Saturday, June 19, 2010

Day 18 - Friday June 18 - Winnipeg to Kenora (224 km)

Despite not making it to bed until past midnight, I opted for a 4:30am wake-up in the hopes of beating the traffic on the way out of town. J got up around 5 to help me with the last-minute stuff (bless her heart), and helped me bring the gear to the parking garage and to load up my bike. I was on the road by 5:45, but hadn't gone 2 km when it started to mist, so I stopped to put on my rain jacket. A few kilometers later it started to rain harder, so I stopped to put on my booties. A few kilometers later it started to POUR; I pulled off the main road under the overhang for a drive-through bank machine and dug out the trusty old rain pants. Back on the road again, I found I couldn't clip in with my left foot. Another quick stop and inspection revealed that the spring mechanism inside the pedal had come apart, rendering the ability to clip in impossible. It looked like it was going to be a looong ride. I made it out of the city, and the rain virtually stopped, turning it into a perfect day for riding... IF one were to be riding northwest. Of course, I was riding east/southeast, and the ferocious crosswind/headwind can only be described as: "I'd never ride in this at home." There was one small blessing: I got into what we have termed a "butt groove." This highly technical term denotes an almost euphoric state in which the bike seat inexplicably feels comfortable, eliminating the need to shift one's weight or stand every few pedal revolutions. Bliss! This groove continued almost until I stopped for a second breakfast break around 9:30am. As I was leaving, the rain started again, and it didn't let up for the rest of the day. The road leading out of Winnipeg was absolutely pin straight and flat for a solid 50-60km (just as J's Dad told us it would be), and at ~80 km in the surrounding terrain changed abruptly from open fields to tree lines and forests which helped to dampen the wind considerably. I stopped for lunch at a gas station so I could sit under another overhang out of the wind and rain, and then again at the Ontario border to get info on the usual 3 things: bike shops, grocery stores, and accommodations. Getting close to Ontario the roads became hilly again, and crossing the border felt like coming home! As I rode into Ontario, a guy getting out of his car shouted "Bienvenue a l'Ontario!" and gave a fist-pump - woo! The scenery very much reminds me of the Perth/Westport area (rolling hills, outcropping of rocks, mosaic forests, and deep blue lakes), although it's strange to think I'm still so far from home - I'll be in Ontario for 1/3 to 1/2 of this trip! I couldn't stop grinning, and made it to the outskirts of Kenora by around 5:45, and to the bike store by...6:30. Closed! Guess I'll have to ride with the broken pedal for another day - I'm hoping Dryden has a bike shop! I made my way to the grocery store to pick up the usual supper fare, and then to the main strip of motels. I'd planned to stay in a motel tonight since I'm without a bike lock (it was J's) and since I'm alone, and I was very glad of this decision given the rain (by this point I was completely soaked through - I guess GoreTex can only shed water for so long). Long story short: I ended up passing over 2 places before finding one that had a room available and for ~$100. By this point it was 7:00, and in truth after riding for over 10 hours I would've paid a great deal of money to be able to get out of my wet clothes and shoes. After paying for the room I went back out to get my bike, and an older gentleman held the doors for me, saying, "we saw you come in and thought, 'oh, I hope she gets a room!'". Very kind. I'm all cozy now, with gear strewn about everywhere to dry (I actually had to pour water out of the paniers!) and my bike taken care of (cleaned and lubed up). It was quite a day, and so strange to be on the road without J (I missed your improvised songs about the rain!). Bed is calling...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Day 17 - Thursday June 17 - Rest Day in Winnipeg!

