Biking Across Canada

Coast to Coast 8500 KM

 

Follow the adventures of Bryan Thorp as he lives his dream of riding across Canada from coast to coast.

 


Manitoba

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Day 35 - July 17 - Fri

Souris, MB - Somerset, MB - 161km

I broke camp around 09:00, rolled into town and took some photos of the interesting older buildings. Souris has a bit of fame for it's "Swinging Bridge", which is Canada's longest cable-stayed footbridge at 177m; I've got of photo of me on it when I was about 12, so no need to go back, as I doubt it's changed much. :-)

The recommendation for brekky was a place called the Chicken Chef. It sounded dubious to me but actually turned out to be OK. I had the 3-stack of guess what? Since they weren't very big I supplemented that with dry toast and jam.

I got on the Red Coat Trail, Hwy 2, at the 25km mark, then dropped down on to the 10S. Again no paved shoulder. I rode that for about 30km and the headed east on the 23. The 23, again, had no paved shoulder, but it was extremely low volume so I could take a vehicle lane with no problem whatsoever. The only vehicles I have to worry about are those driven by seniors who refuse to go outside of their lane even if there's no other traffic for miles!!! Sheesh. I had a couple of ¨Passing Lane Ahead¨ signs - I haven't seen those since Canmore, AB.

Yup, there are a few hills here in southern MB! Also, the scenery is slowly becoming more and more forested. I 1st noticed this around the SK/MB border. Having said that, the trees occupy way less than 1% of the landscape, but one still does notice these things.

Near Dunrea, I came across a Centennial Park, that actually had a picnic table (number 2, isn't it?). Whoa - time to party! Picnic tables and 'real' rest stops, seem to be practically non-existent on the prairies; I'm not sure why. The idea of a rest stop out here seems to be a patch of asphalt. No tables, no washrooms, no garbage bins, and certainly no information kiosks. It sure makes me appreciate my home province of BC, where we take those items for granted. So, I celebrated the finding of a picnic table by using it and making a lunch. Btw, the ants bite here!

I reviewed my options for where to stay at the day's end, and settled on Somerset, about 85km away. On my way to Somerset, I stopped in Baldur for a drink, but the local grocery store had closed just 1/2 hour earlier - at 17:00. And it's Friday night! These are the kinds of things you have to be cognizant of out here.

A short while later, due to the lack of picnic tables, I stopped at the intersection of highways 23 & 34 and made myself dinner on the side of the highway. The weather's been awesome today, not too hot and not to windy. Nothing to complain about. Also, the highway signs have become bilingual, an indicator of the large Francophone community.

Right after the Swan Lake Indian Reserve, Hwy 23 gained a 1/3+m paved shoulder! Whoo-hoo! That's my 1st paved shoulder in MB! My knees, however, started aching a bit after dinner and I didn't much feel like cycling anymore, but I still had about 50km to go. I didn't feel tired and the heart rate monitor showed me putting in virtually no effort at all (110bpm), but I still didn't do much better than 15km/h. I finally made it to the Somerset municipal campground. Only 1 other camper who I never saw.

Day 36 - July 18 - Sat

Somerset, MB - Morris, MB - 101km

Finally got up around 08:00, because it was pretty cool last night and I didn't want to get up. I took my time breaking camp, as I was feeling a little woozy. I should have eaten after arriving at camp last night, but it was dark, cool and the mosquitoes were particularly bad. Who wants to cook in that environment? Anyhow, I moseyed on to the Food Barn for breakfast, then mailed some stuff home and topped up on groceries for the day.

While chugging down some liquid sugar outside the store, 3 kids on bikes, aged about 8 - 10, came up to the area, so I said ¨Hi!¨, and they started asking questions abut the bike, and the equipment I was carrying, e.g., the tent. Eventually, one of them asked point blank, ¨Are you going somewhere?¨. I loved that question and just burst out laughing! Kids! Aren't they precious?! ;-)

That reminds me of of a slogan I saw on a rail car about a week ago on this tour. I loved it so much, that I stopped and took a photo of it. The slogan read ¨I hope you find strength¨. At that very moment I was struggling to make my day's destination, but I had a ways to go and I was tired and feeling kind of discouraged. As soon as I saw that graffiti on the rail car, I felt a renewed sense of purpose and energy. I realize that the writer probably meant the phrase in a religious sense, but I interpreted it to suit my own non-religious needs of the moment. It was exactly the encouragement I needed to complete that day positively. Someday I will print that photo and put it over my desk at home to further inspire, and to remind myself of that day. I wonder if the original writer has any idea of the influence s/he has had?

