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A Man Rides into a Cafe – Dad’s Journey & The Vinyl Cafe

This is a letter I wrote to Stuart McLean.  Ya, THEE Stuart McLean of the Vinyl Cafe.  That was back in November when we were in Corsica.  I was more than delighted when my new friend replied saying he’d like to use it on the show.  Remember, The VC audience in Canada and the USA is over 2M people.  Dad would get the accolades he deserved after all those lonely, gruelling  months on the road.  Stuart has worked his magic with the letter and recorded it recently in Chilliwack with Dad, family, friends and fellow cyclists in the crowd.  I’m told Dad received a long and hearty standing ovation when (my new BFF) Stuart invited him onto the stage.  The story will be broadcast this weekend on CBC with the “Story Exchange”.

Saturday 9am CBC Radio 2

Sunday 12noon CBC Radio 1

Tuesday 11pm CBC Radio 1

The show will also be available by podcast here as of Saturday morning:

http://www.cbc.ca/radio/podcasts/arts-culture/vinyl-cafe-stories/

Dear Stuart,

I wasn’t that surprised when my Dad told me he wanted to ride his bike across Canada.  He’d done it before.  A few times.  Left to right and right to left.  But that was years ago and this was different.  He wanted to touch the outer reaches of our country with his bike tires.  The corner crusts of our sandwich, the ones the kids don’t eat.  The farthest west, north, south and east a person could go, on a road.  “But why Dad, you’ve already done it?” I asked him.  “Because I love Canada” was his answer.  Well, who could argue with that?

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Dad (far right) and crazy cycling friends

My Dad took to biking in his mid forties when, as for a lot of us, running becomes just too painful on the joints. He got on that bike and something magical happened.  The saddle was his happy place.  When Dad was on that skinny seat with the wind in his face and a burning in his thighs he felt content.   Well he never told me that but he must have or he wouldn’t have spent so much of his life in that uncomfortable position.  

But Dad was 80 now and suffering from, among other things, bad arthritis in his knees and hands, scoliosis that made his spine swirl like a snake, macular degeneration in at least one eye and the biggie, Parkinson’s Disease.  His once muscular frame was so diminished and the medications so overwhelming that occasionally when he’d fall asleep at the dinner table he’d look very much like a skinny grieving question mark. 

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Yukon Dan and the open road

So when Dad told me about his scheme to ride his bike top to bottom and side to side, all over Canada, I decided to humour him and see just how far he was prepared to go.  Two of his six kids, my sister Janet and I were available to help him for the first stretch last spring and we set about equipping a van and tent trailer to act as support crew.  We piled in sleeping bags and grizzly bear bangers, pots and pans and bug hats, bike parts and maps.  I checked in with the Guinness people through their elaborate application process.  I explained Dad’s age, his illnesses and the scope of his journey.  They told me Dad didn’t meet their criteria. 

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Green drinks ala Janet keeping Dad strong

British Columbia is way taller than she is wide.  It took Dad, Janet and our dog Mocha three days just to drive from Vancouver up to Dawson in the Yukon.  They had to wait until the ice was off the river to cross and the summer road was cleared of snow to get started but once they got the go ahead Dad began his journey in late May 2013 at the “Top of the World Highway”, the most western road in Canada, where it borders Alaska.  The ‘highway”’ was rough, muddy and rocky, pavement can’t survive the elements there.  Progress was slow but he revelled in it, stopping to take photos of the majestic northern vistas.   He saw wolves, elk, big horn sheep, eagles and other wildlife as he peddled along alone.  Janet would flag him down every few hours and remind him to drink more water.  She’d make him meals on the camp stove and encourage him to eat as much as possible.  The Parkinson’s meds take away his appetite but he needed his strength to accomplish 10+ hours of cycling a day.  Then, as he began to tire, they’d tie a bright pink or green ribbon to a scrubby little  tree by the roadside to mark the spot he’d left off.  His motto was “EFI”.  You’ll have to ask him yourself what that stands for.  They’d shuttle to the nearest pull out or camp spot to bed down for the night and get up to do it all over again the next day.  

