some Jays games on T.V. for the first time in decades and did lots of yoga.
Sitting down on the bike and cruising around town in Thunder Bay without my gear made me feel like a little kid in a go-cart. Leaving town heading uphill with a fully loaded trailer made me feel like some sort of out of shape half assed Rick Hansen impersonator. Thankfully Justin had added an extra small chain ring in order to make it up steeper hills. Unfortunately that meant that I could know hand cycle at a speed slower than I could walk. I only had another 740km to go!
The first day of a multi day expedition with minimal training is usually the hardest and that day was no exception. The fact that it involved the most climbing of the journey added to the challenge. Fortunately there was one very nice steep downhill in which I was able to experience the speed at which the high tech racing bike could travel. I had heard it can handle 80km/h but I think I maxed out at 65km/h. That’s around the time when a temporary construction zone light at the bottom of the hill went red. Time to test the disc brake on the front wheel, hmmmm I had been warned it was underwhelming! Time to test the rear brakes and the trailer brakes…oh yeah I don't have those. Time to test the soles of my shoes! The smell of burning rubber eased me towards the stop lights.
I found camp that night on a dirt side road beside the highway and climbed my food into a tree with hopes that the dry bag and the height of the food might keep any hungry bears away. In two months I had yet to be bothered at my camp by any animals larger than a racoon. Thankfully that is still the case.
I handled on (you don’t pedal a hand cycle do you?) towards Atikokan. Good friends of mine had put me in touch with their relatives in Atikokan and I was greeted by Ken where the Arctic watershed begins. He had contacted a friend and found me a place to stay along the way to Atikokan. That night I found myself at the Quetico College School. I met the man who is turning this old conference centre into the coolest school around with a bmx park and jumps everywhere, including one off the dock into the lake.
He bmx bikes everywhere at age 65 and was stoked to join me for the 30km into Atikokan the next day. I found family in Atikokan and presented at the High School and the Hospital. It was an interesting experience speaking to people who I couldn’t really tell if they were listening, understanding, or even interested at all. I’m not talking about the high school kids…The folks at the hospital were all dealing with serious mental illness.
I also stopped in at the Atikokan Youth Centre as they were expecting a visit from me. I walked on stilts and met some of the awesome Atikokan kids who are benefiting from having a safe and healthy place to go after school. I was impressed by their edible gardens and the fact that youth are actively involved in the governance of the organization. I’m now proud to be raising funds for them. www.atikokanyouth.org.
I then handled on towards Kenora and the temperature began to drop. I had amazing visits at Mine Centre School, Sturgeon Creek School, and Nestor Falls School. A couple of quotes from students; “Can I pet your beard?”, “I no longer want to be a soldier when I grow up, I want to be an explorer!”. I stayed the night with a Principal and her family and had the pleasure of enjoying a hot tub. Other homes along the way included; a municipal campground where I didn’t speak to a soul, camp in the woods beside one of the schools, a beautiful fishing lodge that I was welcomed to by someone who saw me cycling in the cold rain, and an entire provincial park campground to myself, as it was closed.
I was guided into Kenora by my new friend, Lynda, who had come to meet me on the highway and showed me to an angel’s home. I was given a schedule for my time there. School presentations, a public event, yoga, and more filled my wonderful days in Kenora. I could get use to having someone plan my days and fill them with good people. Would anyone like to work with me?
I was also introduced to the Kenora Transition Initiative and was immediately interested in supporting them. “We are modelled on the global Transition Network with a few twists that reflect our regional culture and interests. The philosophy behind this movement is that if we wait for our governments to act, it will be too late. If we act as individuals, it will be too little. But if we act as a community, it might just be enough, just in time.” From http://www.transitioninitiativekenora.com/ It warms my soul knowing that communities around the world are getting together and starting the movement towards a sustainable way of life. Don’t be afraid of the future. Be excited to see what we can do when we work together.
I left Kenora sooner than I would have liked but I had thoughts of the cold prairie winter ahead and a pogo stick to hop on. Thankfully I had the company of a great cycling partner for half the day. My new friend took me to the border of Manitoba. I only had two days of cycling to get to Winnipeg but the days would be long and stressful as I was on the Trans Canada with little to no shoulder for most of the time. Looking over my shoulder frequently and diving into the soft gravel became the routine.
You would think that having experienced that stress I would be campaigning for nice shoulders on highways so it’s safe for bikers. That is not the case. I think we have enough pavement in Canada and if anything we should be investing in ways to need less of it. It costs a fortune to build roads and we still have people in our country living without potable running water. We have many people in need of social assistance, mental healthcare, and education. A few km’s of paved shoulder could feed and educate hundreds of kids in developing countries who otherwise might not survive childhood. It’s a stretch to look at the world this way but I think it’s important to put things in perspective sometimes. We can do better. Way better.
I arrived in Winnipeg on Thanksgiving Sunday and was welcomed to a feast with a family of 12! I was put in touch through a good friend and I instantly felt at home with my new family. I had a ton to be grateful for, as I always do.