Mobilize March v2.0 for Easter Seals Ontario

From the moment I was diagnosed at 3 months old with Congenital, Muscular Dystrophy my parents raised me to be a fighter. While my parents acknowledged there would be challenges, they truly believed life with a disability did not have to be a life of no ability. It is because of their undying support that I have been able to accomplish some pretty amazing things in my short life, all because they wouldn’t let me use the word “can’t.” In many ways, it was for my parents that I set off from London in 2008, to honour their hard work and help show the people of Ontario just how “able” someone with a disability could be. On my trip to Ottawa, I hoped to show people that contrary to the popular euphemism “confined to a wheelchair,” wheelchairs are actually about freedom. Unfortunately, wheelchairs are expensive pieces of equipment, the average electric chair running over $20,000, with limited funding to offset the burden placed on families whose youth have disabilities. The result are youth left stuck, immobile in their own homes, watching their friends play as they wait for funding to come through.

Enter Easter Seals Ontario. Easter Seals is an organization that helps fund the costs of these crucial pieces of equipment to help get kids moving again. Over the years, Easter Seals has helped thousands of families like mine purchase equipment that helps us overcome our limitations and live independent lives. Recently though, as our community tightens our collective belts, Easter Seals London had to waitlist two families in dire need of equipment funding last year, a nightmare scenario set to repeat itself this year as international disasters have diverted much of the local moneys to support those worthy causes. The result, however, is more families in London may be waitlisted this year, left in the lurch, waiting for equipment that is needed now.

On May 29th in Springbank Park, supporters of Easter Seals are gathering for the “Walk With Me” event to help raise money to ensure this does not happen. Youth and adults alike from the London community will be using their legs to help kids with disabilities get moving and it didn’t seem right for me to not do my part and help out. It is for this reason that on Friday, May 28th of 2010, I am taking to the road once again, this time driving my electric wheelchair around the circumference of London to raise awareness about the dire need of funding for Easter Seals in London to help us continue to support youth with disabilities in our community. The marathon will take me over 10 hours to complete, start to finish, and will be the longest drive in a single day that I have ever made in my electric wheelchair, totaling over 90km. The trip will be tough and the road will be long, but it’s a journey that would not have been possible without organizations like Easter Seals to help pay for the wheelchair. On May 28th of 2010, I will show London just how able we can be if we have the right support and that’s where you come in.

On Friday, while I’m out on the road, show your support by going to the Easter Seals Ontario website and making a donation online or make a donation to support a friend or family member who is participating in the “Walk With Me” event on Saturday. Your donation will go a long way to getting kids with disabilities in London moving again.

Idling: A Transit Story

After a year of pondering and editing, we’re approaching the online release date of Idling: A Transit Story.

Idling: A Transit Story is an online documentary produced by Jeff Preston, chronicling the lack of accessible transportation in London, Ontario and across the province. Follow Jeff on his mission to bring about change the disabled population desperately needs by driving his wheelchair over 650km from his home in London, Ontario to the nation’s capital in Ottawa.

The documentary will be released in parts beginning on September 4th, 2009 with new chapters being released weekly. The full documentary will be available for free download from www.getmobilized.ca once all chapters have been released online.

Day 46 — A fitting end…

Tonight is our last night in Ottawa. Tomorrow we return to London in a mere fraction of the time it took us to get here. It’s going to be a really surreal experience watching the past two months literally roll past me on the other side of the window, in reverse, over the course of 7 hours. I can only assume it will be something like when I use to put in the time to watch a movie on VHS and then rewind it back to the beginning, undoing the progress of the past two hours in mere seconds. I guess it will be a good opportunity to sit back and reflect on what I have seen and done…or at the very least, read over my thesis again, which I have to defend on Monday.

Ugh. Back to normal life.

I had ambitions to start today off with a bang and do a bit of sight seeing around Ottawa before heading over to Parliament for our meeting, but sleepy heads prevailed and I spent most of the morning snoozing. I’m still trying to get caught up on sleep and energy lost over the trip and to be honest it will probably be another few weeks before I’m back to normal. I hate to admit it, my mom probably won’t let me forget this, but it was really draining on the road, constantly “going” and rarely taking time to relax. Even when I wasn’t drive, I was almost always up to something, whether it be writing letters, making phone calls, meeting with people, or simply trying to find a cozy place to grab an hour nap.

