July 17

July 19th, 2007

As I skated away from Nipigon I was working hard to suppress the memories of the previous days difficulties. It was helpful and motivating to know that I was now entering a section of the Trans Canada dedicated to Terry Fox. The Courage Highway. The pavement prior to and including Nipigon were unfathomable. So they didn’t have to improve much to make them somewhat bearable. At least now it didn’t feel like I was skating on pins and needles. Nevertheless, I was able to maintain enough speed to reach the turn off for Ouimet Canyon well before lunch.


Since I was only about 60 km East of Thunder Bay now, I could sacrifice a couple of hours to take a tour of Eagle Canyon (near Ouimet Canyon). What I didn’t realize was that this little detour would be exposing my dad to unimaginable fears. We hiked up to the edge of the canyon where Ontario’s longest suspension bridge was dangling hundreds of feet above the earth. The view was magnificent. It’s a shame my dad couldn’t appreciate it. As we inched our way onto the bridge, I glanced back to see my dad white-knuckled and down on one knee. “What are you doing?” I asked. With eyes the size of saucers, I could feel the intense focus as he concentrated hard not to look down. With tiny steps and knees bent awkwardly in, my dad crept slowly until finally reaching the other side. My mom and I stared in amazement before bursting out in laughter at my dad’s fear. If you can’t laugh at your family, who can you laugh at? Now that we were back on solid ground, we had to calm my dad’s nerves and ease him towards the next bridge. Ontario’s longest suspension bridge was impressive, but we were now at the foot of Canada’s longest suspension bridge. There was no turning back now. As tears of laughter rolled down our faces, my mom and I watched as my dad’s forehead began to perspire and his eye’s began to moisten at the thought of what was in front of him. After the rough morning, it was nice to have this comical relief. We all made it safely back to the original side of the canyon and worked our way back to the parking lot.


They say we live in a small world and I just received confirmation of this. As I crossed the parking lot to the RV, I was stopped by a gentleman with a slight accent. “Are you the rollerblader?” he asked. As we got chatting, it turned out that Heiner Kammann and his wife Eva are from Montreal but have a cottage near Lyndhurst only minutes from my parents cottage. We ended up knowing all the same people in the area and had another good laugh. Great meeting you, Heiner and Eva. And thanks for the contribution!

When I got back to the highway, I still had a lot of ground to cover. I recently read an article that stated 47 cars disappear every year somewhere along the road between Nipigon and Thunder Bay. The theory is that these cars are engulfed by the 12-foot-deep potholes scattered along the highway. I believe it! As I skated past one hole in the pavement, I glanced down and couldn’t see the bottom! I struggled on across the incredibly rough roads grimacing in pain as the vibrations rattled my feet and shook my entire body. But my mind wasn’t focussed on the pain. All I felt was embarrassment. I couldn’t believe that our Government could allow the Trans Canada to reach such disgusting levels. Just the thought of tourists coming across our beautiful country only to see the state of our unacceptable Northern roads was shameful. I’m not saying the road should meet the expectations of a rollerblader who notices every single bump, but as a Canadian driver I feel there should be a certain level of standard that must be met. It’s a good thing my dad is only driving at 15 km/hr through this mess, because I wouldn’t want to bring a nice car across this stretch of highway at 90-100 km/hr.


That being said, I did run into construction. However, this section was only about 10 km long and was just outside Thunder Bay. And I’ve heard that’s as much as they are going to be doing. Fortunately for me, I lost 3 km due to the construction. The rest I was able to work my way through even though I had to fight across the same grooved pavement that I faced outside of Kitchener. That was the most distance I’ve been forced to miss since beginning my trek about 5,500 kilometers ago. Score: Northern Ontario 1.5 – Rich 1.


Just before entering the construction zone, I took a break where I did a quick radio interview for Hot FM. My dad also took some time to speak to some Thunder Bay city clerks who worked tediously to help us out. Leslie and Bonnie were fundamental in helping turn our view of Thunder Bay around. I had a bad taste in my mouth after yesterday’s experience with the Chronicle Journal, but everyone else in the city seemed to be very receptive to me.


Before the construction zone ended, I needed a pick-me-up. So I demanded my parents buy my an ice cream cone. I could feel my mood slipping and needed some comfort food. We pulled over to an Esso gas bar and I was surprised by a generous cash donation from the girl working behind the counter.


