Aug 24 / Ray Harris Blog
“Dad, what would you think about joining me at Thunder Bay?” When your son gives an invitation like that, it’s difficult to refuse. So on August 1 I boarded a bus from Winnipeg to Thunder Bay, and 12 hours later Colin and I enjoyed a pizza together. Thus began a journey that has been unlike any other with my son. So what has it been like to be his support driver? What has it been like for father and son to spend three weeks together in close confinement and still come out of it good friends? Not everything can be shared, but here is a father’s taste of his son’s vision.
A typical running day began soon after breakfast. Colin would give me a range of between 25-30 km for me to drive the RV to its first stop, and then he began running. After he caught up with the RV and had a break he would name a shorter distance, between 10-15 km where we would have lunch together. Now you would think that designers of the TCH would keep events like this in mind, and conveniently place a rest area every 20 km or so! The reality is very different. For our breaks and lunches we ended up in snow plow turnarounds, a First Nations Campground, a sheep farm, and more than one logging road.
While waiting for Colin I did breakfast dishes, and a little domestic work in the RV. Those who know Colin well will smile at that! Usually Colin would take a little rest after lunch, and then head out to bring his daily total to around 50 km. The next driving task was to find a suitable place to stay for the night. Ideally it would be a place where we could plug in for power, but he does have a generator in case power isn’t available. For these past three weeks, Colin and I have slept in truck stops, a Walmart parking lot, a picnic area, a gas station, private and provincial campgrounds, and yes we did splurge to stay in a motel.
There were many difficult moments for me during these weeks. It was hard to see his body plead for more sleep when he needed to get on the road. It was difficult the day he ran out of water and had to backtrack in order to run it with integrity. A hard part for me in this experience was the waiting. I wasn’t always able to find a place within the range Colin set out, and we didn’t always have phone connections. I took along some personal work to do, but it wasn’t always easy to concentrate. One day while waiting an ambulance drove by with its lights flashing. One day Colin ran in a cold drizzle and became chilled. Many days it was simply too hot to run. It was not always possible to find a place within the range Colin sought, and I worried that I had pushed him too far. One morning I drove off after his first break only to encounter threatening clouds a few minutes along the highway. I did a Winnipeg U-turn at a road junction, and drove back. I reached Colin just as the rain and lightning hit. As it happened, he was right beside a snow plow turnaround, so we waited out the storm!
If there have been hard parts to the trip, there have also been some tremendously special moments. I rejoiced to see him complete one day with over 60 km on the road. We have experienced kindnesses from people all along the highway, such as the staff at Bobby’s Corner who dropped everything to treat a bad cut on my hand. Or the mechanic at the Canadian Tire in Kenora who was off work but stayed to help with a mechanical problem on the RV. Or my own neighbours who have let us plug the RV into their power while we took a four day break in Winnipeg. The Terry Fox Memorial will always remain a special moment, as was our meal together when we finally entered Manitoba. The whole restaurant of 20 people applauded my son, and some of them helped to pay for our supper! We have also enjoyed some good conversations together, because a run like this has a way of opening up some important questions.
This morning I stood with Cathie at the Manitoba Legislature as Colin was interviewed for CBC television. The flags were at half-mast in honour of Jack Layton. Like many Canadians I felt that he embodied so much of what is important to us. And I think Jack would have applauded Colin for his own attempts to “make a difference” in this country. I know I do.
To all of you who have responded to Colin’s blogs with notes of encouragement, please know that they mean much to him. Thank you for every expression of support you have offered him!