From Hair Walls to Headwinds

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July 10th, 2013: Winnipeg

I spent a day in Winnipeg with my uncle and his friend. We spent a good deal of time at The Forks, which had maybe a hundred different outlets. The entire place was rampant with tourists and attractions, and I found just walking around looking at things to be more exhausting than riding.

July 11, 2013: Winnipeg – Portage la Prairie, 97 km

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Chen and Alison were such gracious hosts, and they made me a fantastic breakfast on the morning of my departure.

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Before I left, they suggested that I take an alternate route out of Winnipeg that was slightly longer but avoided the busy TCH. Route 26 was a welcome change of pace, as cars passed infrequently and I had a chance to get lost in my thoughts. I tried listening to music for the first and last time during this stretch. I didn’t like it. I found that both the music and the riding experiences suffered. I guess it’s good for some people, but it didn’t even help pass the time.

I made it to Portage la Prairie, intent on going another 30 km or so, but I ran into a guy named Gerry at the local 7-11 (free Slurpee day), and he ended up offering me a place to stay for the evening. I couldn’t refuse.

It turns out the his wife had died fairly recently from MS, and after a significant grieving period, he was just getting his life sorted out again. It was an affecting story, and I felt that his act of kindness towards me was as much to his benefit as to mine. He had a wall in his house that had clippings of hair all over it, coupled with notes given by their benefactors. Of course, I had to add mine to the mix. A bit weird, but absolutely necessary.

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July 12, 2013: Portage la Prairie – Brandon, 135 km

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Today, there were hills and heat, but no bugs as a result.

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I arrived in Brandon early enough to catch a movie, only to realize after the movie that I did not yet have a place to stay. I had attempted to make last minute arrangements with a friend of mine, but it didn’t appear to be working out. However, things finally came together, and I ended up staying with a fellow cyclist, musician, and composer. John was a hoot, and it was great to be talking about music again, something that I have missed since my trip began. We stayed up far later than I intended, but I didn’t care.

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July 13, 2013: Brandon – Moosomin, 140 km

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Today was a fast day. For the first 75 km, I had a great tailwind that pushed me average speed close to 30 km/hr. However, as has been the case most times I’ve had a tail wind, a storm was brewing. The horizon continued to darken as I passed Virdin, and I knew by the time I hit the Saskatchewan border that I was in for it. I made a quick stop at the tourist centre to pick up a map (which I then forgot) and made a mad dash for Moosomin, another 20 km or so. Not long after, the thunder and rain started, and by the time I arrived, I was just about soaked. The storm was enough to knock out the power at the little town, but I was able to get shelter inside a local Tim’s.

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It turns out that a friend of mine was driving the other way from Saskatoon, and our paths were about to intersect. Carole and Sheldon took me out for dinner, and we exchanged many laughs and stories about our respective summers. I’ll see you guys again in BC!

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After a shower at the truck stop, I headed down to a local baseball field to pitch my tent. The storm had blown itself out, and the post-thunderstorm sunset glowed intensely along the horizon. What a great day.

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July 14, 2013: Moosomin – Indian Head, 162 km

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Today, I had a revelation: flat biking was tiring. More than biking in hills, I think! Hills offer the occasional reprieve and moment of exhilaration, but the flat is constant and monotonous. It’s both mentally and physically predictable.

That being said, it obviously didn’t bug me too much, as I finished the 162 km day without much fuss. The sky’s beauty remained subtle, and the wind was decidedly neutral.

I met some more bike tourists. These three bikers were accompanied by a support van, and they were on a (clearly sponsored) tour to raise awareness for Cambodian sex trafficking. How is biking related to Cambodian sex trafficking you ask? Well, I’m not sure, but I’m sure the young tourists’ hearts were in the right place. They also helped me out with some extra produce, as it was Sunday, and most stores that I had hit that day were closed. Good dudes raising awareness for a serious issue.

