Day 27 – Rest day in Winnipeg

Throughout this trip I’ve been keeping in touch with Eman from MTS. Eman is a Community Investment Specialist and has being faithfully reading my blog every day. Today he set up an interview with me for a local MTS Allstream publication called The Source. Eman is a blogger himself and he really appreciated the challenges of maintaining current, up-to-date and original content. He sent me some of the questions beforehand and they weren’t easy to answer. Eman has been keeping in touch with me daily anticipating when I would reach Winnipeg. He’s a real fireball and he’s a good catch for MTS. (PS – Eman, I opened a fortune cookie at lunch and it said “Good things come in small packages ;-)”.

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Eman

After the interview I met with Kelvin Shepherd, the president of MTS. I was really impressed that Kelvin found the time to meet with me, I mean, he is the president of MTS! We spoke about my experiences so far, the small towns in Saskatchewan (Kelvin is originally from SaskTel), and he gave me much appreciated advice on the road ahead.

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Just hang’n out with MTS president Kelvin Shepherd

MTS is a great company and I really like working with the people there. They have a very special culture and are really proud of the what they’ve built, and for good reason.

Last night I attended a retirement party for Gord Keith. He really appreciated that I came out out but he needn’t have. When I found out that I happened to arrive on the day of his retirement party I was thrilled to be invited. Gord’s many stories of time spent working with the folks at MTS and Allstream were a hoot. I was amazed by his story of falling through the ice wearing heavy equipment and as a result his boss being peeved at him making them late for their next install. I don’t think there was a single person he neglected to thank! I wish him the best in his retirement.

On the way to Gord’s retirement party I crossed the Red River and passed through St. Boniface, the second largest French speaking population in Canada. It’s a completely different part of Winnipeg and very interesting. The ruin of la Cathédrale de St-Boniface is spectacular and took me completely be surprise. I can just envision how beautiful it was before the fire destroyed it in 1968.

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la Cathédrale de St-Boniface (Source: Wikipedia)

I made a trip to Mountain Equipment Coop (MEC), the second best company in the world, to restock on supplies. Also my cycling gloves went mysteriously missing. I spoke to Jerod in the cycling area about different routes to Thunder Bay. I’ve been debating taking the Trans-Canada or a southern route that takes a short stint through the United States. He was very familiar with the southern route and I’ve settled on that. Besides, what would a cross-Canada cycling trip be without the time-honoured Canadian past time of crossing the US border for a pack of smokes (sans the smokes).

If you’ve been reading my blog you probably know by now that I like my beer, especially locally brewed beer. I faithfully Googled the place to go to in Winnipeg for beer and the King’s Head came up on top with 30 beers on tap.

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Enjoying a locally brewed beer at the King’s Head.

The other thing I wanted to try while in Winnipeg is Bison. Bison is heavily promoted in Manitoba and there are many bison farms. It’s a very lean meat and purported to be more heathy than beef. Apologies in advance to the vegans, but I’m a carnivore and always will be.

By the way, don’t mix up bison with buffalo. Bison in America resembled the buffalo of the old world (Asia and Africa) so much that explorers also called them buffalo. Actually, the word buffalo is believed to have been used by English settlers. But let’s just call them bison from now on, shall we? (note 1)

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Don’t you think it was very polite if this Bison to stand still while I took a photo of it?

However…

I asked the folks at King’s Head where they might serve good bison and they told me to check next door at the Peasant Cookery. At the Peasant Cookery it wasn’t long before I was surrounded by four waiters/hostesses trying to find out for me where the best bison was. It seems that not that many restaurants actually serve bison. But the attentiveness of the staff at the Peasant convinced me that the heck with bison, I need go no further than the Peasant Cookery!

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The Peasant Cookery feels like Europe

The next 90 minutes turned out to be one of the most exquisite meals I’ve ever had. I started with steak tartare which is a family favourite. You need to make sure the tartar is freshly ground, and the waiter explained that their tartar was hand chopped. It was amazing.

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Steak tartare

Next came the beef bourguignon. I never thought anything could taste so good. So tender I didn’t need to use my knife. Moreover the waiter recognizing my taste for unique dishes brought a sampling of camel curried sausage which melted in my mouth. Topped off with Pinot Nior it was truly a meal to remember. Sorry bison, I guess you’ll have to wait until next time.

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Beef bourguignon

As I was enjoying my meal I watched in amusement as a driver tried to parallel park a car in a spot that was clearly too small. The owners of the both vehicles rushed out to educate the driver on physics.

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There’s no way that car’s going to fit. But he tried anyway…

I’ve been to Winnipeg many times on business and never before experienced the culture and sophistication of the various neighborhoods. It’s definitely a city to return to.

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Cozy streets

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I don’t know what this is but it’s cool

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I love the architecture of these buildings

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Giving

Don’t forget that I am raising money for the United Way of Toronto. I’m still a long ways off from my goal of $1 for every kilometre cycled, or $4500.

The United Way is about helping others in our community to have a better life. I hope that my journey will serve as inspiration for others, that if you sent your goals big and overcome challenges you can do great things. The United Way gives people in our community the support they need to overcome their challenges.

Please consider making a donation here. FYI, all the donations are collected through an organization called CanadaHelps through a feature called GivingPages, which enables people to raise money online for the charities they support, such as the United Way of Toronto.

Note 1 – that reminds me that someone told me Savona is pronounced Sa-va-na and not Sa-vone-a. I think if they pronounced it Sa-vone-a (like Sanoma) they would get 22.3% more visitors each year, but only if they got rid of the mining equipment graveyard (just say’in).

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Day 26 – Portage la Prairie to Winnipeg – Total distance traveled 2601kms

My ride today started with an unplanned visit to the historic Fort la Reine Museum just west of Portage la Prairie. It turned out to be a beautiful day and I had an easy ride ahead of me, and if you can’t take time to “smell the roses” what’s the point?

The museum is dedicated to preserving the heritage of the Canadian Prairies. It has over 25 different buildings displaying thousands of individual artifacts including native artifacts that pre-date the arrival of Europeans to more modern pieces such as farm equipment and military artifacts from the 20th Century. I was really impressed with the quality and quantity of artifacts.

One of the items that fascinated me was the York boat. York boats, also referred to as “inland boats” were used by the Hudson’s Bay Company from the 18th to 20th century. While difficult to portage in comparison to canoes the York boats could hold vast amounts of cargo and could be fitted with a sail. It’s hard to imagine the voyageurs sailing across the prairies but that’s exactly what they did!

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A York boat

The museum has an extensive collection of farm tractors and equipment. I thought this snow tractor was pretty unique.

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A snow tractor

There’s a display of birds and water fowl that are typically seen in Manitoba. These pelicans can be found on Quill Lake which I passed a couple of days ago.

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Pelicans in Manitoba? Yup!

While I was wandering around the grounds these Prairie Dogs kept poking their heads up out of holes in the ground. It seems they have a whole underground network beneath the surface of the lawn.

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Prairie Dogs are fun to watch

While I was there I met another cyclist from Minnesota, Brian, who was heading west and on up to Alaska. He shared all sorts of funny stories with me about camping, and cycling through rain etc. he seemed to be in no hurry and told me he generally stopped cycling by about 2:00 in the afternoon. What a luxury.

For the remainder of the ride I took highway 26 into Winnipeg. A lady at the museum confirmed that this was the highway the cyclists regularly ride on. It was an idyllic ride, especially compared to the challenges of the last few days. There were very few cars, it’s flat and the road is generally smooth. Make sure you take something to eat and drink beforehand though because there’s nothing on the road until you get to the end.

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A scene from my idyllic ride along highway #26

Speaking of which, a friendly gentleman suggested I take the service road into Winnipeg where the 26 joined theTrans-Canada again and that was a good idea. From there I took Portage avenue all the way downtown to the hotel I was staying at. It was a little hairy at times but it was the bike route.

Cycling through cities is the scariest part about cycling for me, especially when it’s a city I’m not familiar with. The right roads to cycle on are not well publicized and are generally local knowledge. The problem with a touring bike is that it’s very heavily weighted and not very maneuverable. It also has a lot of momentum and it’s hard to stop. All of this adds up to a bit of a nerve racking ride.

I stuck to my promise to book a better hotel and I’m happy to say I’m at the Fairmont which is a lovely hotel. Here’s a comparison of the hotel I’m staying at compared to the previous hotel. Ok, I am exaggerating just a little, but in my mind that’s about how it feels.

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My hotel yesterday compared with tonight’s

I’m looking forward to a rest day in Winnipeg, seeing some of the sights, and catching up with co-workers.

Stats
Distance traveled today – 101kms
Moving time – 4 hours and 58 mins
Moving avg – 19.9kms/hour

Day 25 – Minnedosa to Portage la Prairie – Total distance traveled 2500kms

As planned I slept in and woke up slowly this morning. I wandered over to one of the local coffee shops that had wifi and had a latte. The man at the table next to me commented on why there were still picketers when the government had ordered the CP strikers back to work. I must admit that I’ve been so out of touch with current events I didn’t even know CP was on strike. But that does explain why I hadn’t seen any trains running on the CP line over the past several days.

