A Travellerspoint blog

Northern Ontario

Fort Frances to the Soo... Bogs, creeks, forests, and Lake Superior's grueling northern shoreline!

Wowwwww. So first I have to apologize for not updating this blog since Fort Frances, but technology is hard to come by in northern Ontario - and our only day near a computer was in Thunder bay, where we had about a zillion things to accomplish before the sun went down!! I have to also apologize for the lack of pictures lately but my camera is having trouble hooking into this computer, so I can't upload anything at the moment.

So, here's a quick summary of where we went:

June 29 - from Fort Frances to the Seine River (96.9 km)
June 30 - to Hillcrest Cabins, about 40 km after Atikokan (98.75)
July 1 - to Shabaqua (107.4)
July 2 - to Thunder Bay (74.1)
July 3 - errands in Thunder Bay (24)
July 4 - to Nipigon (105.6)
July 5 - to Rossport (79.16)
July 6 - to Ney's Provincial Park (90)
July 7 - to White Lake Provinvial Park (87)
July 8 - to just short of Obatanga Provinvial Park (53), where we got picked up to go to crazy boy's fishing camp
July 9 - at crazy boy's fishing camp (details to follow)
July 10 - from Wawa to Rabbit Blanket camp in Lake Superior National park (30.86)
July 11 - to Pancake Bay Provincial Park (124), in insane headwind!
July 12 - to Sault Ste. Marie (80).

There are too many stories to tell from this long period of time, so I'll pick some of the best and leave the rest for later, maybe when I can actually talk to some of you lovely people that read this blog!!

The day's ride to the Seine River was gorgeous - at lunch time we ate next to a big meadow with a stream running through it and saw a mother deer lead her fawn to drink at the stream! The mother would walk a few steps, then the little fawn would BOUND BOUND BOUND right up to meet her - the grass was too tall for him to walk properly. Sooo cute. The day was beautiful but we knew we would have to camp somewhere totally random because there is nothing really right between Fort Frances and our Inn we planned to stay at past Atikokan. So we saw this massive Bridge over the Seine River and thought it would be perfect - no one would see us and we'd be close to water (well, scary fast water but water nonetheless). It was a STEEP climb down to the area underneath the bridge though - so we actually decided to lower all of our gear down on ropes. I know, we are crazy. Sliding our bikes along this very steep embankment and hiding them in the trees at the top, and then going through several attempts to lower our paniers down ("ERICA LOOK OUT!!!! uhmm... guess we'll make the knot stronger next time..."). As we worked to move our stuff we realized this was the buggiest place either of us had ever been. Ever. Instead of cooking dinner, which would have meant certain death by mosquito and black fly, we ended up eating our stolen bagels from the continental breakfast and our emergency canned beans, underneath the tiny tarp, in all of our rain gear, in about 30 degree weather - we pretty much were melting into the ground but it was better than being eaten alive. And I mean eaten. We had blood all over our bodies from the bites and our ears were swollen to about twice their normal size all around the cartilage, and blood caked into our hair. For the next two days our ears burned and were numb at the same time, and we felt like we'd been in a great terrible fight or something. It was so horrible that we couldn't even stand the idea of camping again and ended up spending the next two nights in a cabin, then in a shady little motel. It was worth our sanity. Anyways it makes a good story now, and makes me think twice about wanting a job outside!!

The next day in Atikokan we heard about the two bikers just inside Manitoba who were killed by a car from behind - mom told me on a payphone and after I hung up and told Mary Anne about it I cried to think about those people who were so much like us - full of hope and determination and just biking. What a terrible tragedy. We are always careful but these roads often have very little shoulder and the best you can do is just get off if there are two transports coming in opposite directions, we do have little rearview mirrors which are a great help - and we picked up safety reflective straps in thunder bay to increase our visibility.

On Canada day we biked to the town of Shabaqua, which consists of about 4 houses and a motel, and met 5 other bike tourers biking varying long distances. On our trip that day I saw a moose jogging away into a bog - she was the exact color of the black spruce in the bog - and a bunch of turkey vultures circling around our heads - I said to Mary Anne, "I didn't think we looked THAT bad!!"

I just can't get over first what a treat it is to simply talk to other people, and second how great it is to talk to other bike tourers. Comparing gear and cooking styles and routes is so much fun, and hearing horror stories, legends ("this one guy past thunder bay was chased by a pack of wolves for half an hour on his bike and just managed to get away!!") and stories about the kindness of strangers. Two of the people we met were our age and it was just SO GOOD to share stories with them.

The ride into Thunder bay was gorgeously downhill. We've gotten to the point now where we are too lazy to really go off the road too much to find a place to pee, and I remember squatting in the ditch at one point that day and thinking, "yes hello there Mr. Trucker... I'm jus' lookin' at you watchin' me pee... Yep... allllrighty then... seeya." What are they going to do, stop and ask you to please find a toilet?

We were supposed to stay with a friend of mine who is living in Thunder Bay now, but I couldn't get a hold of him and we ended up staying with Brad and Melissa, friends of Mary Anne's boyfriend. They were just so great - made us dinner twice and Brad even drove us to get groceries at the end of our long day biking around to do errands - it was fantastic. I fought all day with the cell phone gods. My cell phone had broken down before Fort Frances and evidently Telus doesn't sell any phones - NOTHING telus compatible - within about 700 km East of Thunder bay so I couldn't get one. Mom had to sell her soul to the devil (ie, darken the doors of Wal-mart in bridgewater) and COURIER a phone to me, which didn't get to any of the places in time that they said it would, and the phone ended up chasing me across (well, chasing is a strong word for what hapenned) northern ontario until I finally got it in Wawa, a loooong way from Thunder Bay. On a Sunday as we were biking I saw a Purolator truck go by and cursed at it for being on the road on sunday and not giving me my phone!!!

After our rest day in Thunder bay, we pushed on to Nipigon. On the trip we met Rameesh, who is HAND biking across Canada and visiting all capital cities on the way - 7300 km - for polio research. He was a friend of a friend of Mary Anne's, and we were both glad to meet another inspiring individual who is really dedicated to making a difference. Rameesh was doing presentations as he went and was accompanied by two vehicles, one behind and one ahead - we felt very safe cycling with him!