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I spent the evening camped between rows of vegetation by the local campground in Indian Head. I was happy for a green tent, as I wasn’t exactly far from the road or the occasional wandering pair of eyes. The bugs were everywhere here, and, knowing that blaring out expletives would surely reveal my location to those who might care, I set up my tent as hastily as possible while biting my tongue hard enough to nearly bleed.

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July 15, 2013: Indian Head – Regina, 70 km

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As I wasn’t planning on spending an extra day in Regina, I planned things so that I would have a short ride into the city and plenty of time to relax – a sort of pseudo-day-off. However, my rear brake pad fell apart before I made it out of Indian Head, and so I ended up wasting a bunch of time attempting to fix it before opting for a rear brake free ride into Regina, which surely had a bike shop or two within its city limits.

A wicked SSE wind was on my ass as I neared the city, and I later found out that it was related to tornadoes that were touching down NW of Saskatoon. So close!

I was happy to be having a warmshowers host in the evening, as I “the stink” was starting to set in. It didn’t take much time for this to happen in the humid and hot weather. After hanging around town and watching another movie (it’s what I do), I met up with my host and chatted long into the night about bike tours and adventures. He had ridden up to Alaska several years ago, and he had compiled a book of his trip, including some breathtaking photos of north western BC. Definitely a trip worth examining in more detail.

July 16, 2013: Regina

Plans changed. I spent the day in Regina, and I was able to hang out with another bike tourist from France for a good part of the day. He had been staying at my host’s house the night before I arrived, and we both happened to be staying in the city for the day.

After sharing more touring stories, he suggested that I head off the TCH for a bit and go through some of the less populated parts of SK just south of Saskatoon. I was hesitant, but when he mentioned “free campground,” I couldn’t resist, and so I decided to alter my trip. The forecast seemed to support my decision, as the next day called for a strong SE wind – right behind me.

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Regina was a beautiful city. Many of the streets were lined with trees which stretched their knotty arms over the pavement, creating a vibrant canopy of flickering green and white light. The government buildings had a regal presence, and their gardens were understated and elegant. As I rode down one of the main streets, I observed the street signs: Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec, etc… I had been to those places! A sense of accomplishment fell on me.

July 17, 2013: Regina – Davidson, 150 km

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After locking my bike in my host’s garage, I set out at 12:30 pm, a ridiculously late start. I knew the wind was going to be behind me (and was it ever!), but I was still a bit peeved that I hadn’t planned my departure a little better.

This ride felt good. I was validated in my detour almost immediately as I crossed the western end of the Qu’Appelle Valley, a taste of what I would have experienced had I taken Highway 16 from Portage. The rest of the road followed the Arm River Valley, and I was grateful to finally have something to focus on other than the horizon. Soon the sun was setting to my left, enriching the already vibrant landscape. I felt inspired. I felt happy. Tours need days like this.

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I spent the evening camped by a 24-hour truck stop. Even the constantly arriving and departing big rigs couldn’t keep me awake. I slept like a baby behind a trailer.

July 18, 2013: Davidson – Outlook, 93 km

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A gesture of kindness can make an entire day great. In the morning, some truckers gave me some money for food, and I knew that, no matter what else happened, I was going to be in high spirits.

As I arrived in Kenaston, the weather turned, and the rain came down. Luckily, there was a gas station in the incredibly small community, and I waited out the rain conversing with a sweet gal who shared similar aspirations towards adventure.

As soon as I left, I realized that the wind had reversed, I spent the next 56 km clawing my way slowly towards Outlook. It took between 4 and 5 hours, and as I arrived in town, a speed indicator reminded me just how slow I was going. 11 km/hr. Thanks.

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As I wandered around looking for the campground, I was approached by a local named Bryan. He had also done a X-Canada tour! Small world indeed. After I found the park and put up my tent, he swung by and took me to his place to have dinner with him and his wife, Janet. They were wonderful company, and I was sorry that I was just passing through.

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Outlook is situated by the Saskatchewan River, and the campground rests on the edge of its valley. I placed my tent in a clearing near the valley with the hope of avoiding the bugs. Mission accomplished. Sort of. Across the valley, a thunderstorm made its way just north of the town. I spent some time watching the distant light show before sleep took me. Another  excellent day. I’m on a roll.

