Day 39

“Alright ramblers, let’s get rambling.”
-Joe (Reservoir Dogs)

Total mileage to date: 3802km

I’m about 800km inside Ontario, which means I only have about 1200 more kilometers to reach Ottawa. Unbelievable the size of this province. In case you’ve never occasioned these precincts, the scenery consists of trees, lakes, rocks and more trees. In some spots it reminds me a lot of the interior of Nova Scotia. The water in the lakes west of Thunder Bay is even the same dark tea colour that you would find around Kejimkujik lake back home.

Business in this part of the country is basically based on forestry and mining. It’s an ugly business but it keeps people employed.

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Dryden, Ontario

I’m looking forward to seeing Inco’s Superstack when I reach Sudbury. It gets the nod as the second tallest thingy in Canada after the CN Tower. And speaking of tall things, in addition to the rocks and trees, another very popular item in this part of the province are these microwave towers.

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The topography and highway here is constantly rolling which means a lot of uphill pedaling when your on a bike. The nice thing about these towers is that they’re usually built on the highest hills so when you pass by one, you’re in for a downhill coast and a bit of a break.

One of the hills I climbed over was the official Continental Divide.

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I also passed over the 90th meridian (west) which put me in the Eastern time zone.

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Thunder Bay itself was quite uneventful, but Kakabeka Falls, just west of the city was nice.

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And my good luck charm, Tweak even made it out for a photo op.

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Yay Tweak!!

Thunder Bay is also where Terry Fox ended his Marathon of Hope. There is a very nice monument and scenic look off located just off the Trans-Canada.

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His story is interesting and perhaps a bit lost on my generation as I was very young when he was out doing his thing. It was good to visit the monument and read up on the history. It makes my little trip seem like a walk in the park and helped put things in perspective.

My campground in Thunder Bay was populated with these very large woodpeckers.

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It was amazing to watch this bird hammering away on the tree. Woodchips were going everywhere like this thing was some sort of a flying beaver.

I also spotted this in front of a hardware store downtown:

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I thought this was interesting as Chargex and Master Charge were the forerunners of Visa and Mastercard in Canada up until 1978, making these signs 35 to 40 years old.

I also spent a night in Nipigon, home of the world’s smallest Canadian Tire!

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I was excited to see this store. My imagination started to race and I pictured I’d roll up on a perfectly miniature Canadian Tire just in time to see Gandalf rallying the hobbits together for another amazing adventure….Unfortunately, no. No hobbits, no Shire, no grand adventure, just a dingy old Canadian Tire with a sale on 18Hp lawn tractors.

But what I did see next blew my mind.

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An official Government of Ontario sanctioned Liquor Store/Laundromat! This definitely took the prize as most interesting thing in Nipigon.

Now that I’m east of Thunder Bay the scenery has changed as I’m right next to Lake Superior.

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And the rocks are a nice shade of red.

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That’s about it. That’s all I’ve got. Not the most entertaining blog post, but it’s not been the most entertaining week. Wind, rain and heavy traffic have kept things pretty stressful on the road. But now it’s Canada Day weekend and the highways are full of idiots on motorbikes and drunks in pick-up trucks. Here’s hoping for a safe holiday weekend for everyone!!

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Farewell to Manitoba

Total mileage to date: 3057km

Hot mamas
Pimp daddies
And the people rollin’ up in caddies
-Rollin’ (Limp Bizkit’s tribute to life in rural Manitoba)

Tom Tucker: And now, here’s Ollie Williams with the BlackuWeather forecast. Ollie?
Ollie Williams: IT’S GONNA RAIN!
Tom Tucker: Thanks Ollie
-Family Guy

“No other race in the universe goes camping. Celebrate your own uniqueness.” -Captain Jack Harkness

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About 30km east of Winnipeg

Winnipeg might be the geographical center of the country but metaphorically speaking, Ontario is the hump province.