Although it took a bit longer than I care to admit, I finally got moving and got some work done before heading out for Parliament Hill. Once again it was rainy…I swear it is never sunny in this city! I’ve been told it’s normally quite nice: I’m beginning to worry the people of Ottawa may think I brought this weather with me. I promise, it’s not me! I usually bring nice weather!

So we arrived at Parliament Hill and it was quite the sight. From the road, you really can’t drink in just how epic the Peace Tower really is–it is unbelievable up close and personal. Because of the near-constant flow of tourists (mostly school students), we got to use a special “Parliament Business” door and look like big important people on our way in, however this did not prevent us from having to go through security, which I can say was significantly stricter than security at Queens Park but not as bad as an airport. After getting through the pat downs and metal detectors (which are fun to go through in wheelchairs) we were escorted over to another security/information desk where we were given our passes and directed to Minister Fletcher’s office. Our meeting with Minister Fletcher went quite well and we agreed on quite a few things. It was really interesting hearing about what the Conservative Government is up to right now, especially in terms of disability. I was really happy with how everything went and even got a set of Minister Fletcher collectible cards. Oh yes, Minister Fletcher has a set of baseball-esque trading cards. They are pretty hilarious–I totally love them. It’s a hilarious idea for sure and speaks to how friendly and personable Minister Fletcher genuinely is. I’m excited to see where our discussion today will lead and look forward to working with Minister Fletcher in the future.

As the trip is winding to an end, I received some tremendous news tonight. After working through a very long Annual General Meeting, I was officially nominated and elected to sit on the Citizens with Disabilities Ontario’s (CWD-O) Board of Directors (link here). This is one of the largest disability advocacy groups in Ontario and are in the process of becoming the Ontario branch of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities–one of the most successful disability advocacy groups in the world. I’m really excited to begin working with this organization and can’t wait to lend some of my expertise as one of the directors of this proud and productive organization.

The slogan I have been using during this trip is “Together we can get people moving.” Fittingly, the slogan of the CWD-O is “Together we are stronger,” something I couldn’t agree with more.

So on a trip based on getting people together, on bringing people together, and getting people engaged, I cannot think of a more fitting end than by actively getting involved with a coalition of disability advocates to work together for change.

Working together to get people moving.

Tomorrow, we arrive in London. Saturday we have our welcome home party. I promise to upload the final video blog sometime before dinner on Saturday (the internet is pretty shakey in this hotel).

Can’t wait to see you London, I miss you like mad.

– Jeff

Day 45 — I said “Toronto Maple Leafs” in Ottawa and lived to tell the tale

It was back to business as usual here in Ottawa today. Once again, I was back on the road, back in the rain, traveling from the Rideau Centre to City Hall with local disability advocates. Because of the rain, our group was pretty small again, but we made it safe and sound with lots of honks from supporters along the way.

Upon arriving at City Hall, we were greeted by the media and several other advocates who didn’t want to brave the rain with us (I absolutely don’t blame them!). It was great to see everyone out and I actually ran into an old friend who is apparently going to Carleton now and has gotten into disability advocacy here. I’m really proud of the work he’s doing over at Carleton–I knew that kid was destine for big things!

The meeting got started and unfortunately the disability-portion of the meeting didn’t come until the end. This meant sitting through a very slow, albeit interesting, discussion on the future governing structure of OC Transpo. These preliminary agenda items took up so much time there was only about 20 minutes for public inquiry on Paratranspo at the end of the meeting, meaning that may of the speakers were asked to hold their comments until the next meeting in July. Luckily, I was given the opportunity to talk to the Transportation Committee and express my concerns with the current accessible transportation system in Ottawa. I feel things went pretty good–I even got it on record that I’m a Toronto Maple Leafs fan…in Ottawa!

Victory!

Today was a very productive day and I’ve made even more new friends. It was great to see members of the Ottawa disability community come together to voice their concerns and demand change–together, we are stronger.

Tomorrow we have a pretty light morning, leading up to our final meeting of the trip with MP Steven Fletcher. I’m a little nervous about this meeting as it will be my first time to Parliament Hill, but at the same time I’m unbelievably excited–it’s going to be a blast! It will be really interesting to hear what the Conservative Government is doing right now about accessible transportation in this country and hopefully I can use my meeting with Minister Fletcher as a stepping stone to future conversations with the Federal government about increased funding and support for the disabled population.

Man. I can’t believe tomorrow is our second last day. Time has FLOWN!