I enjoyed Minnedosa. Nice scenery, bakeries, restaurants, coffee shops and a music festival in the summer. There’s also a nice lake near by with camping. Oh yah, camping, I did bring a tent didn’t I?

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Panel 1 – Recreation

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Panel 2 – Business

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Panel 3 – Apparently blown out by the wind, or “this page left intentionally blank”

The next stop was Neepawa which is a nice tree-lined village and was home to the authour Margaret Lawrence. I was drawn to the Tim Hortons like a magnet. The first one I’ve seen since Saskatoon. While I was there a gentleman who had ridden his motorcycle across Canada spoke to me about my trip and commented on the bugs I can expect to encounter in Northern Ontario. At this point, with the cold weather and the bugs to look forward to, I’m thinking about altering my course to route via Florida.

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Neepawa has a much larger selection of hotels and restaurants than Minnedossa

At a rest stop near Ardin a sign explains the geography of the area known as the Ardin ridge which is part of a larger feature called the Manitoba Escarpment. 12,000 years ago all the land east of Ardin was submerged under a lake. So essentially I was standing in an ancient beach. It’s literally downhill from here all the way into Winnipeg.

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The Manitoba Escarpment

For the last 700kms I’ve been following the Yellowhead highway. The Yellowhead runs all the way from the Pacific coast of BC, through Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The name Yellowhead can be traced back to an Iroquois trapper Pierre Bostonaise who’s trace of European blood left a light blond tinge in his hair. The Yellowhead is a great alternative to the Trans-Canada and is said to be more scenic.

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The Yellowhead Highway – an alternative to the Trans-Canada

At Gladstone I saw a billboard boasting about a bakery which served hot soup, fresh baked bread, and the best coffee in the area, which sounded like just the ticket. Unfortunately, it didn’t say how to find it. It certainly wasn’t off the highway and when you’re on a bike you don’t have the flexibility of wandering around town looking for things. Often though you’ll see signs for restaurants that have been out of business for a long time. However, I did stumble across Happy Rock.

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Why is this rock so happy?

Incidentally, I have a theory about why the shoulders are not generally paved in Manitoba. I think it’s to accommodate the Mennonite horse and buggies which drive along the side of the road (I passed one near Gladstone). If someone from Manitoba could confirm this it would be appreciated.

So far the ride today has been, dare I say it, easy. For one 10km stretch heading south I had the wind at my back, smooth road, paved shoulders, light traffic and sunshine. It was glorious. I could actually hear the sound of my tires on the pavement instead of wind whistling past my ears.

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Coming close to Portage – rich, fertile soil as far as the eye can see

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I declare this grain elevator model C

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I declare this grain elevator model D

At the end of that stretch however, the Yellowhead joins the Trans-Canada where it becomes a divided highway with no paved shoulder. It was absolutely treacherous. Off the the right I noticed a dirt service road which I quickly diverted to. It was slow but safe. I managed to find service roads until the highway split into the 1A which led me to downtown Portage la Prairie.

I skipped most of the first hotels I passed because I wanted to be closer to downtown so I could look around. However, the selection for hotels downtown is very minimal so here I am again staying at a cheap, but adequate, motel.

I did reinforce my theory about people thinking I’m on a motorbike. That’s what the lady at the receptionist thought and I had to repeat myself several times that I’m on a bicycle. Anyway, the good thing about these motels is that I can take my bike in the room which saves a lot of packing/unpacking.

For my rest day in Winnipeg I’ve booked the Fairmont. No fooling around this time. I need a couple of nights of luxury before my next stretch to Thunder Bay and the bugs of Northern Ontario. Yah, I know I’m soft, but I’m not a kid anymore either.

Tomorrow I plan a more scenic route. I’m not overly impressed with the Trans-Canada highway so far and not having to watch for trucks in my rearview mirror would be nice.

Most of the drivers on the highways across Canada have been very accommodating leaving lots of room for cyclists as they pass. But every now and then you get drivers, let’s just call them “idiots” for now, that really don’t appreciate cyclists on “their” road. Even as a pedestrian it can be tricky in some of these small towns. But you have to take the bad with the good now and then and fortunately it’s in the 0.1%.

In general I’m really impressed with the courtesy of most drivers, especially truckers who seem to appreciate more than any of the drivers, the inherent dangers on the roads.

Stats
Distance traveled today – 131kms
Moving avg – 21.2kms/hour
Moving time – 6 hours and 10 mins
Elevation – 270m

Day 24 – Churchbridge to Minnedosa – Total distance traveled 2369kms

Today three big things happened: 1) I entered my fourth province, Manitoba; 2) I set my watch 1 hour ahead; and, 3) I’m officially over half way (in distance) through my journey.

I got an early start and was on the road by 7:30. I reached the border of Manitoba by about 9:30am and promptly fell over on my bike, again. This time is was mechanical problems, sort of. The clip on the sole of my shoe had come loose and I couldn’t get my shoe unclipped from the pedal. I should have known something was amiss though and checked the tightness of the screws. Another thing to add to my bicycling safety list. In any case, I’m getting use to falling over and it hardly hurt, at least compared to the last time.

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Welcome to Manitoba!

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I haven’t seen this sign in a very long time – going down into the Assiniboine Valley

My planned breakfast in Russell became lunch, given it had to set my watch ahead an hour. I ate at the Chicken Chef which has a chain of restaurants all over Manitoba, plus a few in Saskatchewan and Northern Ontario.
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I’m wonder what “hard flavoured” chicken taste like?

Incidentally, up to now at least, I’d say that A&W and Subway has a “stranglehold” on the fast food restaurant business – there are very few MacDonalds or even Tim Hortons to be found, and almost all the family style restaurants are Chinese/Canadian food.

Russell is where Jon Montgomery comes from. If you recall from the 2010 Winter Olympic Games Jon won a gold medal in the skeleton. Jon is truly Canadian and my proudest moment (I’m serious) was seeing Jon walking down the streets of Whistler, with a crowd of fans in tow singing the national anthem, guzzling a pitcher of beer. He seems to reflect the Canadian spirit the best: he’s proud of his country, he works hard, he plays to win, and he has a good time going about it.

Soon after Russell I faced my worst stretch of road yet. There’s a section where the Yellowhead Highway 16 and provincial highway 83 share the same stretch of highway. It’s potholed, there’s a soft shoulder and the edges of the pavement are crumbling, so much so that there are signs telling motorists to slow down. Think of what that’s like for a cyclist.

It was extremely nerve racking as I had to pull off the road anytime a vehicle approached from behind. When a truck approached from the other direction the blast of wind was so intense in almost brought me to a stop. Even after the 16 and 83 part ways there is still only a soft gravel shoulder up until Shoal Lake.

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You don’t want to fall off the edge

When I was researching this trip a number of blogs mentioned that cycling the Yellowhead Highway through Saskatoon and Manitoba was challenging. One cyclist wrote that the wind was so strong he witnessed a 2×4 smash through a windshield. Another pair of cyclists admitted that the rain and cold was so intense that they gave up and hitched a ride to Winnipeg. When I read that I thought “you cheaters!” Now I can see that after a few days of rain, headwind and crappy roads one could easily be convinced to hitch a ride.

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Manitoba potholes eat cyclists whole

By the time I arrived at Shoal Lake it was already 6pm. There was very, very little in terms of food or anything else on the stretch between Russell and Shoal Lake. I decided I should stop here for the night.

Dinner at the local Shoal Lake restaurant:
Combo 1 – Sweet and sour chicken balls, sweet and sour ribs, mixed vegies, fried rice, egg roll
Combo 2 – Sweet and sour chicken balls, sweet and sour shrimp, mixed vegies, fried rice, egg roll
Combo 3 – Sweet and sour chicken balls, sweet and sour pork balls, mixed vegies, fried rice, egg roll
Combo 4 – Double sweet and sour chicken balls, mixed vegies, fried rice, egg roll

I guess you better like chicken balls. Not surprisingly most of the unfortunate soles in the restaurant, like me, were picking combo 2. The next time I’m going to stick with the all day breakfast.

While I was in the restaurant I started to write this post. I recorded my statistics for the day. Only 124kms traveled. It was within my target, just barely, but I also checked to see that I still had over 190kms to Portage.

As I drafted my post for the day I noticed I was being very negative. Something in my head snapped. I was so disgusted with my progress, and my meal, and I did not want to spend another night in a grubby hotel. I decided to keep moving. It was pure anger and frustration that kept me going. Anger at the wind, anger at the cold, anger at the rain, anger at the lousy road.

The lady in the restaurant said Minnedosa is the place to go, so Minnedosa it is. She said it was only a half an hour away. I kept trying to tell her I was on a bike. I don’t think she got it, because she kept saying it’s only 30 mins. In hindsight I think she thought I was on a motorcycle. Who the heck wears a bicycle helmet in a motorcycle? It kind of explained the “we don’t take kindly to your kind in here” stares I received when I entered the restaurant. I think it’s my helmet cover that’s causing the misunderstanding. But I digress.

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I was ready to declare this as style as the modern grain elevator until I saw the one below…

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I officially declare this the modern grain elevator (it even says “grain” on it)

I pounded down the highway giving it my all. Thankfully, the paved shoulder returned. Vicki called me to see how I was doing. It was her encouragement that kept me going. She too looked on Google maps and reinforced my intention to reach Minnedosa, “the prettiest town in Manitoba”.