The next day's ride to Rossport was killer. Back in mountain country, and a headwind that stayed with us most days until Sault Ste. Marie, with varying strength. We climbed and climbed and CLIMBED. We saw a bear right next to the road - I said, "Mary Anne. I am going to stop biking now because there is a bear in the ditch. Hmm". I got out the bearspray just in case, but we ended out just biking on the other side of the highway and TALKING VERY LOUDLY until it saw us, got up slowly, looked at us a bit, then turned around and trundled back into the woods. WHAT a gorgeous creature - shiny and black and curious, looked like something you'd want to cuddle but... maybe not. In any case, it was less of a threat than the pack of red ants that attacked me later on that day as we tried to find a suitable spot to eat. I felt a tingling on my ankle and didn't think anything of it until it started to HURT and realized... the tingling was actually the feeling of an entire hill of ants swarming around my ankle. I think I'd rather the bear.

That night we stayed with - let me get this straight - the sister in law of Mary Anne's boss 4 years ago - probably our most random connection so far, but she fed us a delicious prime rib dinner and we got to sleep in a bed again. As we were eating I realized that normally when you eat, you eat until you're full. But when you are bike touring, you just eat until you're tired of chewing. Sigh.

On the way to Ney's Provincial Park the next day we went through more huge hills, and I have never been happier about the existence of dynamite, which shaved off the steepest bits of the hills near the top.

The distances we were biking kept getting shorter in this stretch but each day was harder, as our legs got more and more tired from fighting the hills and headwinds. The day to White Lake provincial park was one of the top 4 hardest days so far for me I think - we woke up at 6 to the sound of a headwind just ripping through our camp, and you know it's going to be bad when the wind wakes you up in the morning. That day we pedaled down all but the steepest downhills, thanks to the wind making it impossible to coast.

The next day we met Matt, Mary Anne's boyfriend, who picked us up halfway through our biking day to whisk us off into the wilds of Northern Ontario. By lucky chance he happened to be near us, but on the other hand, he also happened to be on an all-boys fishing weekend in the middle of nowhere. So we ended up on this tiny island 2 hours off the highway, with about 11 drunken, coarse, and altogether inappropriate men (boys?) for a day and a half. I can't even repeat to you some of the comments that came out of the most rowdy of the bunch, the tamest being, "Wow Matt, look at those BBQ stripes on that zucchini... that is TIGHT!" -(Pointed look at me)-"TIGHT like your ASS!" yeah. yeah. Most of the time we were quietly reading in our little cabin that we shared with some of the boys who were off fishing or partying or trying to burn down the island, and they sort of moved around the island like a half-crazed tornado of hormones and beer and interesting moose-wolf hybrid sounds emanating from their huddle. They would thunder into the cabin, make some noise, do a few crazy things, and then head out again. What a day.

Matt dropped us off in Wawa where I FINALLY got my cell phone, and we did a short trip to our next campsite where we paid 30 dollars for a patch of gravel and a lukewarm shower - I was not impressed. It had kind of been a stressful, tiring week - I forgot to mention that I found out I had completely worn out a tire. During the process of changing my front tire for my back one (b/c the back one gets more weight) and then getting Matt to pick me up a replacement tire, I got two flats. Ugh.

We had 200 km to go to get to Sault Ste. Marie, but there was absolutely nowhere to stay near the 100-km mark, so we ended up pushing 124 km to get to Pancake Bay; not an easy feat considering the amount of hills and the insane headwind that cropped up about mid-afternoon to blow us around the road. But it was worth it. The first time we rounded a bend in Lake Superior Provincial Park and saw the huge downhill, with the massive lake and blue rolling hills in the distance, my breath just caught in my throat... unbelievable scenery. When we were about 15 km from the Park I saw a car pull over ahead of us with a NOVA SCOTIA plate - only the second one I've seen since the beginning of the trip - I started screaming and then my good friends Scott and Josie stepped out - and I just screamed even more, "NO WAY! NOOOOO WAYYY!!" and then started crying, I was so happy to see their familiar faces. They were driving across Canada to live in Nelson for at least a year and decided to camp that night with us in the Park, and it was just amazing to see friends. It had been since Winnipeg that I'd seen anyone I knew, and before that since... Calgary? dear lord.

Our ride to the Soo was pretty hard for me. I think Mary Anne was doing better than me that day, and I just felt like my legs were lead - understandable, but usually it's my crotch and back that bug me - feels like I've been given a good beating in the groin most nights after the bike ride. Yeah I know it sounds bad but it's true! We met another tourer who was doing the trip from Vancouver to Toronto - alone! Pretty amazing. It was, again, really fantastic scenery but I mostly had my head down against the wind and just concentrating on moving my legs, one after the other, pedal stroke by pedal stroke. When we got to the Soo it was like a dream. We stopped at Velorution, the best bike store in the world. They had free camping for bikers and offered us beer and donuts. They fixed our bikes' minor injuries and then refused to take payment. We were staying that night with my prof from Acadia's parents, Reg and Norma, and they came and picked us up to take us to their home - basically paradise - on Lake Superior. We swam in the lake, showered, and then they took us out for a delicious dinner and gave us a narrated (by Norma) tour of the town.

So today we're resting our bones and looking for jobs next year, reading and calling people we love.

It's amazing to realize we are two thirds done, and by the time we get to Ottawa, we'll be just over two weeks away from the end of our trip. It seems like forever since we started off in Vancouver, and it seems normal to wake up every morning knowing we'll get on our bikes and cart our gear bit by bit across the land (sometimes that's what it seems like, just a trip carting our gear around. I am so jealous of all you people at home with your beautiful unloaded bikes and your permanent beds and your roofs and your drawers to put things in and place to put your toothbrush every night and your fridge and oven and computer and ... oh my, where did THAT come from???).

Anyways, I guess the main thing is, I'm still glad to be out here, doing this crazy thing, with Mary Anne, on our wheely machines.

Hope to update again sooner!

