Seattle to Chicago via Canada

 

Fall 2005

 

Denis Kertz, ©2005

 

Day 14: Sun, Sep 18, 2005 - Sparwood, BC to Waterton Lakes Park, AB [85.6, 7:24:40, 11.5 mph, 138.0K]

I packed up and rode the 2K back to town with temp of 32F.  I stopped at the A&W for breakfast since I got a discount for staying at the community campground.  I had their French toast and it was surprisingly good but only 2 pieces so I also had their bacon and egg sandwich.  With coffee and discount this cost a little over $5, not a bad deal.

 

By the time I left just after 9:00 it was about 38F and getting warmer with the sun out.  It was an easy ride to Crowsnest Pass with a slight uphill and then a little more climbing at the end.  There was a nice view at the pass of a couple mountains but the views got much better as I descended into Alberta.  There were several mountain tops touched with snow that were inviting photo ops.

 

After nearly 40K and an easy 15K descent, I stopped in Coleman around 11:30 for my second breakfast.  I continued on with a healthy tailwind.  Shortly, I passed the Frank Slide where a slab of limestone had broken off Turtle Mountain on the right in the early morning hours of April 29, 1903, resulting in the greatest landslide in North American history. In 100 seconds: at least 76 people were buried alive; three-quarters of the homes in Frank were crushed; over a mile of the Canadian Pacific Railroad was completely destroyed; and a river became a lake.  The remnants of this catastrophe were still very visible on both sides of the road as I rode through the area.

 

Continuing I left the mountains and entered the scenic, rolling prairies with wide open vistas.  I was warned this could be a very windy area and I wasn’t disappointed, especially since it was mostly a tailwind.  The wind is so reliable here that at Cowley Ridge there was a lineup of 77 wind turbines to harness the wind.  At the next ridge there were more as well as others scattered around in ones and twos.

 

After 90K I turned on 6 heading south to Waterton Lakes.  A couple K brought me to Pincher Creek where I stopped for a break and a bite.  I found an ATM at a bank and replenished my cash which was getting low.

 

I continued south with a strong crosswind and wide shoulder with 50K to Waterton but I figured to only make it a little more than half way to Twin Butte.  After Pincher Creek the road was a series of climb a little, flatten out, climb a little, etc, for about 20K.  Then it was a roller coaster much of the rest of the way.  Scenery was really great with the ranchland of the rolling prairie often filled with either cattle or round hay bales.  To the southwest was a line of mountains that rose up from the prairies and provided scenic views the rest of the way.

 

At Twin Buttes I found only a small store with a bar but was told there was a campground just outside the park.  So I had to continue almost another 20K but it was fairly easy.  About 5K away from the park there was a ridge with a great view of the park entrance and the surrounding mountains.

 

At the Waterton Springs Campground I got a site for $17 that was fairly well protected from the wind and I settled in after a fairly hard day despite the early helping tailwind.


Day 15: Mon, Sep 19, 2005 - Waterton Lakes Park, AB [15.9, 2:20:35, 6.8 mph, 25.7K]

It was a very windy night.  I was fortunate to have a spot where my tent was pretty well protected from the wind that I could hear howling all night.  When I woke up at 3 am I saw a guy moving his RV to a more protected area.  Since I was awake I remembered I was on my 3rd set of camera batteries so I took the opportunity to recharge 4 of them in the nearby restroom.

 

When I got up at almost 7:30 the wind was calm.  By the time I was packed and off at 8:00 the wind was picking up again.  The campground store was useless so I headed to Waterton for breakfast.  The campground host told me it was 10K downhill to Waterton.  That was not quite true.  He also neglected to tell me I would be fighting a strong headwind.  It was actually 12K and the wind was almost impossible at times.

 

After an hour I rolled into town looking for food.  I stopped at the first restaurant serving breakfast and had an omelette.  Service was slow and it was almost 10:00 when I paid my bill.  At the cashier station I saw a sign advertising the lake cruise at 10:00, 1:00, and 4:00.  I had thought I would do an afternoon cruise but decided earlier would provide better photography light.  The pier was nearby and I just made the 10:00 cruise, paying $27 in cash since they surprisingly didn’t take credit/debit cards.  This turned out to be the last week of boat trips.

 

It was a scenic 50 minute, 9 mile cruise to the end of the Upper Waterton Lake.  All along both sides of the shores mountains rose up from the lakeshore.  A little over half way we crossed the border into the US and were in Glacier National Park.  At the end we docked and had 35 minutes to walk around.  Most of us walked to the Goat Haunt ranger station that was a 5 minute walk.  Hikers going further had to clear immigration at the ranger station.