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Janet’s new puppy Pelly & Lyla

They hung a left at near Dawson and headed north up the Dempster Highway heading for Canada’s most northerly road at Inuvik.  Thank God there’s no road to Tuktoyaktuk or he’d have that in his sights too. They were turned back at Eagle Plains the Tombstone National Park campground as the road ahead was closed for 13km, when the road was washed out by the heavy melt.  He vowed to come back and complete that stretch later in the summer or Fall once it had a chance to dry out a little.   After three weeks of tough sledding they were closing in on Whitehorse.  My husband, 10 year old daughter and I flew up to take over as support crew.  Janet flew home with a new little puppy she’d picked up in Pelly Crossing, Yukon.  Her name is Pelly and like many northern dogs, her breed undetermined.  

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Just trees, mountains and the open road

After a warm and generous stay in Whitehorse with ‘Cousin Ed’ and his sweet lady Stacey, Dad set off  on the Alaska Highway heading diagonally south east for Alberta.  While he rode we prepared meals, tried to keep him hydrated, did laundry and minor bike maintenance, found places to camp and when available comfy hotel beds for Dad’s weary bones and twisted spine.  We read Robert Service poems by the campfire, swam in vast lakes and hardly saw a soul.  Not a power line, street light or fresh vegetable to be found.  Just endless undulating miles of trees, lakes and spectacular mountains. In Watson Lake we taped the seams of our tent trailer shut to keep out the millions of hungry mosquitoes.  We played cards for hours at the side of the road and read books with bug hats on.  I like to think we made them kind of fetching. 

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Your average day on the Alaska Hiway

Through rain, long dusty gravel construction zones and the unending climbs of the Continental Divide Dad just kept on peddling.  The black bears and grizzlies, wild bison and elk by the roadsides didn’t deter him either; he insisted they weren’t interested in a skinny old man.  They preferred the tender dandelions blooming in the ditches.  He was getting weather worn, bug bitten, skinny and … stronger.  Somewhere in Northern B.C. we had to buy him some suspenders to hold up his bike shorts as he was losing so much weight.  Because the Parkinson’s made it hard for him to swallow he often drank his half a beer at the end of the day through a straw.  He walked with a slow shuffle and his voice faltered to a soft whisper when the PD meds had worn off.  He had trouble doing up buttons and toothpaste tubes.  Simply taking a shower and getting dressed could take more than an hour because his fingers just weren’t cooperating any more.  And through all of this Dad just kept on riding.  Once he was on that bike he wasn’t shaky or weak, he was unstoppable. The disease was left behind.  Dad doesn’t talk much, but I think this was his idea of a good time. Plus, all the exercise helps to keep the ‘Parkies’ as he calls it, at bay. 

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Manly men of the north

My daughter Lyla and I had to head home to Vancouver.  Me to work and her she to finish grade 5.  My husband Cam stayed on as Dad’s wingman for a month.  They did man things like eat beans with bacon for breakfast and grow beards as Dad chalked up the miles.  There was some juggling of medication and a few hospital stops to get Dad checked out and better hydrated.  My husband couldn’t stay forever and we worried about Dad cycling unescorted through the Canadian wilds. He kept assuring us he could do it alone as he’d done before. That’s when his brother Larry from Saskatoon stepped up.  Larry and his wife Shirley had been on many cycling adventures with Dad in the past and they were happy to support for a couple of weeks of their summer vacation.  But they too had to get back to their busy lives leaving Dad on his own.  

“But Dad, how are you going to do it alone, you need so much help?” I asked him over his crackling cel phone.  In his shaky whispered voice he told me his plan. “People are nice, they’ll help”.  People are nice?  That was his fallback position?  He had pie at a rec. centre bridge club, dinner with strangers and a few times a free night’s stay at a roadside hotel.  People are nice.  Especially Canadians, it was working.   He made it almost to Winnipeg before he called it quits that August. He had ridden nearly over 4,000 km’s.  Dad said it was the pain in his back that made the cycling just too unbearable, not the Parkinson’s.  Later we found out that he’d fallen off his bike (not for the first time) west of town and been taken to hospital.  A detail he neglected to mention at the time. I told Dad I was proud of him and that he’d done so much to prove what people with Parkinson’s are capable of.  