Considering my knees ached a bit last night, today's plan was to dial back the mileage a bit: say 100km or so, plus eat as well as I can. Morris, MB was about 100km, so Morris became the day's target.

On the way out of Somerset, and into neighbouring St. Leon, I took quite of few photos of the turbines on the wind farms, as I've never been close to these huge things before. I estimate they're almost 50m high. It'd sure be cool to climb up into the 'cockpit' of one of these high machines. I couldn't count how many turbines there were, but probably a good 75 - 100 in the area. St. Leon actually had a Wind Farm Museum, which definitely interested me, but already 100km was going to be a bit of a challenge in my state today and I didn't want to get to Morris too late. A highway billboard proclaimed St. Leon as the wind farm capital of MB. I later found a brief Wikipedia entry for St. Leon's wind farm at www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Leon_Wind_Farm

The paved shoulder disappeared after St. Leon. :-(All good things come to an end eventually). Around the day's 34km mark, I reached Miami, MB and decided to do a rare restaurant lunch (rare, that is, when touring on my own).

After lunch I passed by the Miami Train Museum. I'm always a sucker for anything to do with trains, so I went in and got the tour by Gordon, and his daughter Sandy. Apparently, this museum was recently declared a National Heritage Site, after all the hard work done to restore it. I actually spent an hour there - much more than expected. Time to say goodbye and I then cycled on another 60+km to Morris.

I arrived in Morris and find out it's Stampede Week! Yikes! It looks like I've been following the rodeo riders and circus/arcade/ride workers across the prairies from Calgary! No wonder I've started saying ¨Whoa Nellie¨ every time I hit my bike's brakes. ;-)

The Morris municipal campground is packed solid but they find me a spot right behind the campground's common cook area. The campground itself is right beside the fairgrounds but the noise doesn't bother me! A campground neighbour invites me over for some birthday cake! Mmmm! Memo to wife: Still waiting for my own birthday cake when I get home. :-)

For the curious, some of the things I couldn't do without on this trip: 1. Sunglasses - I need prescription eye wear, and prescription sunglasses are even more expensive than your day-to-day eyeglasses. However, clip-on sunglasses for a long tour just don't cut it (weight, lack of coverage, etc.), so I ordered a pair of Rudy Project ZYONs (no, nothing religious, just NOYZ spelt backwards) a few months before the big tour. They are the cat's meow! They're light, they protect my eyes from the wind, they're adjustable, and they protect my eyes from the sun in ALL directions. I should've invested in these sunglasses years ago. Being prescription, they're a medical tax deduction. Whoo-hoo! 2. Polar RS800CX Heart Rate Monitor (Bike Version). I got 'turned on' to using an HRM during training while on a 350km weekend ride in Castlegar/Kaslo earlier this year. It seems everyone had an HRM in that ride but me. I can't say I fully know how to maximize my fitness level with this device without consulting a professional, but certainly I use the HRM functions to stay within safe limits based on my assessed fitness level. Some of the numbers it can record are cumulative ascent and descent, temperature min/max/avg, calories expended, HR min/max/avg, plus all the usual speed, avg speed, distance, cadence, etc. Of course, one doesn't want to get too hung up on numbers on a tour like this, but with 3 or 4 items on each of 6 different displays, this computer sure has alleviated some of the boredom I've encountered!

Day 37 - July 19 - Sun

Morris, MB - Vita, MB - 94km

I woke up to sunshine on the tent; actually it was relatively warm last night ... it's certainly about time! Usually, I break camp and then ride to my breakfast place, but since the restaurant, Burke's, was conveniently located just across the street, I scooted over and had breakfast shortly after waking. Kinda like being at home. :-)

After breaking camp, I continued on 23E for about 17km, and then turned south on 200. Unfortunately, today's wind was from the south, so I had a headwind. It was only about a 30km/h wind, and I more or less expected it unlike those terrible winds in SK so ... I just shifted down and spun fast, and before I knew it, I was in Dominion City, perhaps 25km down from Hwy 23. The 200S was extremely low volume, so its lack of a paved shoulder was immaterial.

