Mobilize March -- Travel Blog

Day 12 — Cresting the Peak

Never fear, Jeff Preston is back in action, none the worst for wear—I knew I was going to need all the rest I could get to handle the long drive ahead of us today.

After spending two really good days in Guelph, meeting some truly incredible people, and catching up with some old friends, it was time to begin our final push to Toronto. Packing up around 9am this morning, we hit the road under an overcast sky by 10am, ready to take on the world.

Although a bit gloomy and a bit chilly to begin, this drive was truly magical. Not only do some of the back roads leading from Guelph to Hamilton boast some absolutely stunning landscape but also they are apparently rarely used. We were a little concerned with our timing, heading into Hamilton on the Friday of a long weekend, however we were pleasantly surprised to discover that a majority of the traffic in and around the road consisted of cyclists, walkers, and people working on their lawn—all happy to give us a smile and a wave as we passed—car-wise though, we were basically left to enjoy the open road in near-solitude for a majority of the day.

The lack of cars was a stroke of luck because today was also the first (and hopefully last) day of wheelchair troubles. Before leaving on this trip I have had a few problems with my wheelchair shutting off randomly while driving and flashing a “motor failure/miscommunication” warning light across the controller. Generally, it can be solved by flicking the chair off and on; however, sometimes this error can leave me stalled for over 30 minutes. I had taken my wheelchair in several times before coming on this trip, getting both motors replaced along with a proverbial butt-load of wiring and my controller (basically, they rebuilt my chair, piece by piece…sort of like a really, really unfun game of lego). Buuuut, shortly after leaving Guelph my chair stalled again in the middle of the road. I was just started to decent a small hill when the chair stalled out, causing me to skitter to a halt. Thankfully, Pete was watching and didn’t plaster me from behind, morphing me into a Presto Hood Ornament. After messaging Sam to let her know what was happening, I closed my eyes tight, sent out a little prayer to any and all immortal overseers, and flicked the power switch off and on. This time around, the reboot worked perfectly and the chair lurched back to life. Hopefully this isn’t a sign of things to come; however, it wouldn’t falter again for the remainder of the drive.
Carlisle, a small town between Guelph and Hamilton provided several really excited experiences for us. Just before entering the community, a man saw us from his porch and came running down to stop and chat. Although he had not heard about my journey, he was extremely excited after I explained to him what I was up to. As it turns out, he has a friend in a wheelchair who lives in a group home somewhere in (or near, I’m not totally sure) Carlisle and recently he attempted to take this individual out for dinner, only to discover there was no way to get him from his home to the restaurant. Just as I suspected, here was yet another individual being left trapped in his home, all because there is no accessible transportation.

Shortly thereafter, we landed in downtown Carlisle and decided to stop and grab some lunch in the TD Canada parking lot on Centre Road. It was here that an individual noticed the ramp sticking out of our van and decided to come over and chat. He explained to us that a relative of his recently had his leg amputated and was struggling to cope with the sudden lack of mobility. As it turns out, this individual use to love driving his car, something he didn’t think would be possible since the amputation. We talked for quite a while, explaining to him the adaptations in our vehicle and some of the other neat things Shoppers Home Healthcare is capable of doing with vehicles and I can honestly say, I’ve never seen someone smile so widely in my entire life. Here was a man who was left helpless, left to watch a cherished relative being sidelined by the lack of transportation and forced into a life of stagnation and isolation. But as we explained and show him, this doesn’t have to be his relative’s reality! There are solutions out there to get people active and involved, to reduce our limitations and push disability into the background rather than allowing it to dominate the foreground of our lives.

It is moments like these that inspire me to keep going, keep fighting, and never give up on the dream of accessible transportation.

The highlight of my day was definitely at the end of the trip, as I made my descent down the escarpment and into Dundas. Cresting the final hill and seeing Hamilton and Dundas unfolding before me was absolutely incredible. The view was so incredible I won’t even attempt to spell it out to you here, but rest assured that we have some excellent video footage from the ride down that we’ll be posted on Sunday or Monday morning in our 2nd video blog update.

While today had some absolutely beautiful moments, both visually and emotionally, today was also by far our most dangerous day on the road. While I won’t go into it again here (as I’ve discussed the insanity in an earlier post), I will once again put out the call—please tell everyone you know about what I am doing and please beg and plead that if they see us on the road that they drive sensibly and courteously. These senseless high speed passes on hills must stop or it is more and more likely that someone is going to get killed—something that would be absolutely horrific and stymie the positive elements of this March. Please, for everyone’s sake, drive sensibly.

The life or death factor segways into an interesting moment I had yesterday—while talking to a girl from Guelph, I was asked “Isn’t this dangerous?” to which I responded “It absolutely is” and she asked, stunned, “So are you saying you’re willing to die for this?” This question made me take pause and I had to think about it for a moment. I have spent a vast majority of my life doing everything possible to avoid the Grim Reaper—there are a lot more things I intent to accomplish before laying down for that final rest. At the same time, I fully understand and accept the risks involved with driving on the road, so to a certain extent I am willing, and have over the past few drives, risked life and limb for this cause. I think ultimately it is not that I am willing to die for a future of accessible transportation, I have never been nor will I ever be good martyr material, but there is nothing more important to me than emancipating the disabled population from the social chains currently ensnaring us all. I do not have a death wish, but I refuse to see any more lives ended, any more lives endangered, because we cannot manage affordable and functional accessible transportation.

You know, every day hundreds of individuals with disabilities across this province do like I am and refuse to sit at home and be disqualified from participating in our society. In the process, they take their lives into their own hands, risking their health in inclement weather and their physical bodies driving on unpaved roads or roads without sidewalks. And if the physical dangers were not enough, countless individuals with disabilities across this fine and beautiful provinces die metaphorical deaths, forgoing the life they would like to live in exchange for a life of isolation and stagnation, held captive by the lack of accessible transportation.

So am I willing to give my life? Maybe, maybe not. But what I can say, is I REFUSE to allow another life be lost because of the lack of transportation and there is NO PRICE TOO HIGH to pay to attain that goal.

– Jeff

By Jeffrey Preston

Born with a rare neuromuscular myopathy, Jeff has spent his life dedicated to advocating for himself and others with disabilities. With a PhD in Media Studies from Western University, Jeff's research focuses on the representation of disability in popular and digital culture. Jeff is currently an Assistant Professor of Disability Studies at King's University College @ Western University in London, ON.