Dad was not to be deterred that easily. That Fall (2013) with my brother Kevin from Nelson, BC as his roadie this time, they few back up to Whitehorse.  There was the little matter of the unfinished most northern road, The Dempster to Inuvik.  They rented a camper fit for the outback and headed back to the place he’d been forced to stopped before.  EFI remember.  Dad would ride ‘every f(%$#&*g inch’ of his planned itinerary.  Ah jeez, I told you.   I got the feeling he wanted to do it while he still could, before his once strong body began to shake and curl up like a fiddlehead. He was seized and stuck up to his axels.

BMuWS8yCQAEC9rN.jpg-largeOnce again, after days and days of trying the mud was just too deep and thick to carry on. Then, just north of Eagle Plaines a highway supervisor stopped them with the warning that the ferry just ahead may not be able to continue as truck have been blown over by the winds.

That northern box would remain unchecked, for now. 

Last Spring (2014) he decided to pick up where he’d left off, just west of Winnipeg.  This time he had a fancy new three wheeled bike so he wouldn’t fall over and he brought it to the house one day to show it off.  It was pretty cool.  A sort of reverse tricycle with two wheels in the front and one in the back.  It was a sweet machine.  He could even pull over and take naps without getting off.  After a few practice runs, a few crashes and necessary adjustments Dad was ready to set off again.  He packed his bike in his van and drove from Vancouver to Winnipeg.  This was actually  more frightening a prospect than his cycling.  Dad had been in a feisty debate with the motor vehicle branch about wether or not he could keep his driver’s licence.  His reaction times were slowing and his test results were pending. I think he may have taken off before the final letter arrived.  He abandoned his van in a motel parking lot near the Winnipeg airport.  

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Ready for part 2. Portage la Prairie

The tables had turned, Dad was now the mischievous teenager out there taking risks and getting into trouble and we were the parents waiting and wondering at home. He was still insisting that he could go it alone.  After all he had attached bright green flags to his bike for safety and had some food with him just in case.  Our cousin Laverne from Winnipeg drove him out west of Portage la Prairie and dropped him off on a lonely stretch of road.  She called us later that day to say how worried she was about leaving this tiny little man on the side of the Highway with its endless parade of huge semi trucks zooming by.  We were all worried. He could get squished like a bug.  We would just have to wait and let this thing play out.  I asked him not to nap on his trike on the shoulder of the highway.  He had a way of slumping over like a limp doll that made him look unconscious.  It could be quite frightening for the uninitiated.  There were a few times the police stopped to investigate. Perhaps concerned citizens had called in to report a dead man sitting on a tricycle on the side of the Trans Canada. 

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Cruising Ontario face to the rising sun

Dad was 81 now and during his years as a touring cyclist he’d  built up a large community of like minded (ok, crazy) friends.  It was these friends, the ones who understood his passion, that arrived, one by one, to blow on the embers of his dream.  First, the very enthusiastic Chris pitched in and escorted through the unpopulated and bug infested sector of northern Ontario with its foul weather and fierce headwinds.  Then a bike mechanic friend, Peter and his wife Diana, flew out to spend their two week vacation in southern Ontario zig zagging along with Dad.  They were with him when he reached the southern most point of Canada at Point Pelee.  Tick! Dad was picking up steam. In fact, he was having such a great time admiring the scenery on Pelee Island he decided to go for an extra spin while waiting for the return ferry. 

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Chris Hodgson, Clara Hughes and Dad. Another ‘Big Ride.’

He wanted to touch his wheel to the most southern piece of real estate in our country.  He took a little too long, no doubt stopping to take photos. The ferry crew just couldn’t wait and had closed the gates, strung the chains across the bow and rolled up the plank when Dad came busting through the pay station full speed, green flags flapping, to the cheers of the passengers already on the upper deck.  That may be the first time in history the Pelee Island Ferry returned to the dock to pick up a late passenger.  The crew even threw together a few bucks to make a donation to Dad’s Parkinson’s fund.  Ross Ens came to help our and another old bike buddy Peter Winford, flew out to take a shift from Toronto and rode shotgun through the maritimes before he had to head home as well.  When Dad was interviewed by the local CBC affiliate in PEI the reporter asked him why he was doing what he was doing?  There was a definite twinkle in his eye when he said in his soft voice “it’s important to have a purpose”.  He had help from other biking friends too.  Roy, Ross Ens and Peter Winford all flew out to ride shotgun for a bit. 

