Friday, September 21, 2007

Bright's Grove, ON

September 4, 2007
Bright's Grove, ON

David and Casey returned to school today. We will all need some time to digest and internalize the events of the Great FASD Horseback Ride Across Canada.

A significant part of the physical journey was accomplished on horseback, but we suffered the loss of Brandi, Errin Weigel's Arabian mare. We continued on with our little plastic horse on the roof of the van and 215 horses under the hood. The journey covered some 22,000 km round trip, involved hundreds of people, shared knowledge among hundreds of people and made thousands of people more aware of FASD. There were many organized public and private events and hundreds of teaching moments on the trek. It was not an immediate financial success but it was a practical and moral success.

My descriptions in this Blog have been more of a travelogue nature than in-depth FASD story sharing. Those will come. We returned home with more than 2,700 digital still photo images and 7 1/2 hours of video. These have been transferred to my office computer and presentations are a work in progress. There is much to add to the material we collected, much to digest and many more stories to compile into the finished works. Obviously that volume of material cannot be gelled into a 60 minute presentation. It will be broken into many short sessions that will serve various parts of the country and various constituencies.

I have omitted many names in the blog for brevity and because it is impossible to remember the names of all the people we have met on the journey. However, as I sort through the Ride Registry and the business cards, those names will be included in the presentations.

I will also be transferring the names of the eligible riders on the registry to a database to produce the draw tickets for Errin Weigel's foal. Please be patient. I am also catching up on shipping of CD's and T-shirts for those who made on-line donations. I am one person doing this job. "My Kingdom for a horse"? Nae. My kingdom for a good secretary. :-)

For those we have met on the journey, if you have photos, video or personal stories you want included in our final works, please send them to me at:

Bruce Ritchie
2448 Hamilton Road
Bright's Grove, Ontario
N0N 1C0

Thanks to all those who have been so kind and generous to us across this incredible land. The Great FASD Horseback Ride Across Canada has accomplished much and is only resting. It has not ended. We have touched many communities along the main routes of the country, but many remain to be seen. We have discovered lessons on the journey which also need to be shared with those we saw earlier in our travels. We also have some ideas for 2008 that can continue what was started in 2007.

A special thank you to McDonald's Restaurants. Near the beginning of our journey we were told by a McDonald's manager to always talk to the manager first before we order a meal and let them know about the ride. They may want to contribute the meal to the Ride. I am delighted to say that all across Canada, McDonald's have in every case provided our meals when we have visited their restaurants. In every case it was an individual decision by the manager. As a long time entrepreneur (35+ years) I am extremely impressed at their corporate culture of community support and the willingness of the individual managers to support our cause. Well done McDonald's. Once again, Miigwetch. Thank You.

I extend thanks to Steve Thomas our lead rider who inspired the Great FASD Ride. Although he could not be physically with us on the journey after Brandi died, he still wants to make the entire trek, step-by-step.

I also extend thanks to Claudia Julien, our Ride Coordinator. She dedicated hundreds of hours to contacting people across Canada in the FASD community and the horse communities. Dozens of events would not have taken place without her efforts.

And I thank my son, David, and his best friend, Casey Newby, for their help, work and dedication for the summer break. They were excellent travel companions and extremely helpful at events and the camps. We all climbed mountains - on the landscape and within ourselves. A summer to remember.

I am available to present at workshops and can be contacted at the above address or by phone at:
Landline (519) 869-8026
Cellular: (519) 331-6408
Stay tuned. Miigwetch. Thank you.
Bruce Ritchie

The Journey Home

August 28-31, 2007
The journey home.

We decided to get home as soon as possible. For several reasons we took the longer Canadian route rather than a short-cut through the USA. As neither of the boys has a driver's license, I have driven the entire distance. We drove and then slept for a few hours in the van, then drove some more. On Friday, August 31st, 4 days and 2900 km later, we arrived home in Bright's Grove.

Maple Creek, SK

August 27-28, 2007
Maple Creek, SK

We arrived in Maple Creek in mid-afternoon. Nettie Coderre is an absolute gem. She is a grandmother raising two boys with FASD and manages the Cypress Hills Motor Inn in Maple Creek. Population is about 2300. Nettie provided us with 2 rooms.

Our event for Maple Creek was planned to be August 30th. As I was in some discomfort with my new hernia, Nettie suggested we could skip the event and I could continue on home to arange for surgery. I really did not want to cancel the event but quipped about moving it up sooner. Nettie got on the phone and began calling, to make the event that evening at 7:30 PM.

Three hours later, the coffee shop in the hotel was packed. In the audience were Chief Alice Pahtayken (Nekaneet First Nation), two RCMP officers, the head of the Salvation Army Branch, teachers and families. It was a lively evening with a great discussion and refreshments. Wow!!! All this on three hours notice. And big cities like Victoria, Vancouver and Calgary can't get their act together even with substantial notice.

