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The Great Canadian Bike Trek Commentary
March 8 - March 17

 

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8/3 It is amazing to me how the two thin sheets of faric of a tent and its fly can keep out so much cold or keep in so much warmth. I left my relatively warm, snug tent to discover a biting cold wind keeping things crispy outside.

I packed up as much as I could inside of the tent before braving the elements outside. The freezing wind was gusting in the exactly the opposite direction that I was going, right into my face. I had to stop early into the ride to bring out the balaclava as my nose and chin were starting to tingle.

Abernethy, the first town that I reached, a mere 14km from last night's camp site, was the designated lunch spot.

It was incredibly warming coming in from the bitter cold to see the smiling faces at the O'Brien's Cafe. I had a lovely lunch with the friendly staff and patrons, followed by a photo shoot with the owner, then back into the icey head-wind.

It was a very slow slog, and as I wasn't making much ground at all, I stopped for dinner a couple of towns along in Noudorf, at a family restaurant run by a very nice and inquisitive Chinese couple. I changed out of my cold clothes, each layer having droplets of ice on them from frozen perspiration. My balaclava was the most impressive with moisture from my breathing forming a large frozen clump on the front.

I had sweet and sour pork, a nice change from the predominantly Canadian delacacies that I had been living on, and then savoured a hot chocolate, procastenating going back out into the wind and also waiting for the blood to rush back to my stinging foot.

I planned to ride a little out of town before pitching the tent, as I still had about 30 minutes of daylight, but I saw an old gas station for sale which didn't look like it was in service, and after closer inspection revealed the calendar inside was still on September, I decided it would provide a good shelter to take refuge behind.

It was -13° C, but the windchill was making it much colder, so I pitched the tent as fast as I could and went to bed.


9/3 As I had gone to bed so early last night, I woke up pretty early. At 7:30am I got up to go to the toilet. It was -11° C inside the tent, but the chilling wind made it much colder outside, and I almost froze off something that I didn't want to freeze off.

I crawled back into my cosy sleeping bag, giving it a few hours to warm up, which it did slightly - yet still cold enough to freeze one's nose hairs.

I played the Bob Marley tape the Carl from Grand Forks had given me as it was summery and I hoped it would help me feel warm. But after 4 songs, my walkman wouldn't play anymore, I think because it was too cold.

With the light Arctic wind straight in my face, I rode to the small town of Grayson to have lunch at the local pub. I only planned it to be a quick bite, but the other pub goers were so friendly, I almost stayed for two hours.

It was pretty much staright to Esterhazy, where I ate dinner at a Chinese Smorgasboard that had been recommended to me in Grayson. The timid Chinese lady working there gave me stranger and stranger looks each time I walked past her with a pile of food stacked on my plate, I don't know if it was my consumption or it was due to the fact that my all of my clothes were sprawled out around my table drying, but whatever it was, she seemed awfully happy when I paid up and left, although I returned to fill my drink bottles and to give her a thrill.

I pedalled just out of town and found an inviting ditch to pitch the for another night in the cold.


10/3 It was past the biggest Potash mine in the world, just outside of Esterhazy, and then down the #22, the last road out to Manitoba.

The roads around here start to thaw out in spring, and get soft and foamy, and when heavy vehicles drive down them, they damage them. The final stretch of Saskatchewan had fallen victim to such treatment, and the final 12km of the province were rough as guts.

I hit Manitoba and was immediately welcomed by a scenic valley. There seemed to be more trees than Saskatchewan, but other than that, the scenery was pretty similar.

After lunch, I left the quiet highway for the well travelled Trans Canada 16 highway. Gone were the waving drivers and back again were the large trucks.

It was past a few little towns and through some light snow flurries before retiring for the evening at a motor inn in Scoat Lake, a nice little town centred around a nice little lake that was currently frozen.


11/3 I was kept awake for a good part of the night by a truck parked across from the motor inn. The truck was running, I assume to keep the heater on while the driver slept.

I am guessing the driver was parked where he was hoping that someone in the motel would complain. That someone happened to be me, after midnight and more than two hours of the constant growl of the motor, I thought as I was paying for a night, I could atleast be free from the sounds that seranaded me each night when I slept by the roadside in my tent, and I thought I may be in for a free breakfast for the inconvenience.

I think the truckie was pretty cunning, as he was not on the motor inn's land, there wasn't much that they could do except offer him a bed, which is what they did, in the room right next to mine, and I heard him thumping around, draining his fluids, just as you'd imagine a half-asleep truckie to sound.