Here's to the trip to North Bay - the non-hilly bit. Waaahoooo!

Posted by Ericabikes 16:50 Archived in Canada Tagged bicycle Comments (0)

Eastern Manitoba to Fort Frances

finally, into Northern Ontario!

-17 °C

June 19 -

Wonderful, warm ride from our B &B in Neepawa to Portage - sunny, and flying with a tailwind. We were halfway to Portage la Prairie when a car drove past, slowed down... waved... pulled over... it was Susan from the B&B, with an ice cream bar for each of us!!! We were so happy, what an amazing surprise on a deserted little stretch of highway. The three of us happily ate our ice cream bars and she wished us luck and then continued on her way to Winnipeg. I just can't get over people in the Prairies - they just seem to exude help and kindness.

We landed in Portage where we stayed with Sheri and Kent, two roommates sharing an organic farm. They fed us a wonderful dinner of lentil burgers and gave us a comfy futon to sleep on. Thank goodness for small comforts!
June 20 -

Woke up to a delicious breakfast of oatmeal and Saskatoon berries - made by Sheri and Kent - we love it when we don't have to make our own breakfast!! Unfortunately, by the time we were ready to leave town (around 9), I looked at Mary Anne with sad eyes and said, "I'm HUNgry again." "Me tooo" said Mary Anne. We can't keep up with our stomachs!!

We expected the ride to Winnipeg to be a lot shorter than it was (100 km) so we were a bit exhausted when we got to the city. However, it was a gorgeous, VERY flat ride through an all green blanket of grass and low shrubby trees. I've been complaining to Mary Anne that I just CAN'T seem to ride with no hands (hmm, 15 pounds of weight on the front of my bike miggght have something to do with that), and as I was complaining about it yet again, I was like... "I'm DOING IT, I'M DOING IT!!!" That was the day all surfaces touching my bike seat were absolutely killing me, so it was great to be able to sit upright in a totally new position.

Thankfully, our mutual friend Kathryn (aka Zeke, aka Hotpants) from the Otesha bike tour last year came to meet us on a secondary highway and weaved us in and out of residential streets, parks, and bike paths until we arrived at her apartment in Wolsley, so we didn't have to spend much time on busy city street. Hotpants suggested we go to a potluck slash birthday party of a friend of hers; we said we'd go as long as we didn't have to make intelligent conversation! It was SO DELICIOUS - rice wraps with delicious veggies and sauces, and then COCONUT GELATO and blackberries. Seriously. Next time you are in the grocery store, please, please stop and buy yourself some of this stuff, and eat copious amounts for me (potentially off someone else, it seems like it would be a shame not to).

June 21 -

Rest day in Winnipeg. Hotpants and Mary Anne and I got delicious warm cinnamon buns and walked around in the sunny, gorgeous morning, and then went out on our bikes to eat lunch and do errands in the city. It turned from a beautiful sunny day into rain and HAIL!! We hid out in a second hand bookstore, then headed back home. Mary Anne got to be the flag bearer in Hotpants' anarchist marching band that night - they were celebrating the solstice - and I stayed at home, too exhausted to do anything else!!

June 22 -

Hotpants biked with us for part of this journey - we hoped to make it to seven sisters falls but ended up staying in Beausejour as Mary Anne had been up late in the marching band the night before and I was still tired. Along the way we stopped at an old limestone quarry turned swimming hole and ate lunch and hopped in. The feeling of being in that cool water after 50 km of biking through HOT SUN is just unbelievable. We did an "aquatic freedom" dance of joy for the temperature in the water - consisting largely of arm flapping and bobbing up and down crazily. On the way through town I finally mailed home my winter sleeping bag at a gas station/post office, and when the guy running the gas station found out about our trip, he started offering us all this free food and drinks!! Interesting. Since then we've had a guy in a gas station leave us 20 bucks when he left - "to buy supplies" and people have become more and more incredulous of the trip - my favourite response so far after saying where we are going being "HOLY SHIT!"

Other memorable moments from this day -

- making stew and being upset that it wouldn't cool down because it's so hot outside, spreading it all over the tops of our tupperwares and then eating it "hands free"... yeah, like a dog. Try it sometime... makes for some hilarious unstoppable laughter!!
- trying to savour the chocolate Hotpants gave us like wine. Sniffing it... tasting it... then Mary Anne thought that there should be something different than swirling it (obviously, can't swirl chocolate) so she started rubbing it all over her teeth. ahahahaha... yeah
- Cleaning our bikes AGAIN. the neverending saga.

June 23

FINALLY out of the Prairies! This was our second longest biking day - 118 km! We saw 7 deer and it was Beeeeautiful. When I first saw the few flattish boulders covered in lichens, I actually cried I was so happy to see familiar terrain. I had no idea I even missed those rocks until I saw them again. I can't express how much I miss the east coast. I didn't know that I even noticed a sense of history and ocean-side culture, let alone appreciated it. Some of the the towns in the prairies are so new and ... seem almost barren and personality-less compared to the life and old-feel in maritime places. Anyways, we were seeing forests again - trees, swamps, streams, bogs, yum yum yum. We saw two beavers, and one of them SLAPPED it's tail on the water to warn the rest as we biked by.

We must have had 8 people today stop and ask us where we were going and where we were coming from and OH when did we start? When do we plan to finish? These same questions, every time. I love telling people about our trip, but it's funny - always the same questions. And it can be hard when you're trying to write your grocery list or trying to shovel pasta salad or 6 cookies (actually that was today) into your mouth and take the time to answer their questions with enthusiasm and warmth.

Oh. And this was the day of the gang of horseflies - we had - no exxageration - about 25 horseflies circling and circling around us - I called them the motorcycle gang and Mary Anne called them our fan club.

The park at West Hawk lake had a nice cold lake (the deepest in Manitoba!) and the most clean, big, modern bathrooms we've seen in a park so far. Sweet!

June 24

The day of other travellers!

It's getting late here so I'll have to be quicker!

We had only met two other bike tourers since BC, but this day we actually saw 6 and met 4 other bikers and one walker!!