Nettie, you showed the power of positive thinking and positive action. WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thank you again.

Lethbridge, AB

August 27, 2007
Lethbridge, AB

Breakfast with Const. Mark Waage of the Lethbridge Regional Police, FASD Program. The work he is doing is extraordinary and I would love to clone him for every police department in Canada. Stay tuned.

Off to Maple Creek, SK.

Banff National Park, AB

August 23-26, 2007
Banff National Park, AB - Protection Mountain Campground

The campground is on the Bow Valley Parkway. Unlike on the long holiday weekend at the beginning of August (all campgrounds were full), at this time there were very few campers, even on the weekend.

Lake Louise is 1536 meters (5039 feet) above sea level. Mornings can be cool, and we did have frost on the vegetation. The scenery in Banff National Park is breathtaking. It is hard to turn a corner without saying "WOW!"

It's almost impossible, upon first seeing Lake Louise, not to gasp. The beautiful, milky blue lake rests at the foot of Victoria Glacier, which rises majestically behind it, capped by snow and ice year-round. First sighted by Europeans in 1882, the lake has become one of Canada's best-loved and most-visited resorts. Set on the lake itself, the Ch√Ęteau Lake Louise was built by the Canadian Pacific Railroad. At the dock we were entertained by a gentleman in traditional Swiss Alpine garb playing the trumpet, bell and Alpenhorn.

A visit to Moraine Lake is also mandatory. The boys climbed the moraine that keeps the lake intact. Again it is some of the most spectacular scenery in Canada.

While I was taking photos of the lake, a young lady, Gwen, approached me and asked if I would use her camera to take her picture by the lake. Of course I agreed. As we chatted she asked what brought me to Moraine Lake. When I told her, she said she was a nurse in Vancouver and she had done her graduate paper on FASD. I asked where she got her information and she replied, "FASlink". What a small world!

The Bow Valley Parkway runs roughly parallel to the Trans Canada Highway, but is a much more leisurely route. We came across a tree that had fallen onto the roadway and stopped to remove it. Wildlife was rather scarce but we did come across two eight point deer near the road. Frankly, it was very disappointing to see more wildlife outside our national parks than within them. Perhaps in an over-zealous desire to avoid human - animal interaction (road kill, camp scrounging), reporting the presence of bear, cougars, etc. is likely to have them trapped and moved to the interior away from people. But it is the wildlife that I want to see in the national and provincial parks. I have been camping since childhood and simple education can keep tragedies from happening. Then there is the Darwin Principle ..... :-)

On the third day in Banff awaiting for the Calgary event scheduled for August 28th, I received a call from the event organizer for the Calgary Fetal Alcohol Network Committee. In spite of four months notice, time to prepare the event, and a population of 1,000,000+, they were unable to hold an event, but would send a donation to FASlink. Still waiting. Another Victoria type fiasco.

It rained that day and was depressing, so we packed up. In the process, I carried a very heavy bin containing our canned food to the trailer, and popped an inguinal hernia. I had had one surgically repaired when I was 12 years-old and knew the feeling. I am quite a bit older now and the discomfort was significant. We drove to Lethbridge, AB. At this point I was not a happy camper.

Revelstoke, BC

August 22-23, 2007
Revelstoke, BC

The boys set up a tent in the public park at the edge of town. I stayed in the van. At 5 AM I awoke and took Duchess for a walk. When I returned I noticed a couple of in-ground lawn sprinklers watering the lawn about 100 feet away. I realized that could be a problem and rushed to wake the boys. They were too slow, and the next set of sprinklers were right beside their tent. Up popped the sprinkler heads and one shot a large stream of water under the tent fly into the tent interior, soaking the boys. They scrambled out of the tent, grabbed it by the corners and moved it to the parking lot. It was a comic scene, punctuated by deleted expletives.

We packed the tent, had breakfast and moved on to Donald Station. Steve was not home but we chatted with Jeff for a bit, then moving on to Banff National Park. We were provided with a campsite for 4 nights, 3 gratis. Time to see Lake Louise, Moraine Lake and the Town of Banff.

Kelowna, BC

August 22, 2007
Kelowna, BC

The night before the Kelowna event, we camped on the beach beside the beautiful lake at Oyama.

The Kelowna event was held at the Kelowna Metis Association offices and included a wonderful assortment of refreshments and goodies. Again, a delightful and warm group of people, including event organizer Maria Laboucan.

At 3 pm we were on the road again, arriving in Revelstoke after dark.

Victoria, BC - A huge disappointment

August 20, 2007
Victoria, BC

We drove to Victoria and the appointed location where the FASD Community Circle - Victoria was planning an event, arriving on time before 12:30 PM. The organizer had sent notices out to their extensive list of FASD related contacts on the island. We were met by ................ NOBODY. Nada, niet, zip. Nobody showed up, including the media.