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Get past Ontario and it’s clear sailing into the weekend. But at a distance of around 1950km from Kenora to Ottawa, Ontario is definitely a hump. It’ll take me about 18 days to get across this province, through constant rolling hills and mosquitos. I’ve never been through this part of the province and honestly, I’m not looking forward to it. But they say the scenery is nice and hopefully I’ll have some half decent weather. It was strange though when I did cross into Ontario, a bit of a sense of calm washed over me. All of a sudden the license plates were familiar, my cell phone started to work again (stupid MTS) and I began to imagine that I was only a few hours away from my place in Toronto. That I could just point the bike south, be home by suppertime and spend the rest of the summer sitting on my balcony drinking cheap beer from a styrofoam cooler and getting fat. Yeah…That’s not going to happen.

After crossing the Manitoba boarder and spending the night in Roblin, my next stop was in the small town of Grandview. I pulled into the gas station around noon to grab a drink when the back door of a car sitting at the pumps opens up. The girl in the back seat has a broken leg and she asks if I’m riding across Canada. Turns out she’s the president of the Manitoba Cycling Association. So we chat for a while and she asks about my route. My guidebook had me traveling through an area known as The Narrows but she suggests I head south and pass through Riding Mountain National Park. I told her I’d think about it and basically shelved the idea in the back of my mind.

After leaving Grandview, I was very discouraged to see one of those super-dark black storm clouds that seem to be so common on the prairies. These things are very ominous looking and almost feel predatory the way they fly around laying waste to whatever they like. We were moving at right angles to each other and I knew it was going to cross my path and mess up what had otherwise been a pretty good day. I pulled over and got all kitted up in the rain gear knowing what was ahead, and it did not fail to disappoint. The winds and rain went from zero to bullshit in about 10 minutes. Now, the roads in Manitoba are the worst I’ve encountered so far and in most cases have a soft gravel shoulder which forces you to ride in the traffic lane. A frightening proposition in the best of weather. Add an impromptu storm cell and you’re just asking for trouble. I began scanning the horizon, looking for a place to hide. Nothing in sight but a grain elevator. Fortunately there was an old tractor trailer parked by the elevator, so I pulled off the road and crawled under the trailer to wait this thing out. This is one of those moments when you ask yourself exactly why you’ve chosen to do this trip and why you can’t just have a normal vacation, drunk on a beach like everyone else.

45min I waited for the storm to blow over, watching the wind switch from east to north to west and then back to east. I was getting cold and finally decided I’d had enough. So I sucked it up and pedaled through the rain ’till I popped out the other side. This delay put me off schedule so I made the decision to stop in Dauphin for the night. I grabbed a cheap motel and headed across the street for a beer and a bite to eat. It’s funny how life bumbles along and something like a storm cloud can kick off a series of events that were never on the agenda. At the restaurant I ended up chatting with a woman at the bar. Turns out she lives a few streets north of me in Toronto and is doing contract work in Manitoba. She’s also into outdoorsy type stuff so it wasn’t long before the maps were spread all over the bar and the subject of my path through The Narrows comes up. The barmaid gets in on the conversation as well as some dude from back in the kitchen, and they all basically arrive at the conclusion that riding a bicycle through The Narrows is an extraordinary bad idea (due to the presence of a Native reservation) and that the national park to the south is the way to go.

Now, I was fairly sure that the likelihood of me being abducted in The Narrows, dismembered, and my vital organs sold for profit on ebay was exceptionally slim. But as a traveller you have to give respect to the locals opinion ’cause hey, they live here and you don’t. But you also have to temper that with your own common sense. In the end I decided to colour outside the lines a little bit and see what this national park had to offer.
It turned out to be a nice ride. Large trucks are prohibited from passing through the park due to the narrow roads and steep grades.The park was called Riding Mountain, so I was expecting that I’d eventually coast down the other side into a valley but it turned out to be uphill all the way from Dauphin to Minnedosa so I guess it was more of an escarpment. No big deal. I did see some wildlife. Lot’s of deer and even a black bear. But the highlight of the day was seeing this guy!

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As far as I can tell, this is a great grey owl. One of the largest owls in the world and also the official bird of Manitoba.

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Mr Dressup may have had Wise Old Owl but if this thing had been on the show it would have destroyed the house and probably flown off with Finnegan in its claws.

Manitoba though is still very much a rural province. Remember those VW camper vans with the pop-up roof?

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Classic

Well, after years of repeated requests and months of R&D, John Deere is now offering the same exciting option on it’s 2013 line of combine harvesters.

