It’s not good to have time constraints on where you have to be and when during a bike tour. Unfortunately, this was the case on the ride back home to Canmore. Weeks on the roads dwindled to days left to get home in time for a flight east. Forced to make choices on the most direct route home, we pondered if indeed we should pass through Rossland, BC, after all. We wanted to see the small ski town because of one of the only goals of the trip: to check out the BC and Alberta mountain towns we were considering to move to.
After much consideration we decided to ride through Rossland. This meant a massive climb in scorching summer heat out of Kristina Lake. A ride bigger than our fitness should have allowed. I messaged an old Olympic teammate of mine I knew lived in Rossland. Well, if you call spending some time there in the year and existing out of a suitcase a residence that is, he lived there. Much like all the places I’d called and call home since starting sport long before. As far back as I remember, I have not been in one place for more than three weeks since at least 2007.
Alas, my friend was overseas, but did offer us his place to stay. The code on the door worked and we stood in an exhausted stupor in the kitchen. Realizing the road to town was all downhill, leaving the climb back up to the condo if we ventured out, I started to look for any kind of food delivery. Hunger was raging and we didn’t want to pilfer the small supply of food our friend had for when, if ever, he came home. Turns out delivery was non-existent in the summer season. There was, however, a brew pub on the road not far from my friend’s place. We took our chances and walked there. To our relief the joint was open. Burger, fries, beer, calamari were devoured before we limped back up to the condo.
A guy I hadn’t met but knew from the generous help he and his bike rental company in Ottawa offered the spring prior messaged me. He saw from Facebook we were in his neck of the woods. He lived and worked in Ottawa where he gave bikes for a day to two remarkable young girls I have the privilege of knowing and working with in sport. They flew down to the announcement of the Big Ride initiative I’m doing with Bell Let’s Talk next spring, riding across and around Canada for mental health awareness. They came all the way from the small village in Nunavik, Québec, called Kangiqsualujjuaq, and had never ridden a proper road bike before. On roads. I will never forget the thrill they had putting a helmet on and pedaling around. Peter Plaunt is the man and Rent-a-Bike is the company. They gave these two girls the thrill of a lifetime.
So, when Peter messaged me saying he lived in Rossland as well, and happened to be in town, we made a date to meet him at the local café. We felt like we were rendez-vous-ing with the mayor of Rossland. Peter shared the history, pros and cons of the town. He told us all the characters as well. We learned that Nancy Green was from the town, making the Nancy Green Provincial Park and Nancy Green Summit make more sense. Here I thought the Olympic Champion skier must have things named after her all over her native province. Pretty cool to hear how many great athletes came from such a small, tight knit community. And of course, Peter made sure we were taken care of, driving us to bike stores and showing us around. He made us want to move shop to Rossland. Or at the very least, keep it as an option.
last boost before riding out of town at 5pm
As much as we wanted to stay because of the sheer exhaustion setting in from riding so much with our loaded bikes and gear, we had to continue on. We left Rossland not knowing how much further our trip would go. In some ways I felt like we were in the middle of nowhere, far enough away from an airport or larger town. These feelings were exaggerated after speaking with my Mom. We’d been talking the few days before because my father, suffering from advanced dementia, had taken a turn for the worst.
I had no idea what, if anything, I could or should do. My mom had called to let me know the my dad had a order to resuscitate order on his file. We both knew, as well as my sister, that my father would not want to be living in the condition he was in. In medicine, a “do not resuscitate” or “DNR”, sometimes called a “No Code”, is a legal order written either in the hospital or on a legal form to respect the wishes of a patient not to undergo CPR or advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) if their heart were to stop or they were to stop breathing.
My mom told me that my dad had stopped eating and had lost a lot of weight, was coughing badly and she had no idea what would happen in the coming hours, days or weeks. I wondered what the heck I was doing bike touring and panicked at the thought of being so remote and isolated. Peter said we’d do whatever I thought we should. If we needed to go to Winnipeg, we could rent a car in a town close by, drive to calgary and leave our bikes, then fly to Winnipeg. I asked my mom and she said in some ways, my dad was in such a bad state that maybe I should just keep my vision of the last time I saw him alive and not come to see him in this state. Just how bad that state was none of us knew.
I agreed the DNR order should replace the current instruction. It killed inside to agree to this knowing this could effectively end my dad’s life. But I knew, I just knew, the state of mind my father had deteriorated into from dementia was a living hell for him. He had been placed in a geriatric psychiatric ward less than two months earlier.