Dominion City has a bit of an old-fashioned name. It seems Dominion City has 2 claims to fame; 1. Largest freshwater sturgeon caught in Canada at 15.5 feet, 406 pounds 2. Location of the last spike driven for the 1st railway in Manitoba and the great northwest (not to be confused with the transcontinental last spike at Craiggellechie, BC).

Anyhow, I got groceries to complete a lunch which I ate under shelter beside the busy local pool. The shelter was nice as it was 32C, although I'm having no issues with heat yet. After lunch, I then headed due east again, this time on the 201. There was more volume on road, but again, it was manageable with a paved shoulder.

Somewhere before Stuartburn, MB, a cyclist approached from the opposite direction, on a recumbent. In the Vancouver area, recumbents are common enough that they aren't curiosities. Out here on the prairies, I'd say they're oddities! Anyhow, I crossed the road to say ¨Hello¨ and found out that the rider was Pete McAdams, an engineer. One of the first things Pete said when eyeing my custom, handmade bike was, ¨Ah, one of Sam's bikes!¨. That sure took me aback, that out here, in the middle of 'nowhere' - no disrespect intended - that someone would know of Sam Whittingham's bikes (Sam runs Naked bikes from Quadra Island, BC)! I then found out that Pete had built his recumbent himself! Pete modified his ride so he'd ride some miles with me - we had a good chat during the ride. The southerly wind was now partially a headwind even though we were heading east, and my knees were aching a bit plus I was tiring. Pete turned around a bit past Stuartburn, but this time I remembered to get a photo of Pete and his recumbent. Pete also advised me that the town of Vita would likely be the last full-serviced town as I get deeper and deeper into the corner of Manitoba. Thanks for keeping me company, Pete!

Around the time I met Pete, I also noticed that the prairies had disappeared. It's almost as if Hwy 218, before Stuartburn heading east, was a delineator. That's how quickly the terrain changed from planted crops to unplanted fields and forest! It was a little surreal how quickly it happened. Eventually, I reach Vita (pronounced with a long 'i').

Based on my knees' aching and my overall fatigue I decided that Vita was my night's stop, and that I would try for a motel. As it turns out, the only 2 motels in town were shut down! The lady at the CO-OP gas station in the highway called one of them on my behalf, but no answer. I asked her, and people in their front yards, about a B&B or if they knew anyone who would want to rent a room. I visited the only open restaurant in town, but the owner didn't speak English very well. I went to check out plan ¨B¨, which was camping in a school yard. There wasn't much 'coverage', i.e., trees and bushes, at the local school, and there were too many people around for me to feel comfortable setting up a tent this early in the evening (it was about 19:00). So, I went to kill time by giving Susan a call, and just as I was leaning my bike against the phone booth, a kid came up to me on his bike all out of breath and sweaty. I recognized him as one I'd said ¨Hello¨ to at the CO-OP gas station and restaurant. He said his mom may be able to let me have a room at their place! Well, that sounds good - sleeping in the tent was getting 'old'. I wake up too often at night in the tent because a Therm-a-Rest ain't no Beautyrest. In fact, the lack of a solid sleep in the tent is likely contributing to my fatigue. Anyhow, I followed the kid to his house, and met his Mom, who I originally mistook as his sister, as Mom looked so young - apparently about 33 according to the kid. So, why no names mentioned here yet? Well, the Mom has a protective order from the court against her ex. - so, I've left their names out. Anyhow, I guess Mom saw that I was a legit traveller and she decided to let me stay overnight in a room her daughter wasn't using.

As it turns out, the Environment Canada had a weather alert for our part of MB. I saw the start of a lightening show when I went to bed, and it did rain that night. I'm glad I wasn't in the tent!

Day 38 - July 20 - Mon

Vita, MB - Roseau, MN - 88km

I left ¨Mom's¨ house about 08:30. I was told that one of the hotels is closed on Sundays ... that's a first for me. Anyhow, on other days it IS open and also has a small restaurant. So, I checked it out for brekky. Not a very good omelette, plus the hash browns were pretty crappy. There were absolutely no heart healthy choices in the menu, just as in Morris, the previous day. I may go home in a coffin yet due to clogged arteries!