 

At 11:25 we started back.  On the way out we rode into the wind, sometimes catching water spray.  The return was with the wind and much more pleasant although the sunlight was better on the trip out.  All said, a very scenic lake trip.

 

Now I had the rest of the afternoon free on a day that I wanted to be mostly a rest day.  There were 2 roads heading out of town in different directions into the park but both were probably more cycling than I wanted to do.  However, there was a hiking/biking trail that cut over between the two roads and I discussed the option with the boat captain and it sounded reasonable.

 

In town I checked out lodging.  One place had hostel rooms but they wanted $35/bed.  The campground was questionable because it was open and I had reservations about having a tent set up in the windy conditions.  However, I found a site that seemed reasonably protected so I paid $24 for a site.  I dumped my food off in a bear locker and set up camp.  But as I was battling the wind laying out my tent a gust of wind apparently grabbed my tent stuff sack when I wasn’t looking and I never saw it again.  I completed setting up and grabbed my tire pump and patch kit and set off on the Cameron Lake Road.

 

This road mostly climbed for abut 6K but it was reasonably protected from the wind and, without my panniers, I just climbed leisurely in my lowest gears.  When I reached the turnoff to Crandell Lake I found a fairly challenging hiking/biking trail.  I could do a fair amount of the trail on my road bike with my 700x37 tires but really needed a mountain bike for some parts.  So I walked the really rocky parts, carried my bike over some fallen trees, and rode the rest.  So I figured I road biked, mountain biked, and cyclocrossed all in one trip, along with hiking in two countries.  All on my rest day.

 

There was a nice view at Crandell Lake.  When I reached Red Rock Road, I cycled a couple K further to a great view of Blakiston Valley.  Then I turned around and let the wind blow me home.  This trip was a bit more work than I wanted but it was a nice loop trip that showed me other parts of the park.

 

On the morning boat trip our commentator discussed park wildlife and noted that Rocky Mountain sheep usually wandered through town but hadn’t seen them this year.  Then as I was entering town I spied one ambling down the road.  Cars didn’t seem to bother him but my bicycle seemed to.  Nevertheless I got a few reasonably close up photos.  Then there were mule deer scattered around town, probably at least 20, grazing on the lush green grass in town.

 

My tent was still standing but there was still no sign of my tent stuff sack.  On my loop trip my cyclocomputer stopped working.  This usually means the contacts between the display unit and receiver weren’t good and jiggling the unit usually restored contact but not this time.  I tried replacing my transmitter battery but that didn’t work either.  I actually had 2 cyclocomputers with me, both the same type, and I used the spare to try to debug what wasn’t working.  Since both receiver units failed to receive I concluded the transmitter was the problem.  Then neither transmitter worked with a new battery so I concluded that my old transmitter battery had died and my new battery was bad.

 

After cleaning up I rode the few blocks to a Subway for dinner.  Afterwards I adjourned to a lounge for a beer to write my notes.

 

Waterton Lakes turned out to be the scenic highlight of the trip and I was very glad I took the time to detour and visit the park.

Day 16: Tue, Sep 20, 2005 - Waterton Lakes Park, AB to Lethbridge, AB [84.9, 6:20:25, 13.3 mph, 137.0K]

I wasn’t in a hurry since nothing was open until 8:00.  At 8:00 I stopped at a foodmart for milk but they didn’t have the transmitter battery I wanted.  The guy suggested trying the place down the block which didn’t open until 9:00.  I ate my breakfast in a park by the lake in temps of 54F.

 

It still was only about 8:30 so I stopped at a café that offered an early bird 2 eggs, 2 pancakes for $5.  The pancakes were surprisingly large for a resort area and it was a decent breakfast.  However, when I checked at the other place for a battery I saw the note saying they were closed today.  So I got the bright idea to take the spare display/receiver unit and place it closer to the transmitter where it could receive a signal.  I couldn’t find a way to strap it to the fork so I attached it to the zipper tag on top of my left pannier and that worked.

 

So I left about 9:15 and immediately enjoyed the benefit of a tailwind as I left the park.  It was a nice easy ride with mountains in my rear view mirror and the rolling prairies ahead.  It was effortless pedaling and I made Cardston, some 40K+, by 11:30.

 

I stopped for a bite to eat and then rode a few blocks into town, first to get my battery, which I found in a Radio Shack inside a NAPA store, and then a stuff sack for my tent.  I left town in a good mood, having found what I needed and continuing to enjoy a good tailwind, often using the big chainring as I rolled along at 25-30 kph.