July 19th, 2013: Outlook – Fiske, 110 km

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Outlook has their Farmer’s Market on Fridays, and before I took off, I headed down to check out what the local crops were producing. A local Hutterite community had a vegetable stand set up, but other than that, there actually wasn’t much in the way of farmed goods. Several people peddling various homemade goodies, and I was not disappointed.

About 30 km into my ride, I met a farmer at an intersection. He was just sitting in his truck, and he called me over to ask me the who/what/where/when/why. We ended up sharing a beer on his bench seat while his dog got into all sorts of trouble.

I made it to Rosetown for a quick pitstop at the 7-11 ($1 drinks, baby), and as I sat there, the winds started to pick up, and I discovered that I was the beneficiary of a wicked tail wind. No more time to rest! I made it to Fiske – about 30 km away – in just over an hour. Once I arrived, the wind was still strong, and I hummed and hawed about whether or not to continue another 50 km to the next town, but I figured I’d check things out anyways.

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Turns out Fiske has one commercial building: a bar and grill. I couldn’t resist checking it out, and upon entering, I saw that there was one sort of “community” table set up in the centre where most people came and shot the shit. I plopped myself down and started conversing with those already there. This turned out to be an excellent decision, because an older couple who had driven to Fiske for dinner ended up buying the same for me. Such kindness!

After a hearty meal, I found out about a local baseball field where I could put my tent (I had good luck with one of those previously), but before I had a chance, I received not one but two separate offers for a place to stay that evening. I was floored to even have an option. I spent the night with a farmer and his family. Byron and I talked for some time, and I took the opportunity to get his perspective on the Monsanto controversy (GMOs, lawsuits, etc.). It was eye-opening, and though I may not be completely convinced about the validity of GMOs, I no longer feel that the situation is so black and white. There are two sides (or more) to every story.

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They gave me one of the most luxurious guest rooms I have ever been in, and I fell asleep in a sea of pillows.

July 20th, 2013: Fiske – Oyen, 150 km

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Bryon and his wife sent me off with a huge packed lunch, but not before he showed me is mustard seed crop. All 700+ acres of it. Farmers like Byron operate on a scale that I can’t really comprehend, and as he broke down the financial side of the operation, I gained a huge amount of respect for the scope of a farmer’s responsibility. It’s a burden I’m not sure I would be able to bear.

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The winds were good and I made it to Kindersley in short time, where I met another bike tourist. He was heading east – a very late start! Still, awesome that he was doing it.

Just before crossing into Alberta, I stopped at a small store at Alsask (Alberta + Saskatchewan…seriously) where a Greyhound had just dropped off a load of people. I shared a table inside with a guy while he waited for his transfer and I waited for my snacks to kick in. He bought me soup before going on his way, and I was pumped to be finishing another province.

Saskatchewan seemed to fly by, and yet my experiences from city to city, town to town, are packed full of great memories. I felt like things really started to take shape once I left the busy highway and started exploring the smaller roads and communities, something I’ll definitely keep in mind as I continue on.

50 km into Alberta, I arrived in Oyen, a small town with a truck stop (shower!). I set up camp near the tourist information kiosk, and as I was doing so, I saw a huge black cloud making its way in my direction. I checked the forecast and learned of a severe thunderstorm and “damaging wind” warning for Oyen and surrounding towns. Uh oh. It was still several hundred kilometers away, so I went to sleep and hoped for the best.

That didn’t last long…I woke up to intense wind and rain, along with some wicked lightning. The stronger gusts were able to pull my tent pegs out of the ground, and I felt quite insecure. Would my tent hold up? Would I be soaked in the morning? As the storm raged on, my mind went through all possible scenarios, and since none of them ended with me being dead, I relaxed a little and finally passed out. If I was soaked, I was soaked. If the tent started to pull out of the ground, I knew the wind wouldn’t be able to pick me up. This was the kind of night that makes a great memory.