– Jeff

Day 44 — Calm before the storm

This is going to be a very short post so I can get to bed at a reasonable time. The rain was still coming down today in Ottawa–does this place ever get sunshine? I swear I haven’t seen an ounce of sunshine since entering the city. Oh well, the weather was sour but it provided an excellent opportunity to swing by the War Museum down by the Parliament Buildings. There are some pretty incredible exhibits, I was totally in awe of the tanks, but one exhibit that really spoke to me was on genetic hygiene (also known as ‘eugenics’) in World War 2. The exhibit was about how medical science conspired with the Nazis to “purify” Germany of unwanted genetic traits (including, but not limited to, disability). It was a really tough exhibit to get through, especially when looking at the photographs of some of the young children who had been put to death because of their genetic “impurities.” What was so terrifying is some of the photos were horrifically similar to photos I can remember being taken of me in hospitals when I was a child. It’s a curious fact, one that many don’t know, that the Holocaust actually first began with the disabled. In fact, the gas chambers the Nazi’s used to commit genocide against the Jewish population were first tested on the disabled (including alcoholics and criminals, traits considered “disabilities” by the Nazis) to make sure the systems would for their sadistic plan to exterminate the Jews. For me, this exhibit brought up the whole idea of “euthanasia” and now in modern times we still have eugenicists and other individuals who advocate euthanasia for the “severely” disabled. The tricky part about all this though is we are then forced to question what an acceptable “quality of life” is–where do you draw the line? I feel I live a pretty great life but to some my “disability” could be so invasive that they would feel they would have no “quality of life” if they were in my situation. It just made me feel really vulnerable seeing how easy it was for a society to begin actively eliminating the disabled. Granted, times have “changed” but it’s horrifying that not only was there little effort to stop this from happening (it began long before they began sending the Jews, Roma and Homosexuals to camps) and to this day few people know the disabled were included in the group of people selected for extermination by the Nazis. It is because of historical events like this that we must always be vigilant and defend those who cannot defend themselves!

Tomorrow is a big day so I should head out. We’re meeting up at the Rideau Centre at 2:30pm to march to City Hall in time for the Joint Transit Meeting at 3:00pm. Hopefully the weather is a bit nicer out! Low and behold, I’m heading back out on the road!
More to come tomorrow,

– Jeff

Day 43 — A sobering taste of reality

I’m in a really strange mental space right now. As I sit in my hotel room tonight, scrawling out this blog post and yacking with a few friends on MSN, I genuinely do feel different than I did 43 days ago. For better or worse I’m not really sure, but I don’t feel like that really matters right now. In what feels like a blink of an eye, I blazed a trail across this province in my feeble little wheelchair, defying most logic and common sense, and while my chair didn’t quite make it all the way, I made it…relatively undamaged at that, despite a bit of a tweaked shoulder. When asked by the Ottawa Citizen upon my arrival whether or not it was worth breaking my chair to make this trip, all I could do was smirk and respond, “You cannot put a price tag on someone’s freedom.”

Yes, the trip may be complete, but I received a cold reminder this morning that the journey is only just beginning. It was announced today that despite the desperate pleas from the disabled population, the City of London has decided to only license another 9 accessible cabs in the city. While this is an improvement from the 9 currently licensed in the city, it does not appear to mandate that all 18 cabs should be on the road at any given time and explains that the bill hopes to “allow the taxi industry the opportunity to voluntarily increase the number of accessible cabs in the City” (quoted from here). While I appreciate the gesture, I believe the individuals who attended the May 5th public meeting on accessible cabs have a pretty good idea on the Taxi Industry’s willingness to voluntarily become accessible…

To be honest, I feel a bit like we’ve been thrown under the wheels of the bus.

Ultimately, the rights of the disabled have once again been broken down to dollars and cents, our needs turned into a “market” where profit matters more than humanity. While the increased number of cabs will certainly help, I must remind the City Council that by adding another 9 accessible cabs, this translate to only 18 individuals with disabilities who can leave their homes at any given time, rather than the alleged “9″ currently able to get access (although they rarely have more than 2 cabs on the road at once). To put this into perspective, there will now be enough cabs to get one hockey team of wheelchair users out to a game, but unfortunately, the opposing team will have to wait a few more hours before their rides arrive.

More than anything though, I’m just sick of being treated like an entirely separate part of the population. This bill merely perpetuates the segregation between the disabled and the nondisabled population–separate systems for seemingly separate people. Why is it okay to look at accessible cabs separate from “regular” cabs and yet it would be completely offensive to begin licensing a set of cabs for women and a set of cabs for men? Where is the line drawn? Where is the distinction?

