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The Great Canadian Bike Trek Commentary
February 26 - March 7

 

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26/2 1 kilometre of the smooth, almost flat prairie highways is certainly a lot easier than 1 kilometre on British Columbia's roads. Today's mammoth trek went smoothly, not a cloud in the sky, passing through the flat wheat fields.

You can see a town coming in the Prairies more than 10km before you get there. Across the flat plains is a grouping of trees with the skyline generally being dominated by an elevator, a tall wooden, barn looking structure used to process wheat, usually painted red, green, cream or white with the town's name painted on the side of it. The bigger towns have all kinds of weird farming machinery for sale in a lot similar to a car lot.

Between the towns are large, fenced fields with long, metal apparartuses spanning the width of the field, used for irrigation.

My only major stop, as I was trying to reach Medicine Hat at a reasonable hour, was Grassy Lake, a small town with an elevator and a large, empty grocery store where I ate.

The most spectacular times of the day in the Prairies are sun rise and sun set. I wasn't up early enough for sun rise, but I was lucky enough to still be riding when the sun set.

The sun going down was quite a sight, as it got lower, it made longer and longer shadows. Even the pebbles on the road had long skinny shadows, and the ugly shadow of me riding gracefully stretched way off into the fields. Before the sun sunk into the horizon to the west, it cast a golden tinge over everything, making the wheat fields glow.

I was fairly close to Medicine Hat when it got dark. The twinkling lights of the city could be seen from afar, especially the lit up structure that I discovered was the world's largest tepee when I rode past it later.

I arrived in Medicine Hat, winner of the communities in bloom, 1999. I was absolutely pooped from my ride. I found the residence of Laura, a student in Medicine Hat, showered and went to Moxies, the restaurant where she works, and finally had some Alberta Beef, which lived up to its reputation.



27/2 Today started off farily late as I was still recovering from the effects of over 9 hours on the saddle yesterday. I finally got off just before noon and had just left the city limits when my tire went flat.

I could see that something had been rubbing on my tyre as there were a number of gashes on one side of it, and the tube had finally given way.

I unloaded everything but realised I couldn't take the trailor off as my makeshift pin was permanent, and if I removed it, I may not be able to replace it. I though that I would just take the trailor and rear wheel off and work on it like that, but when I tried to take the wheel off, I realised that the accident from a couple of days ago must have bent the slot for the wheel, as it would not budge. So I ended up fixing the puncture with the tyre still on the bike, using a couple of layers of duct tape to cover the gashes from the inside of the tyre.

I returned to Medicine Hat for lunch as I was hungry (suprisingly) and there was a good selection there and I didn't know how long it would be until the next food opportunity.

After lunch, I got back onto Highway 1, the Trans Canada, for the first time of the trip.

Past more wheat fields and the odd paddock of cows, who all stopped what they were doing and stared at me, without moving their bodies, just turning their heads from whatever direction they were facing.

It was getting dark, I was a little tired and there was a slight head wind, making the pedal quite a grind, so I found a nice spot just outside the town of Irving and pitched the tent.


28/2 I could hear the wind whistling outside my tent, and hoped the wind was going in an easterly direction.

I opened the tent door so the wind could funnel in and dry everything, so I wouldn't pack everything away damp with condensation, like I normally do. I changed my front tyre that had gone flat over night and hit the highway, very happy the wind was blowing in the same direction as I was headed - and it was blowing, assisting my travels immensely.

It wasn't long until I was at the Saskatchewan border, leaving the sleek, smooth, two-lane, grassy median strip highways of the oil-rich Alberta for the single lane, painted median of Saskatchewan.

After the first 10km-odd of hills, Saskatoon flattened out considerably, flatter with seemingly more open space than fellow Prairie province, Alberta. Instead of towns every 10-15km like in Alberta, they were now every 20-30km.

On top of a low, wind-swepted hill, there was a gas station, a diner and the Proud Prairie motel, with nothing around for miles. I stopped at the very reasonably priced restaurant, had the 3-course special and then set off back in the wind.

It was partially cloudy and some fields were soaked with sunshine, while others were emersed in shadow. It had quite a neat effect, as did an old pickup truck driving down a side road in the distance, with only the sky behind it.

The ride was going smoothly, easy pedalling and terrain, with a nice tail wind pushing me along, when my back tyre went flat again. I fixed it with the same performance as yesterday, but this time while being battered with bitterly cold winds, which I had to pull out the balaclava and many layers of fleece. I was about 3km down the road, when my substandard repair job was insufficient to hold in the air, and my tyre went flat again.

It was dusk, so I pulled over to fix it in a ditch protected somewhat from the wind. I decided as the flat back tyre was becoming a recurring theme, I would do my best to get the back wheel off so I could swap the front tyre with the back tyre, as the gash-ridden back tyre would perform better with less weight on the front, and if it went flat again, it would be easier to change.