"A Rest for the Weary"
After being blissfully unconscious for 8-9 hours we woke up to a breakfast of eggs, toast, bacon and fruit - a nice change from our normal regime. J had gotten gung-ho in the night, continuing the laundry we'd started so that everything was clean for today (wowza!). We use the term "rest day" pretty liberally with respect to this trip as these days are so packed - they'd be better termed "days not biking". After breakfast we cleaned up a little, and ran some errands (pharmacy and grocery store) while J's grandparents were out. Came back and had a nice lunch, after which we went out for a tour of Winnipeg (a beautiful city!) And to explore the route out of the city for V tomorrow. When we came home, we all had a nap, grandparents included, for about 1.5 hours (ok, so there fortunately is SOME rest on a rest day). We both have headaches today, and figure it's probably a combination of sleep-deprivation, dehydration, and not being used to sleeping with pillows (assimilating back into normal life is gonna be tough!). Post-nap we had a delicious dinner, and V re-organized and packed for tomorrow. Now we're enjoying the view of the city, from the 9th floor panorama, munching on some popcorn, and are feeling very reminiscent as we write our last blog entry together. It's amazing how fast 17 days can go by. With all of the comical set-backs along the way (some of them not so comical at the time), we're arrived at the end of the road for J, one day ahead of schedule. At this 1/3 mark for V, we'd like to just say Thanks Again so much to all of the friendly, generous strangers who opened their hearts to us along the way. It's been an amazing experience and we're not looking forward to parting ways tomorrow. Next planned extended duo bike trip: Freedom 55!
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Day 16 - Wednesday June 16 - Douglas to Winnipeg (191 km)

"The Last Ride Together... Of This Trip"
We woke up early, had the tent down by 6, and wrote a note to our friendly host, Ted, as we didn't want to wake him up. He heard our cleats on the sidewalk and poked his head out as we were leaving, and invited us in to use his facilities one last time. (Thanks again for everything Ted, it was a memorable last night!). We biked off, but about 2 km later our tummies stopped us for breakfast (which was unbelievable considering how late we'd eaten dinner!). For the first little while it was smooth sailing. There was some construction, but we were able to ride on the new smooth pavement, away from traffic. The day heated up fast (we started in our tank tops) adding a new and foreign challenge to our day. At 27 degrees celsius, and in the direct sunlight with a headwind, it was like being in a convection oven. It's amazing how much the heat saps our energy, and the contrast between this and 5 degrees with pelting rain, within such a short period of time, was enormous. At the western entrance to Portage-la-Prairie, we spotted a lone tree and hobbled 10 m across the ditch to sit in its shade (V passed out instantly for a 5 minute nap). After this brief break, we made our way to the Dairy Queen where we loitered out of the sun for an hour, and put our feet up... J, a little too far up, forgetting she was in civilization (V: "put your feet down!" J: "oops! Thank you.."). J called her grandparents to tell them where we were at, as we're staying with them tonight, and warned them that we "might" smell a little - a gross under-exaggeration. When we started out again, it was thankfully a little bit cooler. At the 66 km to Winnipeg sign we gave a cheer and did a victory dance (destination in sight... And we've been needing a rest day for days!). It was the funniest but slowest leg of the trip... "We'll be there in 2 hours... Well, maybe 3 hours... Well... Tonight". The headwinds picked up (as we'd been warned they often do in the prairies), slowing our progress, and our bodies entered into malfunction mode. We can handle a sore ankle, or a sore knee, or a sore wrist, or a sore bum... But when they all hurt at once, the comparatively short remaining kilometers seem like an eternity. Nonetheless, we enjoyed the last leg of our ride, laughing at the ridiculousness of the whole situation. Once we hit the city limits our spirits and speed picked up, and we enjoyed the flat terrain very much. We arrived at J's grandparents' around 9:15 and drove right into the parking garage, where J's Grandpa (who'd been watching from the window) greeted us with a hug and a smile, despite our layers of sunscreen, sweat and grime). We took much-anticipated showers ans enjoyed delicious vegetable soup that J's Grandma made. It's now around 11:30 and we're getting ready to pass out... For longer than 5 to 6 hours!
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Day 15 - Tuesday June 15 - Moosomin SK to Douglas MB (174 km)