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Manitoba RV

But despite being rural in nature, Manitoba residents are still very much connected to the world with the internet, colour television and the miracle of touch tone dialing. This has lead to a decrease in social activities. Barn raising bees and hoedowns are at an all time low. To compete with the web and things like UFC, the province has partnered with the RCMP to offer this:

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Arrive early to get a good seat
First crime kicks off at 7:30pm
Pleanty of free parking!

I can’t even type that without giggling. They’d probably start it off with something minor like jaywalking (polite golf clap) and gradually ratchet it up to pignapping and finish the evening off with a tractor theft and the resulting low speed pursuit.

Oh well. In spite of me poking fun at them, Manitoba has been a wonderful host and I’m glad I had the opportunity to pass through the province. After a couple weeks of Ontario wilderness I’ll probably be begging to be back on the prairies.

Day 25

“Got the wings of heaven on my shoes. I’m a dancing man and I just can’t lose.”
-Stayin’ Alive (Ozzy’s version is the best)

Total mileage: 2368km
Number of woodticks removed from my body: I’ve lost count

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Today brought a new province (Manitoba) and a new time zone. Every inch I pedal is one inch closer to the finish line. The scenery changed today too. Once I got about 30km outside of Melville, Saskatchewan, it was like someone flipped a switch. The landscape suddenly changed from bald prairie to what the locals refer to as “parkland”, which is basically the emergence of natural deposits of trees.

With the mountains gone and the initial shock of the prairies past, the riding has fallen into a mechanical groove. With nothing spectacular to look at, it’s more about just cranking off the kilometers.
This can lead to motivational problems, especially when the weather sucks.

Pulling out of Regina I was faced with rain. Not some kind of Bob Ross “happy little rain cloud”, but full on, balls out rain. About 50km east of Regina I turned north onto a 2 lane country road to avoid what is a notoriously dangerous section of the TCH for cyclists.  Barrelling towards me was a tractor trailer. A big red, Coke-a-Cola carrying bastid.  I could tell by his speed that this encounter was going to hurt. WHAP!! The wind blast coupled with the rain was like getting smacked in the face with a sopping wet beach towel at 50km/h. I also learned that Gore-tex socks don’t work when you’re wearing shorts. But like the old saying goes, “He who goes without pants shall suffer the consequences”. Motivation was at an all time low. I tried to put myself in a happy place and adopt the mantra that a bad day on the bike is still better than any day at the office.  Fortunately things dried up in the afternoon and I was treated to a sweet tailwind that carried me all the way into Melville at 35km/h.

Melville is a railroad town and my first encounter with the CN line since starting in Victoria. The municipal campground was empty and I was treated to THE BEST campground shower facilities ever. Sometimes it’s the little things that really stand out.

Now I’m inside the Manitoba boarders and spending the evening in the small town of Roblin. I stood outside the local Co-op grocery store, icy Mountain Dew in hand, and absorbed the silence of a Saturday night in Roblin. It was a little erie but perfectly natural at the same time. I was glad not to see a Starbucks or Tim Hortons. I’ve got the feeling that if your craving a coffee you get it at the gas station or brew it at home. I didn’t see anyone hoisting a $6 grande mocha latte. Living in a big city really can alter your perception of what’s normal.

I had my first tire puncture this afternoon and it couldn’t have been timed worse. As soon as I got off the bike I felt a gurgling and what can only be described as the advanced stages of “mud-butt”.

I had to take a dump.
I had to take a dump immediately.

It was 2 hours of riding to the next public washroom and the last town was about an hour behind me. So, I was left with no choice but to grab my travel pack of Wet Ones and head for the tree cover that the freshly gained parkland provided. I’ll spare you the rest of the details but after I came out of the trees I began to pick numerous woodticks off my legs and clothing. And once you’re back on the bike after being bare ass in the woods, this gets you thinking about where else a woodtick may have crawled. Now THIS is truly something that will distract you from the monotony of cycling.

I’m closing I’ll leave you with a picture of a cool old house I passed west of Regina.

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Have a great weekend, y’all.

