My website: www.joandonaldsonyarmey.com
I belong to Angels Abreast, a breast cancer survivor dragon boat race team in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada. Every four years the International Breast Cancer Paddlers Commission IBCPC) holds an international festival somewhere in the world. In the spring of 2013, my team received a notice that the IBCPC had chosen Sarasota, Florida, USA, to hold the next festival in October 2014.We decided to attend and while the other members were going to fly down, tour around some of the sites and head home I wanted to see more of the country and meet some of the people. My husband, Mike, and I drove from our small acreage at Port Alberni, British Columbia, on the Pacific Ocean, to Sarasota, Florida on the Atlantic Ocean.
Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the people I would meet nor the beautiful places I would see nor the adventures I would have on our ten week, 18,758km (11656 mile) journey. On the thirteenth day of every month in 2016 I will post a part of my trip that describes some of the excellent scenery, shows the generosity and friendliness of the people, and explains some of the history of the country. The people of the USA have much to be proud of.
Road Tripping USA Part Five
We entered Florida, the Sunshine State and passed a number of roadside shops offering pecans, jams, and boiled peanuts. We stopped at one and bought a bag each of pecans, chocolate coated pecans, and white chocolate coated pecans. We also purchased a bag of chocolate covered cherries, a container of pecan brittle, and a jar of mayhaw jelly. Mayhaw is a wild berry that grows along the rivers in the area. We sampled the boiled peanuts. You can eat them with the shell or you can remove the shell and eat the nut.We crossed the Historic Suwannee River made famous by Stephen Foster’s song Old Folks at Home written in 1851. It became Florida’s state song in 1935.
At 4:00pm the temperature was 83F (28C).
I was to meet my dragon boat team at the Hampton Inn Sarasota Bee Ridge on Wednesday, October 22. On October 21 Mike and I went to Myakka State Park and booked a site for him for five nights. In the morning we decided to do the Canopy Walk before I went to the hotel. It was humid and hot even at 8:00am.
We walked down the road to a bridge over the river and took pictures of a small alligator swimming in the water. We continued to where the Canopy Walk trail headed into the bush. It was only slightly cooler in the trees. After a short distance we got to the first of two towers. There was a sign there warning us that the suspended walkway would sway when we crossed it and the taller tower would shake if someone was climbing below. Also, the tall tower would rattle if it was windy. But we were assured it was all natural and safe.
We climbed the tower to the walkway which is suspended 25ft (7.6m) above the ground. We walked along its narrow 85ft (30m) length through the tall trees. At one point we had to duck to miss a huge branch growing over the walkway. At the end we climbed the taller tower until we were 76.1ft (23m) in the air. What an excellent view we had of the oak and palm tree tops and the wetlands. This is one of just a few canopy walks in the world.
In the afternoon, Mike drove me to the Hampton Inn. The rest of the team wouldn’t be showing up until evening. I unpacked and watched television, something I hadn’t done since leaving home. I hadn’t missed much. The two ladies I was sharing the room with arrived and after hugs and greetings they unpacked. We headed down to the lobby to meet with other team members and we went for supper.
Thursday was a free day so we split into groups, some wanted to go shopping, some wanted to relax because of the time change, and some wanted to sightsee. I was part of the shopping group. One woman had gotten directions to a shopping center and we boarded a bus. It was a long trip and we had to transfer once. At one point we were the only people on the bus other than the driver. A young man got on and stopped when he saw all us women. We told him it was safe and we had quite a conversation with him, telling him who we were and why we were in town. He took a picture of us when he got off the bus.
We visited the mall and returned in time to attend the welcoming party that the hotel staff put on for us and the three other teams who were staying at the hotel. We had a fun time meeting the other women and sampling food and beer from local businesses. We’d made reservations at a nearby restaurant for a team supper so we headed there afterwards. Once we’d eaten, most of the team came back to our room for shooters and a party.
Friday morning we were bussed to Nathan Benderson Park for our first look at the venue where the festival would take place and for our forty-five minute practice on the lake. The opening ceremonies were held that evening and thousands of chairs had been set up on a grassy area facing a stage. The youngest member of all the teams from each country carried that country’s flag across the stage and set it in a holder. No name or age was given for these women but some of them seemed to be in their twenties or early thirties. Speeches were given and then there was a wine and cheese reception for the teams.
School buses had been rented to provide transportation for the teams to the site on Saturday and Sunday. Our pick up time was at 6:30am. The hotel management usually supplied breakfast for its guests starting at 6:00am but they changed the time to 5:00am to accommodate our early schedule. And a good selection it was: bacon, eggs, sausages, toast, hash browns, hot and cold cereal, muffins, fruit, juice, tea, and coffee.