We were told that media won't cover a subject area such as FASD more than once every 6 months. It seems that our arrival might interfere with the media covering the September 9th International FASD Day event locally.

This was particularly disturbing and disappointing as this was the end of the East to West, Atlantic to Pacific, trek for Fetal Alcohol awareness. It was ironic that International FASD Day began on FASlink and in Victoria we were snubbed because of it. It certainly left a very bad taste in our mouths for Victoria and after taking our photos and video at the Pacific shore, we took the ferry (another $100+) back to the mainland. We had to simply lick our wounds, and wounded bank account, and continue on. Exhaustion was setting in.

Duncan, BC

August 19-20, 2007
Duncan, BC

In Duncan we were hosted by Marjorie Wilson and her group at the Cowichan Valley FASD Action Team Society. Delighful people and a delicious breakfast. As we had to be in Victoria for a 12:30 PM event at Mile O of the Trans Canada Highway, we had to leave Duncan by 11:00 am. Otherwise we would have stayed longer.

Nanaimo, BC - Vancouver Island

August 15 to 19, 2007
Nanaimo, BC

In Nanaimo we were provided a campsite by Oceanside RV Park. It is a beautiful location and exceptionally well appointed, serviced and maintained, including beach and nature areas.

We had a few days to wait for our next event. The boys spent some time at the library while I arranged for an additional line of signage to be added to the van on each side. SignAge was most gracious and contributed the sign to the cause.

We attended the Vancouver Island Exhibition and enjoyed the horse events and variety of exhibits. Duchess turned on her charm and Shar-Kare Feeds and Pet Supplies donated two bags of her favourite Nutros Senior dog food and large dog biscuits. Thank you.

Unfortunately, the Nanaimo group were unable to meet with us but we did throughly enjoy lunch with Danielle Wittmyer and her delightful daughter.

On our way to Duncan, BC we stopped in at Chemainus, a delightful village focused on artisans and a huge collection of building wall murals. It is well worth the stop.

Vancouver, BC

August 14, 2007
Vancouver, BC

Nobody in Vancouver had offered to plan an event. We continued on to Vancouver by way of Maple Ridge. We had hoped to see the Assante FASD Clinic on the way but arrived after business hours. We continued on to Vancouver, arriving after dark. Vancouver had been enduring a garbage collectors' strike. I wanted to show Stanley Park at night to the boys.

Our GPS took us down Hastings Street. It was a nighmarish scene out of a Hollywood movie. Crowds of homeless standing and sitting on the sidewalks in groups, dealing drugs, sleeping, spaced out, with garbage strewn about and papers blowing around. It was also a dangerous place. The scene was stunning and left a lasting impression on David and Casey. The boys made sure the van doors were locked and wanted out of there as soon as possible.

We drove to Stanley Park and took night photos of the harbour. We then drove to Spanish Shores and slept overnight in the van in a church parking lot.

At sunrise, I drove the van to he beach and took Duchess for a walk while the boys slept. It was another beautiful day. We had lunch with an old friend and caught up on our respective lives. After lunch we drove to West Vancouver and took the ferry to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. $100.00+.

Hope, BC

August 13, 2007
Hope, BC

We arrived in Hope after dark. From our van, I called several hotels for a possible complementary room for the FASD Ride and was offered accommodation at the Colonial 900 Motel. It had recently been purchased from the former owner, a retired RCMP officer. The new owner was most gracious and provided a beautiful, well appointed room at no charge.

While on the phone a young woman approached the van, crying. David immediately got out of the van to see what was the problem. She had seen the little horse on the roof of our van and then read the window lettering. She told us she was an alcoholic with two daughters with FAS. Although she worked at fish cleaning, she was homeless and carried all her possessions with her. She thanked us for what we were doing. She wanted to introduce her 16 year-old daughter to David. :-) We talked for some time and then bid farewell. More on this meeting later.

Our stay in Hope was very comfortable, including provision of our dinner by the McDonald's Restaurant.

Kamloops, BC

August 12 and 13, 2007
Kamloops, BC

The terrain changes dramatically as we approach Kamloops. The region is rather arid with much sage and almost treeless hills. Yet there is a real beauty in the valley. The morning of August 13th we gathered at the municipal parking lot downtown to enjoy coffee and donuts while assembling the parade. Korena Douglas (Insight Support Services Inc.) and The Kamloops Therapeutic Riding Association provided riders and a horse for me, and the city police provided escort and traffic control. The parade went through the downtown to the city park. Several people spoke of the issues of those with FASD and other disabilities. The media attended and reported on the well attended event. The T-shirts again proved to be an excellent fundraiser. My hat is off to the participants in Kamloops. They made us feel not only welcome but part of the family.

We headed out toward Merritt in hopes of seeing the huge copper mining operation nearby. Unfortunately, the last time I was there was about 25 years ago on business and the distance from Merritt would not permit us to see the operation during business hours. We continued on to Hope, BC.