Minnedosa was 62kms away but I reached it in epic time, less then 3 hours of non-stop cycling and against heavy winds. The last 5km stretch was in the dark and I had my headlight on full intensity. I actually had two deer cross the road in front of me and I screamed at them to get off the road.

I rolled down a long hill into Minnedosa. I didn’t find the luxurious hotel that I had envisioned but at least the one I picked had a non-smoking room, a big step up, and it’s a short walk to the coffee shop in the morning. I planned to sleep in, take my time getting up, blog, read, shower, a big breakfast, and slowly get on my way in the morning.

Vicki told me I am only 260kms from Winnipeg now, an easy 2-day ride, so I know I’ll be in Winnipeg Thursday for a rest day and a chance to visit the office.

It was a frustrating day, but I recovered it from the ashes, and now I’m feeling pretty proud of myself.

Stats
Distance traveled today – 124kms
Moving avg – 17.1kms/hour
Moving time – 7 hours and 15 mins
Elevation – 539m

I’m very happy to delete the above record and replace it with…

Distance traveled today – 186kms
Moving avg – 17.6kms/hour
Moving time – 10 hours and 32 mins
Elevation – 300m

PS – I writing this post from a local coffee shop with free wifi and drinking a double cafe latte that cost me $2.50. I think I’m going to like Minnedosa!

Day 23 – Theodore to Churchbridge – Total distance traveled 2183kms

My plan for the day was simple: champagne breakfast in Yorkton, High Tea and crumpets in Bredenbury, a gourmet dinner in Russell, and then finish up the night with cognac and Cuban cigars.

Foiled again! There were no Cuban cigars in Russell! What kind of a place is this anyway?

In all truthfulness my day went a little differently then the aforementioned plan. I faced hail coming into Yorkton, I had breakfast at MacDonalds, everything was closed in Braedenberg, I was blown off the road into a ditch, I took cover from a thunderstorm in Churchbridge.

I knew I was going to face rain, a high of 9c and 25km winds from the northeast. But I figured I was going southeast more-or-less so my destination of Russell, Manitoba, 145kms distant, was quite doable.

I got off to a quick start and made Yorkton by about 10:30am. The hail wasn’t really that bad. At least it’s dry, more or less, if not a little stingy. In addition the wind was quite manageable.

With that, I have a quiz for everyone: if there’s a 25km headwind coming from the northeast (45 degrees) and I’m cycling in a east-by-south-east direction (say 120 degrees), what is the relative intensity of the headwind I’m facing?

I’ll donate $50 to the United Way of Toronto in your name (or your parents name) to the first person that gets it right. Send your answer to me at chrisjschmitt[at]gmail[dot]com. Dak, you can do this with your eyes closed, just fire up that slide rule app on your iPad 😉

Yorkton looks like a really nice city and I wish I’d had more time to spend in it. In particular I passed the Western Agriculture Museum (chk). Unfortunately it was not open until noon. I did have a peak at some of the antique farm equipment under a shelter and it was very impressive (Steve G. you would love Yorkton).

For anyone cycling this route I suggest taking three days to get from Saskatoon to Yorkton stopping at Lanigan, Foam Lake and Yorkton and taking the time to see each town. Each has a lot to offer.

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Grain elevator in Sailcoats

Getting blown off into the ditch was an interesting experience that actually went quite well. It was simply a gust of wind that did it, not a truck or anything, and it happened so quickly I didn’t know what hit me, and the shoulder was quite wide too. As I said it just happened and by some miracle I managed to stay upright and get my feet unclipped from my pedals, and by a second miracle there wasn’t a slough (a large pool of water) at the bottom of the ditch. The reason I say it went quite well, aside from not drowning, is that I really had to go pee anyway, and I didn’t even need to get off my bike (sorry if that grosses you out but extreme times call for extreme measures… and all that stuff).

After climbing out of the ditch, for the next 13kms I faced extreme gusts of wind so I made sure I kept my feet unclipped, and to hell with the aerobars: they weren’t designed for this kind of wind. My average speed for the next leg of my journey was approximately 8kms/hour and I was blown to a stop a number of times. I checked the Weather Network later and I was facing 57km winds.

I finally reached a town called Churchbridge and there under a shining beam of light stood a restaurant with a Sunday “Smorg” for $10.95 ($10.25 for seniors) which included: pizza, lasagna, BBQ pork, chicken wings, veal, shrimp, chicken balls, perogies, mixed greens, mashed potatoes, salads and desserts. The kind servers allowed me to stay, nay, demanded I stay until the storm passed. By 5:30 pm the place was packed.

I’m finding the food and accomodation to be a lot less expensive as I head east. In BC and AB you couldn’t find a hotel room for under $100 a night, more like $150, and you couldn’t get out of a restaurant for less than spending $15 for breakfast. Last night my hotel was $60 and that was after I upgraded to a queen bed. It was anything fancy but it was clean and it had a restaurant and beer.

I’ve just checked the weather and it’s more of the same until tomorrow morning. Currently, I’m warm, dry and well fed (really well fed and 4 coffees later). I’m told there’s a hotel across the way and it’s cheap and clean. That’s good enough for me.

Update: I checked in and immediately met a group in the bar that was part of the hotel. They invited me to join them at there table and bought me a drink. They introduced me to a drink called a Chillato, which is a mix of beer and tomato juice.

They were all from the area. I had a great time with these folks; it was like being with my friends back home in Ottawa. One gentleman told me how he used to cycle to work every morning. The next morning when I peeked out of my window, and there he was, cycling to work. It good to see that my journey is rubbing off on people.

Stats
Distance traveled today – 99kms
Moving avg – 15.7kms
Moving time – 6 hours and 18 mins
Elevation – 544m

Day 22 – Lanigan to Theodore – Total distance traveled – 2085kms

I need to get an early start so I will have to add details later but here are some pics from the day.
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A tractor towing a combine towing a fertilizer towing a pickup

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The sign for a Regional Park (of course, can’t you tell?)

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Quill Lake

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These cattle literally ran after me as I cycled by

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This is something you don’t see much of in Saskatchewan

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The wire from a tire tread like this is essentially what did me rear tire in

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Now this has got to be a modern grain elevator, right?

Tomorrow I will cross into my 4th province: Manitoba

Stats
Distance traveled today – 167kms
Moving avg – 19.3kms
Moving time – 8 hours and 38 mins
Elevation – 531m

Day 21 – Saskatoon to Lanigan – Total distance traveled 1918kms

Whoever said that the “prevailing winds blow from the west” has clearly never been to Saskatchewan. So far all the wind I’ve faced in Sask have been from the east. It’s not that big of a deal really: just drop down a gear or two. But then everything goes in slow motion. It was 1pm by the time I stopped for lunch in the town of Colonsay and I’d only done 65kms. I’d planned on at least 150kms today.

My day started at 4:30am when my body clock went off and told me to work on my blog. Then out of bed a 7am and Eric already had breakfast ready for me. What a guy. Curried mince, scrambled eggs and paratas. Yum!

We said our farewells, which was really difficult, and I was on my way. Eric recommended following Taylor Drive eastward almost to the end and then turn south until I hit the Golden Head highway #16. It was a perfect recommendation. This highway is excellent with wide shoulders and a minimum of pot holes, it’s quite flat and there’s just enough turns in the road to make it interesting. There’s lots of wildlife too. Traffic was heavy in the morning but dropped off considerably as time went by. Just that darn wind.

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Finally, a place to pee!

You may laugh but it’s hard to find a place to pee. There are very few rest areas, or resturants for that matter, and it’s so flat and open there’s no place for privacy. So when you see a clump of trees you need to take advantage of it.

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I finally made it to Combine World!

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This is the sign for a Saskatchewan rest area. It looks like you can camp at these spots.

I stopped for lunch in the pleasant town of Colonsay. Perfectly manicured lawns and a couple of community parks, and would you believe it? A restaurant! Towns on this stretch of read seem to be better off than the ones on highway 7 west of Saskatoon. There are more places to stop and eat. But it’s still pretty sparse.

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Is this a modern day grain elevator? Someone must know…

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This sign should have said “Loose Signs”

I had a nice launch and was back out on the road again. The wind died down in the afternoon, which seems to be the trend. I debated whether I should stop in Lanigan or keep going to Wynyard.
When I entered Lanigan I knew the choice was made. Lanigan is a nice town producing five NHL hockey players and the site of the biggest single shaft potash mine in the world. I wonder if this is the mine that Rick Mercer did a piece on?

Lanigan also has a campsite run by the Lions Club that’s completely on the honour system. You put your money in an envelop, write the relevant information on the outside, and stick it in the slot. The campsite has brand new washrooms and showers and it’s located next to the golf course.

You can see folks in Lanigan are well off. There are many large houses under construction, the streets are wide, there’s a mall and lots of facilities. The town even has a hospital.

The real surprise was when I went for dinner at Jan’s steakhouse which I almost missed. Jan’s restaurant is in a house, a bungalow to be precise. When you enter you think your in Europe. It’s extremely cosy. I was the only one there and Jan immediately offered my a beer and brought out homemade salads and pickles, each one of them unique and delicious.