 

From Cardston to Magrath it was a continuous sea of yellow wheat fields.  Most fields were already harvested and either bare or waiting to have their harvested furrows baled.  Just outside Magrath I saw 20 wind turbines on a ridge, part of the Magrath Wind Power Project.  The wind was less strong today and the turbines seem to be turning slow and two weren’t turning at all, possibly because there wasn’t enough wind for their orientation.  I considered stopping around 2:30 at the library in Magrath but the town was off the road and I didn’t want to waste time on a detour, especially since I was making great time to Lethbridge.

 

After Magrath the sea of yellow changed to occasional yellow with lots of hay fields.  Until Welling I was headed northeast but at Welling the road shifted abruptly to the north.  Suddenly my nice tailwind became a crosswind with some headwind and I slowed down dramatically to about 16 kph and cycling became work again.  However, it wasn’t that far to Lethbridge and I rode into the town of 70,000 around 4:00.  I came in on a busy 4-lane road and was happy to get off at the tourist bureau.  There I got directions to a campground and the library.  However, the library was about 4K away and I had to get back on another fairly busy 4-lane road.

 

I discovered that Lethbridge had an excellent library with a coffee shop.  I was able to use the Internet for 30 minutes and then it was time for food.  A librarian tried to give me directions to a place nearby but I think she messed up the directions so I wandered around in the downtown area where there wasn’t much.  Then I started heading east which I had to do eventually to get to the campground.  And lo and behold I spotted a Subway so I ate there.

 

Finally, I worked my way to the campground, Henderson Lake Campground, at the east end of a lake park on the east side of town, a good position for heading east in the morning and got a site for $19.  After cleaning up I installed my new transmitter battery and was chagrined to find out it didn’t work.  I played with some different combinations of my spare to no avail.  So it looked like the temporary solution that worked today would have to work a while longer.

 

With that I needed a beer.  I thought I would have to walk a fair distance back to town but the campground hostess advised me that there was a casino down the street that was much closer.  So I ended the night there, writing my notes.

Day 17: Wed, Sep 21, 2005 - Lethbridge, AB to Medicine Hat, AB [112.3, 8:34:24, 13.1 mph, 181.2K]

I packed up at my usual time and left around 7:30 with temps in the upper 40s.  I decided to look for breakfast at the next town, Coaldale, which was only about 10K rather than retreat back into town.  It was a bit circuitous getting back to the highway and along the way I witnessed a miracle.  Miraculously my cyclocomputer started working again.  I could think of no reason why it would work this morning but not last night.

 

Highway 3 was a busy 4-lane road leading out of town during rush hour.  I saw a restaurant on the edge of town but decided to stick with my original plan.  Once I got through a few lights and out of the city there was still a lot of traffic but I had a wide shoulder.

 

In short order I was in the small town of Coaldale and I made a quick pass down main street.  I found a place with a bunch of older men congregated at a table drinking coffee.  When I asked the waitress if the pancakes were large she said “Oh yeah” and I thought I had picked the right place.  Instead I got 2 medium sized and 1 small pancakes.  It looked like the cook ran out of batter on the last one.  He apparently was embarrassed since the plate was delivered with the biggest pancake covering the smallest. Later when the cook came out in the dining area I was hoping he would ask about my breakfast, giving me an opening to discuss the ethics of making pancakes.  Either he wasn’t the type to talk with non-local customers or he was smart enough to not broach the subject.

 

When I left, shortly after I got back on 3 a driver came to a stop from a side street, looking to cross 3.  She appeared to be in a brake touch-and-go mode as she looked for traffic in the opposite direction.  Only at the last minute did she finally see me, almost directly in front of her.  So I left Coaldale with less than fond memories, after a disappointing breakfast and almost getting hit.

 

The scenery was boring, completely flat with fenced in field and farm buildings.  So I just pedaled on comfortably around 22 kph on a virtually windless day.  Shortly after 11:00 I arrived in Taber, another small town known for its sweet corn.  I only saw one corn field but I did see an occasional ear of corn lying alongside the road.  I had my second, cereal breakfast at a 7/11.  While I cased the store I saw another miracle, the magical appearance of a chocolate chip cookie vanilla ice cream sandwich, the first spotting in Canada.  Unfortunately, it was too early for ice cream so I passed.

 

I continued on with the idea of making Medicine Hat, about 100 miles for the day.  The distance wasn’t a problem but I hoped to make it before 5:00 to get tourist information.  I particularly wanted to find a bike shop to solicit input on the feasibility of riding through Cypress Hills, which apparently had a gravel east-west road and there was some question of whether this road was rideable on a road bike.