We saw a hiker on the side of the highway and when we went to go ask him if he needed any water or anything, and asked him where he was going, he said he was WALKING ACROSS CANADA!! His organization promotes inner peace (I'll find his website and post it on here later) and he was doing this as a fundraiser. He started on April 1 from Vancouver (yeah.. we asked him all the same questions people ask us) and we were just catching up to him in KENORA. He does 40 - 50 km a day. Walking. Walking! WALKING! I just couldn't shake how amazing that is... how different it would be... really made me appreciate coasting down those big hills even more. His name was Joseph and he was full of smiles and curiosity. He told us we were the nicest bike tourers that he'd met so far :)

We also met 3 men touring together - 2 french, 1 belgian. We met up with them to bike the next day, they were really nice and very jealous of our "small" amounts of stuff - because we share some things, we have less, while they had just randomly met up to bike together so they all had everything they needed.

Then we met Dennis, the crazy Dennis from Korea who was biking from St. Catherines to Vancouver. He had third degree burns from sunburn all over his legs but a HUGE smile and a very positive attitude - laughing because he hadn't done his research about the prevailing wind in Canada (he's going the wrong way - east to west) and doing 140-150 km a day. Once (he said) he couldn't find a place to eat or sleep so he just kept biking. At night. In a lightning storm. 230 km later he stopped. Haha, what a guy.

It was a gorgeous ride to Kenora, swaths of white daisies and orange devil's paintbrush coat the roadsides. It's funny - before our ride two Manitobans warned us about the craaazzzy hills on the way to Kenora, and we had to laugh at their idea of steep hills - they were quite pleasant and a welcome change from flat flat flat!!!

June 25

Day of Frustration. We had to go back to the bike shop we had briefly visited the day before to fix a broken screw on Mary Anne's bike, and then on the way to Sioux Narrows, Mary Anne broke a spoke. We were actually biking with the group of 3 men from France and Belgium and Roland wrapped the spoke for us and suggested Mary Anne disconnect her brakes until she could get another spoke. It's too bad that we had those troubles, but man oh man, this day must of been one of the most beautiful so far. It is just unbelievably, ridiculously, intimately, beautiful. Everything is lush and green, lakes around every corner, bogs, marshes, streams, huge rocks with great rose and white tinted stripes through them, something different over every hill. So different from the mountains in BC - majestic but cold and seemingly so far away.

When we were biking with Roland (french guy) we had a deer run with us for about 20 seconds, then run across the road and up a big hill on the other side - very cool. Our campsite was overrun with poison ivy, but we got through it to skinny dip in the famous lake of the woods. Excellent.

June 26

Hitchhiked to Kenora (why are we always being saved by men with pickup trucks?) and laughed our way into the bike store in Kenora for the third time (we're now on first name basis with Adam, the wonderful man who always had time to fix our troubles) to fix Mary Anne's tire. No problems getting back to the park - just put a sign on my head that said "SIOUX NARROWS Please" on it as we walked out of town and got picked up within 5 minutes!!! VERY buggy in the park. Still homesick. Sigh.

June 27

We woke up to the sound of rain hitting the tent - ouch. That's only happenned once before and it was on a day off so we just went back to sleep, but we didn't have that luxury this time. It stopped long enough to get to Caliper Lake Provincial Park and make dinner and walk down to the lake... and then, it slowly, slowly approached us from the other side of the lake. We could see it. Making the islands and peninsulas grey, one by one. Drumming up the pollen into clouds so yellow we could see them from across the lake. We ate by that lake until the last possible second and then RAN back to our tarped tent site (Dad, I'll show you the picture of the tarp set-up when I get home, you'll be proud). I have never felt so chased by rain as I have on this trip.

Funny - I had put some stuff on my bike and then walked to the tent and heard a bike falling - I yelled over my shoulder, "was that my bike???" And Mary Anne replied, "No, that was a little boy falling off HIS bike. That sound you thought was your paniers hitting the ground? Was actually the sound of a soft little body hitting the earth." Man, that girl cracks me up.

I wrote a list of things I will and won't miss about this trip:
will: Being outside all the time.
won't: being outside all the time.
will: getting a lot of daily exercise.
won't: having to bike EVERY DAY.
will: all the wildlife
won't: all the bugs!!!
will: being able to tell people we are biking across Canada!!
won't: People asking us the same three questions every day.
will: FOOD and Mary Anne spicing things and eating whatever I want
won't: buying groceries every day.
will: having nothing better to do than read and write and thing
won't: not having my computer!! (aka, my umbilical cord)
will: Mary Anne
won't: missing everybody else!
will: hot breakfasts
won't: Farting CONSTANTLY. WOW.

June 28

Today. Again, woke to rain. Sigh. Packed up. Stilll raining. Ate. Stillll raining. Left. Stilllll raining. Biking biking biking biking RAIN IN MY EYES DRYING OUT MY CONTACTS raining raining raining bike bike bike PEEEEE on the side of the road, yes folks we're biking in the rain nope we're peeing near this driveway actually. Bike bike bike it's stilll raining. That was my head today, we biked 55 km with almost no breaks before lunch - amazing how the weather can motivate you. We ended up just throwing the idea of camping again to the wind - half of what we owned was wet, the tent was still wet from the morning, and we wanted a nice. bed.

Which is where I'm headed now!

Goodnight!

Posted by Ericabikes 16:24 Archived in Canada Tagged bicycle Comments (0)

Saskatoon to Neepawa, Manitoba

out of the Skeatch, into friendly Manitoba

rain

OK! It feels like it’s been a while since I’ve written, so I’m going to lay out the facts first in case you’re interested, if not, skip it:

Starting June 11, 2008: to Colonsay, Saskatchewan: 57.88 km @ 12.4 km/hr average!! (more on that later); weather-related rest day in the Minnie Winnie RV, then to Wynyard: 133.61 km @ 21.7 km/hr, to Foam Lake: 55.43 km @ 19.9 km/hr; to Yorkton: 102.81 km @ 22.1 km/hr; to Russell, Manitoba!: 110.80 km @ 18.7 km/hr, to Shoal Lake: 79 km @ 17.2 km/hr… today: (June 18, 2008): impending doom cloud, 2.7 km and one friendly Manitoban with a truck later: Neepawa, Manitoba – 90 km by blessed, blessed escape-storm machine.