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Jan’s Steak House (or more appropriately, the house that Jan serves steaks in)

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Inside Jan’s Steak House

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The grill is inside the restaurant

I called Vicki for our anniversary (27 years today). I walked her through my meal and we “shared” a glass of wine together. Even though we were 2000 kms apart it was very romantic.

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Vicki and I on our 25th anniversary – I miss her so much

I wouldn’t have thought in a million years I’d find a restaurant like this in such a tiny town in rural Saskatchewan. I picked the sirloin steak from her extensive menu and she grilled it right in front of me to a perfect medium rare. Steak plus baked potato, garlic toast, more salads, and a glass of red wine.

Jan started the restaurant 27 years ago. She also sells Avon and works at a garden centre. Her dad is over 100 years old and served in WWII. I finished up my meal with delicious coffee and the price was very reasonable. I still can’t believe I tripped over this place, in Lanigan of all places!

Incidentally, Jan told me that Lanigan has a brand new medical facility with all of the latest equipment, but they can’t attract any doctors. The current doctor that serves the community is in his 80s and apparently works his butt off. But he has to keep working because there’s no one to replace him. If you know of any doctors that don’t mind small towns (but like steak and want a big house) this is the place to go.

I returned to my campsite, made a nice fire and got everything organized for the evening. There’s a good chance of rain (or snow even) and so I had to cover everything up.

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My camp for the night

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A nice campfire to keep me warm

Each and every day is full of new surprises. I was worried I wasn’t going to have anything to talk about while cycling the Prairies, but it seems that I have more to share everyday.

We live in a fascinating country, so culturally and geographically diverse. It’s hard to believe only a week ago I was in Calgary, and the week before that in Revelstoke BC. Completely different terrain and completely different people in each locale. Each special in their own way. I wonder what surprises await me as I begin the second half of my journey tomorrow?

Stats
Distance traveled today – 129 kms
Moving avg – 18.2kms/hour
Moving time – 7 hours and 6 mins
Elevation – 531m

Sidebar: Tools of the trade

I haven’t had much of a chance to talk about my equipment yet, other then all my electronics, so here’s a brief overview.

First my bike. Now, most avid road cyclists will shake their heads when they see what I ride. This ain’t no composite carbon fibre featherlight Porche on 2 wheels. My bike is built for endurance and touring. Some might call it a contraption. I call it home. At least for the 6 weeks I’m on tour.

Let me walk you through it:

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  1. Handlebar bag – this is where I keep everything I need to quickly access, sometimes even while I’m riding. Things like snacks, camera, voice recorder, lip balm, sun glasses, power gels, bear spray (not in the prairies of course)
  2. Aerobars – not the chocolate variety, these grips make it easy to get into a tuck position reducing drag. Not only that, they allow for a different hand position, which have saved my palms from going numb, always a big problem in the past. But not only that, leaning forward more to grip the ends of the bars seems to give me slightly more power to climb hills. But not only that, they make you change your seat position, and you can imagine how that helps. But not only that, they make julian fries, uh no, they don’t make julian fries (all the “kids” are scratching their heads right now). Seriously though, they’re awesome but they take some getting use to, like about 1000kms of getting use to.
  3. Saddle – yes you need a saddle, it would be really painful otherwise, but this isn’t just any sadde. I bought this French made Ideale leather saddle nearly 30 years ago and I swear by it. Most people think a cushy seat is better, it’s actually not. The leather forms to your butt and I’ve found it to be the most comfortable seat I’ve ever used. Still, most people look at it and think it must be uncomfortable. Let them be fooled. The only hassle is you can’t let it get wet so I carry a stylish shower cap to secure over the seat when it rains.
  4. Camel pack – it was a last minute decision to bring this but I’m glad I did. I use it to carry up to 1.5l of extra water and as well it serves as a backpack when walking around town. It also came in handy when I climbed Prairie Mountain. But to be clear, I don’t wear it while I’m riding.
  5. Tent, trap and sleeping mat in a dry sack – this is essentially my mobile shelter. I have a lightweight tent that I can set up in 5 minutes and a very comfortable and compact Thermorest sleeping mat. I brought the tarp for raining days but I haven’t had to use it and in retrospect it’s probably unnecessary. One gentleman I met from France brought nothing but a tarp and a hammock to sleep it. There may be something in that, so long as you can find trees to hang everything from.
  6. Sleeping bag in a dry sack – I have a very light weight down-filled sleeping bag that’s good to about -5C. The only problem with down is it can’t get wet, hence the importance of the dry sack, but you can’t beat down for light weight. I find it helps to let it lay out in the sun to let it puff up every now and then.
  7. Rear panniers – panniers are like saddle bags for horses. You never, ever carry a backpack when you ride: the centre of gravity is too high making it very dangerous and in any case it’s very uncomfortable. These panniers were made by Cannondale before Cannondale even made bikes. These ones have lots and lots of pockets to keep things organized. Good panniers will last you a very long time. They’re not water proof but I have MEC covers for the rain which seem to work pretty well. They need to mount on a very sturdy bicycle rack.
  8. Water bottles, pump and clip-less pedals – I carry two 640ml bottles, usually on with water and one with Gatorade. I drink a huge amount of liquids while I’m on the road. You have too. The Gatorade is important to replace the salt you lose while you sweat. The pump is obvious but it needs to be a good one able to inflate your tires to 70 to 100lbs of pressure. If find the term clipless pedals confusing. Cycling shoes are usually paired with a compatible pedal to hold your feet securely on the bicycle. The so-called “clipless” shoe-pedal combination offers unmatched control with a minimum amount of your pedaling energy lost before it reaches the rear wheel. Yes, they do take getting use to, but they are essential.
  9. Fenders – they make your bike look klutzy but when it rains you’ll be so happy you have them.
  10. Front panniers – I was hoping I wouldn’t need front panniers but in the end I just had too much stuff to bring. I really like them and they’re not completely filled but I can find stuff really fast. In one I keep all my camping accessories and the other cooking gear and food.

Well, that’s it, all 50lbs worth. You can certainly go with a lot less stuff if you stay in hotels every night, or if you don’t cook. But I’m going through some parts of the country where the towns are few and far between. With this gear I can literally set up camp anywhere: on the side of a road, on someone’s front lawn, in a park, and even sometimes at a camp site. It’s truly my home on wheels.

Lee Valley, where Vicki works, and which I consider to be one of the best companies in the world, actually makes a lot of stuff you can bring camping/cycling with you. I thought quickly mention some of the things I brought with me:

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  1. LED illuminating bracelets – slap them around your pant leg when you’re riding and they light up too. Great in the tent for low lighting as well.
  2. Bungy cords – I’m not sure if this is the right name for these but they’re a godsend. I use this little puppy to strap down my GPS to my handle bar.
  3. Squishy bowls – they serve as drinking cups, bowls, measuring and mixing cups, they fit in my thermal mug and they’re very light weight.
  4. Tie downs for tarps – These guys clamp down on anything. I actually use these for multiple purposes: clothes lines in hotels, securing a wet towel or bathing suit to the back panniers to dry out, etc.
  5. Mosquito netting – need I say more? So far I haven’t needed this but the time is coming soon, very soon.
  6. Buglit LED micro flashlight – With it’s cute little flexible steel wire legs it secures on to my bike helmet, my wrist watch, or I just hang it from my tent for some quick illumination in the middle of the night. Very useful.

Once again, I’ve run out of time. I’ve got to hit the road. In a future post I’ll talk about camping gear, clothes and first aid.

Day 20 – Rest day in Saskatoon – coming soon…

Details to follow…

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An example of Elm tree-lined streets

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Eric’s spectacular dinner

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Broadway avenue

Day 19 – Delisle to Saskatoon – Total distance traveled 1788kms

I’ve decided to rename the town of “Delisle” to “Denial” because this was the day I refused to give in.

I packed up and left the hotel only to find my tire was deflating again. This time I was determined to find out what was going on. I flipped my bike over and removed the wheel, this time inspecting every inch of the inside of the tire. Finally I found a tiny wire poking through. Unfortunately, I neglected to bring my handy Lee Valley magnifying tweezers, which is about the only thing that would remove the evil vestige, so I covered it as best as I could using a super patch and carefully re-inflated the tire.

While all this was happening, a cold, penetrating drizzle was falling. Everything exposed quickly got soaked. I started out into high headwinds (I later found out there were 36km gusts from the east). It was very cold, everything was wet, the the wind gusts were relentless. I felt it helped to scream “bring it on!” and “is that the best you can do?” into the wind. Nothing was stopping me.

In his excellent book “Today We Are Rich” authour Tim Sanders frames incoming information in four ways: good, neutral, bad, and “get busy”. Most of what people call “bad news” is really just “get busy” news. Bad news is actually very rare. Bad news means the damage is permanent and there’s nothing you can do about it. “Get busy” news means you put your thinking cap on and turn from panic to planning.

For me, the worst case was that I could call Eric and he would come and pick me up, and that’s not really bad at all. But I’m determined to do this entire trip on bike so I carried on. I called Eric every now and then to let him know how I was progressing. What should have been a simple two hour ride took almost three.

I don’t have many pictures from the day, but I did manage a couple.