 

So I kept up my pace without stopping until I reached Bow Island at 100K.  By then I needed a break even though that pretty much meant I wouldn’t make Medicine Hat before 5:00.  When I left Bow Island, I noticed a major change in scenery.  The landscape changed to modest rolling with huge fields, mostly wheat but some hay and few farm buildings.  This opened up the vista quite a bit.  It was also a partly cloudy day and the clouds provided a mosaic of light and dark patterns on the ground.

 

This scenery improvement lasted until Seven Person.  Up to that point it was a little northeast but then changed to due northeast.  The scenery reverted to the earlier dull and it also seemed like I picked up a little headwind.  In any event I arrived a little after 5:00 right at 100 miles.  I started following the tourist information sign even though I was pretty sure the place would be closed.  When it looked like I would have to get on the Trans Canada I gave up and decided to try to find a bike shop on my own.  I wandered towards downtown without knowing what I was doing when I queried a stranger who gave me directions to a shop on Kingsway.  He actually sent me to a dead-end but a little jog got me down a hill to Kingsway and I found the bike shop open.

 

The bike owner thought riding through Cypress Hills was OK, especially as a way to avoid the TC.  Then he gave me directions to a campground in town and finally to a Panago pizza place.  I told him he was better than a tourist bureau.

 

I found the pizza place and ordered the Chicken Club that the bike shop owner recommended.  It was really good but it took a while to make.  By the time I was done eating, saving 2 pieces for desert, I was running out of daylight.  I had to hustle a bit and I wasn’t exactly sure where I ended up but I think it was on the west side of the city at the Gas City Campground, apparently the city’s campground since Medicine Hat is known as The Gas City.

 

The campground was just closing shop as I arrived shortly after 7:00 with little daylight left.  The attendant re-opened to set me up and I paid cash because she wouldn’t have been able to handle a credit card until in the morning.  The cost was $18.19 but she gave it to me for $18 when I couldn’t make the exact change.

 

I got a decent site in the almost empty campground.  Later I was able to use a lighted indoor picnic area for writing my notes and for my desert of 2 pizza slices.

Day 18: Thu, Sep 22, 2005 - Medicine Hat, AB to Cypress Hills, AB [61.2, 7:09:29, 8.6 mph, 98.7K]

I was packed and gone by 7:30 when it was 38F.  I stopped at a nearby restaurant for a somewhat decent breakfast special of 2 pancakes, 2 bacon, and 1 egg.  I got directions to a grocery store and on the way I recognized the area as the place where I got directions to the bike shop yesterday.

 

By the time I had packed my groceries it was almost 9:30.  My campground handout had a map of the city so it was easy to find the TC.  On the TC it didn’t take long to realize I had some headwind.  That along with the rolling road kept my speed under 20 kph.  The scenery was decent with rolling prairies and I was riding through a coulee.

 

It was about 35K to Highway 41 which led to Cypress Hills.  I had to climb out of the coulee and as I was doing so a guy on a motorcycle pulled up along side me.  He said Cypress Hills was great and I wouldn’t have trouble riding through it but he noted that 41 was uphill all the way.

 

When I turned on to 41 I had expected to have a crosswind but somehow I had a headwind that got stronger as the day wore on.  The combination of a little uphill and a fair headwind conspired to limit my speed to 10-11 kph.  This was a real drag and much harder than yesterday.  The scenery of the rolling prairie was nice but I didn’t enjoy it that much with my head down and boring into the wind.  I was, however, able to see Cypress Hills in the distance as I approached since it was the highest point at 1466m between Newfoundland and the Rocky Mountains.  It stood out in the prairies because of its elevation and because of its trees.  It was an oasis in the midst of the prairies.

 

After almost 70K I descended down to Elkwater Lake and the small town of Elkwater.  The town was almost deserted with the vacation season over but I found some food to help rejuvenate me.  I was really tired, much more so than yesterday’s long ride, and I debated whether to continue.  After a long break I checked at the ranger office.  There was a Reesor Lake Campground with access via a paved road.  However, they were not optimistic about riding through the Saskatchewan side on a dirt road.  Worse, I was told rain was in the forecast and I had been forewarned to not try riding through the park if the road was wet.  However, there was a gravel road leading out north near the border and I figured that gave me an out.