As I read the report, I could see the metaphorical quick sand creeping up a little higher, continuing to threaten those I know and love. Well, the quick sand may have gained another inch, but by no means have we lost the battle. I’ve still got a lot of spirit left in me and I will not quit until things are better–if nothing else, this trip has only emboldened me more (scary, I know).

But I have good reason to be feeling good about how things are going. Making it to Ottawa has sent a clear message to individuals across this province that things are changing, the tide is turning and the disabled population are on the move. During this trip I have met some incredible people, friends and allies who are behind me in this fight. No longer must we suffering in solitude, no longer will our voices be muted, because together we have the power to raise our voices and collectively demand fair and equal treatment. Together we can demand freedom. Together, we can get people moving. More than that, I’ve seen solutions in action. I’ve seen communities making accessibility work through partnerships with municipal government, the disabled community, and private industry. There are solutions out there to the accessible transportation question, answers that can be profitable for everyone–no longer does this have to be an issue where one group wins at the expense of another. It is from all of these things that my optimism is fueled, because I know the future is going to be brighter and yes, it may take a lot of work and it may take a long time, but we are no longer alone and there is solace in that.
Although the report bore bad news this morning, I think it was a blessing in disguise. These past few days have been a bit of a blur, but for a moment there I was beginning to get it in my head that this thing was all wrapped up. I was sidetracked by the congratulations and the exhaustion and I began to let myself believe that the job was done and it was time to go home, ready to prematurely host the “Mission Accomplished” Banner, and for that I want to humbly apologize to everyone who has supported me throughout these past few weeks. By losing this focus and objectivity I’ve let you down, but I promise it won’t happen again. The job is not done, there is much to do, I just needed a little reminder. It’s time to get back to work and I couldn’t be happier.
So first thing was first this morning–I needed a new phone and a new wheelchair. I half-expected in the back of my mind that this trip would have some causalities, but I never expected my cell phone to be one of them. Unfortunately, it too fell victim to the horrible rain and is now randomly ringing and beeping at all times and attempting to call Celebrity Cab in Toronto…I know, it’s a freaky coincidence. Luckily, there was a phone shop on the way to the Shoppers Home Healthcare depot, so I was able to get two birds with one stone. After getting my phone situation sorted out, we were off to Shoppers to try and get this paper-weight of a chair sorted.

Luckily…LUUUUUUUCKILY…and part-amazingly, the motors on this wheelchair are still chuggin’ along fine! After running a quick diagnostic, the Shoppers rep, Pascal, explained it was the joystick that had fried, a freak result of the rainstorm. He popped my joystick off and threw on a new unit and, low and behold, I was back in business! It’s crazy, but I never realized how disabled I really am until I couldn’t drive around by myself. Even Pete noticed how much I was struggling, saying how funny it was to watch me try and figure out what to do with my hands while I was talking to people (usually they’re occupied by driving around and emoting with the chair). It’s definitely weird to feel so completely reliant on those around you (even to do the simplest things like turn to look at who is talking to you) after being so independent with the electric chair for so long. Heck, I drove it across the province and in the blink of an eye I was reduced to talking paper-weight status. Definitely an interesting extreme to go from hyper-active to completely-passive overnight. But I’m back in action now and I’ve been very nice to my chair today–I have been holding it close and cooing to it lovingly. I’m pretty sure it knows how happy I am to have it back in working order.

After getting back from the service depot I was greeted with more good news! Here in Ottawa, the disabled population are worried about losing Paratranspo, their equivalent of London’s Paratransit (thanks for showing us up Ottawa…your name is way cooler…along with my “Horse Thief Road” initiative I now want to change Paratransit to “PT-Po”…take THAT Ottawa, now who has the shortest, hippest name). As a result, a snap-rally has been planned for Wednesday, one of the few days this week that is suppose to not involve tornadoes, rain, hurricanes, and brimestone falling from the sky. Honestly, I blame this all on Al Gore. Anyway, I received a LOT of emails from people here in Ottawa who wanted to come out yesterday but for obvious reasons were not able to make it, so this rally is being organized to show support for accessible transportation and draw attention to the meeting on accessible transportation happening later that afternoon here in Ottawa. I’m really excited to be a part of it all and I just hope I can lend a hand to community organizers here to bring people out and make a difference–although it looks like these crazy cats don’t need much help at all!