I unscrewed everything that could be unscrewed on the back wheel and then tapped away at the axel for about 15 minutes, using my allen key set as a chisel, and my spanner as a hammer. The wheel finally popped out, and I bent the slot with the spanner so this wouldn't happen again, and changed the tyres over.

Very content that my bike was in much better shape than it had been an hour ago, I pitched my tent, ate my ravaloli, and then phoned my parents for my weekly check-in call. My belovered sister, Clare, was home, having returned from England via two months in Africa, so it was nice to talk to her again.


29/2 It was a good feeling to wake up knowing that yesterday's bike problems seemed to be fixed. The Trans Canada Highway took me through more of the same fields as yesterday, except without the assistance of a tail wind.

Half of me was looking forward to getting east of Winnipeg for a change in scenery, while the other half of me enjoyed the space and vastness of the almost flat terrain and the incredible skies. I found myself noticing things that would normally go unnoticed such as the dead-straight line of evenly spaced power poles spanning the side of the highway.

I arrived in Swift Current and talked to some very friendly and helpful people in the local municapility office who gave me a makeshift map of Swift Current and recommended a good value motel to stay.

I had spent the last couple of nights in a tent without showering and was a little self-conscious about absolutely stinking, so I was keen to find a place where I could clean up. I stopped at the Rainbow Motel, where I had a lovely soak in a warm bath, did some laundry, and then went for a walk around the town, stopping at Carol's Diner for yet another sensational Saskatchewan 3-course special.


1/3 Regenerated and fresh smelling I hit the saddle for another day. Unfortunately the wind couldn't have been blowing in a more painful direction - into my face. I suppose I deserved it as I had such a strong wind with me a couple of days ago.

But I was cursing the ghastly gusts, riding down the flat, straight road at a mere 10km an hour. It required the same energy to move as the passes I had experienced in British Columbia, without the same sense of achievement from reaching the summit.

I battled the chilly winds all morning before stopping at Herbert at a Greek-owned family restaurant, where I got the special. I had been thinking about savouring the taste of lunch since leaving Swift Current, and it was terrific to sit down in a warm and sheltered environment to be waited upon for about 30 minutes.

After lunch it was a completely different world outside. The winds had eased and the birds were singing. The Prairies are a completely different place when strong winds aren't battering your face. I rode past some frozen lakes and dodged field mice road kills, of which I saw at least half a dozen of the poor rodents. I watched another incredible sun set and then pitched my tent in the middle of a wheat field, where I was seranaded by the sound of wheat brushing against the side of my tent in the wind.



2/3 An easy day all around. Almost perfect conditions, not too much wind, sun and a temperature that allowed me to ride without a woolly hat under my helmet for the first time in a while.

The morning was trouble free, all the way to Moose Jaw, apparently where Al Capone and other crooks used to hang out. I was craving a traditional McDonalds combo as I had been overdoing the roadside diner specials since entering the province.

I sat down with my tray of goodies and almost before my bottom hit the seat, a 60-70 year old lady sitting at the next table starting talking to me, telling me how she still rides a bike at her age, between garage sales on Saturdays and Sundays. Then her joke telling session begun, joke after joke for the duration of lunch. I must admit she was pretty funny for an old girl and had a few one-liners that Seinfeld would be proud of.

The old lady and I left the restaurant together, and we saw a couple outside, obviously her friends, of a similar age. The old guy was absolutely fascinated with my setup, especially the trailor. My joke-telling friend gave me an apple pie that she didn't eat, and offered me a lot more food, which I had to refuse, and I set off again, giving the three a toot as I rode off, which I think gave them a bit of a thrill.

The 70km from Moose Jaw to Regina was almost entirely straight and the flattest leg that I have encounted on the journey to date.

From about 35kms out, I could see Regina's skyline peering over the prairies. I thought that I may nearly be there, but I rode a lot more highway before the buildings seemed to get any closer.

I got tired of listening to my educational tapes on the history of the United Nations, which I had listened to 10 in the last 2 days, so I tuned into a local weird, but soothing, folk music station, which seemed very fitting for the scenery. After too much of that I tuned into a local rock station, where I discovered that Regina was backing in 13° Celcius at 5pm. Not bad for a city known for its extremely cold winters.

I arrived in Regina, where the Royal Canadian Mounted Police started. Its population of about 180,000 made it the largest city that I had been to since leaving Vancouver. Convertibles with their tops town were cruising the streets as the sun beat down and I had some good music ringing in my ears.

I rode down the beautiful tree-lined Albert Street past the Provincial Parliament buildings and through downtown, onto a sports shop owned by Jay, a friend of Al who I was staying with, and got cleaned up. Al was your typical prairies guy, very friendly and hospitible, with an honest sense about him.

Al, Jay and myself went to a restaurant/pub they frequent regularly, and were joined by Al's girlfriend, Christa, and Jay's brother, Brad.

After dinner we went back to the town of Southey, about 60km North of Regina, were Al lives. Al took me to his car dealership, Southey Motors and showed me his awesome collection of Harley Davidsons and Muscle cars.



