Winnipeg, MB to Thunder Bay, ON
8-8-01 "I just got an email about you." Dunk said quite nonchalantly. I had called him to ask about the loss of control I had in my pinky and fourth fingers on both hands. Since meeting on my first day out, he had become my mentor, someone I depended on each time I reached an area with cell phone coverage to provide suggestions and solutions to the problems and annoyances of bicycle touring. "From who and what did it say?" He read a part of an email from a kind-hearted woman whom I had never met. She was concerned about whether the heat wave that had swept through the area had caught me in a bad area for heat. I blushed at the concern from someone I didn't know, smiled at the knowledge that the heat wave in question had caught me exactly where she had estimated it would - in the backcountry of Manitoba, and was amazed at the ability of writing and the internet to bring people closer together. I too was starting to receive email from friends of distant friends and relations that had read my logs and were wondering about my current location. I pondered the question of whether the website could one day be self sustaining while taking notes on the features I required in a pair of biking gloves now that my hands were so badly affected. Soon, I was on my way again, enjoying the time that biking provides for contemplation.
Through this journey of life I've focused on exploring the outside world, paying little attention to the vehicle in which I am exploring. I've always written off the human body as a complex machine depending on fluids and chemistry to link the brain and various mechanical parts. I knew electricity was an important and required part of this system - the link between the mind and the body, but one whose connections I considered to be switches, either they were on and working, or off causing paralysis. When my hands started to hurt, it never occurred to me that they could be suffering from compressed nerves. At the bike shop, I marveled at this oddity, laughing with the bike store employee while comparing the angles to which our pinky fingers would flare outward when we were lucky enough to be able to straighten them at all. His angle was much more exaggerated than mine as he had just completed a trip from Alaska to Winnipeg without any gloves at all, while I had at least had weight lifting gloves. I was fascinated, and sold on buying some proper bike gloves with gel padding over the outer nerve center. (Note: After a few days I decided that these weren't working, and were actually causing
pressure, disturbing the control of my other fingers. Dunk had me abandon the gloves and instead put pipe insulation over my handle bars - something I now suggest to every touring cyclist I meet as the wonder solution to nerve compression problems.)
8-9-01 Approaching the shores of the ancient lake Aggassi there was line of trees as far into the distance as I could see on either side. This was the famed start of the Cambrian or Canadian shield (different signs in the area read different names) an area of very old rock that houses a completely different set of plants and animals. The water here is running, and without standing water, the bugs basically disappeared. The forests are a mix of evergreen and deciduous, creating a treat for both the eyes and ears. Tiny dragonflies with the body shape of the giant ones buzzed through this new misty clean air. Spotted ground squirrels darted across the forest floor, while noisy red ones warned anyone within hearing distance of my wide-eyed arrival into this wonderland. Even the occasional large mosquitoes in this forest landed so gently that they could easily be waved away prior to biting. Monarchs floated by through the trees, a treat that started only within the last few years, brought this far north by the effects of global warming.
8-16-01 For the next week I cycled through this wondrous countryside, with only the markings on my map distinguishing one day from the next. My morning showers with a solar shower, complete with Whiskey Jack attendants (curious Jay-like birds that will even land on one's head if food is offered) became one of my favorite rituals of the day. This is vacation land, with an endless stream of happy people traveling to their respective cabins, camp grounds, trail heads, or canoe launches. It was with a tinge of sadness that I left the easy biking land for the city of Thunder Bay, knowing that soon I would be in the "mountains" bordering the northern side of Lake Superior and often said to be more difficult to bike than the Rockies.
It was while riding along the coast of Lake Superior out of Thunder Bay that my cell phone stopped ringing before I could answer it. There wasn't anything too unusual about this, as my phone is buried within various layers of waterproofing to keep it safe, but I was on my way out of cell phone coverage, and had been waiting for Dunk to call as I had left several messages about the great progress of my hands through the pipe insulation suggestion and the exercises he had me doing, and it was unusual for him not to call back within a day or two.
I tried to return the number on my phone, but the coverage was very poor, so I settled with my voicemail. Michelle's voice barely came through the static, "Dunk is in the hospital...ICU...for "bleeding of the brain." Her voice was heavy with the news, but she continued, "He's supposedly stable now, but it is still very serious." I stood on soft sand overlooking the gray, cold water of Lake Superior, the sky starting to drizzle through the fog, continually repeating the message to piece it together through the static of the poor connection. Having heard all of the pieces of the message, I sat on the wet beach, stunned. Life is so unpredictable, so precarious. I watched the undulating waves, slowly opening and closing my hands to their rhythm, one of the exercises turned habit to reconnect the nerves in my hands... thinking... feeling very remote and useless...