If this wasn’t enough, I also received word that Minister Steven Fletcher of Manitoba would like to sit down and chat with me on Thursday. That’s right sports fans, Mr. Jeffrey Preston is going to the Parliament Building! Minister Fletcher is the first wheelchair-using MP and I’m really excited to meet up with him and chat. It is going to be a fun meeting and a great opportunity to talk about how the federal government can get involved in my initiative and what better gateway to the federal world than through an individual like Minister Fletcher.

Before I know it I’ll be heading back home, but as I mentioned early, I’ve shaken the cobwebs out and come to my senses–yes it was nice to celebrate the completion of my drive, but now it’s time to get back to work.

And just think about the rip-roarin’ party we’ll have when that journey is complete! It will be a barn burner for sure!

In solidarity, back on track and ready to roll,

– Jeff

Day 42 — Only a chance of showers, less than 1mm accumulation…?

Beginning of the end–a years worth of work and a months worth of labour and it all came down to one day: the last drive into Ottawa.

Last night I had a bit of the pre-game jitters and opted to read a bit before bed, partly to calm me down and partly to give the band a chance to stop playing. While our time in Kemptville was quite restful, unfortunately our room was directly beside a new bar/restaurant which was having it’s grande opening last night, complete with classical rock band, who we could hear clearly through the wall we shared with the bar. The band stopped playing around midnight (oh well, I probably wouldn’t have gotten to sleep early anyway) and I figured I was set for the night. After all, I have attended a concert or two in London in my day and generally the headliner band finishes around 12 or 12:30. Very rarely do they go later than midnight. The fates were working against us last night though and the band started up again around 12:30. I knew we had an early morning and today was going to be a busy day, so I got on the horn and luckily the hotel was able to move us a few rooms away from the bar so I could get some sleep. Not the most ideal, but we’ll take it!

This morning we hit the road early and slugged out 38.4km straight right off the hop. It was a pretty rural route and provided several interesting moments, including a chance to see an individual who was living inside an old school bus that was parked inside a forest and a near-miss with a deer that decided to jump out in front of me from the bushes. Now I’ve seen what happens when a car hits a deer but I’m not really sure what happens if a deer hits a wheelchair. Pete figures likely you’d just get kicked a few times and the deer would run off–I think I could take’um.

We made really good time to the edge of Ottawa and there was no sight of this rain. In fact, it was surprisingly hot on the road, so much so I had to strip off a few layers. As far as we could tell, everything was really coming together nicely. We had a chance to sit and rest for an hour at a Tim Hortons, grab some food, and receive a phone call of support from our Malaysian-living sponsorship rep, Alex. After grabbing some food it was time for the final push–the last 12km. We met up with our police escort, who was totally rad! She was very cool and I’m glad we had her along for the ride, she was a huuuuge help.

Cue the dramatics.

The first part of the drive went quite reasonably, but in typical Jeff Preston fashion, this wouldn’t last for long. As I was making my way down Prince of Wales Road, I could see a massive storm brewing to our left. The storm appeared to be holding off and I was hopeful we’d make it before the insanity struck. I was wrong. Shortly after turning onto a road called Colonel By, which is a one-laner with the canal on one side and a hill on the other, the clouds began to opened up. The rain was pretty light at first actually and I opted to keep driving with just my t-shirt and rain pants on. This would be a fatal error, as moments later the rain really started coming down–harder than it’s ever been thus far on the trip. The problem was that the road had very, very few connecting roads, meaning that we were literally stuck in this one lane road with no shoulder and no way to safely pull over and put on some protective gear. So, I kept driving through the insane rain, with heavy winds, until we finally came to a side road where we could pull over and get me covered. By this point, I was thoroughly drenched and requiring some new clothing. We were making good time, so we decided to try and wait the storm out and I’m glad we did–it only got worst moments after getting into the van. After about 10 minutes the rain had nearly stopped, although the damage was already done. Despite this, I decided to make a last dash for our meet-up point at the German Embassy, so we were off again.

We made it the rest of the way without too much trouble, although the rain was beginning to seep through my pants and into my socks and the small pool that had formed in my lap was beginning to find it’s way into my underwear–it was kind of uncomfortable. Once again, the fun wasn’t over yet. Just as I was passing the German Embassy my chair decided it had driven far enough. With that, my chair clunked out and was down for the count. We thought it might have just been a little wet from the rain storm, but without giving too much away, the chair is still not working–I think I may have finally blown the motors. It made it all this way, nearly 600 kilometres, but that last kilometer was just a bit too much.