Here are some highlights! For pictures go to:

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2039855&l=8d20d&id=132701813

We left Saskatoon with the knowledge that it would be rainy and windy. Well, this is what we have come to expect in Saskatchewan, despite the locals insisting that this place is “nearly a desert” (lies! All lies!) and that “we can write this week of rain down as a significant historical event in our journals!” yay? But we didn’t really get how windy it would be. This was the day we made it halfway to our original destination and ended up near the tiny town of Colonsay, 57 km away from Saskatoon. We were pedaling our GUTS out, no matter whether we were going down a hill, up a hill, or flat. I have never before used my granny gear (yes, that one that I am used to using in the Rocky mountains or when EXTREMELY tired up the hill to Steve’s house in Wolfville) on FLAT terrain. This is something that I would really rather not experience again, thank you very much.

Well, we finally made it (slooooowly and paaaainfully) to the “painted rock campground” near Colonsay, set up our tent, and decided to wait out the rain. However. Saskatchewan locals have never been ones to watch bikers in distress, and soon enough the wonderful couple who ran the place asked us if we would like to stay in their unused miniature Winnebago RV. YES!!! It was just so lovely. They invited us to stay an extra day (to avoid biking in a similar wind and worse rain the next day) and even treated us to a delicious breakfast and dinner, where we ate possibly three times the amount they did – THANK you Hugh and Marg!

Finally our next day to Wynyard, the wind decided to change – the first of Saskatchewan’s many attempts to keep us in the province, we decided. Hilarious weather during the glorious tailwind – rain, sun. Hot, cold. Drizzle. Sun again. But all the time, wind at our backs. You know, living in Saskatchewan, you might really start to believe in some higher power. You look ahead towards the horizon and you can see that it’s raining on That house, but not this house… and this house, but not that house over there. Hmm.

When we did get to Wynyard, we were about to turn into the road to the campground… and it was mud city. Sooo we cycled into town, hoping to camp behind a motel or something, and found this little B&B – when they found out about our trip, they wouldn’t let us camp – gave us a whole room to ourselves, use of the bathroom, kitchen, and livingroom… all for 10 bucks each. Have I mentioned how much I love Saskatchewan people????

The next day we decided to make a short trip, just to Foam Lake – so that we would be ending up in large centers again (if we kept doing trips of ~ 90 km, we’d keep ending up in the boonies). Somehow, we ended up getting stuck on main street in Wynyard just before we headed to the Foam Lake campground the day of the town parade. We’re in this pharmacy getting stuff and when we walk out, the whole town has come together, lining the road, and there is a marching band coming towards us! We have to bike down this road to get out of town! We grabbed our bikes and ran, pretty much across the front of the parade, to the other side of the road… and then thought, what the heck. This is what bike touring is all about. Let’s just watch the parade. I’ve seen small town parades before (In Bridgewater) but Wynyard is a REALLY small town. Basically everybody’s kid or grandpa or cousin was there, driving their tractors, nice cars, decorated golf carts, decorated pedal bikes!?? You name it. Mary Anne got a ride in a massive seeder tractor IN the parade!!

The next day we biked to Yorkton, Saskatchewan and celebrated our first-month on the road anniversary by going out to a restaurant and eating the buffet (a good choice for bikers with endless appetites). Unfortunately as we were stuffing our faces with mashed potatoes, salad, rolls, ribs, and chicken, there was a squirrel stuffing his or her face with… my waterproof food panier back at the campground. Bastard! I was so sad and angry when I got back, it actually chewed through two flaps of waterproof material to… chew through more plastic to get at my utensils? (idiot!) and got a few bites of bagel before I got back and yelled at it, tried to throw a stick at it, hit Mary Anne in the head with said stick, and then it yelled at me for a while (the squirrel, not Mary Anne). I managed to sorrrt of repair it with duct tape and seam sealant, but… yeah. SIGH! Oh! The great thing about the Yorkton day was:

Biking biking biking biking

Passing wetland.

See large white ducks.

Wait! Those aren’t ducks! Those are PELICANS! “MARY ANNE! STOPPING!! PELICANS iiinnnn the PRAIRIES!!” Wow! We stopped and they all flew away majestically, then came back and fed for a while with those great big orange beaks. Why!??? WHY!!! I don’t know, but I love it. I mean, pelicans? Reallly??

Mary Anne and I also realized that we are at this stage in our relationship at this point: “Where’s your?” “I put it in the” “Oh. Ok. Thanks.”

The next day we crossed from the land of wind and rain (aka, Saskatchewan, the province that rained on us every day besides for our one rest day in Saskatoon – yeah) into Manitoba. We actually raced a storm cloud full of lightning into Langenburg where we waited out the storm at an ice cream store (it ended up just missing the town anyways). Mary Anne and I are still laughing all the time, even though we are dealing with the inevitable stress of being together every day, all day!

It’s funny. Sometimes I think I can’t miss dad out here because I’m turning into him – Dad, your klutz genes are being turned on this year in your daughter. I CONSTANTLY trip, bump into things, and skin my knuckles on random pieces of sharpness. Mom tells me my inability to name things in times of excitement or mild stress comes from her. Thanks Ma (“Look Mary Anne! A…. a what? Hawk? Coyote? Fox? Bounding deer? I couldn’t tell you, I’m too pumped about it!)

Our first night in Manitoba we camped at a second rate little town campground, where the single bathroom had two toilets (with no stall divider!?) and no toilet paper. We met a bunch of guys traveling by van from New Brunswick to Edmonton, and I got really excited and jumped up to ask them if I could see their NB license plate. “Sure,” they answered, puzzled – “why?”

“Weeelll,” I said, “I’ve been trying to figure out the little license plate blurbs for all the provinces we’re passing through and we’ve got:

Beautiful BC; Alberta: Wild Rose Country; Saskatchewan, land of living skies (HA! Don’t we know it); Friendly Manitoba; Ontario: yours to discover; Quebec: Je me souviens, NB???, NS: Canada’s Ocean playground.