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Cape Spear. Made it!!

Fittingly, Dad would take the ferry to Newfoundland alone.  Derek and other kind members of the Parkinson’s Society of Nfld and Labrador met him and welcomed him to the rock. They even took him out for dinner and found him a nice place to stay.  A few days later when Dad arrived at the Cape Spear lighthouse, by police escort, there was a small but enthusiastic crowd clapping and cheering him on.  As far east as you can go and still be in Canada.  The place where Terry Fox had begun his journey.  My sister Janet had called the lighthouse.  Who knew you could call call the Cape Spear lighthouse?  They lowered the flag and presented him with the red maple leaf on the rocky shore of the Atlantic. His long ride was over. 

But a flag, like our country, has four corners.  Dad had quietly and slowly traversed more than 10,000 km’s of our vast land under his own steam.  Bad weather, illnesses and other people’s doubt had not deterred him.  When I told him how proud I was of him and what a great accomplishment he’d achieved he said…”what do you think about next September for the Dempster?”  He will be 82 then.  

Sincerely,

Tara McGuire, North Vancouver, BC

30 Comments

  1. Wow, this post made my day. What a journey, and what a proud daughter you are. I remember you talking about this crazy Dad journey on the radio, but it’s great to see the entire, now completed story written up. I look forward to listening to Stuart doing his spin on The Vinyl Cafe. Your travels, and your year away documenting it has given you the gift of writing Tara. You no doubt always had it, but your blog has allowed you to rediscover it. Enjoy the journey from afar knowing there will be a warm crowd of fans tuned in to “Dad’s story” this weekend back home!

  2. Dodie and Mark

    Hi Tara, Cam and Lyla. What a beautiful story. Mark and I will be listening to The Vinyl Cafe this weekend as will Andrew and Lianne. Tara, you are such a fabulous story teller, we just love reading your blogs. I always feel like I’m right there having the experience of a lifetime that you guys are. Take care. We will be heading home to Saskatchewan from Osoyoos mid April. We are visiting the kids in N. Vancouver at present and will leave here after Easter. See you later this year.

    Mark and Dodie

    • Hi Dodie,

      Thanks for your kind note. Great that you can be so mobile and helpful on the coast. Love to see you again when we return to Vancouver this summer.

      All our best,

      Tara and chatty Cam!

  3. Colleen

    Balling my eyes out, great storytelling. and I see where you get your spunk from. Congratulations to your dad – you must be so proud. xo

  4. Jane Davies

    What a person… what a story… and what a great way to show how much we love our country… I will definitely be tuned in to CBC! Thanks for sharing….

  5. John

    Hey Tara,

    Awesome, really awesome. If one can’t be inspired by that they’re dead to the world. Hope you guys are enjoying your journey ….

    JS

    • Hi John,

      Yes, he’s quite the stubborn old inspiration. Makes you realize what you’re capable of doesn’t it?

      Love to you and N,

      x T

      p.s. and yes, we’re having a great time. In Sicily at the moment. Ciao!

  6. My husband Allan & I met Larry & Shirley when we were cycling to Bulgaria some years ago. I was delighted to read this account of Larry’s brothers cycle trip. What an amazing thing to do. He’s right, everyone does need a purpose . Best wishes Eileen & Allan x

    • Thanks Eileen,

      Yes, the image of sitting in retirement with a book and a cup of tea does get boring. A purpose makes us alive! Larry and Shirley are such amazing people.

      Thanks for being in touch,

      Tara

    • Hi Sara,

      I know the disease affects everyone differently. For my Dad, it seems to have made him more determined and sweet. He was never what you would call ‘sweet’ before. It has brought out some lovely aspects of his personality that i never saw before. That and he’s totally stubborn!