July 21, 2013: Oyen

I woke up, and was mostly dry. Success! However, I had slept hardly at all, and the wind was strong and from the NW. I clearly wasn’t going anywhere today. I found a cheap B&B in town and did absolutely nothing.

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July 22, 2013: Oyen – Dorothy, 160 km

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On advice from my hostess, I took Highway 570 towards Drumheller, a slightly shorter route that had far less traffic. It was a rewarding alternate route, as there was often 10 minutes between cars passing me. It was so quiet, and the steady undulations of the road gave me some splendid views. This part of Alberta was far different than what I had ridden through in SK. The land was mostly dry grassy fields, with only the occasional patch of developed farmland, and as such, I could often see 30 km in every direction.

As I approached the badlands, the canyon started to take shape in the distance: a dark line snaking through the rolling hills slowly grew in size until it stretched from far left to right. The road began to drop. It was one of the coolest things I’ve experienced so far.

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A fortunate tailwind developed, and I descended into Dorothy – about 40 km out of Drumheller – early in the evening, despite (another) late start. I set up my camp in a small park, but not before some locals invited me over for tea and conversation.

Another big thunderstorm developed later in the evening, but the winds were more mild, and so I knew I’d be just fine. Bring it on!

July 23, 2013: Dorothy – Drumheller, 40 km

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I planned to have a short ride into Drumheller so I would have a chance to check out the place and, specifically, the dinosaur museum. Plus, I had been to the city 13 years earlier, so I wanted to see how much of the place I remembered. A huge wave of nostalgia hit me as I passed the Badlands Hotel, a place I had stayed at with my family about 13 years earlier.

Drumheller is located by the Red Deer River in a glacial canyon. Varying sand densities combined with erosion have resulted in some very interesting formations, and the layers of soil visible in the canyon walls give a glimpse into the past.  The Alberta badlands. It was hard to believe that I was still in the prairies.

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The dinosaur museum was obviously awesome. I don’t think I’ll ever outgrow dinos. Bring on Jurassic Park, I say.

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I met a couple earlier in the day at McDonald’s, and we arranged to play some badminton later in the evening. I quickly learned that bike fitness doesn’t cross over into much other sports, and the matches kicked my ass. Trevor and Kathy were a blast to spend time with, and they took me out for dinner at the local burger shop. After a milkshake, 1.5 burgers, and a bucket of fries, I was so full, but so happy. We went down for a few more rounds at the field house before parting ways.

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I spent the night in a storage container behind a church that Trevor knew the pastor of. It was kind of surreal, but I was grateful for the added protection once a thunderstorm came. Again.

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July 24, 2013: Drumheller – Calgary, 140 km

The storms continued into the morning, and it started pouring as I scrambling to the Tim’s at the city limits. I waited for the weather to clear up before heading on my way. This proved to be completely pointless, as the moment I made it out of Drumheller, the rain started again, and I was completely soaked for about an hour. “This’ll pass,” I kept telling myself.

I knew the Rocky Mountains were only just visible from Calgary, but that didn’t stop me from looking for them over ever new horizon. I was pretty stoked for some mountains, and after the 2000 km or so of prairies, I was ready for the challenge/change. Still, cloudy and humid skies prevented them from revealing themselves. I can wait.

I was travelling on roads going either west or south, and the wind was NE, so it was an easy day. I arrived in Calgary in the early evening and set up my tent in my warmshower host’s backyard. Don arrived later in the evening, and we had a great time talking about the different parts of Canada we’ve explored.

I slept in a tent, and there was another thunderstorm. This is becoming familiar…

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One comment

  1. Hi Joe, that was so nice of you mentioning our names, thank you. It was a good visit for me and Trevor in Drum as well as I lived there for over a year – 1 1/2 yr ago.
    We were kind of worried the next morning
    how things went with you that late evening.
    Upon reading your blog and knowing that you’re fine is a relief.
    We will be in Kelowna next month, might happen to meet you there lol…
    take care!

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