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I think this is a modern day grain elevator
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Finally, a divided highway

A “funny” thing happened when I reached Eric’s apartment building: I had his address but not his apartment number. I meant to call him when I arrived but the drizzle soaked through my Blackberry and it refused to work properly. I went to a nearby restaurant and asked to use their phone but then realized his number was in my Blackberry. Since he only has a cell phone I couldn’t even look his number up. What a stupid and helpless feeling.

In the meantime I was freezing and by this point I decided to head to the restaurant. Just as I was about to enter the restaurant I thought I’d check again if his number was on my iPad. Guess what? I stated picking up an unsecured wifi connection from somewhere (not from the restaurant) and so I Facetimed Eric. Here I am a block away from his apartment having a video call with him asking him to let me in! Without a doubt we live in strange times.

The rest of the day was a joy. It did take me several hours to warm up but we had lunch in that same restaurant. It was so great to see Eric in his new home town of Saskatoon that all of the adversity I experienced earlier in the day vapoirized.

For the next day and a half I will spend my time exploring the this lovely city with my son. Hopefully I’ll be as warm and as dry as possible!

Stats
Distance traveled today – 46.2kms
Moving avg – 16.5kms
Moving time – 2 hours and 53mins
Elevation – 519m

Day 18 – Kindersly to Delisle – Total distance traveled – 1742kms

I knew the moment I started riding that Saskatoon wasn’t going to happen today. A strong headwind and a driving rain made for hard going. But I can’t complain. I’ve had 17 days of great weather and it was only a matter of time.

My day started, as usual, with a huge breakfast. Two pancakes, two eggs over-easy, two slices of bacon, two sausages, two pieces of brown toast, two cups of coffee, a glass of orange joice and a glass of water. It’s so nice to be able to eat pretty much anything I want and know I’ll burn it off over the next couple of hours.

And that I did. After two hours of heavy rain and wind everything was soaked through. My MEC rain jacket behaved admirably but eventually the water gets through on the sleeves. The best purchase I made was my helmet cover. While it looks pretty stupid but it kept my hair and my head warm, and as they say “warm head, warm feet”. My pannier covers did their job well. The only piece of rain gear that’s pretty much useless are the gators covering my shoes. Eventually the water gets in from underneath and I don’t think there’s anything that can prevent that but if anyone has a better solution let me know.

Whenever I see a Point of Interest – let’s call it a POI from here on in, to maintain the link to my telecom background – I stop to have a look. This one is for an old cart path that ran between Swift Current and Battleford. A trucker was pulled over checking something and we had a brief conversation. Folks are friendly out here and always open to conversation.

There’s actually quite a bit of wildlife in Saskatchewan. There are many wetlands along the road along with associated waterfowl. Near Harris I spotted a falcon sitting on a road sign not 20′ feet from me. By the time I dug out my camera it had flown off. I had a coyote cross the road in front of me and yesterday a deer, about 100 yards off, ran along side my bicycle for 20 or 30 seconds. It started to cross the road but then spotted me and ran off the other way.

Speaking of Harris, it’s and interesting town and my very first sight of a traditional Saskatchewan grain elevator. The town itself has a museum, murals of traditional farm life, and the location of the Great Ruby Rush of 1914 (I’m going to make you look that one up).

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My first traditional grain elevator

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Murals in Harris, Saskatchewan

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The glacial boulder that started the Great Ruby Rush

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If I had of been smart I would have stayed here tonight

I learned so something new today. When I truck behind you toots its horn it’s not to say “hi”, rather, it’s to say “move over before I blow you the hell off the road”. One truck was carrying the mother of all tractors with its huge wheels hanging off the sides of the flatbed. It’s a good thing I have a rear view mirror, and it’s a good thing they give you some warning. Two wide loads passing each other on the highway must be a curious event.

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Q. What do the call two wide loads passing each other on the highway?
A. The cyclist clean-up crew

After a very pleasant lunch in Rosetown, where the owner gave me hot soup right away and was happy to let me dry out, I headed back out on the road. PS – to the owner of the restaurant: sorry about all the mud I dragged in. The wind had died down, the road was smooth and I made excellent time. Once again I was fooled into thinking I was in control. Things changed about 30km down the road and a strong wind from the southeast kicked up.

I noticed that whenever I passed a grove of trees (there aren’t many) there would be a brief respite from the wind. I think that all the cyclists crossing Canada would be thrilled if the Saskatchewan government, perhaps with a little help from PM Harper, were to plant a line of willows along the side of the road to block this nasty wind. I’m sure motorists wouldn’t mind much either. How hard can that be?

In any case, while I was cycling into this headwind I had an inspiration: an ode to the tailwind:

O tailwind, tailwind, wherefore art thou tailwind?
Deny thy natural tendencies, and from behind O push me tenderly;
And if thou wilt not, comest thou back another day;
Perhaps when I’m sailing the heavenly sea.

Did I mention you get strange thoughts after seven or eight hours in the saddle? By the way, my ode is not completely original. I’ve borrowed a bit from that other guy.

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A vast body of water. How did it get here? It must be some kind of mistake.

By the time I reach Delisle I’d pretty much had it. Delisle is the first “big” town on the map, at least it looks that way. I managed to find the only hotel, which is more like a smelly boarding house with a bar attached. It was a slight improvement over that hotel I passed in Harris. But the room was clean and cheap and dry.

The women in the bar who arranged for my room noticed my address and asked if I was cycling from Ottawa. “No, the other way, I came from Vancouver and am cycling to Toronto” I replied. Said “Pardon my language but holy s&@t! Are you training for something?”. She was very helpful and let me keep my bike in the lobby.

Not surprisingly there’s no wifi here but my cell phone works. Vicki told me a few people have expressed concern because there have been no updates for a few days. That’s very touching and I appreciate the concern. I try to update this blog as often as I can but sometimes the wifi gods don’t cooperate.

Stats
Distance traveled today – 163kms
Moving avg – 17.6kms
Moving time – 9 hours and 16 mins

Day 17 – Hanna AB to Kindersly Sask – Total distance travelled 1505kms

I did it – my first “double century”! Today I cycled over 200kms, into a headwind for the majority of the ride. If I sound excited, I am. This is something every cyclist strives to accomplish.

The day started in Hanna, AB. I couldn’t find anyone at the campsite so I set up my tent on the lawn of the Hanna Museum. It got me a couple of strange stares but you can’t beat the price. There was a washroom at the ball diamond across the street so I was very comfortable. I went to sleep with the sounds of coyote signing in my me ears. Oh, and watched the final two episodes of Game of Thrones in my tent. Thank God that’s the end of the season. Now I can finally get some sleep.

As I mentioned yesterday I planned to cut out early. I was on the road by 7:30. By 10am I reached Youngstown and was ready for a hardy breakfast. Unfortunately, there’s no restaurant in Youngstown. Only a corner store. But they had coffee and muffins and all sorts of other goodies to keep me satisfied, including Kit Kat bars which are fast becoming my favourite: “for a quick snack on-the-go” (Nestle, please send cheque to… ha, ha)

While I was there I spoke to the older gentleman I shared the one and only table with. I asked him what Youngstown is known for. He said “nothin”. Having seen the sign on the way in I said “well, your town is almost 100 years old, that’s something”. His reply “yah, I’m catchin up”.

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Definitely my biggest group of fans today

If you Google the route from Hanna AB to Kindersley Sask you’ll see that there’s not much on the road, like scary nothing. When I reached Oyen it was about 1pm and I had already cycled 112kms. Again, I was so looking forward to sitting in a restaurant and enjoying a good meal. But once again I was foiled. The restuarant was closed and had a sign in the door that said “Waiting for an A&W”. How exactly do you “wait” for an A&W? Does it come on one of those trucks from the east?

As I sat and munched on fries and chicken fingers (yuck) the gentleman besides me struck up a conversation. He was from Oyen and he told me that small towns across the Prairies are dying. He explained that the family farm is a thing of the past and the miles and miles of farmland that you see along the road are all owned by big conglomerates. So lots of stuff is shutting down. In Oyen they don’t even have a bar anymore. Where do people go to socialize I wonder? The nearest towns are literally 100kms in each direction.

It got me thinking there’s no reason why people can’t remain in small towns. With good quality high speed Internet, and I understand Alberta and Saskatchewan have pretty good rural connectivity, you can run a small business from anywhere. I know I’m over simplifying but if I lived in a small town I would pick the one thing that makes my town great, and if there isn’t one make one up, and promote the heck out of it. Why just putting up a sign on the highway that says “Fresh baked goods and Lattes” would suck tourists in like a magnet.

Of course you could also turn your giant hay bales into advertisements like the ones below.

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These hay bales are making me thirsty!

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Somehow I expected more, like a visitor centre or something…

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The sight of this long, endless stretch of road made me feel really lonely

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Proof positive: there are hills in Saskatchewan (and this one was pretty steep too

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A buffalo rubbing stone, about as big as a SUV, carried here by glaciers

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Stats
Distance travelled today – 207kms
Avg moving speed – 19.8kms
Traveling time – 10 hours and 30 mins
Elevation – 685m

Day 16 – Drumheller to Hanna via Royal Tyrrell Museum – Total distance travelled 1368kms

After a hardy breakfast the day started with a trip to the Royal Tyrrell Museum. It was a 6km ride out of my way but definitely worth it. On the way the I discovered a bike path that took me right through the Badlands. They look like piles of mud that have been washed out. The hoodoos are basically a flat rock on a mound of mud.

