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

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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