So what IS on the NB plate!??” I finally got out.

“Nothin’. We’re just PEOPLE.” He said. Hahaha…. Pooor New Brunswick, no blurb!! How about, “New Brunswick: Power and Trees” or, “New Brunswick: the Irvings live here!”?

On the day from Russell to Shoal lake, we saw SO MANY little Prairie dog creatures – ones that are dark with stripes and spots on their backs and chirp and scurry into the grass when you bike by, and a whole big group of basking normal-colored prairie dogs on the side of the highway, stretched out with their big fat tummies just melting onto the hot gravel. Spa day on highway 45 evidently.

So this morning we were preparing to leave Shoal Lake in the beautiful sun shine, and were a little bummed out when the sky turned a little grey, but by the time we reached the highway, we were pretty freaked out. We could see a VERY angry black cloud unlike anything I have EVER seen before approaching us. It was thick and smeary, like icing, but you could see black rain coming from it and white spots coming down as well, which often mean hail. Lightning was jetting around merrily on all sides, and we were hoping like mad that it would just sort of… pass by behind us like it did at the ice cream store in Langenburg. We had stopped to take a picture or two of it and this guy pulled over in his truck and said, “Umm… don’t mean to be presumptuous, girls, but… I just drove through that, and I almost had to stop my car several times the rain is so hard. There’s hail in some parts of this storm as big as pennies and loonies, and a tornado warning. Would you like a drive somewhere?”
Again, yes, we would like your help, friendly Manitoba. Len from Flin Flon, Manitoba, drove us to the next town on our agenda – Neepawa, Manitoba, where we experienced the storm from the relative comfort of several stores in town and then a beautiful, wonderful B&B – the “Garden Path”. Tomorrow it’s off to Portage, and then Winnipeg!!

Posted by Ericabikes 18:11 Archived in Canada Tagged bicycle Comments (0)

Calgary to Saskatoon

wind, wildlife, and wonderful people.

I've gotten so many comments in the last few weeks on the blog from friends and family, so again it's really nice to know that you're reading! It's a great motivator to keep on writing!

The pictures for this part of the tour can be found by pasting this link into your browser:

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2039855&l=8d20d&id=132701813

Where did I leave off... Calgary! Dave took me to a restaurant where we ate delicious fancy food (what a luxury on a bike tour!) including even OCTOPUS which was actually quite good! Who would have thought. So, many good conversations and meals and a walk along the river in Calgary later, Mary Anne and I got a good breakfast at Dave's cafe that he runs in Calgary, and then got a drive past the city craziness to Strathmore to bike to Drumheller - our first day of "real" prairie!! Mary Anne commented that the number of pickup trucks has quadrupled since we left BC, and I have to agree. Here's a snippet of conversation:

Erica: "You know the great thing about Alberta?"
Mary Anne: "No, what?"
Erica: "If you get stuck on the side of the road with your bike, one of these pick-up trucks will pick you up."
Mary Anne: "And if they don't, the next pick up truck will. And if they don't, the next pickup truck will . And if they don't pick you up, their GRANDMOTHER is coming by in her pickup in 10 minutes!!" (Note: every Prairie-local I have told this to laughs their head off when I tell them this and then says, it's true.)

You know you're not used to Prairie sights when:
Erica: " That's an interesting castle-like structure way over there in the distance!"
Mary Anne: "You mean, the silos with the house in the background?"
Erica: "Oh. Yeahhhh."

We slept two nights in Drumheller and gave ourselves the time to check out the Royal Tyrell museum, which has a huge dinosaur exhibit, it's amazing. I usually have about a 2 hour limit in any museum, but this was pretty neat - I've never actually seen (that I can remember) huge dinosaur fossils before.

On June 4 we headed from Drumheller to Hanna. The hills were still gently rolling at this point, but the landscape was definitely approaching what I had expected of the prairies. Mary Anne summed up the Rockies, by bicycle:

"up.... uup.... uuuuuup.... uuuuuuuuuppp.... uuuuuuuppppppppp.............. DOWWWW - AHHHHHHWWWW -- AHHHHHHHHHHH - AHHHHHHHHwwwwwNNNN!!"

and here's my version of the Prairies on bicyle:

" green field... green field... brown field.... green field... beige field... TREES!TREES!FARM!HOUSE!TREES!... green field... brown field...."

It's so funny, it's just flat fields, and then every time you see a little pocket of trees, there is a house nestled inside. Yeah, they gave the houses shelter from the wind, but evidently there aren't enough bikers on the prairies to have trees to break the wind for the bikers. Happily, you can usually see for several kilometers behind and in front of you, and cars on the OTHER side of the road will often cross the rumble strip to allow cars passing by you to give you more room. Yay Alberta drivers.

This was the day we experienced being able to see the weather in advance - fun when you are biking towards sun, not so much when we saw that we were biking into a nice, juicy, thunderstorm. We grabbed our groceries as quickly as we could in Hanna (and spied another couple with touring gear on their bikes going into a motel!) and then sped to the campground; as soon as we got there it started to POUR and the lady actually let us camp in the kitchen shelter. Thank you awesome lady at the fox lake campground. Which should have actually been called, "land of the migrating and angry waterfowl and other miscellaneous bird species". We have never heard such sad, angry calls coming from a bird before. We actually saw a group of swans swimming down in the lake near our campsite. Cool. This was probably one of the coldest nights we've spent camping, and I ended up wearing my spandex tights around my neck as a scarf!

June 5 - Hanna to Oyen - my longest time EVER on a bike. We started biking at 10:00 AM and got to our campsite at 8:00 PM - 117 km and 7.5 hours actually on the bike later. The headwind/sidewind was unbelievable. It actually ripped the saliva out of our mouths as we biked, and we began to look forward to transport trucks so that we could surf forward in their wind wake. The constant sound of wind in our ears began to grate on us at about hour 3, and just got worse - the wind in the Prairies often picks up mid morning, and doesn't calm down until 9:00 pm. As we got closer and closer and more and more tired, we lost the ability to avoid the rumble strip between us and the main road - sigh. At one point there were very few cars on the road, and I started "tacking" like a ship to the other side of the road and then quickly biking straight back to the other side and then tacking back across. Maybe I'll write a book about it sometime. ;). We were so hungry and so tired, that we started searching for green signs like they were water in the desert. Any green sign. Just tell us how far we've gone, or that we've made it somewhere important! You can see the signs up to 5 km in advance, and they make you bike faster just to get to them.