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Cycling through the Badlands

The Royal Tyrrell Museum was incredible. To be honest I hadn’t expected that much, but it was absolutely fabulous and the specimens they have in the museum are second to none. These are the fossils that you see in text books, not plaster casts but the real thing. And the museum is extremely modern and well put together. The badlands around the area are rich in fossils and they tell the stories of the people that discovered them, sometimes professionals, sometimes amateurs, sometimes kids out fishing like the one below

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What a catch!

One of the most amazing exhibits for me was the famous fossil of a giant fish with another fossilized fish in its stomach. I remember seeing pictures of this as a child. There’s something about it that just brings the whole era to life.

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Anyway, I can’t begin to describe how wonderful this museum is. It’s a national treasure. But here are some of my best photos from the hundred or so I took.

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Prehistoric Porpoise

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This “Sea Dragon” was a recent find. They found round rocks in its stomach. Purpose unknown.

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The most complete skeleton of a T-Rex in the world

What I did find interesting from a people perspective was how excited the kids were and how generally frantic the parents were. It’s easy for me as an observer, and when my kids were younger I probably acted the same, but this is just one place where you have to let the kids be kids. It was overwhelming even for me. I think this museum is probably the equivalent of giving your kids a coke, ice cream and a bag of jelly beans all at once. Sit back and let them run around until they drop. Then get a baby sitter and come back by yourself.

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I started out for Hanna by 1:15. There’s a fun climb out of the valley. On the way up I was passed by a dozen or so triathletes. Every single one of them waved and said hi as they whizzed down the hill. I was really impressed and it looked like they were having a good time.

Cycling was easy with more rolling hills. Who said the Prairies were flat? Not in these parts anyway. If I understand correctly the mounds were caused by churning melt water under the 800m thick glaciers that once covered this land (yes, 800m, almost a kilometre thick).

You see these big round rocks everywhere. They don’t belong here. They were actually transported by the glaciers from the Northwest Territories. Besides leaving behind rocks, the melting glaciers created new valleys and diverted existing rivers.

I’m still having problems with my rear tire going flat. It was flat coming out of the museum and tried re-inflating it which worked for about 30km until I decided to change it. Then the new tire started losing air a few kms down the road. I changed it again and the valve stem burst as I was inflating the second tube. Ok, now I’m running out of spares: only one left. I changed it a third time, being extra careful to make sure there was nothing pokey inside the tire or on the rim, and gently inflated tire. So far so good. I’m crossing my fingers for tomorrow and the next Canadian Tire I’m buying more spares.

One good thing that came out of this is that I realized that I can turn my bike upside down with all the packs still on it to change the tire, or do other adjustments, which makes things a little easier and quicker.

Cycling through the Prairies is very relaxing, maybe too relaxing. At one point I started to feel very sleepy. Not a problem: I pulled over and lay down on the grass and had a snooze. It’s very relaxing with the wind blowing through the fields, and the birds singing, with only the odd truck passing to disturb your slumber. I’ll have to try some more of that tomorrow.

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Palliser – responsible for surveying most of southern Alberta in the 1800s

I arrived in Hanna by about 6:30pm and spent the next 30 mins searching for the campsite. It was at an address that didn’t exist in my Garmin (what else is new). Hanna is the home of Nickelback, but don’t hold that against me. I had imagined a pretty town with a river running through it. But there’s no river and it was kind of dead, maybe because it’s a Sunday night. I headed back to the main drag near the highway to the only restaurant that was open, Nicks, and the food and service, and the beer, was very good.

I plan to dig out the bare minimum to camp tonight because I want to get off really early. Maybe have a quick bite to eat and a hardy breakfast in Youngstown. I plan a big, big day tomorrow. I’m going to try to cross the border into Saskatchewan and stay in a place called Kindersly. But we’ll see how the wind and the weather and the bike cooperate.

Stats
Distance travelled today – 98kms
Moving avg – 19.2kms
Elevation – 814m
Moving time – 5 hours and 4 mins

Day 15 – Calgary to Drumheller – Total distance travelled 1271kms

I made it to Drumheller by 4:30pm. Cycling the prairies is so much easier. Time seems to go by faster and I’m not counting every kilometre. I rode 138kms in just over 6 hours.

My ride started at 8:30 in the morning. Dave and Lose live in northwest Calgary so I quietly tiptoed my way around the outskirts. At this point there was still a number of rolling hills to climb but nothing too troublesome. All I can say is that goodness for Google maps. There is so much construction around Calgary that my Garmin topo maps were off, way off.

It was long however before I hit the Prairies in earnest. At least I think it’s the prairies. There’s no sign or anything saying “Welcome to the Prairies!”. But my first real emotion hit me shortly after having lunch in Beiseker(pop. 828) I had a long stretch of highway 65kms without anything in between. There are still kind of rolling hills but picture these hills are maybe 10m or 20m in height and 3-5kms peak to peak. You can see a really long ways and it’s definitely a feeling of openness. It’s pretty cool.

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It’s a truck on a stick (and a tractor on a stick), just before Beiseker

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Dorothy, you’re not in the mountains anymore: this was the first time I felt the expansiveness of the prairies

You also pass a sign that points to a place called Carbon. It’s too far out of my way but there seems to be lots of things to do. Besides, what a cool name: Carbon. Surely there’s a superhero named Carbon.

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My first oil rig near the highway to Carbon

As you near Drumheller you start to see mounds. I still have to read what causes them exactly, but if we were in Syria or Lebanon it would be a sure sign of a great and ancient city buried underneath.

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Could there be an ancient civilization under that mound?

But not here. Drumheller is in what they call the Badlands. It looks like you’re caught in an old western. They have a rock formation here called hoo doos. They are tall rocks that look like mushrooms because the lower part if the rock has been worn away by wind and sand.

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The badlands are really bad, in a cool way of course

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Cedit: Wikipedia (this is too far out of my way to see unfortunately)

It was great getting here earlier because it gave me a chance to look around. Luckily, I booked a room because almost all the hotels and campsites were full because of the long weekend. However, after settling in I walked over to the Information Centre which is awesome. They were very helpful and helped me find campsites and towns all the way into Saskatoon. They also two large whiteboards with all of the hotels and campsites listed, their amenities and which had vacancies.

What you see of Drumheller from the highway isn’t much. But if you go to the info centre and walk the trail along the Red Deer River it’s very pretty.

But the biggest thing to see in Drumheller is the WORLDS LARGEST DINOSAUR. Sorry, I have to use caps when I say that. It just seems appropriate. It’s big, there’s no doubt about it. Much bigger than the actual dinosaurs which is kind of ironic. You can climb steps to an observation point in the dinosaur’s mouth. I opted not to do that; it could have meant the end of me.

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At first I thought this was the worlds largest dinosaur

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But then I turned to the right and saw this: THE WORLDS LARGEST DINOSAUR

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From the side (ok, you can stop quivering now)

There are also many, many smaller dinosaurs around Drumheller like this handsome dude in the tux and this other one that looks like a chicken.

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This morning I’m headed to the Royal Tyrrell Museum which is where they have all the dinosaur exhibits and I am as stoked as hell. This museum is every little boy’s dream.

Afterwards it looks like my next stop will be Hanna which is only 85kms but there’s no camping after that for a long time. The infomarion centre here was very helpful and they gave me maps and info on campsites all the way into Saskatoon.

Looking at the map I’m half way throuogh Alberta now. It shouldn’t take long to get to Saskatoon. The weather has been awesome. I relized yesterday that every day I’ve cycled it’s been sunny. Every single day. The only day it snowed and rained a little was on my day off.

I also saw a live band last night. A Celtic band from Calgary called Claymore. It was the last thing I expected out here. They are very talented and they played a lot of fun Maritimer songs. If I wasn’t nodding off at my table, even after a coffee, I would have stayed longer.

Last night I slept for 8 hours. The first time since I left home. I am so sore from climbing Prairie Mountain it’s not even funny. But it feels really, really good.

Ok, I’m off to see the dinosaurs. I can’t keep them waiting any longer; sixty million years is quite enough.

Stats
Distance traveled today – 138kms
Avg speed – 21kms
Elevation – 675m (in Drumheller valley)
Moving time – 6 hours and 34 mins
Avg kms per cycling day – 115.5

Day 14 – Calgary – Rest day #2?

What do you do on a rest day from cycling? I was planning to wrote a post on things to see and do in Calgary in an afternoon, like visiting Bow Valley Museum, strolling down Stephen Avenue, enjoying the fine cuisine – and I really wish i could – but you’ll have to discover that yourself.

Instead, I climbed Prairie Mountain.

The day started on plan. Dave gave me a ride downtown and dropped me off at one of the Allstream offices. I arrived a little early so I walked around a bit and grabbed a muffin and a latte. It’s a good thing I did because that’s where I got at least a tiny glimpse of what Calgary has to offer, which is a lot. Stephan Ave is very much like the Sparc St. mall in Ottawa. It’s closed to vehicles and it’s lined with lovely cafes and shops. At one end is the theatre district.

