Day 29 – Steinbach MB to Warroad MN – Total distanced traveled – 2813kms

I had a glorious day of cycling today: perfect weather, virtually no wind, very low traffic, great roads. I’ve now crossed the US border into Minnesota and am camping in the busy seaside lakeside resort of Warroad. It feels like the sea because Lake of the Woods is huge and it’s got that seaside feel to it.

I’ve just had locally caught Walleye at the Lake Side Restaurant and it was excellent. Unfortunately I don’t have my gear with me so I can’t import my photos from today but there were many.

Last night I got a nice little surprise when I flipped open my iPad and for the fun of it checked for wifi. It worked! The Steinbach campsite has wifi and didn’t even mention it.

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Waking up to a sunrise at the Steinbach Campsite

I saw a lot of wildlife along the road today: deer, falcons, and flying horses. The horseflies were particularly interesting. At first, there was just one circling me as I was riding. A few minutes later, two. And then four and then six. Now this is starting to get annoying. It’s ok while I’m moving but what will happen when I stop? I’ll be eaten alive, that’s what!

So I went into a higher gear and sped up to 25kms/ hour. Then 30. They’re still with me! Next, 35 and then 40kms per hour, My legs are really burning now, but they’re still with me. I don’t believe this! I’m already planning my next move: stop, dig out my tarp, get under it, and scarf down my lunch in the heat of the sun.

But a funny thing happened: when I stopped the horseflies kept on going! It seems they were just hitching a ride to the States to pick up a pack of Virginia Slim Jims. This really happened, Scouts honour.

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The grasslands along Highway 12 south of Steinbach

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Time for a nap at a rest area, 75km from Steinbach

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Site of a major forest fire that swept through the area a few years ago

About 110kms from Steinbach and finally there’s a restaurant off the highway in Sprague. Folks are really friendly and they happily got me a cup of coffee. You see I was literally falling asleep on my bike. Not enough sleep last night I guess.

By 4pm I was crossing into the states being interrogated by the border crossing guard: Alcohol? None. Cigarettes? Nope. More than ten thousand dollars? I wish. Ok, you can go.

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Minnesota! I can stick another pin in my National Geographic wall map.

By the way, for all the talk of mosquitos in Manitoba, I didn’t see any. Not that I’m complaining or anything…

Ten more kilometres, oops sorry, 5 miles to Warroad and I’m in a typically US city: flags are flying, liquor stores are open, it’s actually a really nice town.

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Lake Road in Warroad

You can’t mention Warroad without talking about Marvin Windows and Doors which has a massive factory here and is obviously the main employer.

You also can’t mention Warroad without mentioning hockey. For 50 years the Warroad Lakers won just about every tournament they entered, in the US or Canada. I can’t figure out why the Warroad website keeps referring to the team as “infamous” though. Maybe it’s because they seemed to have kicked every other team’s ass they play?

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Lake of the Woods

Tomorrow I continue on for another 150kms 95 miles to International Falls MN. Then I’ll cross the border into Canada and I’ll tackle Quetico Provincial Park which is almost the size of Algonquin Provincial Park. I’m psyching myself up for that and I think it’s going to be an awesome adventure. I’ve checked the weather and it looks pretty good for the next week. Tunder Bay, here I come (mis-spelling intentional).

Stats
Distance traveled today – 147kms
Moving time – 6 hours and 52 minutes
Moving avg – 21.3 kms/hour
Elevation – 330m

Day 28 – Winnipeg to Steinbach – Total distance 2668kms

I was in no rush to leave this morning. Plush sheets, a jacuzzi whirlpool and a shower with a rainfall shower head were more than enough to convince me to delay my departure. I know that for the next few nights I’ll be camping and my destination tomorrow, Steinbach, is not very far anyway.

I’ve come to realize that I enjoy the finer things in life. Ok, I already knew that before, but now I know I can’t live without the finer things in life, at least occasionally, and I consider myself pretty damn lucky. But the way I look at this trip, some nights I’m camping and eating for almost nothing, and on other nights I might live it up a little, and in the end I think it works put to be a pretty reasonably priced adventure. Plus I don’t have to pay for gas, right?

Tonight I’m going to camp, not because I’m trying to save money, but because I want to. There’s something about climbing into a warm and cozy sleeping bag and falling to sleep while reading a good book, that makes me feel like home. It sounds strange but it’s the best way I can describe it.

After a few more photos with Eman I headed across the bridge to Boniface for a closer look the cathedral. It was clearly massive at the time. They’ve now build a modern church inside the facade. Here are a few photos from the area.

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Me in front of one of the original MTS buildings. If you look closely you can see the vertical letters M-T-S on the facade.

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Crossing the Red River

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I finally got to try some bison. It was in the form of a smokie. It taste just like every other smokie I’ve ever had. My brother Cliff had promised to make me bison when I get to Toronto and I’m going to take him up on that (Cliff is a great cook).

My next stop was a little park in St. Vital to consume my smokie, chips and a grape soda. The community was established by francophone settlers in 1822, and is the second-oldest permanent settlement in Manitoba. Guay Park in north St. Vital contains a war memorial erected in honour of St. Vital residents killed in the two World Wars and in Korea. These a plaque that describes how John Robert Osborn, Victoria Cross (January 2, 1899 – December 19, 1941) of the Winnipeg Grenadiers threw himself on a grenade which exploded killing him instantly saving many of the men in his company. Holy cow.

I crossed the longitudinal centre of Canada. Good thing I’m not cycling to the Atlantic otherwise I would have another 4 weeks of cycling ahead of me.

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I came to a brief crossroads at highway 12: do I continue on to Kenora or head south to Steinbach as planned? The only reason I pondered this question was that I was facing a string headwind from the south, and cycling 160kms into a headwind doesn’t thrill me. A phone call to Eric confirmed that tomorrow the wind will be from the west. So on to Steinbach as planned.

The last thing I want to tell you about is me visit to the Mennonite Heritage Village in Steinbach. It’s very well done. I’ve always been curious as to why the Mennonites have scattered clusters of population. There are a lot of Mennonites near Kitchener in Toronto, but why also Manitoba? The map below kind of explains it, but visit the website explains it even better.

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Some photos from the village:

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Beauty around every corner

As usual, I’m running late and I’ve got to go. I have four 150km days ahead of me to reach Thunder Bay by Tuesday evening. Vicki and I were looking at some of the very remote areas I will be cycling through (google directions from Warroad, MN to Thunder Bay and you’ll see what I’m talking about) and I’m starting to get those butterflies in my tummy again…

Stats
Distance traveled today – 67 kms
Moving time – x hours and y minutes
Moving avg – x.y kms/hour
Elevation – 240m

Giving

If you’re enjoying my blog please consider making a donation to the United Way here. The United Way of Toronto 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 amazing things. The United Way gives people in our community the support they need to overcome their challenges.

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.

Thank you all for the donations yesterday. They helped a lot to bring me closer to my goal of raising $1 for every kilometre cycled, or $4500.

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