"Random Acts of Kindness"
Woke up this morning to the smell of skunk, so packed up and moved out fast! Some of the squirrels were attracted to the scent of our pb at breakfast, and they look like a different breed here (yellow and black two-tone backs, and shot, sparse tails; they almost look mangy). We rode a quick 20-30 km to the Manitoba border, and took the traditional self-timer photo (aka while V sits by sign and laughs while J sprints in bike cleats across the grass/ditch/stones/wall in the provided 10 seconds). At this border we met two boys from Montreal, who were touring the country... By car. Our next stop of the day was for lunch in Virden, (at "Hi-Way Grocery" or "Hi-Way Robbery" as called by one of the locals), where we realized we'd crossed into another time zone, so not only did we lose 1 hour for lunch but we lost another to the Central Time zone. We drank a litre of milk each, which seemed like an amazing idea at the time (our grumbling tummies when back on the road begged to differ). Ran into the Pedalers for Prostate again today, although we think this may be the last we see of them. It was a great day for biking - sunny, not too windy, nice temperature - all around nice. We ran out of sunscreen again, which is an impressive feat considering how much rain we've had (note: spray-on sunscreen only lasts 2 people 2 days - buy the lotion!). We had a few good roadside breaks, and it was quite hot (the pavement was too hot to sit on, and we probably didn't drink enough). It was an easy-going and fun day. V was frustrated because at our most recent bike repair her seat height and cleats were changed and put back on differently. The change was causing Achilles tendon pain, and we had to stop for numerous adjustments to try to fix this (tricky when it's not just one component in isolation, but it seems ok now). We both NEED a rest day, and one is coming soon when we reach Winnipeg. We stopped in Brandon to buy dinner and ate half of it outside the grocery store (bag salad and baked goods), and then headed off to a "campsite" that was "marked" on J's map. About 30 km later we reached Douglas, and stopped to find our exact location on our map to see how far we had to go. J: "it's not much further, the symbol is right here." V: "what symbol?" J: "this one!" V: "uh... That's not a campsite... That's a picnic area." Oops. A minor miscommunication. The next real campsite was over 60 km away, and rather than going backwards to Brandon we decided to venture down the one street of Douglas, in search of a campsite or even a motel. We saw some people on the street and decided to ask them, but ironically they'd just moved to Douglas that day. We were directed towards a man in a white t-shirt, Ted, who turned out to live in Douglas and was an absolute Godsend. Ted: "Uh, there's nothing really around here, but what do you guys need? A place to pitch your tent and a shower? You can stay here!" We were so grateful to accept his offer and tried to shower as quick as possible. We also got to play with his adorable cats. We pitched our tent on the just-cut lawn (he made someone cut it so we'd have space for the tent... We should note that the guy was already there with the lawnmower, although was trying to get out of having to cut it). It's a good thing the sun sets so late here, because by the time we'd cleaned up and shared some stories it was past 10 pm and the sun was going down. We cooked up some dinner (6 hotdogs, half a can of beans and a tortilla each), and ate it all in the tent to escape the mosquitoes. Tonight is yet another late night, and we're literally 20 m from the train tracks (so sleep may be minimal), but yet again we're completely blown away by the kindness of strangers in this wonderful country of ours!
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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Day 14 - Monday June 14 - Indian Head to Moosomin SK (163 km)

"Sunscreen, cross-winds and leapfrog"
Today started off sunny and we checked the forecast from camp - looks like sun for the next little bit (awesome!). We learned today that the provincial flower of SK is the western red lily (we've been smelling them everywhere). We were on the road by 8, and when we stopped for a break mid-morning we saw our friends from yesterday (Pedalers for Prostate) bike by. We bought some delicious milk, drank it (mmm) and then mosied on. We caught up with the boys on our next rest stop while we stopped to buy lunch (more pb and bagels). This "leapfrogging" continued all day, and it's nice to have some familiar faces on the road and tpo know that there's other people around. Also, we mentioned before that the prairies weren't really flat... Scratch that. Turns out it's the more eastern part that's completely flat and straight. We had a lot of games of "how far do you think it is to that grain tower?" Our guess: 4 km. Actual distance: 12 km. It's really hilariously painful when you can see the town that you're going to but know that it's still 30 km away. The standard joke that you could "watch your dog run away for a week" holds true here. We had a junk-food fast-food dinner due to lack of grocery stores, and talked to some super-friendly locals. Arrived at our beautiful campsite around 8:30, and for the first time it's not next to the train tracks! Today J spilled trail mix all over the road, and just sat down and munched on it as if it was in a bowl. We are both getting sore behinds and probably permanent tan lines (not that we're complaining!). Can't believe it's day 14!
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Day 13 - Sunday June 13 - Moose Jaw to Indian Head (167 km)