3/3 I spent the morning washing all of my clothes that were a little bit damp. I went with Al to his mother's place a great lunch and then was picked up by Al's friend Leroy to do a bit of ice-fishing. Like Al, Leroy was very friendly and hospitable and seemed to have the same honest and genuine feeling about him.

We drove out to Last Mountain Lake, reputedly one of the best places to ice fish around. We left the gravel roads and drove straight onto the frozen lake. It was an incredibly weird feeling driving across a lake in a big dodge truck.

There were a lot of other cars and trucks and even little portable cabins scattered across the huge lake, all with little holes in the ice, waiting for a jerk on the line.

We found a spot and drilled some holes, baited the lines and then dropped them through the 30cm thick ice, and sat, waiting for the fish. It was extremely relaxing, good company, pretty scenery, sunshine and flocks of geese flying overhead, on the migration north, apparently about 3-weeks earlier than normal. Although I have been enjoying pedalling away, it was a nice change from the saddle.

We moved around a few times and drilled a few holes, until we found not a bad little spot, where there were some fish biting. Leroy, the avid ice-fisherman, pulled up three fish, while I went home empty handed.

Back to Al's we drove, where Leroy gutted the fish and then cooked them up. They tasted pretty damn good.

At 8pm, we went down to the local ice-rink for the 4th game in the best of 5 semi finals, in which Southey were 2-1 down, so it was a must-win game for them. There must have been half of Southey's 700 population packed into the brand new arena, of which Al must have known just about every one of them.

Unfortunately Southey went down to the visitors, but it didn't seem to dampen anyone's spirits as everyone migrated to the local Southey Hotel for a few brews and then onto another place to finish the night off.



4/3 Something that I wanted to do in Saskatchewan was visit a Hutterite Colony. Hutterites are similar to Amish people that you see in American movies, self sufficient people who do not have many influences from the outside world, living on a large farm with all of their own facilities, in their clothes they made themselves and eating food they produced themselves. Al, Leroy and myself packed into Al's Dodge and drove out the colony, stopping at one of Al's friend's private Harley museum on the way.

One of Al's friends knew one of the Hutterites, so he gave us the name for the colony. It was a very interesting place, with a population of 98, all of who which milked cows, cooked, built and all of the other things that you'd expect. We met Elias, the manager of the colony, who told us a little about the place, while we sipped the homemade wine.

Elias's son Phil, showed us around the property, of which I was very impressed to see that they had the latest agricultural technology and seemed to be pretty efficient, selling some of their surpluses to companies such as KFC. I expected to see a line of people sitting on stools milking cows, but the milking shed was a fully computerized system, with the suckers coming of the udder automatically after five minutes.

I didn't see any sign of it, but apparently these such collonies were looking for sperm donors to diversify the gene pool, but I think what happens now is people get married to people from other colonies.

We left the colony and went home via Regina Beach, apparently Regina's version of Muscle Beach in the summer.

It was into Regina for the night where we had dinner with Al's girlfriend Christa and her friends Candi and Tami, visiting from Saskatoon and Calgary.



5/3 As we were in Regina, Al took me around to see some of the attractions.

The tour started with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Barracks and Museum, where every single RCMP officer goes for 6 months to learn the ropes before they are admitted to the force.

Next on the agenda was the Saskatchewan Museum, which had some informative displays about the province and the native people who live here. We drove a little bit around the city, past the football stadium, agribition centre and university before taking a tour of the beautiful, marble interior of the Provincial Government buildings.

After the famous Western Pizza for lunch - a pizza staked atleast 2 inches high with toppings and undisputedly the best pizza that I have ever had, we went out to one of Al's friend's, Adair's brother-inlaw's buffalo farm. Apparently the great beasts used to run wild around these parts at the turn of the century, before they were slaughtered for their hides, with the rest of the animal was left (the meat, etc) to rot, and there are photos of huge piles of bones. There are now only 250,000 left in the world.

We took the adventurous way back to Adair's house, with the 4-wheel-drive on through paddocks and some pretty slippery and boggy tracks.



6/3 Today was probably the most rested day I've had since leaving.

I packed and then caught a ride with Adair to Regina to get some photos developed and use the Internet, before going back to Adair's for dinner with his family and to scan in the pics.


7/3 Four days of relaxing in Southey had finally caught up with me and I didn't wake up until midday. It was the last supper with Al and his roommate Craig, who had come home for lunch, before swinging by Southey Motors for final farewells and photographs.

I had really become attached to this town and its residents, which is why I ended up staying 5 nights after only planning to stay 1 or 2. I had seen a lot more of the prairies than just the Trans Canada perspective.

I pedalled out of town on a road that Al had recommended that had more towns and was more scenic than the main highway, with less traffic.

I thought I'd be adventurous and take a gravel road short cut, which ended up probably taking a bit longer, and being a little harder pedalling, but a nice change from the traditional surface.

After dinner in Balcarres, I road down the highway for a little bit in the dark until I found a nice little side road to pitch the tent.


 

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