The time my mom mentioned keeping when I saw him last in that ward was my father, a hulk of a man, 6’3” in his prime, a shadow of himself sitting on his hospital bed. I walked into his room with my mom and starting crying. He smiled at me and I hugged his frail body, futilely struggling to hold back more tears. When I stepped out of the hug, my dad grabbed my arm and said ‘Strong’ and smiled. He already had trouble speaking for years because of a minor stroke he had. He grinned and I cried. I think he sort of knew who I was, though I also know the next day he didn’t remember the visit.
There were swears and yells, moans and television wafting through the ward. I wondered how my dad could end up there but understood the reality of him being aggressive on the geriatric ward he originally was admitted to. Wandering, confusion and aggression witnessed and experienced by the multitude of homecare workers who visited my father’s house multiple times a day had led to him being taken from his home.
I walked with my dad slowly around the small loop of the ward. The door was security locked from the inside and out leading to the hallway: to freedom. My dad pointed at this door and then pointed to a poster on the wall saying ‘know your rights’. This poster listed the rights of the patient. Even with the dementia, with the reality of this disease taking over his once brilliant mind, my dad remained a rebel. The next day on my last visit, he pointed outside to the bus stop across the street. He pointed out there and smile a mischievous smile. I knew for certain my dad was already planning his escape.
So those moments, those odd, funny moments where I knew my dad sort of knew me, and knew himself, are what I hold on to. He asked about my sister who was coming later to visit, and then pointed at my mom who was there with me. He said to me ‘I thought I’d lost you…’ referring I know to our lack of or sporadic contact. I loved my dad but it was never easy. Never easy to love him and not confront him on his ways that hurt me and others. So when he suggested we all live in the ward together, I could only laugh and cry at the same time. It’s difficult to put into words now, months later.
We had the order removed and he was put in ‘comfort care’. That same day we left Rossland, at 5pm, en route to Nelson, BC, I received a call from my mom. I stopped on the roadside in a little town in the heat of a summer evening and received the news that my dad had died. I dropped my bike and sat in the grass on the roadside. Peter rode up to me after turning around, looking at me crying and waiting patiently for the news. After getting off the phone I shared with Peter my dad was gone.
After some time, with nothing else to do because we were still in the middle of nowhere, we got back on our bikes and pedaled the final twenty or so kilometers to Nelson. We were set to stay with a sister of a friend I met, again, the Spring prior. I wondered what to do in the state I was in. I didn’t want to bring this sadness into the welcoming home of strangers, yet was gutted and confused as to what I was supposed to be feeling.
What I do know is that getting on my bike, pedaling forward, losing myself in the motion of moving on two wheels freed me. I felt a sense of peace come over me when I thought of my dad and how much he supported everything I did in sport. How he supported the odd pursuits that took me around the globe on two wheels or two blades. That he appreciated and encouraged a relationship with the man who became my husband, Peter, when others looked from the outside in and judged us of our unconventional way of living in the moment, walking and riding and doing everything outside of the bubble we are told we should live in. My dad was one of the few people who not only understood Peter but fully appreciated and encouraged who he is.
I truly believe that in the end, my dad decided it was time to go. I believe he stopped eating as his one last way of making his own choice on how to live, or not. Knowing my dad, even in that state of dementia, he knew he would never leave the control of the ward, or a long term stay situation, so he did the last thing he could: a hunger strike.
I came to realize my dad would want nothing less than for us to continue this journey we traveled. That he would say ‘ride on as long as you can!’. I decided to honor my dad by riding back to Canmore, then heading up to the Arctic and connecting to kids and encouraging their goals and dreams, and DOING all the things in this life that stimulate the mind and the heart, then share it with others. Quite honestly, with all my dad’s flaws, this is the thing he instilled in me that I will hold for the remainder of my life.
We rolled into the home of strangers outside of Nelson. It turned out they were not so strange. The big smile of Jay was one I remembered from Calgary, he used to be one of the ice crew at the Olympic Oval when I came back to skating. And Anne, our new friend, felt like a kindred spirit I’d known for a lifetime. Their children rode up the quiet road on a river where their modest house stood, cheering us on like riders in the tour de france. Any sadness I had was put on the shelf for the night. To be in the comfort of strangers and feel such love and warmth was more than I could ever have asked for.
I’ll have to continue this story later because it’s too hard to write more on now. Thanks for reading.