Alex and Vanessa:

Alex Holton:

In 2006 Vanessa and I were surprised and shocked to discover that I had developed an eight centimeter dissection in my ascending aorta. Over the course of forty-eight hours, I went from being what I thought was a completely healthy person to undergoing life saving surgery to replace the damaged section of my aorta and rebuild my heart.

I've always considered myself to be an active person, but post surgery I lost all confidence in my ability and even the safety of being an active person. Worry about harming myself through activity really started to prevent me from fully recovering from the surgery. After discussing this with my cardiologist I was referred to the cardiac rehab center at the Toronto Western Hospital.

Cardiac rehab did two things for me that helped my recovery in ways I could have never achieved on my own. It gave me access to exercise equipment in a safe environment monitored by health care professionals and provided me with a judgment-free space full of people who had shared similar experiences. The group of patients and workers in the center helped normalize my perspective on my health. Being in a group of patients who have all been through what I had been through really helped me accept that recovery and a normal life were obtainable goals and that I wasn't the only one shooting for them.

I entered rehab doing slow shuffles on a treadmill and by the time I left I could run. Without the confidence and guidance they gave me, I have trouble imagining that the trip Vanessa and I are attempting this summer would even occur to us as a possibility.

Vanessa Parlette:

Born in Scarborough Ontario, I was relocated eastward and raised in the town of Cobourg from the age of six. I’ve been living in Toronto since I started University in 2001, with the exception of one year in Vancouver. Cycling for me started as a cheaper and more exciting alternative to public transit for getting around the city (although I do love public transit). Now, as I near completion of my phd in urban geography, we feel that it’s a good time to ‘scale up’ and fulfill our dream of traveling sustainably across the country while supporting an organization that has had an immeasurable impact on our lives. Although Alex’s heart surgery may have been what ‘saved’ his life, it was really the support and training he experienced at Cardiac Rehab that brought him back to a life that he could own and control.

In 2009, Alex and I got hooked on long distance cycling when we decided to do a cycle-camping trip on Vancouver Island. Never before had I ever thought it would be possible for me to travel daily distances of over a hundred kilometres under my own power; training for and embarking on that trip was truly a remarkable turning point for both of us. Bike tripping provided a vehicle that allowed us to overcome physical barriers and self-imposed limits on what we could achieve while simultaneously offering an incredible way to travel and experience our surroundings.

I recently had my own recovery from surgery to realign my broken collar-bone with a metal plate, after a pannier string caused a crash that abruptly cancelled our intended trip in 2010. Taking these journeys through our recoveries together has rotated both Alex and I between the positions of caregiver and incompetent, which has instilled a profound respect for both the body’s fragility and power. Regaining strength and able-bodiedness has been a long road and I’m glad it has taken us here.

I’ve traveled through most of Canada by bus, but I’m excited to get to know the places, the terrain, and the people we meet as we pedal our loaded bikes for 8000 kilometres from coast to coast.