      Best to you and your Mom,

      Tara

  7. The Millar family

    Hello dear McGuire family,

    I just heard Dan’s story on the Vinyl Café. I listen weekly to the show and never has a show brought on so many tears! Your story swelled my heart with happiness and pride!! How inspiring is Dan!! And how proud you all must be and thankful he’s safe and accomplished his goal!!
    I grew up in NB, lived half my life in Montreal and now in Winnipeg. I’ve travelled many of our country’s roads – narrow and winding they can be and the speed of transports can be so scary! I can’t ever imagine biking them! Especially at your dad’s age and condition! Dan’s story has deeply touched me! I’m 6 mths pregnant and will definitely remember his name and story to share and hopefully inspire my own children to ALWAYS have a purpose and NEVER give up!
    This is the first I’ve ever commented on any type of posts or blog! Dan’s story deeply touched me and I had to find a way to communicate this to him.
    God bless you all!
    The Millar family

    • Hi there,

      Thank you so much for your note. All my Dad wanted was to show what people with Parkinson’s could do. I think it’s safe to say that the sky is the limit. It may be slow and painful but anything is possible.

      Best of luck with your new arrival,

      Tara

  8. Hilary Kennedy

    Hello,
    Last night, as I was drifting off to sleep, Stuart McLean was reading your letter. Because sleep invaded throughout the reading I sought out more information and came across your posting here. My husband and I rode across Canada last summer and I’m trying to place where we crossed paths with your Dad as I’m sure we did!! When did he complete his ride??
    It strikes me that your father must feel a sense of freedom while he’s on his bike. One of the many ways his story amazes me is that he didn’t let his his physical situation nor his age get in the way of experiencing the freedom. I love how much faith he has in the inevitable assistance from strangers and of course in his own ability to face the mental and physical challenge of this adventure. He may have taken this on as something of a very personal experience but he’s managed to give so many so much along the way. Please thank him for sharing his spirit!
    And… Together with a friend, I’ve ridden the Dempster and I hope he gets to finish that leg – it’s outstanding scenery – so vast and wild, very worthy of the effort to complete it. But really, any path your Dad chooses to take on is worthy!!

  9. Steve on a Boat

    I’ve been sailing around the North Channel of Lake Huron all summer and Stuart Mclean’s stories have kept me company for many of those miles. I’ve enjoyed his stories so much that I downloaded all his podcasts so I don’t miss a one.

    I came upon his telling of your story. To say it was an epic display of aspiration would be an understatement.

    Bravo to you, your dad and everyone else involved.

    When the man who wrote the motto said, “To all you who say it can’t be done, please stay out of the way of those of us doing it.”, he must have been thinking about Dan.

    Kudos to you and yours and fair thee well.

    Steve

  10. AndyS

    Two Brits cycling East to West met Dan in Ontario, what an inspiration. We were in our 60`s and thought we were doing well. Hope your Dad is ok- pass on all our best. If in UK look us up.

    Andy and Chris- Trans Canada 2014

  11. Sheila McCarthy

    Just heard this amazing story on the Vinyl Cafe recounted by thee Stuart McLean. I am a HUGE fan. Your Dad is an inspiration to anybody who has heard his story and his endeavor serves to remind us that EFI should be a motto for all of us. Thank you for sharing your Dad with us.

  12. Margaret Behr

    My husband and I were so moved by the story of your Dad’s journey we heard on one of our favourite shows, the Vinyl Cafe. The photos of your Dad in various websites show a face of such strength and determination. We were touched by him saying “It’s good to have a purpose.”
    Wonderful that you wrote his story, and that he was able to receive the standing ovation and kudos due him for such a remarkable achievement.

  13. W. Robson

    Tara, I am so happy to hear that your dad made the final “Check”. Hearing the story made me think of my own dad who suffered from many of the same physical problems. Parkinson’s, arthritis, scoliosis. I wish he could have been as active as yours but he also had asthma, pneumoconiosis and high blood pressure. He would have loved this story about your dad. Please say hello to him for me and wish him well.

  14. Annet M

    Hi – we just listened to the story of your dad’s bike on podcast of the Vinyl Cafe – and my 8 yr old said, when Stuart asked if you would stop for an old man on a bike on the side of the road, he said yes. When the story ended he said “Look on google mom to see if he’s still alive, the internet will tell us”. Thanks for your website, because indeed, the internet told us. Hope he’s still doing well. We loved the story.

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