Total mileage to date: 3057km
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
“No other race in the universe goes camping. Celebrate your own uniqueness.” -Captain Jack Harkness
About 30km east of Winnipeg
Winnipeg might be the geographical center of the country but metaphorically speaking, Ontario is the hump province.
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!
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.
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?
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.
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:
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.