The Whispering Winds of Shit

“We’re sailing into a shit typhoon, Randy. Better haul in the jib before it gets covered in shit.”  -Jim Lahey (Trailer Park Boys)

Total distance pedaled to date: 2077km

Hello Regina:

I’m in you.
Just look.
You’ll see me.
Sitting there.
Smiling up at you.
Naked.
Wearing nothing but a bicycle helmet.

Yes, after 2000km of riding I have arrived in the most provincial of capitals, Regina, Saskatchewan. And what better way to celebrate than with a day off. I need to stock up on stove fuel as my route forward is taking me off the TCH and swinging north into Manitoba. And I haven’t been able to shake that horrible feeling I had when my tire blew outside of Calgary, so I’ve decided to take the weight hit and carry a spare. I managed to find the last Schwalbe Marathon Plus tire in Regina, which is cool as I don’t expect to hit what I would consider a well stocked bike shop until I arrive in Ottawa, although my guide book does mention that there is a great shop in Sault Ste Marie. But the Sault is well over 1000km away and I’ll definitely sleep better knowing I’ve got a spare on board.

So, what’s been new? Well, as the title of this post suggests, Saskatchewan does have a unique odor about it. Not the whole province mind you, but when you’re downwind from a cattle operation, you can certainly smell it. I try to tell the cows that too when I ride by. I’m like, damn baby, you stink!

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Blank stares.

But, I can imagine that in their tiny cow brains they’re probably thinking “Y’all ain’t smelling so hot yourself there bicycle boy”…Point taken.

Yesterday I stopped in the city of Moose Jaw. It’s believed the city got its current name when the English arrived and tried to pronounce the Native title for the village, which had nothing to do with moose and was more along the lines of “a warm place by the river”. But that didn’t stop the white man from erecting a huge and surprisingly anatomically correct statue of a moose.

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Check out the nuts on that moose!

Moose Jaw is also home to the Canadian Air Force aerial display team, the Snowbirds.

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Here we see one of their jets posed in a deadly game of hit-or-miss with the local Best Western Inn.

And speaking of large mammals, I bumped into these guys in Swift Current.

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The Northern Prairie Elephant (Elephas Stupidus)

These long nosed giants used to roam the plains in great heards and were actually adopted by the RCMP as their primary mode of conveyance when the police force moved into Saskatchewan. Much like the buffalo, the elephants were almost hunted into extention and they’re a rare sight on the prairies these days but it’s still a good idea to keep your eyes peeled when you’re bombing down the highway as a collision would pretty much ruin your day.

Actually, the circus was in town. You didn’t really believe the RCMP elephant riding thing, did you? 😉

Have a look at this.

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So, it’s Canada, it’s June, it’s perfectly normal to have 4′ high snowbanks laying around, right? Actually, this is salt.

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Chaplin Lake is the second largest saltwater body in Canada and home to thousands of shorebirds.

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The locals scoop up the salt (sodium sulfate), load it into rail cars and sell it to other companies that really enjoy salt.

And finally, we have this.

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109km to Moose Jaw and only 3268km to Quebec, which means it’s probably about 3269km to St Hubert restaurant, home of the world famous 1/4 poulet!

Now I don’t know about you, but I like my chicken fractional.

“Let me have a 9/16 chicken and all the fries you can give me.”

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More blank stares.

See, and you thought all that math you learned in school was useless.

Oil Barons and Wheat Kings

Total distance pedaled to date: 1659km

“And all you hear are the rusty breezes. Pushing around the weather vane Jesus”

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Goodbye Alberta, hello Saskatchewan!

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I’m currently camped about 40km east of the Alberta/Saskatchewan boarder, closing in on Swift Current. About 10min after I took the photo of me in front of the big Saskatchewan sign I was pounded by a hailstorm. The second one of the day. Cycling through a hailstorm is an interesting experience. It stings the legs but it played a cool medley as the ice bounced off the bell on my handlebars.

The sky out here on the prairie is fascinating.

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You can literally watch weather systems form and move across the landscape. And when it’s a lightning storm that’s closing in on your tail, it’s frightening! With communities here being 50 to 100km apart, there is absolutely no place to hide when you’re on a bicycle.

Leaving Calgary, once I got east of Strathmore, the landscape and the scenery really started to change.

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These pump jacks became a very common sight.

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And the arid mountains were replaced with wetlands.