 

About 4:30 I headed out again.  There was a long 3K climb and then I turned east to the lake.  This was a good paved road and I noticed I had a tailwind and went zipping along at 25 kph.  The road was on a plateau of evergreens and grasslands and was nice riding.  Eventually the road reached a lookout with a nice view of Reesor Lake below, nestled in hills with evergreens on one side and grassland on the other.  There was also a dramatic view of the prairie to the north with the rolling prairie extending as far as the eye could see.

 

A fast descent followed down a steep hill to the lake and the road followed along the lake to the east end and the turnoff to the campground.  The campground was OK but expensive at $15, considering there were no showers and the drinking water had to be boiled.  I picked a site in the campground where there was just one other camper in an RV.


Day 19: Fri, Sep 23, 2005 - Cypress Hills, AB to Consul, SK [84.6, 8:08:13, 10.4 mph, 136.4K]

It was chilly in the morning, 37F, at 7:00.  I packed up and ate my cereal and banana after I had packed everything except my tent.  Then I pulled out my water filter, which I’ve taken on every trip but never used, and walked to the stream to fill my 4 water bottles which were almost completely empty.  As I walked through the campground a couple deer bounded away.

 

I had left my tent open with just a little trash and my banana peel inside a bag.  When I got back the bag was outside my tent.  Then I heard some chirping and found the culprit chewing on the banana peel – a squirrel.  After he was done he boldly re-entered my tent to look for more.  I chased him out and a few minutes later he was back, even climbing on my bicycle.

 

As chilly as it was I put on my lobster claw gloves.  It was not only cold but very foggy.  Riding by the lake I could see only the close shoreline.  Leaving the lake I left pavement and rode on a gravel road.  The gravel was OK but loose in places so I had to ride carefully.  Then I had a big climb that was made harder by the lack of traction due to the gravel.  I eventually spun out and had to push a ways.  The big problem was new gravel had just been laid down and wasn’t packed.  When I got to old, packed gravel I was able to ride again and complete the climb and reached a plateau with limited views because of the fog.

 

I stayed on what looked like the main drag with a descent and another short, steep climb that I had to walk a bit when I spun out.  Shortly, I glanced at my bike compass and was shocked to see it indicated I was going west, not east as I had thought.  My bike compass had seemed off at times so I pulled out my watch compass and got the same answer.

 

There was a grader nearby so I asked him.  He had passed me earlier and said I had missed a turn.  As a result I had done a U turn and he figured I was only about 7K from 41.  After some thought, I decided it made no sense to backtrack and try to find the way east.  So I reluctantly continued west and reached 41 shortly after 11:00.  It was still overcast and a chilly 38F.  So I finally gave up on it warming up and put on my Seal Skinz socks since my toes were freezing.

 

My options were to head north and back to the TC or south and pick up the Red Coat Trail, 501/13, east.  I couldn’t bear the thought of retreating, particularly since it would have been into a headwind.  When I was planning this trip, I had wanted to follow the Red Coat Trail but was uncertain about the road condition.  I decided this fiasco was a sign, along with the northwest wind, that I was supposed to follow the trail so that’s what I did.

 

It was 40K to AB 501 and another 60K to the first town on the Red Coat Trail, Consul, but I didn’t know if it was a real town or a dot on the map.  It was mostly downhill to AB 501.  I had to put on my rain jacket and pants for more wind protection.  With the downhill and the tailwind, cycling was a breeze.  It was also remote.  There was a sign warning that there were no services or residences for 134K.

 

Scenery was great.  The prairie was rolling with mounds and hills.  This was much like the prairies of North and South Dakota on the Lewis & Clark trip that I found so scenic.  I also saw 2 antelopes not too far from the road.  Unfortunately, as I pulled over to take a photo they turned shy and fled.

 

Eventually the prairie flattened out and then I reached the AB 501 intersection.  As I expected 501 was gravel.  It was a good gravel road but not for cycling with a lot of loose gravel.  I had to read the road and find the hard packed path, usually where vehicle tires had packed the gravel somewhat.  When I picked correctly cycling was OK but it was a continual guessing game and not fun.

 

After 20K I saw some road signs ahead.  They announced the entry to Saskatchewan and, most important, the beginning of pavement.  The signs warned the pavement was cracked with potholes but that didn’t faze me.  With rare traffic I had the entire road at my disposal and it was easy to spot the bad spots and avoid them.

 

It seemed I was climbing modestly because I was only doing about 15 kph despite the pavement.  Still that was better than I would have been doing on gravel.  I expected to make Consul whereas that would have been very doubtful if the road had remained gravel.  During the afternoon it did warm up to about 52F but then it cooled off again in the late afternoon.

