This day was bound to come. I didn’t know when.
This is the story of my toughest day on the road.
20-years-ago today I was west of Swift Current, Saskatchewan. It was freezing cold and the Prairie wind was blowing. It wasn’t the wind that was on my mind. It was my son.
As you can see in the video below, I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, waiting for my day on the Trans-Canada Highway to end. For me, it was a very long day.
People have often asked me if I ever felt like quitting when I walked across Canada. The short answer is – no. I had decided long before I dipped the toes of my running shoes in the Atlantic Ocean in St. John’s, Newfoundland, that quitting wasn’t an option.
Yes, there were moments of loneliness, but none like the morning of my 225th day on the road.
You see, I spoke to my family almost every day, and the night before this day, my wife Sherene had to tell me that Jesse wasn’t well. She may have been trying to sugar-coat that news a bit when she said to me, “Don’t worry honey, he’ll be fine.” But I could hear the concern in her voice.
Dressed in my road gear and with my running shoes laced up, I was set to go. Like every other morning, everything was ready, except my heart. I was standing at the edge of the Trans-Canada Highway, and I was asking myself if I should go home. This was one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever had to make.
As I stood there in the wind and snow, in my uncertainty, I thought about what Jesse would want me to do. Jesse was young and full of kindness, compassion and understanding, well beyond his years, and it was as if I could hear him saying in that gentle voice of his, “Dad, if you quit, that’s all you’ll be remembered for.”
On what promised to be a difficult road day I said to myself, ‘I know that Jesse isn’t a quitter. He’s been fighting all his life, smiling every day, and showing people what real courage is all about.’
I decided that Jesse wouldn’t want his dad to be a quitter either. And so, the decision was made.
I stepped out onto the highway and as I had done for 224 mornings, I said to myself, ‘OK, let’s go. Let’s do one more day.’
The wind blew across the Trans-Canada Highway all day long. I didn’t care about the weather even though the road crew did their job in asking me to keep checking my lips, my ears, my cheeks and my nose for frostbite. I did what they asked even if it was just mechanically. My mind was back in Ontario.
Hour after hour in the blowing snow and intense cold, my favourite picture of Jesse played over and over in my mind. It’s what I call the signature picture of Jesse and I crossing Ontario in 1995 when Jesse was just 15. He was savouring the moment. He was smiling and happy and as I held his arms up, he was waving his Canadian flag to the crowd. Jesse was doing everything he could to bring a message of hope to so many who sometimes felt they had been abandoned.
They hadn’t been. At least not by Jesse.
On the road, almost no one stopped. The transport truck drivers who seemed to always know just where we were, still gave us a nice wide berth and that familiar blast of the air horn. It was like they were cheering me on. They never knew how much something as simple as the sound of an air horn meant to me on that bitter cold Prairie day.
It was dark when I finished my 33-kilometres for the day. On board the motor home it was eerily quiet as we made our way back to another motel in another little town.
When I received a phone call from home to say Jesse was feeling better, I was more thankful than anyone on the road with me ever knew. With that news, I fell asleep very quickly with that picture of Jesse still in my mind.
Is there a picture in your mind that helps keep you focused?
Three day later, it was still bitter cold when I started my day in Maple Creek, Saskatchewan. By nightfall I was in Medicine Hat, Alberta. We had reached province number nine. I knew I still had the Rocky Mountains to come, but somehow I felt that maybe the worst was behind me.
That’s what happened on the toughest day on the road – Day number 225.
Stay tuned. The Journey continues……