Sitting in my van, trying desperately to figure out what is wrong, people slowly began to show up for the rally. Our turn out was a small, but dedicated, group of supporters who braved the ridiculous rain to see me to the final kilometer to Ottawa City Hall. The walk was unbelievably wet, but with Peter’s help (he’s my new motor) I managed to cross the finish line.

So there you have it, mission complete. I drove my wheelchair from London to Ottawa. It was a hard trip but an unbelievably fulfilling trip and ironically enough, whether I drove my chair here or flew here, either way I would likely be sitting in a broken wheelchair tonight.

Unfortunately, I’m unbelievably tired and need to sleep. I’m so tired I’m having problems stringing coherent sentences together. The weight of the trip has finally come crashing down on me, now that we’re here, and I’m in desperate need of some rest. So I am heading off to bed to get some rest and will be back again tomorrow with some analysis of how things went and what I have learned. This has been an unbelievably changing experience and it will likely take me more than a few days to peel off all the layers and get a handle on what it all means to me, but never fear, I will be sharing that entire process right here on the blog over the next few days so stay tuned!

Also, I’m going to edit all the video from today and upload it to Youtube either tomorrow or Tuesday.

We may have arrived in Ottawa, but there is plenty to come!

– Jeff

Day 41 — One last hill to crest

Laying in bed on May 4th, I thought about this very moment, the night before Ottawa, and wondered what I would be thinking about. I wondered what adventures I would have had, what I would have seen, how the March would have gone and what I would expect to see when entering Ottawa. Would the march be a success? Would the chair make it? Would anyone care?

The night before entering Ottawa, I have answers to some of these questions. Regardless of what happens tomorrow, this March has been a success in every sense of the word, specifically because people have cared. As I’ve made my way across the province I have met some amazing people, heard some amazing stories, and been a part of something truly remarkable—Canadian-brand democracy in action. I have seen the AODA in action, with active Accessibility Advisory Committees the province-over working toward a brighter tomorrow. I’ve heard commitments by many politicians to accessibility, announcing that accessibility is no longer a luxury or “specialty” service, but rather, it is becoming a core value in our governing mandate. I have also had the majesty and eye-popping beauty of this province laid out before me as my tires kiss pavement that has never before been tread by a wheelchair—something extraordinarily humbling to consider. I have realized that, fittingly, one of the most accessible places I’ve ever been are the roads of this province—paved for smooth riding and filled with courteous drivers happy to share the road with me and my cause. I have also realized the power of hope and optimism—if you believe in yourself and you don’t take no for an answer, it’s pretty astonishing where you may end up.

Currently, that tenacity and self-confidence has gotten me to Kemptville, over 500 kilometres from my home in London. The distance of my trip didn’t really hit me until today when I was editing the video of the last week. Holy crap I’ve gone a long way…it is absolutely shocking. Yes, it has been tough and this trip has been littered with emotional ups and downs, I am still really happy with how things have gone and genuinely will miss my time on the road after tomorrow.

And I’m not done yet.

Tomorrow morning we make our final push to Ottawa, where I’m hoping to be greeted by the citizens of Ottawa for a rally at Ottawa City Hall. I’ve never been to Ottawa, so I’m pretty excited to see the city and meet the people (not to mention get a peak at the Parliament Building). The weather is supposed to be nasty tomorrow but I’m really not concerned. Nothing in this world is going to stop me from finishing this trip, accomplishing my goal, and telling the politicians in Ottawa about the accessibility barriers facing the disabled community.

So what is on my mind right now? Am I excited? Nervous? A little…but more than anything I am left with a blissful and peaceful clarity. I sit here with the finish line in sight, one last obstacle to overcome, and by crossing that line, cutting through that finishing ribbon, I will tear through knots of misconceptions currently binding the disabled population, showing once again—in the tradition of great men like Rick Hansen and Terry Fox—that the disabled are not limited. Yes, we may do things differently, but we have hopes and dreams just like anyone else and if we set our minds to something, no matter how big or unlikely, we too will achieve those goals. Perhaps not the same way as everyone else, but we will overcome those obstacles with the same passion and dedication as someone without our perceived “limitations.” Ultimately, everyone has limitations, everyone has things they cannot do—it is how we overcome these obstacles that truly makes us who we are!

But more than that, tomorrow is a time to celebrate. For tomorrow will be the last day ever in this province that someone with a disability has to drive all the way from London to Ottawa, because gosh darnit, we’re going to change things.

And it all starts with a turn of a wheel, one step forward, moving together into a liberated future.