The motel didn't have any laundry facilities, and the catty clerk at the front desk hadn't let me throw my dirty clothes in with the sheets, so I hung everything up over night to air out and spent a small part of the morning perfuming them with aftershave.

After watching the weather forecast, I left the motel and had a solid, non-stop ride through light snow to the town Minnedosa, a pretty little town in a valley, about 60km east of the day's starting point.

I stopped at the first diner I saw, a drive-in, the type with rollar skating babes delivering meals to the customers, except there were no rollar skates or babes, just a solo lady inside, who was probably a fox about 20 years ago.

It was the first day of business for the year, but as it was mid-afternoon, it was fairly quiet, just an old lady sipping her free refill of coffee and a father and his daughter. A radio playing country was ringing through the speakers, which provided a nice ambience as I ate.

The ride to Neepawa was very flat once I got out of the valley, and as the skies had cleared, I got another magic prairie sunset.

I ate dinner in town - pizza at a family chicken restaurant that smelt like the chicken barn at the Hutterite community, and then rode on for a few more clicks before finding a nice spot on a bed of hay to pitch the tent.


12/3 French lessons started today in preparation for communicating with the Quebecans, just two provinces away. After listening to lesson 1 three times, I was afraid that I would fall asleep and ride into the ditch, or even worse still, into oncoming traffic, so I ceased all audio activity temporarily.

Lunch was at Gladstone. The town had some good pickings on the the restaurant front, as the highway billboards clearly illustrated. Upon entering the town, my eyes were drawn to a chicken restaurant, as its carpark was absolutely chocka.

Within seconds of walking through the door of the restaurant, I realised what was responsible for its unmatched popularity - a smorgasboard. I couldn't belive my luck, all of the chicken, ham, pizza, fries, salads, roasted potatoes and perogies that I could eat.

I had chosen my table badly and it was getting embarrassing walking past the front counter on the numerous trips to the food line-up.

After finishing my meal, I got talking to a friendly extended family of farmers who had come over from Germany 20 years ago because "you can get a bigger farm over here". They were in traditional costume for the family outing, and I think they were having the times of their lives. The Granddad guy needed his questions translated, but seemed to understand my responses.

Completely bloated, I waddled out to my bike, pulled myself onto my woolly seat and started to pedal in the direction of Winnipeg.

One thing that keeps me happy when the scenery gets monotenous is music. As the sky was grey and the flat fields around me had been dug up and were brown, I decided it was a good time tune in the radio. I could only find one station on the FM frequency. I listened for a while, to country songs and then the Sunday religious special, but once the Canadian leg of some Israeli-British group came on for a scheduled 30 minutes of talking, I had had enough.

I stopped and tried the AM channel, hoping for a better line up, and was overwhealmed to find Winnipeg's only oldies station, which kept me rocking for the rest of the day's riding, perhaps the best tunes that I'd had all trip, or maybe they just sounded good after the previous station.

I pulled into a gas station and was having a little stretch when a couple gave me some tips about pressure points and assured me I would feel like a new man.

I was still fill from the lunch I had eaten almost 4 hours of riding ago, which was unprecedented, so I settled for some strawberry milk and a chocolate bar to keep me going until the morning.

I pitched my tent next to a tree just off the highway, as there wasn't really anywhere else sheltered. I was all unpacked, into my warm clothes and safely in my sleeping bag when I started to hear the pitter-patter of snow on the tent. I was a happy man that I hadn't been trying to pitch the tent 30 minutes later in the snow.


13/3 Last night's snow had hidden my bungy cords, and made good work of trying to find them. Then taking down the tent was harder than normal, as the joins in the poles seemed to be frozen together and required a lot of brute force to seperate them, on the bright side, the snow lightened up the scenery, covering the endless fields of dirt with the the virgin white snow.

I arrived in Winnipeg, in time for lunch. With a population of 650,000, it was quite a large city, but had a similar feel to it as Regina, just on a grander scale. On the Manitoba vehicle's license plates, the motto is 'friendly Manitoba'. My first impression of Winnipeg lived up to this - very friendly indeed, the kind of place where the whole room would say "Bless You", if someone sneezes.

I rode out to the a Christine's place, a girl I met in 1998 when I first arrived in Canada, where I was staying for the next couple of nights with her and her roommates Mike, a budding entrepreneur finishing off his degree at the University of Manitoba and Igor, a talkative Brazilian in Canada to improve his English. It was a case of cleaning everything that needed to be cleaned and drying everything out.


