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:
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!