"Detour to the Capital"
After the wedding, we woke up a little tired from the partiers, but nonetheless we were on the road by 7:30 am. We appreciated the sun and made good time to Regina, and then rode for 20 km around town trying to find a bike shop that was open. This actually turned out to be nice because it allowed us to see the city rather than just passing through. Regina has a really green downtown (we rode the "green mile") with lots of gardens and streets lined with mature trees. Note: the location of the "tourism information centre" on the SK tourism map is incorrect. We met a few fellow cyclists who are riding across the country to raise money for prostate cancer research (, and shared some of our experiences so far. SK roads are fairly rough in terms of poor pavement quality, however it was a fairly easy day and we arrived at our KOA campsite around 8. We love this campsite as it allowed us to get somewhat caught up on the blog (Telus doesn't have BlackBerry access in this province, and possibly in the next). V got new cleats today, and J was reassured about her tire. We both might be allergic to something seasonal here as we're both getting the sniffles. We've been making wraps for dinner, mostly because we don't have to cook and they are a well-balanced meal. We miss our milk!
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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Day 12 - Saturday June 12 - Swift Current to Moose Jaw SK (176 km)

"A Well-Oiled Machine"
We're getting our daily routine pretty well down. Alarm goes off at 5, and within 30 sec V is rolling up her Thermarest, while J rolls over and says "I just need 5 to 10 minutes." A quick pack-up of the things in the tent, and the tent comes down while the water goes on for breakfast. We force back copious amounts of oatmeal with p.b. and honey mixed in (this is actually delicious - thanks Adrienne!), wash dishes, remove the tarp from bikes and unlock them, and re-do the puzzle-packing of the paniers. A little sunscreen when needed (aka 2 out of 12 days), and we're on the road. All told, with a big hustle on, this takes 2 hours - wow. So this morning began as per usual, except that the sun was shining! We had a smooth ride through the prairies, although whoever says the prairies are flat has never ridden a bike through them. We enjoy the fact that they are rolling however, as it keeps it interesting (and it's true that the "hills" are anthills compared to the Rockies). J's rim is still not 100% (the wobble is hard on the behind) and we plan to have it replaced in Regina tomorrow. We saw a couple of antelope and when they run it looks like they're on springs! We also saw a hare bounding across a parking lot, a llama farm, a blue heron, and more prairie dogs than we could count. It was a nice, easy-going day, and a welcome relief from the rain (our shoes even dried out!). We arrived in Moose Jaw around 5:30, and did the obligatory grocery-shop followed by campsite check-in. Dried out the tent in the sun (which unbelievably was STILL shining!), cooked some fajitas, and set up our home away from home. There's a wedding here tonight, so who knows how much sleep we'll get. Maybe we should go join the party...

Day 11 - Friday June 11 - Tompkins to Swift Current SK (70 km)

"Murphy's Law"
Today was the breaking point. J and V have remained very optimistic int he face of trying circumstances, but this morning just felt like the last straw. We woke up to a pounding rain on the tent - again - the cold, and a misty fog, with a strong headwind. We packed up our wet tent, put on our damp gear that we've been wearing for 3 consecutive days as the rain has been relentless, and headed out feeling depressed. We had to stop to put plastic bags over our gloves to cut the wind, and even while moving it was like a full-body-tense to stay warm. Around 30 km to Swift Current we heard a bang/pop from J's bike... and her rear tire started wobbling. A quick inspection proved it to be unridable (a broken spoke and bent rim). So, yet again, we stuck out the trusty thumb (a la plastic bag... remarkably the message was still conveyed). A cheery couple from Gull Lake (Linda and Greg) stopped with their pick-up truck, and took us the the WalMart in Swift Current. When we stick out our thumb to hitchhike, we of course ask ourselves if this is safe. On this occasion however, we were amused when Greg commented: "I don't usually pick up hitchhikers, but you two look safe... right?" We probably both look pretty scary at this point actually, especially when we're drenched like drowned rats, but we like to think we're innocent enough. We asked around to find out about the nearest bike shop (J even texted siblings to have them google it) and it seemed the nearest was in Regina (~260 km away). WalMart and Canadian Tire didn't have what we needed, so it looked like our best bet was to add yet another mode of transportation to this cross-Canada adventure: a bus to Regina (boo). However, walking to the bus station, we came upon a heaven-sent bike shop. The owner, Mr. Dan Tombs, was amazing - he diagnosed and fixed J's bike on the spot and on the house (we can't thank you enough!). So, we're back in business. Symbolically, the rain even stopped, but it was too late in the day to continue on. So we made our way to the Ponderosa Campground at the east end of town. We did laundry, bathed, had a quick dinner, fixed a flat that J got on the way into camp, and despite the minimal mileage are still just getting to bed around 11. Tonight we actually saw the sun set for the first time... and you know what they say: "red sky at night, sailors' delight." We knew this whole trip wouldn't be sunshine and roses and that there would be unforeseeable setbacks. But it's all part of the Grand Adventure, and once again we're optimistic.