 

I plugged on and signs of civilization started appearing with more and more farms as I rode on.  I also saw a herd of antelopes, about 10-12, but they kept their distance.  Still the big unknown was what I would find in Consul.  I was prepared for the worst, just a spot on the map, but hoped for better.  Finally, I could see a small town in the distance and then a sign announced a town with all the basic services.

 

In town I rode by a bar and there was a motel next door.  I stopped at the motel with $38 single rooms but had to call from the office for a receptionist.  When she showed up she told me there was only a smoking room available.  When I hedged she said the hotel had $15 rooms.  I was surprised to hear this because I was unaware there was a hotel but the bar I had seen was an unsigned hotel with the only restaurant in town.  The room was actually $20 but I signed up quickly, happy to get a room for basically the price of a campsite.  The only downside was I had to carry my bike up the stairs.  This hotel reminded me of the pubs in Australia whose primary function was to serve as a bar and the rooms were kind of an afterthought.

 

After cleaning up in the communal shower, I had a good fish & chips meal with soup and ice cream in the small restaurant downstairs.  About this time, the clouds which had remained in place all day, started clearing on the west horizon just in time to show a sunset.  Then I retired to the bar for a couple beers, encouraged that the bartender said the road got better heading east.  Interestingly, one of the bar patrons asked me how I liked their potholes.  I said they were just fine, it was the gravel I didn’t like.  This was a case where the potholes were terrible for vehicular traffic and the gravel was fine but just the opposite for me on my bicycle.

 

This was a day of lows and highs.  Missing the Cypress Hills turn to the east and getting turned around was a low.  Riding down 41 with good scenery, a downhill, and a tailwind was a high.  Riding on the gravel 501 was a low.  Then finding a hotel room with bar and restaurant ended the day on a high.

Day 20: Sat, Sep 24, 2005 - Consul, SK to Shaunavon, SK [69.4, 6:15:58, 11.0 mph, 111.9K]

It was nice waking up in a real bed.  I went downstairs for breakfast at 7:00 and there were some truck drivers and a farmer, who was also there last night, drinking coffee.  It was interesting to watch the social interactions of a small town.  Two of the women discussed the movie they had driven 60 miles to Shaunavon to see at the theatre, the closest theatre.  One of the truck drivers asked if I was the guy he saw yesterday on a bike in a yellow jacket and I admitted I was.  I had 3 pancakes of decent size but pretty thin.  I’m beginning to think I need to carry my own pancake batter.

 

I lingered because it was chilly out although there were no clouds so I expected the sun to warm things up.  As I left I noticed a sign for drivers heading west which said there were no services for 110K.  That explained the poor condition of the road to the Alberta border – there just wasn’t enough traffic going that way to justify the maintenance on the road.  By contrast, the road heading east was in good condition.  Any bad section had been repaired well.  There were some spots closer to Shaunovon but they were small and close to the edge of the road and easily avoided.

 

It was 34F when I started and I soon stopped to put on my lobster claw gloves.  The first town was Vidora and it was just a spot on the map.  A little later Robsart appeared and it was a little more but hard to tell since it was a little off the road.  After 30K the farms gave way to rolling prairie grassland with a few farms and an occasional herd of cattle.  It was actually quite scenic.  However, it was still a slight uphill and a little headwind coming from the southeast so I plodded along in the upper teens.

 

After 70K I descended to Eastend, situated in a valley formed by coulees.  Eastend’s claim to fame was a T-Rex dinosaur skeleton that had been found in the area in 1994.  There was a museum in town but it was actually about 1K outside of town and built into a hill so I chose not to detour and check it out.  I did stop in the small town for some food and a break.  I located the library but it didn’t open until 1:30 on Saturday and I didn’t want to wait 30 minutes, particularly since it didn’t look like much of a library.

 

So I pushed on another 30K to Shaunovon, a bigger town.  There was a modest climb out of the valley and then the road eased off and I was riding at 20+ kph.  The land also flattened out somewhat and was less scenic.  I made good time and rolled into town before 3:00.

 

I found the library and used the Internet for about 50 minutes.  The tourist bureau was in the same building and the hostess told me about a B&B with single rooms for $25, rather surprising for a B&B.  There was also a hotel with rooms for $30.  I rode the few blocks to the B&B but no one was there.  So I took the opportunity to clean my chain and pump up my tires while waiting but no one showed up.

 

So I stopped at a Chinese restaurant and had a pretty mediocre dinner.  It was bland and small quantity for Chinese.  After eating I checked the B&B again.  With no one there I checked in at the hotel.  I was surprised the room was complete, with a TV, small frig, and its own bathroom – a pretty good deal for $30.  Of course, I had to lug my bike up another set of stairs.