Then I headed to the office. I had a super visit and chatted with nearly everyone there. They were reading my blog and had lots and lots of questions. The folks in Calgary are full of spunk and energy and are very proud of the work they do. It’s a fun office and they made me feel very welcome.

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The “RAP” room

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The Calgary Team

One thing that really impressed my is the gym they put together. After jumping through some corporate hoops, and making sure they were covered from a liability perspective, they cleaned out a storage room, and through fund raising and donations they purchased all of the equipment, and I’m talking about a very impressive set of equipment. It’s a great example of “if you could do something and you knew you couldn’t fail what would it be?”.

Then Andree, who was showing me around, suggested we go on a hike. I hadn’t seen anything of Calgary itself, which is quite nice, but then a city is a city and we don’t have mountains in Ontario like they do here.

So at around noon we headed back to her house to pick up lunch and I met her husband and kids. They do extreme sports like adventure treks that combine running and hiking and orienteering through the wilderness for 50kms. Her husband Bill won something called City Chase where you basically do scavenger hunts against time in each major city across Canada. They’re both quite insane and some of the stuff they do is not for me.

Just to put into perspective how “crazy” they are out here; in Toronto Andree and Bill were considered at the “elite” level of orienteering. Upon moving to Calgary they almost had to start at the bottom rung.

We drove to the bottom of this mountain, we didn’t have that much time, and then up we climbed. Don’t let the name “Prairie” Mountain fool you. This ain’t no prairie. It was a steep path through the woods and very difficult. I was panting heavily and had to stop frequently to catch my breath while Andree patiently waited for me. And I just cycled over 1100 kms and climbed two major mountain passes by bike!

As we got higher and higher you could see the river valley down below getting smaller and smaller. As we approached the top, above the tree-line, I started to get vertigo (I don’t even like to climb ladders) and I just kept looking straight ahead. I felt like at any minute I would slip and roll down the hill, which is stupid, because a tree or a rock would certainly break my fall (ouch),

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The valley below

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I’m actually hanging on to this tree for dear life

We finally reached the summit and there we three other climbers up there. You could see everything around you, 360 degrees. But I guess I won’t be climbing Everest anytime soon. I was loath to come even close to the edge. But what spectacular views! Very cold also, and lots of snow of course.

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Yes, there’s actually a flag at the summit

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This is why they call in “prairie” mountain

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Help me, I’m falling!

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By now I’m starting to get a little more confident

After 20 mins or so we started heading down. I was really worried I would have a problem going down given my vertigo on the way up, but it was actually easier. You have to concentrate so hard just not to fall on your ass that I guess it’s no problem. I did fall on my ass once actually and my left shoulder is pretty stiff this morning, but then I was climbing in cycling shoes (I could do a commercial on these cycling shoes, a subject for a later post about equipment). This morning, as I write this post, I feel a whole new set of aches and pains.

By the way, on the way down we were passed by two young women climbing up with children on their backs. I’m such a whimp.

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Elbow Falls at the bottom – they kayak down that (see, I told you they were nuts out here)

Andree got me back to Dave and Lise’s house for 5pm and Lise had planned a family supper which included myself and Mathew’s girlfriend. It was very nice. They have a lovely family and the banter around the table cracked me up, and also made me very homesick. They tease Dave too much though… ha, ha, I’m just kidding, keep teasing your Dad!

Afterwards I packed and fixed my 3rd flat. I think I located the problem that was causing the flats on my rear tire so hopefully that’s enough of that for a while.

I have a big ride to Drumheller tomorrow, 135kms. I tried to book a hotel online but I couldn’t find anything. It’s the May long weekend. I was just going to wing it but while I was working on my bike Lise called around and found me a room at a Super 8. Apparently, there’s a triathlon in the city. We can’t figure out where they are doing the water part because Drumheller is basically in a dessert.

I’m going to really have to put on some steam now. I realized I’m 1/3 done in time but no where near 1/3 in distance, but these visits have been fun, and this trip has been all about people. And you thought it was about cycling across Canada.

Fooled you eh?

Day 13 – Calgary – Rest day #1

There’s not much to report today. I slept in, had breakfast and coffee, worked on my blog and did laundry. Then I sat on the sofa and watched one episode after another of Games of Thrones.

I’ve really enjoyed the hospitality of Dave and Lise’ beautiful home. We went out for dinner later in the evening. You must try the beef when you visit Calgary. It’s awesome.

Day 12 – Kananaskis to Calgary outskirts – Total distance traveled – 1133kms

The first time I woke up, at 4:30am, it was to the sound of a train whistle. Always trains, wherever I stay. But of course there are always trains because the Trans-Canada highway, at least at this part, follows the original rail line. But you get use to it. I’ve come to love the sound of the trains klickity-klacking over the tracks.

After the train passed all I could hear was the sound of some animal knawing on something. Noise supressing head phones and watching “Hawking” took care of that.

The second time I woke up it was almost 9am. I zipped open the fly and was confronted with a beautiful morning.

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The view from my tent

I could have laid there for quite a while, but no, it takes a long time to pack up and coffee is my first priority. No matter how organized you are it always takes a long time to eat and pack up camp. By 10:30 I was on my way, climbing the hill back out of the park.

I stopped at the camp store on the way out. Baked goods hadn’t arrived yet. But a double chocolate chip icecream sandwich hit the spot.

As I left a German Sheppard comes up the hill dragging a lady on roller blades. I don’t really get along with German Sheppards so I asked politely if she could tie him up. “German Sheppards seem to think my bike is lunch” I said. I forget her dog’s name but he was super friendly.

A few days ago, just outside of Lytton a German Sheppard came barreling out of the driveway and definitely intended to have me for lunch. It was pretty stupid (of the owner) because this is the Trans-Canada Highway afterall, with lots of 18 wheelers. The other day I saw a blood spot on the highway that lasted from about 300 yards. Yeah, that’s gross.

But this lady’s dog, a puppy really, was nice. Did you know in Germany the just call them “Sheppards”? Makes sense doesn’t it? My dad use to train Sheppards for the police force in Germany. I remember him telling me Sheppards could easily jump over a seven foot fence.

Pretty soon I figure I’ll be able to out run anything on four legs, except mayba a Cheeta. But I should be ok there unless there’s a breakout from the zoo.

Yes, it’s beautiful around here, near Canmore. This is my idea of camping.

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I think Wile E. Coyote lives in them thar hills

I set out back on highway 1A (not the main highway #1 which is like the 401). There’s not much of a shoulder on this part. But there’s very’ very little traffic on the road, and the condition of the highway is excellent. It feels a little too isolated even. To get anything, like food, water, accomodation, it pretty much means heading across a bridge to the main highway. But I definitely recommend taking the 1A.

At one point I frightened a small deer that was crossing the road as I came around a bend. I scooted off in to the bush. It’s mother, which wasn’t far behind leapt in the other direction, unfortunately straight through a barb wired fence. It got stuck for a minute and then kept going. I felt back for the poor thing.

Later, Dave told me that in this area there are wild mustangs. This is First Nations land, the Stoney Indians, and they let them run wild. I did see some later but they weren’t afraid of el Torro (my bike).

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If it isn’t enough just to worry about bears…

Uopn seeing the sign above, I had a strange thought – and if you’ve been keeping up with my daily blog you know I have a lot of stange thoughts. With all this loose wild stick roaming aroound the bears have lots to choose from so I shouldnt have anything to worry about. Why, I’m just skin and bones compared to some of that cattle over there.
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The beautiful Bow River Valley

As I’ve said this is a beautiful ride as you follow the Bow River valley. The Bow river has a beautiful turquois colour but it’s ice cold. You’ll see many other cyclists on this road, so you know it’s a good one. There are gentle rolling hills and mountains to the right and left.

I crossed the river at Morely to look for somewhere to eat. There was a sign saying “welcome back Ottawa transfer students”. Morely is a First Nations settlement, the Stoney Nation. There were drums sounding in the background (no, really). I asked a youth if there was a restaurant nearby. He couldn’t hear me at first because he had is iPod earphones on so I had to repeat myself.

I had lunch at the Chief Chiniki Restuarant off of highwy 1. When you’re on a bike for a long time you seem to know excatly what you want to eat. I had a craving for chicken and frech fries with gravey. It was on special. I tell you, I have horseshoes up my… The server, a Stoney native and probably the owner, invited me to bring my bicycle instead the restaurant. “Someone tried to steal one just last week” she said, “I had to chase after him”.
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Big sky

Eventually, down the road a bit on the 1A, you get the wide shoulder back. I passed the historic McDougall Stoney Mission. I love the way they described the mission:

The historic church at the end of this pathway was constructed in 1875. At that time native people were still huntiing bison on the praries. The young nation of Canada was only eight years old; the Canadian Pacific Railway still nine years in the future.And this church would become the heart of a thriving community, Morelyville, and for a time the largest settlement in what would become southern Alberta.

That’s fine writing.

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Morelyville Historic Mission

I passed a memorial much like the one in Vard. This one “dedicated as a pledge of everlasting friendship to the United States of America and to the gallant fighters from her every state who joined the Commonwealth of Nations in the fight for democracy during the Second Great War”.