Day 10 - Thursday June 10 - Brooks AB to Tompkins SK (252 km)

Slept through our alarms this morning, but woke up at 5:45. Were on the road 2 hours later in an overcast morning, but for once: no rain! This plus an awesome tail wind lifted our spirits and we flew to Medicine Hat. We stopped here to find a bike store (V needs new cleats, but they were sold out) and to stock up on food and eat lunch. Stops like this usually take ~2-3 hrs, counting time to find out where to go, actually run the errands, and get back en route. We were aiming for Walsh, which is by the Alberta border and would've been another 50 km (in addition to the 100 already covered) but we decided to take advantage of the fabulous weather and continued on for an additional 90 km into Saskatchewan to Tompkins SK. In these conditions, the paniers actually seem to confer an advantage, adding surface area for the wind and weight for momentum on the flats and downhills. The prairies are actually quite beautiful, and at least in this part are not as flat and monotonous as people have told us. Lots of rolling hills (reminded us of Scotland) and livestock (cows, horses, sheep). We also saw lots of what we *think* are Prairie Dogs (we need to take a picture and ask a local to be sure!). J accidentally ran over a dead one, and V almost hit a live one... but all in all, they're SO CUTE! We can tell the volume of wildlife by the volume of roadkill as well (coyote, 3 hares, seagulls, prairie dogs, a deer). We also saw 2 antelope (we think... they were far away). We saw the world's largest teepee in Medicine Hat, and think this town should be renamed "Land of Noisy Cars" (it was comical how many cars needed mufflers). Medicine Hat had a great feel to it and, as with the rest of the country so far, the people were really friendly. We've commandeered the bathroom at this campsite as we're the only ones camping here, and hope to dry out some gear overnight. Our tent is pitched out of the wind, and we had a nice dinner (chicken wraps) a la heated bathroom. Not one drop of rain today!

Day 9 - Wednesday June 9 - Calgary to Brooks AB (91 km)

"At Least it's Not Snowing"
Started off the day early in Calgary, on the road by 6:15. It was cold and overcast, and even at that hour it took us over an hour to get out of the city with traffic. It seemed to take forever to get to Strathmore, just 50 short kilometers away. J's knee was bugging her, and over lunch V convinced J to get it checked out at the local hospital. By this point it had started to rain (as per usual) and we got a little chilled en route. The hospital turned out to be very efficient, and J had x-rays, spoke to the doctor, and received a prescription for anti-inflammatories within an hour and a half. An inflamed IT band was the culprit of the pain, and we're both relieved that there's nothing structurally wrong. Meanwhile, V sat with the bikes in the entryway to the ER and had a great time chatting with people. It was like being in a James Herriot novel, but with short stories about people instead of pets: a man who'd been to the Arctic, a woman who was expecting her first baby, and so on. We left the hospital around 2:30 and by the time we filled the prescription and bought supplies it was almost 4pm - late in the day to continue on, but we did anyway. It was raining harder - an icy, biting, stinging, frigid, bone-chilling rain. Even with all of our layers we were cold, and the relentless wind just kept driving it into our faces. In these conditions it's hard to think about anything except how cold it is, and how much farther the campsite is, and how we're possibly going to get warm when we get there. You can imagine how grateful and relieved we were when around the 90 km mark a truck pulled over and the driver, Jared, asked us if we'd like a ride. A week ago, this would've felt like a cop-out. Now, we realize that accepting help along the way is necessary to keep our sanity intact. Not only did Jared drive us directly to our destination campsite in Brooks, but he left us with a DELICIOUS snack of baklava (Thank You Jared for everything!!!). We pitched our tent, cooked some KD, dried out some gear in the bathroom and are heading to bed around 10pm. This day feels like at least three days in one! Warm, dry feet can never be overrated.