My entry into Ottawa may be rainy, but with every storm comes the promise of a sunny resolution and the future of this province couldn’t look brighter.

See you all tomorrow. We’ll cross that line together.

– Jeff

Day 40 — Well…the GPS says our Hotel is this field…so…tents anyone?

I can’t believe there is only one more drive to go. While it’s been a long trip (and I’ve basically lost all grip on space and time), I still can’t believe it is almost over. As I stated earlier, I’m really going to miss my time on the road once this is over—I’m going to have to find a hobby. Maybe I’ll take up whiddling…or knitting! I could knit myself a scarf! Or a blanket! Or some other straight object…I tried knitted when I was younger and I wasn’t real good at corners.

I’m not the only one blown away by how fast things have gone. This morning while I was calling to set up media coverage for our arrival in Ottawa, Sam started trying to get my attention and whisper something at me but I couldn’t quite understand what she wanted with the phone plastered to my ear. When I hung up I asked what she wanted and she explained, “You told them the rally is this Sunday. It’s next Sunday!” At first I had a moment of panic, which was quickly followed by a certainty that it was June 13th and I hadn’t lost track of time THAT much! After assuring Sam what day it was she paused for a moment, blinked, and asked “Holy, is today seriously our second last drive?” Definitely coulda fooled me too!

I had a pretty horrible sleep last night, I was just sore all over and couldn’t get comfortable in the bed for some reason. Despite the lack of restful sleep, I woke up with a TON of energy this morning—I was totally bouncing off the walls. After grabbing some breakfast, joking around in the breakfast room and packing up stuff, it was time to hit the road for the second last time (ever?). The sun was out but it wasn’t too hot and there was a bit of a breeze to start.

All in all the drive went pretty well, except that nature struck again in several interesting ways. Firstly, flies and other flying creatures were absolutely obsessed with Pete’s van today. He literally had a swarm of insects around him at all times, flying in and out of his open windows. During one of our stops, Pete decided to try driving regular speed and see if he could get rid of his little groupies, leaving him to tear off down the road with a sizable black cloud of desperate little bugs trying to keep up with him. It was pretty hilarious. Secondly, we picked some remote roads for this drive, providing some tremendous scenery. Unfortunately, with the scenery came a lot of road kill…a disturbing amount of it. They were like smelly, disgusting little land mines scattered all over the road. Luckily, we did manage to see some living wildlife though! On several different occasions, I came across what appeared to be ground hogs that had burrowed little nests through the cut grass along the side of the road. I’d be driving along and out of the corner of my eye I’d see this little brown head pop out from the foliage, take a look at me and dug back in before I could get a good look. Eventually we saw one of the ground hogs perched beside the road (he ran away once we got close, before we could get the camera out), soakin’ up the sun and generally enjoying the day.

I was pretty sore after the drive, but all in all it was a decent run. It didn’t rain (wahoo!) and while it did get a little hot in the middle of the afternoon, it was really manageable out on the road. We also got some encouraging phone calls about the rally on Sunday—although it sounds like it may rain, I’m still optimistic that we’re going to have a good turn out! I know it sounds like a real bummer to walk through the rain and have a rally in the gross weather, but it’s really important we show the members of parliament how serious we are about these issues. If we are willing to march through the rain then they will know we mean business!

Well, I’m pretty tired after the drive and the bed is looking mighty enticing, I’ve even got Pete warming up my spot. And by that, I mean I’m totally going to steal Pete’s spot after I’m done writing this blog. Tomorrow is a day of rest before the final push and I’m going to use it to the fullest. I’ll also be compiling and uploading the 2nd last video blog tomorrow showing the events of the past week—we’ve got some really cool footage from the road, it’ll be the best one yet! Unfortunately, we don’t get wireless Internet in our room here, so the video blog may not get uploaded until after we arrive in Ottawa, but I’ll definitely try my best!

Oh one more funny moment. We’ve had some troubles the with GPS…basically the entire trip…that thing is better at getting lost than it is finding places. For instance, it claims Cobourg City Hall is in the lake. Today, Margaret took us to an open field and claimed it was our hotel. I think Sam was totally down with roughing it for the night but I was really bankin’ on a nice warm bath once we got home. Turns out the hotel was a few blocks before said field. Who knew!

So anyway, to bed with me and I will be back soon. I’m stayin’ strong and keepin’ the faith—by Sunday we’ll be in Ottawa. By Monday, transportation for all!

– Jeff

Day 39 — Ugh, the spirit is willing but the flesh is so weak!