I was hoping that when I reached the other side of the construction the road would be new pavement. But I wouldn’t be so lucky. The treacherous conditions continued until I arrived in the Thunder Bay city limits. It wasn’t much past this point that I had one of the most emotional moments of my journey. Other than when I finish, I can’t imagine I’ll experience anything like this again.


Mile 3339. The exact spot right down to the inch where Terry Fox was forced to stop his Marathon of Hope. There is a monument for Terry closer to the city, but if you’re observant (or traveling 20 km/hr) you will see a simple white pillar on the right side of the highway marking the exact place where he had to stop. There is no monument and no indication that it is even there. But locals come and cut the grass around the pole in honour of Terry’s memory. Thousands of people drive by and never notice it. But I was told to keep my eyes open for it. There I stood on the exact place that immortalized Terry Fox forever. And here I was nearly 30 years later following the almost the exact same route he had taken. It was a surreal feeling. One I will never forget. For a brief instant as I skated away from this spot, a part of me felt guilt. Terry had paved the way for people like me. And now here I was going further than he was able to go. But guilt was quickly overcome by pride and determination. Sure, I’m not running like Terry was, but I think he wanted people to carry on his legacy in any way they can. Leaving that plain white pole behind me, I suddenly had as much energy as I did the day I left St. John’s. Maybe Terry was there with me helping climb those last few hills into Thunder Bay, but my dad told me he couldn’t believe that I was coasting uphill and into the wind at 22 km/h. I felt strong, motivated, energized and emotionally recharged. That will forever be one of the most sentimental moments in my life.


Roughly 10 kilometers from the white post you will find the Terry Fox Scenic Lookout. I reached this area to find an inspiring statue of Terry in action. Magnificently carved and elegantly placed with a gorgeous background, the monument was another emotional boost. Although I personally found the white pole to be more moving, this place paid tribute to Terry in the way he deserves. When I finally took my skates off here, I had finished over 90 km. I like to get in 100 km, but considering the mess I’d come through and the torment I’d put my feet through, 90 was a huge victory. Score: Rich 2 – Northern Ontario 1.5.


It’s hard not to notice our RV and a few people came up to me when I was at the Terry Fox monument. One couple with their grand children were so excited to see me because they want to let me know that they had seen me nearly 2 months ago in Truro, Nova Scotia! Another woman came up to me and said she had seen me in Espanola. It’s an incredible feeling knowing that people are taking notice and remembering. It’s hard to walk (or in my case, skate) in the footsteps of someone like Terry Fox. So I hope my rollerblades will set me apart enough that people will continue to pay attention.


Just before we were about to pull out of the rest area and head to the campground, a generous man wanted a picture with me. As we got chatting, I came to discover he was an electrical engineer. Perfect! Maybe he can help us with our motor home! I think I mentioned previously that we’re having some issues with our fridge and the inverter near the engine. Sure enough, he pulled out some gizmos and started prodding away under the hood. Everything seemed to be in working order, but he suggested our problem was the location of the inverter. He said that because of it’s proximity to the engine, it was likely over heating and shutting off. Makes sense. So now we need to find someone who can help us re-wire it and put the inverter somewhere inside. It’s not an urgent matter, but it would make life a lot easier. Maybe we can get some more help in Winnipeg.


We drove less than a kilometer to Trowbridge Campground where a site was waiting for us free of charge. The amazing women running the campground even lent us a cup of milk for us to cook dinner! Thanks ladies. We won’t forget you!


As I was trying to catch up on website stuff that I’ve fallen behind on, and e-mail came in from a Thunder Bay man named Rick. Great name! He let me know that he is a marathon inliner and he knew a few other who wanted to meet and skate with me. Whoa! Don’t these guys know that I’m not a marathoner?! Talk about pressure! Sure, I cover a lot of distance, but I’m in no race! But who am I to say No? So I gave Rick a call and we had a great chat. We’re going to meet up tomorrow at Boston Pizza and go for a group skate around the city. Lots to look forward to tomorrow. Skating with marathoners, getting groceries, getting other supplies, eating at Boston Pizza (yes, I think I’m having withdrawal!). Hope to see everyone at Boston Pizza any time after 6:30pm!

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