We were in Florida but at 6:30 in the morning it was dark and the temperature was cool. At the site we carried our team banner and decorations to our tent and set them up, then watched the sun rise.
Nathan Benderson Park was large. It had to be to accommodate the one hundred teams with up to twenty-six members plus supporters. This totaled about three thousand women and men in pink. There were two long rows of huge tents on the grass and the teams shared the space. Each team was given a table and enough chairs for the members. We put our table at one end of the tent and set the chairs in two rows with a narrow walkway between. From the other end of our space we had a view of the lake and the races. Between us and the water was a paved walkway and a beach.
The races began at 8:30am and ran every ten minutes. There were eight teams per race. Our first race was at 8:50. We found a place on the grass to do our warm up then headed to the first Staging Area to line up with the other seven teams of our race. There were twenty-four dragon boats on the water. Eight were racing, eight were being loaded and heading to the race start, and eight were waiting to unload from the previous race. As each set of boats was loaded the teams for the next race moved from the first Staging Area to the second Staging Area and those from the Second Staging area went down to the water to await their boats. It ran like clockwork.
When our race was finished we were free to explore the site until an hour before assembling for our next one. I went and checked out the many tents that offered clothes, paddling equipment, food, and souvenirs for sale. One place sold t-shirts that listed the one hundred teams and all their members. I found my name on it and bought it.
It was exciting to wander the crowd of women, meeting friends from other festivals and making new ones at this festival. Mike and I planned on travelling across Canada so I stopped in at the tables of teams from each province to get a contact number. I wanted to try and make a practice with at least one team in each province as we drove through it.
We women at the race are a very small representation of the millions of women around the world who have had, are dealing with, or who have died from breast cancer. We are called survivors, but really that is a description that changes minute by minute. I have paddled with many women who had their cancer return, sometimes in the breast, sometimes it has metastasized to their brain, their lungs, or another part of their body. One woman I knew had breast cancer cells wrapped around the bones of her lower jaw.
In one area there was a pink fire truck and a pink police car. The retired firefighters from various towns and cities drive their truck to festivals across the country to raise awareness of breast cancer. Their motto is Pink Heals and the truck was covered in names of people who had signed it. I added my name to it.
Some of the teams have come up with some very inventive names: Chemo Savvy from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada; Chestmates from Kingston, Ontario, Canada; Missabittatitti from Brisbane, Queensland, Australia; Hope Chest, Buffalo, New York, USA; and Rowbust from London Ontario, Canada.
After our last race of the day we headed to the drop off and pick up area to catch a bus back to the hotel. The owner of the school buses was directing them and we visited with him while we waited our turn.
“Did you know that there are alligators in the lake?” he asked.
“No,” we said, as we looked at each other in shock.
“There are and if you fall in you will be eaten,” he said. “Alligators only eat every four months and we hold a festival on the lake about every four months. That way we don’t have to feed them.”
Back at the hotel, we got ready for the Parade of Nations and a street party. Every team was supposed wear theme costume. Ours was Super Survivor. We wore pink capes, white t-shirts with a super hero on it, pink decorated masks, and black pants. We each carried a small Canadian flag. We were bussed to the Lakewood Ranch Main Street. There were speeches and then the one hundred teams paraded through the streets. Afterwards, a band played while we shopped in the stores and ate in the restaurants or from the street vendors. I gave my flag to a young boy of about eight, my cape to a young girl of about eleven and my mask to a child of about five.
On Sunday afternoon, the Flower Ceremony was held after the last race. The sixteen boats from the previous two races remained on the water and were joined by the eight boats from the last one. They formed a floating flotilla of twenty-four boats and stayed in formation by the ladies holding the side of the boat beside them. Each of the women in the boats, as well as all the survivors on shore, had been given a pink carnation. Spectators could purchase the carnations and the money was donated to Breast Cancer research.
Speeches were made then while the song, The River, was played we all waved our flowers. At the end of the song we threw them into the water. These flowers represented the women who have died from the disease or who are fighting it.
The Flower Ceremony, also called the Carnation Ceremony, is held at every festival where there are breast cancer teams. It always is a very moving sight.
At the closing ceremonies the oldest member of all the teams from each country retrieved that country’s flag from the holder and carried it back across the stage. Bette, an 85-year-old member from our team, represented Canada.
Each day there were three drones hovering over the venue recording the sights. In the evening we could bring up the website on the Internet and see all that had taken place during the day.