Friday, April 24, 2015
The messages from Michael are starting to become routine, but also ever longer. Read about Michael’s adventures today:
"I did not sleep very long and wake up early. After a shower I go downstairs for breakfast. My host is going to cook scrambled eggs especially for me and in the meantime I try to fix out the internet connection, but I can’t figure it out.
When the eggs are ready, I take a seat at the table. It is a beautiful B&B and the breakfast is excellent. There is toast, bagels, croissants, all kinds of spreads and fresh coffee.
Even after breakfast I still can’t understand what is wrong with the internet connection. Thankfully I am given the option to use their private connection and this is more successful. It must have something to do with the internet security at the B&B. Nevertheless, I have a perfect connection.
In addition to that, I have a wonderful chat with the owner. She taught Management courses at the University in Ottawa and researched about cooperation between several universities. She has taken a low profile recently while she wants to start writing a book. The funny thing is that she suggests that I inspire her to get back to working on her dream of writing a book. She can’t seem to get started because the B&B takes up all her time.
After our conversation I check my email again because I had put out several requests for interviews to local media. I also have to send the photo of myself and the Terry Fox van to the Canadian Museum of History. Sending and responding to email is a time consuming proposition and I decide I’d rather enjoy my time on the bike. But I am going to meet with people from the Ottawa Citizen at 1:30 in front of the statue of the Man with Two Hats.
Because I want to be photographed with all my stuff I have to pack and get my bike ready. I take a good look at the route I am to take, because I don’t trust my GPS which keeps directing me to highways. However, once I am on way I am pleasantly surprised by its accuracy; I set it up to avoid highways and direct me to bicycle routes and it seems to work! It is a beautiful ride by the Rideau Canal where the water level is particularly low in order that it can be cleaned out. There is even snow still here and there and ice. It is not a pleasant temperature for cycling at 5C degrees and with the wind in my face...
I arrive on time at the statue and a photographer is already waiting. Action! First he has me biking back and forth and afterwards I get to make his aquantance. He inquires after my story and I proceed to tell him what I have been doing up 'til now. “Good” he says. “In a minute we will start filming and maybe you can repeat the story at that time”.
All in all we spend about 45 minutes before he is happy with the results. Just before he leaves a cyclist passes by who starts speaking Dutch. He says to be an avid cyclist and that his parents emigrated to Canada in 1960. His name is Alex de Vries. The photographer says his goodbyes and moves on and I forget to ask him for a digital copy of his work and when it will all be published.
The conversation with the Alex is very special; we continue in English and he gives me many good tips. He asks if I have a place to sleep tonight and offers for me to stay at his house. I tell him that I am already staying at the B&B and that tomorrow I will be staying with family in Merrickville. “Why don’t you come and have dinner with us then tonight?” he suggests and I take him up on his offer. He takes some shots with my camera of myself with the statue. He records my email address in his iPhone and sends me an email with his. “My girlfriend also has Dutch parents and she would love it if you came”.
The next thing I want to do today is to visit the General Hospital of Ottawa. After a 5 km bike ride I arrive and first I go the the children’s hospital. However, no matter how well I present myself and how wonderful they think my initiative is, they cannot allow me access to hand out my wrist bands without official permission. They do give me some contact information of a fundraising association connected to the hospital. It is quite understandable but I felt I had to try.
I go next door to the Cancer Research centre. Also there, people are impressed with my mission especially that I am doing it all by myself. I am a little more successful here but still not allowed to hand out any wrist bands. “But you can give one to me!” says a woman in a wheel chair. She tells me that she has been fighting cancer for six years now and would love to have a wrist band to display on her wheel chair. O fcourse I give her one and tell her that I also ride for her. A little twinkle in her eyes shows her emotion. “You are a good man. There need to be more of your kind.”
The receptionist takes me to meet one of her colleagues who works in Support. She welcomes me with open arms, but unfortunately she also can not permit me to drop off anything; this is to protect the patients. She suggests I go to the Communications Department. Here people are flabbergasted to see this crazy Dutch guy show up on a Friday afternoon with wrist bands. I leave some behind and they promise to hand them out to people who are going through a tough fase in their treatments at the moment. I receive more contacts and they promise to spread the word about my tour. They are also curious to know what sarcoidosis actually is. My explanation in English mostly falls short when I have to talk about medical things.
Moments later I am outside again and a man who looks like an Inuit approaches me and asks if he can take a picture for his wife who is ill. I give him a wrist band to give to his wife who appears to be still inside. I am not sure of their situation and am afraid to ask. I get the impression that she might not be receiving any more treatment and that nothing can be done for her anymore. The woman does not say much but mumbles a “thank you”. Apparantly they live in the northern part of Newfoundland which may explain their Inuit looks.