14/3 I took the day to look around Manitoba's provincial capital. The day started down at the Forks, where Winnipeg's two rivers meet. In the last 12 or so years, the area has been rejuvenated, with the old warehouses being converted into a lively market and other buildings such as a children's museum, theatre, etc, errected, with some nice landscaping on the river bank to compliment the development.

I moved onto Winnipeg's financial district for a quick look around, with my main reason for going to go to the intersection of Portage Avenue and Main Street, reputedly the coldest corner in Canada. I've seen colder corners in my travels, but the light wind did make things a little chilly.

It was to the impressive Portage Place, the city's largest shopping centre to take a look around. The centre was a tell-tale sign of Winnipeg's cold winters, as the mall was spread over a series of city blocks all linked by enclosed bridges above the streets. If someone wanted to they could see the hundreds of shops in Winnipeg's downtown area without stepping outside. The bus stops were another sign of how the city's weather conditions can be freezing, fully enclosed, with doors to block out the chill. But today the sun was shining and the city was basking in a temperature of not too far below zero, so people were out and about enjoying the heat.

I left the city centre to visit the aviation museum out by the airport. I am fascinated by aeroplanes, but my main reason for going was because my Great Uncle Bayly, who my father was named after in 1943 was stationed to Winnipeg under the Empire Training Scheme, so there was some historical significance for me there.

I don't know if its because I have a strange accent, but I cannot get over the friendliness and helpfulness of the people of Winnipeg, a very cosmopolitan city, with a bit of culture from almost everywhere in the world.

I met Christine and went to her AIESEC awards dinner and then out for a few beers.



15/3 I left Winnipeg, but not before lunch at McDonalds, storing up on the greasy burgers just as a camel does with water, as I knew it may be the last time I saw the golden arches until Thunder Bay, over 700km away.

As I rode further east, I noticed the scenery start to change. It started with leafless trees, lining the sides of the highway, with the odd evergreen starting to appear, with some rises and dips in the road starting.

As I pedalled on the trees all became evergreens, with roadside rocks appearing randomly. It was a sad moment, but I think this was officially the end of the prairies.

The prairies had put on a beautiful day for their last showing, so I was left with good memories of a wide span of blue sky, with a magic sunset, as red as the #3 pool ball.

With so many trees, there was an abundance of excellent camping spots, so I found a nice clearing amongst the bushes, out of view from the road for a change so I wouldn't get the high beams of passing motorists lighting up my tent.


16/3 An early start meant I was at Falcon Lake by lunch time. Falcon Lake is a resort town in a provincial forest, where Winnipegers play during the warm months of May-October. Since March doesn't fit into this spell, the town was empty, so just about all of the shops, including the eateries, were closed. For my last meal in Manitoba, I had the Shell Station or a bakery to pick from.

I chose the bakery, but as it was out of season, all they had were cinnimon buns and apple turnovers, of which I sampled both, but still not completely satisfied that I would be leaving the province without a full stomach, I went to the Shell shop for more, in which the very nice lady gave me a complimentry hot chocolate.

It wasn't long until I was in Ontario. The road was a very smooth tarseal surface that wound its way through the gorgeous scenery. Rock faces were frequent on the side of the road, looking like they had been chipped away to make way for the highway.

There were many lakes, dotted with little cottages around the perimeter. The lakes which were frozen, were covered in snow which had partly melted, revealing some of the ice underneath, which made some fanastic patterns.

Pine trees were the prevailing species of trees, but numerous silver birches added a bit of variety as did the fluffy topped toy-toys.

It got dark, so I pulled over and found a nice wee camp spot amongst the trees that looked like something from the Blair Witch Project, pitched the tent, and lay down for a rest.



17/3 I slept in a little longer this morning as I could hear the wind gusting outside and I wasn't in a hurry to get into it.

I took a short detour to Kenora for lunch. Kenora is a small resort city, built on the shores of the lake of the woods, a large lake sporting 14,000 islands I am told. The town seemed to have a bit of history as there were a lot of charming old brick buildings.

It was more of the same scenery of forests, lakes and bare rocks which came in an array of colous including blue, red, orange, pink, grey and charcoal, often with small, frozen waterfalls stepping down the metamorphic faces. Although there didn't seem to be many towns around, every now and then there would be a sign of people in the area, as they had put their mark on the rocks with spray paint, often couples expressing their feelings for one another.

In the late afternoon, as the forecasters had predicted, it started to snow, and as I wasn't near any towns, I pulled over and set up camp, to save getting wet and cold for the sake of another hours riding.


 

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