When we finally got to Oyen, we met the couple we had seen in Hanna the day before - they were biking 7500 km across Canada for prostate cancer. It was really neat to meet other people who were doing a long trip and check out their gear and share stories. We did see them again in Rosetown, and wished them good luck on their trip!

Hanna to Kindersley was finally a tailwind day - gorgeous, sunny, flat. As we left Hanna, we could see on the horizon that there was a little line of rain ahead - raining to the left of the road, raining to the right - but not ON the road. So awesome! Unfortunately our luck didn't stay with us for long, and as we coasted into Kindersley (and I mean, coasted - as in, 3 revolutions on your pedals was getting us about 400 m at 25 km/hr - that's very little work for a lot of distance!) we could see that the town was getting a dump of rain from this black cloud. We were approaching this black cloud pretty quickly so we stopped, put on all of our rain gear, and then got back on - and WOW! I've never experienced this before - as soon as the rain hit us, the wind changed just like that! And we were back into headwind country. It rained all night so we shacked up in a cheap motel that slept and fed us breakfast for only 32 dollars each!

It was still raining the next morning, but Mary Anne and I told stories and made up stories all the way until lunch, when it had sort of stopped raining, but the wind was picking up. We pulled our bikes up a little gravel road and ate in the shelter of a little natural gas shack in the middle of a field. While we ate the rain started up again, and when we tried to wheel our bikes back onto the highway, disaster struck! The soil in Saskatchewan is very clay-y - and it sticks to bike tires like nobody's business. It was stuck between the fenders and the tires, and after about 4 meters, I had fist-sized balls of clay on either side of my brake pads and the wheels wouldn't move. By this time we were cold, wet, and angry!! I started to get a little freaked out - the clay was almost water insoluble it was so sticky, and I was going to have to take my bike apart to make it move again.

At this point, a family in a van stopped beside our bikes and asked us if we needed help. "YES!" we said, "but we can't bike anywhere! Our bikes are too muddy!" "No problem" the guy in the front said, "I'll just go and get my half-ton, we've got a farm just a km up the field there". See!! Pickups in the Prairies, I tell you. It's wonderful. So we ended up using the pressure washer on their hose, having lunch with them, playing with their awesome curious kids, and getting a tour of the tiny town of D'arcy. It was great, Maggie (the woman in the car) told us that at one point she had been rescued as a cyclist, and had always wanted to return the favour - but "You cyclists! you're so self sufficient! No one has ever wanted help!"

Well, we appreciated the help, big time!! We also were really glad to have the chance to talk to someone who knew about what was being grown in the fields and could tell us about some of the plants - Doug (the man in the car) was telling us that in one of their fields they are growing legumes, and canary seed over the legumes!!

Funny moments that day included deciding we were going to write a documentary about how to stealth pee in the prairies (ditches, bridges, other side of train tracks, small bushes, and our oh-so-favourite just wait for the traffic to die down and hope for the best), and Mary Anne eating a muffin: I asked her if she wanted one, and she replied, "No." Then a few minutes later, "Well, maybe I do want it. I don't know. If I don't know, I should just eat it right?" Then the next moment I looked up, and she had this - this - deer in headlights, wide eyed glassy stare and the entire muffin cup was covering the bottom half of her face. Priceless.

From Rosetown to Delisle was the biggest headwind we've ever faced, it was absolutely brutal. Max speed that day (not counting when we turned around to go the farm we were staying at) was 22.8 km/hr, and our AVERAGE was 13.5. It took us about 6.5 hours to ride 86 km. That was definitely one of our top three hardest days - only thing that pulled us onwards was music, and knowing we had a farm with people to bike towards and a room over our heads. Little did we know, the hosts we were staying with Christine and Fugi would be so amazing. They fed us a delicious dinner, let us shower and wash our clothes, and then opened their glass doors to show us a steaming hot tub, handed us each a beer, and left us to it. WOW.

The greatest thing about the Praires has been the unexpected, and abundant, wildlife! Pronghorn antelope, scads of migrating birds, hawks, frogs, foxes, a coyote, deer, even porcupines!! (Well, roadkill porcupines). It's amazing, I never thought we would see so much on flat fields!

So now we are in Saskatoon, having spent a half day to get here, and then a blissful day off - grocery shopping, internetting, walking around, cleaning our bikes, etc. Mary Anne went off to explore town and I met a good friend of Brennan's from Saskatoon, Jason, who took me for a walk around the river and gave me a really interesting perspective on travelling and some of the decisions I'm trying to make right now about what I'm going to do in the next couple of years.

But right now it's late, and we're supposed to have a wicked headwind tomorrow! Time for bed!

Posted by Ericabikes 13:58 Archived in Canada Tagged bicycle Comments (1)

Rocky Mountains to Cowtown

Golden, BC to Calgary, Alberta!

We're taking a breather after 6 consecutive biking days starting from Revelstoke, BC - passing through and stopping in Roger's Pass, Golden, Yoho National Park, Banff, Canmore, and now Calgary!

Check out the pictures that go along with this blog by pasting this link into your browser:

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2039105&l=e1029&id=132701813

You don't have to be a facebook member to see them!

The ride to Roger's pass was made much more pleasant by a light rain (preferable when climbing a mountain in comparison to hot sun on your back). We kept expecting the climb to get worse, and although it did take some pushing to make it to the summit, Mary Anne and I both agree that climbing the Rockies just don't compare to the coastal mountains of BC after Hope on the number 3 highway. I just can't describe how beautiful the mountains here are - blue blue sky, grey black mountains, pure white snow, dark green trees - yikes. Hard to keep focused on keeping your tires pointed forward when these gorgeous peaks are begging to be stared at. On the way up the mountain we dodged and saw many things on the road, in this order: a group of black, slimy slugs; a group of earthworms; about 10 snails; tire bits from transport trucks, and pee bottles from truckers (gross! these things are everywhere. Can't they just stop driving??!!)