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Some of the sights are beautiful, like these two old barns that looked like they laid down and died together.

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And some sights are weird, like these six dudes that were wacking away at the transmission lines.

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I also got to visit Medicine Hat, where large murals encourage you to smoke old-timey cigarettes.

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The residents of Medicine Hat would also like you to know that they are currently in possession of this.

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Apparently the city had a budget surplus a few years back. They had a big meeting to decide what to spend the money on and a bunch of people thought a monorail would be a good investment. But at the end of the day, it was decided that a big honking tepee was the way of the future.

I also visited the tiny community of Walsh, where the all special events for the next 12 months fit easily on half a sheet of paper.

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Apparently the March 1st bingos are legendary, with last year’s halftime show featuring Buster Poindexter.

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Hot! Hot! Hot!

When I Die, Bury Me in Gore-tex. I’m Pretty Sure It’s Raining in Hell.

Total Distance Pedaled: 1313km

When we left off I was just pulling into Revelstoke and it was raining. Who’d of thought this would be a trend that would occupy my next 4 days on the bike. After cycling through Golden, Lake Louise, Banff and Canmore I should be full of all sorts of interesting photos of mountains and wildlife…Nope. All it did was rain. And rain. And rain. And rain. I don’t have pictures of anything ’cause the only things on display were raindrops, fog, and misery. But I did it! I hauled my ass up and over Rogers Pass, Kicking Horse Pass and all the way into Calgary, in the rain.

Now what’s really special about riding on the Trans-Canada in the rain is that every tractor trailer that passes (at least 100 trucks per hour) leaves you showered in a finely aspirated mist of rainwater, road grit, and whatever that particular truck happened to be hauling. And that mist gets into everything. Your ears, your mouth, everything.

Pause.
Licks lips.
Yup, pigs.
That truck was carrying live pigs.
*shudders*

The purpose bought rain jacket I brought along for this trip (Showers Pass Elite 2.1) proved to be woefully inadequate for the job, wetting out in under an hour, leaving my baselayer soaked. And that’s a bad thing when the temps are hovering just above zero. So one of the first things I did when I got to Calgary was took the Visa card down to the local outdoors shoppe and picked up an Arcteryx Alpha FL hardshell. It’s made with Gore’s new Active Shell membrane and it won one of those “Gear of the Year” awards, so hopefully it’s up to the task. And speaking of Gore-tex, if you aren’t currently wearing Gore-tex socks, you need to put the computer down and go get some. Mine are made by Rocky and they are amazing! I thought long and hard about how to handle the rain when it came to footwear. I couldn’t find a good pair of overbooties that I thought would work, and while the average woman on the streets of Toronto would likely tell you that a $200 pair of Hunter designer wellies is the way to go, I opted for the socks and scored huge. After 9 hours of riding in the rain, my shoes were completely saturated but my merino liner socks were just slightly damp. Big thumbs up!

The best thing about visiting Calgary was that my girlfriend flew in and we had 3 nights together at the Westin downtown! The worst thing about Calgary was saying goodbye to her this morning, knowing that I won’t see her for another month when I pass through Ottawa. After much procrastinating, I finally got back on the road around lunchtime. Everything was going well and I was about 25km east of Calgary when BANG! I had a sidewall rupture which completely destroyed my rear tire. I guess I was a little over enthusiastic with the air pump this morning. I moved the damaged tire to the front wheel and Macgyvered a boot out of duct tape and a piece of plastic to patch the sidewall. The second problem occurred when I went to fit a new tube on my rear wheel and discovered that the rim was only drilled for Presta valves and all my spare tubes were Schrader. F#@k me!! My damaged Presta tube had a huge unpatchable hole, so my only option was to ream out the rim to the point where the schrader valve stem would fit. I managed to accomplish this using the can opener on my Swiss Army multitool, which worked remarkably well. Richard Dean Anderson and his hypnotic mullet would have been proud.

On 2 wheels again, I limped back into Calgary, bought a new tire and vowed that I’ll never over inflate again. Thank goodness it happened near a city and not in the middle of the mountains. All in all a very emotional and frustrating day.

The mountains are behind me and I’ve got nothing in sight but flat prairie. So long as the winds and the rain cooperate the next couple weeks should roll along reasonably comfortably.