The other side tells the story of two members of the Royal Canadian Airforce, a Canadian and an American, who were “stayed by the hand of death” in this very field in 1941.

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Memorial

Next came the town of Cochrane and a lot of traffic and an enormous hill. For some silly reason I though I was done with hills. Later I found out that “Big Hill” is a popular training ground for cyclists from the area, who take advantage of its 7% grade and 3.5 km distance. I should have stopped for some of the famous Cochrane ice cream before tackling that baby.

The rest of the ride was uneventful and I pulled into Dave and Lise’s house at around 5pm where they has a tall glass of cold water, a shower and a cold beer ready and waiting for me.
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Calgary, here I come

Another great day on the road. Now for two days off. Tomorrow I plan to do as little as possible.

Stats
Distance travelled today – 89kms
Average speed – 18.4kms/hour
Elevation – 1246kms
Cycling time – 4 hours and 44 mins

Day 11 – Lake Louise to Kananaskis – Total distance 1045kms

They day started a little rough: Up at dawn, down to the pool room for a jacuzzi hot tub, into the steam room for 10-15 mins. You know, a typical day cycling.

Well maybe not exactly. Staying in the Chateau Lake Louise was really something special. Waking up to an incredible view out of the window. We really took our time this morning, for obvious reasons.

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This is what I see from my window

By the time we were packed and ready to go it was 12:30, That’s ok, we enjoyed every minute of it. We said our good byes, Jen and Rob heading north to Jasper and I heading east towards Calgary.

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Rob making last minute adjustments to his derailure

I had the best ride yet, with a strong wind at my back and a very slow decline, I averaged 26kms/hour. I made it to Banff, 60kms away, in just 2.5 hours. Although the highway is pretty flat, it’s incredibly scenic. You’re surrounded by rugged, white-capped mountains, many photographed by the world over.

The highway through Banff Provincial Park is fascinating. Besides having high but inconspicuous fences along the highway to keep the animals out, it also has animal overpasses to allow migrating animals to move over the highway. I heard later that many people complained about the cost of these overpasses. I think sometimes people forget why they were put on God’s Green Earth.

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I waited and waited but still no Grizzly bear

Arriving in Banff I took a photo of the welcome sign and immediately heard “welcome to Banff” from one of the two cyclists that just came up behind me, out for the day. We talked for a while and I asked for lunch recommendations. One of the cyclists led me around Banff and showed me several restaurants to choose from. I chose Bisons and finally got my pasta (and beer) fix.

At this point I seriously thought about staying in Banff for the rest of the day. I finally decided against it because there are so many things to do in Banff that one day is not nearly enough. I’ll simply have to return with Vicki!

The rest of the ride was long and arduous and a little frustrating. My Garmin kept trying to put me on highway 1, and I was determined to follow the 1A. It took me a long time to find my campsite for the night. It was at the bottom of a 5km hill of course, what else? Something I’ll have to face in the morning.

But it was worth it. My campsite is situated right on the river and it’s teaming with wild life. There are only a few people in the campsite so it’s very private, and a little unsettling too, but I’m getting used to that. By the way, there are mosquitos in Alberta and BC. Not as bad as Ontario, but they’re around.

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The view from my campsite at Bow Valley Provincial Park

Now here I sit, at the picnic table typing away, all my food and garbage safely packed away in the “bear box” and the sound of the train passing by on a nearby overpass (there are always trains on this route). My eye lids are shutting. Another long day cycling and time for bed.

Tomorrow, Calgary here I come.

Stats
Distance Covered – 121kms
Average speed – 22kms
Moving time – 5 hours and 31 mins
Elevation – 1085m

Day 10 – Golden BC to Lake Louise AB – Total Distance traveled 925kms

Today started with a climb up “10 mile hill”. I was very happy we stayed in a hotel above Golden and so we avoided killer hill # 1 at least. We climbed into Kicking Horse Canyon and were presented with incredible vistas.

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That tiny white squiggly line is Kicking Horse River

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First I have to tell you about the Bighorn Sheep deterrence system. When you exit the driveway of the hotel you have to cross these grates that are quite terrifying if you’re a cyclist. The idea is that the sheep can’t walk over these tubular grates. Neither can cyclists wearing hard soled cycling shoes.

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Bighorn sheep and cyclist deterrent system

So what happens when the sheep do get in by say, I don’t know, hitching a ride in a pickup truck perhaps? Well, they need to get out. For that you need a 1-way cat door sheep door. This one looks particularly inventive:

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Against all temptation I did not try to go through this

Then there’s clever exit door # 2. For this one, the Big Horn climbs the ramp and does a double back flip landing lightly on its pearly toes hoofs.

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Now back to the 10-mile climb. The best way I can describe this is that your playing cat and mouse with the Kicking Horse river. Climbing far above it at one point, crossing over long bridges, through massive cuts in the rock. When you think you’ve left the river long behind, you look to the side and there its, right beside you.

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It must have taken Iron Man 2 days to cut through this rock

After the end of 10-mile hill the road basically flattens out until about the 46 km mark you pass 1200m. Another interesting landmark is the spiral tunnels. the original rail line was so steep on the Big Hill it had to be replaced by the Spiral Tunnels in 1909. If you are patient enough to wait for a long train to pass you can see it both exiting and entering the tunnel at the same time.

Just before the final assault on Kicking Horse pass you come to Field. We stopped at the Alberta visitor centre (which is in BC before you get to the border) and enquired about getting something to eat. We were directed to Field and were pleasantly surprised by a nice cafe/gift shop/liquor store called the siding. A couple if double expresso’s later and we were on our way.

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More to come, right now I want to go play in the snow before I have to checkout here…

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Stats
Distance traveled today – 86kms
Moving average – 15kms
Moving time – 5 hours 41 mins
Max elevation – 1550m 1800m (the last climb to Lake Louise was higher than the pass!)

Day 9 – Golden BC – Rest day

Happy Mothers Day!

After a grueling day yesterday, and Kicking Horse pass ahead of me, I decided to take a rest day in Golden BC. The Golden website is awesome. You should check it out..

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Golden BC

The great thing about traveling through this part of the country at this time of year is that it’s what folks call the “shoulder season”. It’s too late for the winter activities like snowmobiling and skiing but too early for rafting, gold, hiking, swimming and all the other summer activities. As a result, hotels are inexpensive and there’s always a room available.

From our hotel it’s a 15 45 rmin walk into town (downhill of course). I really didn’t even want to look at my bike today. So walking it is. On way down the steep, paved walking/cycling path I listened to Jen and Rob debate what was larger: a hamlet, a city or a town. We weren’t quite sure what to call Golden. Just outside the hotel stood a heard of bighorn sheep. Everyone was nonchalantly passing by as if it was and everyday experience, which i guess it is.

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Jen and Rob just moments before they were attacked by bighorn sheep

Golden is a spectacular town. It’s clean, has lots of patios and shops, has two rivers flowing through it, parks, a grocery store and it’s surrounded by white capped mountains backed by a deep blue sky. It wasn’t very busy while we were there and we had no trouble finding a seat on the terrace overlooking the Kicking Horse River and enjoyed a beer and wraps.

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After lunch we crossed the timber-frame pedestrian build by volunteers in 2001. There are biking and walking trails everywhere. We walked along the shoreline and on to an exposed shoal in the river where we dipped our feet in the water, skipped stones, and lay down on the warm rocks for a power nap.

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After a long walk we were thirsty again and headed to the Island Restaurant which is beautiful log building and enjoyed some more of the cuisine (you work up a big appetite cycling). While we were there another group came in from a day of heli-skiing. You could see the look sheer pleasure on their faces as they regaled each other with stories of big powder and major wipeouts. We vowed to return to Golden one day to try some of the other adventures the area has to offer.

At any given time there is a community of cyclists criss-crossing our great county. On the way back to our hotel I met another couple cycling across Canada, Heather and Mike from Flin-Flon Manitoba. They had just arrived from Rogers Pass and planned to take a rest day.

Tomorrow we plan to head out early because we have a long and grueling climb up to Kicking Horse Pass. There’s a section called “10 mile hill” that’s giving me the butterflies again. After traversing the pass we’ll continue on to Lake Louise, at which time we’ll part ways, Jen and Rob heading to Jasper and I onward to Calgary.

It’s amazing how quickly you can make life long friends on a trip like this. I’m really going to miss Jen and Rob, but Rob has assured me he’ll stop by our home in Ottawa on his way out to St. Johns. You can check out Rob’s blog at FollowThatBike.com. It’s entertaining with lots of photos and you’ll see quite a different part of BC.

Tomorrow we’ll also cross the border into Alberta. I have to say I’ve really been impressed with the warmth and hospitality of the people here and the beautify towns and countryside. I’ll miss it a lot.

Link to the United Way of Toronto fund raiser now set up

Many of you have asked me if I’m raising money for a charity on this trip. I pleased to say that am! I now have a link to a site called Giving Pages where all proceeds will go to the United Way of Toronto. You’ll receive a tax receipt for your donation. I intend for this to contribute to the Allstream corporate fund raiser.

If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog please consider making a donation here.

If you don’t live in Toronto, don’t sweat it, but remember Toronto needs all the help it can get. It is the home of the Maple Leafs after all 😉