When I leave after a heartfelt goodbye, I wonder if this was the right thing to do; to stand eye to eye with people whose life may be nearing the end. “Who am I that I feel the need to show myself here like this?” I trust that I am to follow my heart, which I did, and I was overwhelmed by the suffering I witnessed in the past hour. It makes me realize just how lucky I am!
After 4.5 km I am back at the B&B and take all my bags off my bike to carry them upstairs once again. I get in touch with Alex de Vries, who I met this morning, and we agree to go to a nice Chinese restaurant tonight. Great! I have to bike about 4kms to Alex’s house. He greets me at the front door and invites me to park my bike behind the house. He lives in a semi-detached house in a very livable part of Ottawa. He then introduces me to his girlfriend and his friend Hans who is and speaks Dutch. I really enjoy their company and we start talking about the route I am taking through Canada. They seem to be familiar with it and point out the long distances. They advise me not to bike from Thunder Bay to Winnipeg as there is only one road between the two cities and all traffic has to go on it. For the most part there is no shoulder and most every year cyclists are killed on that stretch of road. Plus there is a good chance to encounter bears there aswell, which I heard before in Newfoundland.
We have a drink and walk over to the Chinese restaurant. It feels like I have known them forever and it is nice to be able to speak Dutch. At the restaurant I have a delicious type of noodle soup. Time flies while the four of us have an enjoyable meal together. I am not allowed to pay my bill as Alex takes cares of it for everyone. As we receive our fortune cookies, mine says: “It is time to meet new friends.” Well, it appears to be so!
We talk all the way back to the house and are having a great time. At the house I take some photos of the four of us as a nice memory. How special is it, to meet someone like that and to have such an enjoyable time. When Hans wants to leave I also say my goodbyes. I thank everyone for their hospitality and take off.
Outside I spot a raccoon but am unable to take a picture of him. In front of the house there are a couple more, but they’re gone before I can take a photo. Oh well, I am sure to get more opportunties as time goes by.
Back at the B&B I go upstairs and quickly to bed. Tomorrow I am going to see family!"
Han Schomakers, editor
Translation by Sytske van der Veen
Your goal should be to continue your path to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario and then take a bus over the great lake (Lake Superior) and all the way to Kenora, Ontario and continue biking from Kenora to the West.
I have driven across Canada many times and the part of Canada that I regret driving through is from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario to Kenora, Ontario. That area is the Canadian Shield. It is a rocky area that covers most of Ontario. There are no farms, no towns, no people, all trees and small lakes. And hills. So many hills. That portion up over Lake Superior is extremely remote. There is a section of road that does not have Internet service for 600 km. There are no hotels or restaurants for hundreds of kilometers. It is all rolling hills, up and down and left and right, over and over and over again. There is only one road so you will have every single large transport truck coming West and East. Whenever I drive across Canada, I often cross into the USA at Sault Ste. Marie, ON. I would highly suggest you take a bus from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario and take the bus all the way to Kenora, ON. That way you can still see the extremely remote part of the country. From Kenora, it is still hilly, but you will soon see the transition from the Canadian Shield to the Great Plains near the Manitoba border. The deep dark forest on the rolling Canadian shield will transition to broad leaf trees and flat plains as you get near the Manitoba border. From Manitoba and all the way to the Alberta/BC border is the great plains. This is most flat (with some river valley hills). The people are mostly farmers and very friendly. There are a lot of small towns along the way. You will find people and stores in case you need repairs.
Trust me, once you arrive to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, please take a bus to Kenora, Ontario. That part of the journey is one you want to see from the safety of a bus, and not on the road. There is no place to stay or find shelter and your chances of meeting a bear or wolf is greatest along that area. There are bears and there are wolves and no camp grounds or hotels.
Sudbury, Ontario is where there is a lot of mining as the Canadian Shield is full of minerals.
The Toronto area is busiest part of Canada and thousands and thousands of fast moving cars and trucks. This is not an area that is familiar to me, but I know there are a lot of farms in this region as well. Lots of small towns. I would advise taking the secondary roads so you can see the small towns and the nature and not a busy highway full of traffic.
Your goal should be to continue your path to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario and then take a bus over the great lake (Lake Superior) and all the way to Kenora and continue biking from Kenora, Ontario to the West. There are literally hundreds and hundreds of lakes in that region and Kenora is a great transition point from the vast remote Canadian Shield and to become the Great Plains.