After breakfast, I topped up my groceries and hit the road. Geez, this part of the province is pretty desolate, in terms of services - there were virtually none after Vita. In terms of population, there are pockets of people living here and there, but forget about gas stations and grocery stores. The road - Hwy 201 - is barely used by vehicles. I stopped to explore an abandoned farm house and take photos of it. I also stopped at Sundown, MB - love that name! - and took photos of its Ukrainian Catholic church. The onion-like domes remind me of St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow, which I was fortunate to see in person in the mid-80s. I lunch outside Baba & Gino's in Sundown. I have no clue what kind of establishment it is as the door is barricaded, but I'm thinking restaurant.

The horseflies finally made their appearance in the last 15km or so. As a kid living in Winnipeg and summering at a friends cabin, I also encountered these horseflies at Moose Lake, about 75km NE of where I was today. These horseflies will bite you thru a jersey, whereas mosquitoes don't. And the bites are worse than a mosquito bite. Today, the horseflies swarmed around me as I was cycling - again something mosquitoes typically don't do. One could stop and apply DEET, but then you'd have to face the swarm. Fortunately, the swarm gradually dwindled to nothing ... not sure why. Very unpleasant. Wikipedia's entry on horseflies at www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horse-fly says " ... they are among the world's largest true flies. ... The bite from a larger specimen is extremely painful... Unlike insects which surreptitiously puncture the skin with needle-like organs, horse flies have mandibles like tiny serrated scimitars, which they use to rip and/or slice flesh apart. This causes the blood to seep out as the horsefly licks it up. They may even carve a chunk completely out of the victim, to be digested at leisure." I didn't know that, and didn't really want to know. :-(I never liked horseflies).

As I'm about to exit MB, I note that the 'mileage' markers in MB have been remarkably accurate, whereas SK's were typically off by a significant amount. Strange.... As I approach Piney, MB, I have a decision to make: ride south to the Canada/US border from Piney, about 1km, or continue east in MB and join up t a busier highway, the 12. As soon as I saw that the traffic would be the heaviest I've seen in days on the 12, I chose to head south from Piney to the Pinecreek border crossing.

I don't believe 1 car passed me in that 10km to the border - that's how quiet it was. I'd actually been told by a 'future' riding partner, Craig, that this was a very nice customs experience. Craig had crossed at this same border station about a month before me, and we'll be partnering from ON --> NF. More on that later. Anyhow, I rolled into the US customs area and was asked about food. Damn! I totally forgot about importing food to the US! I unloaded my food bag, including my Ziplock bag of Gatorade crystals. This should be interesting, eh?! Well, the food ban only applies to citrus fruits and I ain't been sucking no lemons lately (or oranges). The US ban on citrus is to prevent diseases affecting the Florida citrus crops. I proactively pointed out the crystals I was importing - ¨Honesty is the best policy!¨ - and the US Customs agent just said ¨I don't care about that¨. Awesome! The agent then asked me about my trip and gave recommendations about whether I should take a rest day in Roseau or Warroad. He also suggested hotels and restaurants in each city. A car had pulled up waiting to be processed by the agent and I gave the agent an 'out' to do so, but he said ¨Let them wait¨ and he continued with his recommendations. I would have to say that was my best ever experience with US Customs, an outstanding example of customer service in the public sector. That agent sure was a credit to his organization!

I continued south from the Pinecreek border crossing on 89. This road is superb - the asphalt is as smooth as a baby's bum, and there's even a narrow (<1/3m) paved shoulder. This is the best road of the entire trip, and extremely low volume. Well, I had a snack of peanut butter bagels on the bridge over the Roseau River, about 10km from the border crossing. My left knee was aching noticeably, so it was going to be Roseau as the destination this afternoon, even if there were tailwinds once I headed due east.

I arrived in Roseau - pronounced Roso, apparently - and checked 3 hotels/motels before settling on the Roseau Motel @ $55US/nite including wireless and a buffet breakfast. Although the CAD's climbed to $0.90 recently, I found $55 a bit high for a town of only 3,000 people. I settle in and do groceries, laundry, get myself a treat of a 1/2 bottle [tetrabrick?] of wine, and catch up on emails. Now that I'm off the bike, I realize how tired I really am and look forward to a restful 2 nights here in Roseau.

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