 

One of the good things about the hotel was there was a Laundromat right across the street.  I carried my clothes there but there was no soap dispenser.  The hotel wasn’t any help and a foodmart down the street didn’t have anything.  However, there was a motel across from the foodmart and the proprietress kindly gave me enough soap for a load and I managed my first laundry in two weeks.

 

It was a good day for wildlife.  I saw a coyote run across the road on two different occasions.  One looked back after a bit whereas the other never stopped.  I saw a herd of antelopes off in the distance and when I descended to Eastend I saw 2 antelopes watching me not too far from the road.  They were kind enough to pose for a photo and then fled.  Finally, I saw a couple prairie dogs with burrows next to the road.

 

A nice day of cycling with good scenery and a bit of relief from the past 3 days of long and/or hard riding.

Day 21: Sun, Sep 25, 2005 - Shaunavon, SK to Assiniboia, SK [120.7, 7:48:51, 15.4 mph, 194.6K]

I ate breakfast in my room because I was able to keep milk in my frig.  It was 37F when I left at 8:30 with winds predicted at 20 kph southwest.  I felt the helping wind as I headed 10K north at the start before turning east.  There was a herd of antelopes a ways off in a wheat field but they turned tail and ran when I pulled my camera out.

 

As I headed east the tailwind powered me down the road as I hoped.  My goal was to make Assiniboia which was about 200K with few other good options along the way.  With the healthy tailwind I figured this was doable.

 

The land was another sea of rolling yellow wheat fields that I found very scenic.  In one stretch some of the wheat fields had their boundaries marked by green bushes which provided an interesting contrast.  The road was not as good as yesterday with a few short gravel sections and a 4K gravel section but nothing was slowing me down.  Scotsguard and Admiral were the first towns but they were just dots on the map.  I hoped that Cadillac at 70K would offer a second breakfast but when I got there just after 11:00 I found the only restaurant closed on a Sunday.  So I had to make do with a microwaved ham and cheese sandwich at a service station that had a very limited selection.

 

When I resume I encountered a bad section of the road.  I knew from an Internet report that there was road construction underway just east of Cadillac.  This turned out to be an 11K stretch of gravel that would have been OK except for the little ripples in the road which forced me to slow down considerably.  On the other hand I was fortunate that it was a Sunday and all the construction equipment was idle and there was little traffic.

 

When I reached pavement again it looked like new pavement so I presumed it was last year’s construction.  In any event I reached cruising speed again which varied from 25-35 kph, depending on the slope of the road.  However, scenery was rather uninteresting as the rolling wheat fields gave way to flatter grasslands.

 

There were several small towns along the way but they either offered no services or what little they had was closed on a Sunday.  These places served the local agricultural community and there was little traffic on a Sunday to justify opening.  One exception was Ponteix which was about 1K off the road.  It had some 20 billboard signs closely spaced in both directions along the road in an attempt to lure prey off the highway.  Later Lafleche also appeared to offer reasonable services but it also was off the highway.

 

With about 30K to go I was surprised to see a tent a little off the road.  Then a guy started walking to the highway and flagged me down.  I was afraid he wanted a lift but he was just interested in talking to a fellow traveler.  So I met Bobbie and Kyle, 2 young guys who were taking an afternoon break on their walk across Canada (www.WalkCanada.com).  It was nice meeting some fellow travelers and we chatted for 20 minutes or so.

 

Before this meeting I seemed to be dragging a bit but afterwards I seemed to have caught a second wind and I finished strongly and rolled into Assiniboia at 5:00.  I didn’t see any campground sign riding through town but I did see a hotel.  Unfortunately, this hotel was no bargain but it had motel rooms for $39.  That wasn’t a bargain either but it did offer a free continental breakfast and I figured I could get $5-10 worth out of that.

 

There were two Chinese places in town with buffets and I checked them both out.  The first was more popular but I preferred the selection at the second place which was just across the street.  I got my fill for $9 which was a good deal.  The helpful waitress also gave me input on towns along tomorrow’s route to Weyburn which would be similar to today’s route except it would not be quite as long.

 

It was great to have a healthy tailwind all day and only the 11K gravel stretch leaving Cadillac marred the day.  Still, it was not an easy day simply because of the nearly 8 hours of riding.