We also learned some valuable lessons on the way up to Roger's Pass.
1) seeing a wolverine disguised as a bear cub is an excellent motivator to increase speed.
2) Laughing and biking up hills are two completely mutually exclusive activities. Unfortunately, the sensation of a wiggly bike after you start laughing just gets funnier. I've had several close calls this week laughing so hard I can't breathe on my way up a steep climb, JUST getting my feet out of the clips before I teeter over sideways onto the shoulder.
3)We are very poor judges of sane amounts of couscous it takes for 2 meals. BUY LESS COUSCOUS.
4)It is often possible to pee on the side of the road, sans bushes, without anyone actually stopping, or looking.
5)There is an un-ending variety of poo present in Glacier National Park.

Number 5 leads into where we spent the night - 13 km past Roger's Pass (and the snow!). Sarah had recommended staying at the trailhead of Beaver Valley hiking trail. We saw at least 6 varietes of poo at or near our intended campsite, including fresh bear scat, moose poo, and a very large canine variety. We were a bit nervous (more so when we were cooking dinner away from where we had set up the tent, and the last hikers of the day casually mentioned to us that they had seen a "beautiful wolf checking out your tent!" ) but we decided to stick it out and sleep close to the bearspray. We emerged the next morning unharmed (not counting a few bites from the biggest, peskiest mosquitoes I have EVER SEEN in my life) and headed to Golden.

Now, some people will tell you that the road from Roger's pass to Golden is all downhill. This is not true bikers! We fought our way up some wicked hills, but the views that day were unBELIEVABLE. I was so glad I was on a bike and able to pull over and savour some of the more breathtaking mountains and valleys from the highway. When the road finally started to slope downhill, we felt like we were in a movie - it was unreal.

Our stay in Golden was made very pleasant when we hapenned upon a heated pool near our campsite - swimming feels absolutely delicious after a long sweaty biking day!

On our way out of Golden there was this MASSIVE climb to get out of the Valley, which led to this little narrow road snaking through and up and down the mountainsides. Mary Anne and I listened to music to get us up the big bad hills, and got a lot of good laughs out of this trip: pretending to be the road workers ("Gee Jim, looks like we need a brige over this gorge here." "Well that's right Sam, but there's nothing to attach it to on the other side!" "No worries, we'll just BLAST a hole in this giant mountain!"). We climbed a hill called "10 mile hill" and were rewarded with amazing views of the rockies on either side.

I'm so lucky to be biking with Mary Anne, who laughs at all my jokes and tells me jokes that make my stomach ache by the end of the day.

We stayed in Yoho National Park that night, where we spied on ground squirrel and crow politics, and gazed up at towering, rocky mountains with the yellow evening sun missing the campground, but pouring its last rays all over those high peaks. We met two guys, Chris and Luke, visiting Canada from Switzerland. We had a beer with them and a great chat - so good to talk to other people our age!

The next day we headed into Alberta, and climbed Kicking Horse Pass (otherwise known as the continental divide, 1650 m elevation). We got to the sign for Alberta and realized we had done the pass - there are no signs! Too bad. The worst of our hills over with, we happily coasted towards Lake Louise and Banff. Mary Anne stopped to take a self shot of her and the mountains, and I suddenly noticed a mama bear and cub (black bears) on the side of the road munching on some grass. We finally got to take pictures of bears to prove we have seen them (they make the count up to 7 bears so far on the tour!!)

In Banff we stayed in a hostel (Luxury!) and explored the town a bit before heading to Canmore. We actually saw elk grazing on lawns on the town outskirts! Crazy. I ate a HUGE breakfast in Banff consisting of 2 slices of toast, 2 slices of thick French toast, 2 slices of bacon, 2 sausages, 3 scrambled eggs, and a pile of hash browns. Our waiter said he was "surprised and impressed" that I finished.... that's how we do it on a bike tour!!

Our bike to Canmore was short, downhill, and with a tailwind. We ended up cleaning our bikes for 3 HOURS that night (there is no end to cleaning a bike, only a sigh and a "that's it! I can't TAKE it anymore!!") and enjoyed the comforts of my cousins the Newton's home (unfortunately they were all gone, but were very generous with offering us their home for the night!). The next day we tailwinded it to Cochrane, a town on the outskirts of Calgary. My friend Dave from my frisbee team at Acadia came to pick us up to drive us through the city limits and into the city so we could avoid getting nailed by careless drivers on the busy city streets. Mary Anne and I have split up for the first time in two weeks (gasp!) and she is staying with two friends from high school and university while I am getting Dave to show me the sights of Calgary. I finally got to throw a frisbee around again in the park, we went for a nice walk along the Bow River that we've been following from Banff, and I've eaten plenty of good Calgary food!! It's a great rest before we hit up Drumheller, dinosaurs, and flat FLAT prairie coming up. I can't wait!

Here is the sad ending of this entry:

I have been composing a song for my father (that's you dad!) ever since I lost something in Penticton, and here goes:

Oh I lost my knife sheath in Penticton
While eating our lunch in the rain
I realized my loss in Summerland
Oh the grief, the woe and the pain!

Oh that knife sheath was a thing of beauty
My father made it for me
Eagle, crescent moons, and leather
It fit my knife perfectly

So I made a new knife sheath in Summerland
Cardboard and duct tape, it's sad
Oh I lost my knife sheath in Penticton
Oh make me a new one, oh dad!!!

So dad, that is the sad story of how we ate our lunch under an awning of a men's tailor store in Penticton - usually my knife just goes right back into the sheath, but this time it was reallllly peanut buttery and jammy and my knife sheath got left on the ledge and the knife into my tupperware - the sheath was most likely picked up by someone homeless that sleeps there, says the manager of the store who I called in a panic the next morning. At least I still have my knife!!! Sigh.

Posted by Ericabikes 17:54 Archived in Canada Tagged bicycle Comments (1)

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