I woke up feeling like death this morning. I wasn’t particularly sore, luckily, but I was just feeling generally drained. The distance and emotional roller coaster of this trip is finally beginning to take its toll–it was definitely tough dragging myself out of bed. After getting up, moving around and drinking some OJ, I managed to shake out the cobwebs a bit, but I definitely was operating on less than 100% today. Yes, the longer drive was tough, but I felt pretty good after it and the lack of pain in the shoulder and neck this morning indicate to me that the drive wasn’t too bad. While it seems easy to blame the lack of energy on the epic drive yesterday, I think the drain is more of a collective toll of the trip. It has definitely been a long month and my energy level has definitely been pushed to its limit.

But, I haven’t done enough…I must keep going…I will keep going. I refuse to stop until things are better, I owe it to everyone stuck without transportation in this province. I knew when I began this trip that it wouldn’t be easy–in fact, that is kind of the point. The reality is that driving your wheelchair across the province is not feasible. It is dangerous. It is complicated. It is tiring. It is painful. It is a trip I have spent the past year planning, where most people would travel the same distance with maybe a week of forethought. The Mobilize March is not the solution to our transportation woes. The disabled population cannot be forced to drive and wheel ourselves around our communities–it will literally kill us, much like this trip has picked away at me: at my body, at my spirit, at my energy. I grow tired and need more and more sleep to get through this, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

You see, when I sleep, I often dream and while some of these dreams can be quite nice–of times past and distant friends–there is a recurring dream I started having about a year ago. While the specifics of the dream vary, the overriding premise is that I come across a friend with a disability who is drowning in a pit of quicksand. I circle the pit, attempting to pull them out but no matter what I do I cannot extradite them. The protagonist of this reoccurring dream often changes, although last night it featured my friend, little Natalie. She was calling out for me to help, her little tires kicking up dirt as the pit lurched upward and clung onto her. I would stretch my arm as far as I could, trying to grab hold, and like always I wake up just before our fingers touch.

I am literally being haunted by the strife being endured by thousands of disabled individuals across this province and all I can do is weep silently as I fall back to sleep. Sometimes I just feel so powerless to help. All around me, my friends are being forced to live half-lives because of the lack of transportation. Every day I do nothing to make things better, they die a metaphorical death both in real life and in my dreams, swallowed into a giant sandy grave. Trapped in their homes, in our homes, locked away from the public eye is not living…this is how we treat criminals in our society, we imprison them! What is their crime? Our crime? What have we done wrong? Do we deserve this treatment? Absolutely not! And I cannot sit by and allow this injustice to play out every single day across the province. Countless times on this trip I’ve been told change is coming “soon,” which often means in several years. There are 365 days in each year, that is at least 365 more days that we cannot be a part of this society. “Soon” means wondering how to get groceries for another 8760 hours. “Soon” means waiting another 525,600 minutes for a ride that may never show up. These problems are so huge and I am so small–what can a rural boy do? Honestly? Sometimes it’s so overwhelming I feel like these giant vices are clamping down on my chest, literally squeezing the air out of my tiny body. I feel like I’m letting everyone down.

But there is something important about my dream. The fact is, I wake up moments before reaching their hand, moments before pulling them out of this trap and I think that’s significant. In some bizarre way, my subconscious is sending me a valuable message, one that energizes me each and every day of this trip. Much like the transportation problem, being stuck in quick sand is a dire problem with two simple choices: do something and save your friend or do nothing and watch them sink. That is the choice we all must make: life or death, action or apathy. Sure I could sit around and say the quick sand is too strong, too deep, too tough for me to fight, or I can take action. I can fight and struggle and do everything in my power to save those who I love from its horrible talons. When put in those terms, I think the choice becomes crystal clear. Why would I ever sit by and watch this happen? It is for this reason that I must continue on, no matter how hard or tiring it may seem, because in the end it could make the difference between life and death.

Just like in my dream, this march is a life line cast out to anyone who is stuck. I may not be the strongest guy around, this trip has definitely proven that, but I promise you that I will never quit fighting, I will not give up, and I will not leave you stranded, despite the fact that we have all grown quite accustom to this standard of living.

That is what we all must do. We need to stop wasting time, worrying about how big the problem is or how complicated the solutions may be and start getting down to work. All I ask is you reach out and give me your hand. Reach out and offer your hand to anyone around you who is stuck.

In the end, I think this trip is my way of taking the hand of my trapped friend and doing my darnest to tug them out, and Natalie, I promise I will not letting go!

– Jeff