Day 22: Mon, Sep 26, 2005 - Assiniboia, SK to Weyburn, SK [106.5, 7:38:02, 14.0 mph, 171.7K]

I walked over to the hotel at 7:00 for my continental breakfast of cereal, toast, muffins, and coffee.  I had several refills for a decent breakfast, one that probably would have cost close to $10 had I bought it from a menu.  At 8:00 when the grocery store opened I did a quick shop and was off.

 

It was a little warmer than the past morning and the wind was supposed to be 17 kph southwest and dropping to 10 in the afternoon.  In actuality there was no wind by late morning.  That made the day’s ride very similar to yesterday’s when I had a good tailwind all day, since I rode a shorter distance today.

 

Scenery wasn’t very exciting to start but it improved later as the land became more rolling with a mixture of wheat fields and grassland.  There were a number of fields with round bales and I believe I saw more bales today than the other days.

 

The road was OK to start but there were a lot of chip seal patches where the chip seal was just dumped and smoothed out.  However, it didn’t cause any biking problems.  Later the road improved but I still found myself riding just left of the white line where the smoothing due to vehicle tires afforded a smoother ride.  This was safe since there was always plenty of lead time to move to the shoulder when a vehicle approached.

 

I was obviously slower than yesterday, usually 20-25 kph and never in the 30s except for an occasional descent on the rolling road that seemed to climb more than descend.

 

I was informed yesterday at dinner that Ogema and Pangman were the only towns along the way with services.  After 85K I left the highway at noon for the short detour into Ogema, the halfway point.  I stopped at a grocery store and bought milk for more cereal when I couldn’t find anything else interesting.

 

After about 20 minutes I resumed with flatter landscape and relatively uninteresting scenery.  It was a fairly warm day with temps feeling about mid-70s, a little warmer than I would have liked.  In 20K I chose not to detour to Pangman and that turned out to be a good choice.  Just a little later 13 intersected 6 and there was a service station with restaurant where I stopped for a cold drink.

 

There was a newly paved stretch of road with real asphalt where the shoulder was as smooth as the driving lane so I rode the shoulder.  Making good time, I rode into Weyburn at 4:00, a city of 10,000 known for its oilfield service centre with more than 600 wells operating in the immediate area.  I wound my way to town to the museum that hosted the tourist bureau.  There weren’t any great accommodation deals but there was a city campground that sounded fine.

 

I stopped at the library and got caught up on my email.  The librarian told me Bonanza had a buffet so I stopped there.  It turned out to be a bargain at $7.50.  The entrée choices were limited but there was a great salad bar and a soft serve ice cream dispenser.  I was quite happy with this meal.

 

Then I rode to the campground in the waning light and received a shock – $5 for a tent site and free showers.  This was hard to believe after the prices I had been paying for campgrounds.  I paid quickly before anyone could change the price and settled in for the night.

Day 23: Tue, Sep 27, 2005 - Weyburn, SK to Redvers, SK [102.2, 7:26:39, 13.7 mph, 164.8K]

I was surprised it was light at 6:30 but then remembered I’d traveled over 200 miles east the last 2 days.  I packed up and headed to Smitty’s, a chain restaurant in the mall in the city centre.  I knew they had pancakes because I had seen their menu in Cranbrook.  They didn’t have all-u-can-eat pancakes like Cranbrook but they had 7-grain pancakes.  When I ordered them, the waitress asked “3 or 5?” which surprised me since I didn’t know there was an option.  I quickly chose 5 which was the right choice since it only cost $0.80 more for 2 extra pancakes.

 

However, when they arrived I wasn’t quite so sure.  They were large and stacked high on a plate, so high the waitress brought an extra plate for eating them.  They were good and filling.  Unlike regular pancakes which can be fluffy these were dense and filling.  I finished them off and knew I wouldn’t need a second breakfast later.

 

I left after 8:00 on a windy, cool day.  The wind was supposed to be out of the northwest so I expected a helping wind.  However, over the course of the day there was more crosswind and just a little tailwind so I rode pretty much unaided.

 

The road left something to be desired too.  The shoulder was often cracked and/or bumpy so I again tried to ride to the left of the white line. But even the driving lane was a bit uneven and a little bumpy.  On top of that there was noticeably more traffic than the last several days so I wasn’t able to spend as much time in the driving lane.

 

Finally, the land was basically flat and mostly brown fields with occasional wheat fields.  So the scenery was rather uninteresting and it was a day to just grind out the miles.  Later in the day as I neared the Manitoba border the treeless land started developing occasional small pockets of trees.

 

Stoughton was the first significant town, about 60K and halfway to Carlyle.  I stopped at an Esso station outside town even though I didn’t need any food after my large breakfast.  About 20K later I got pulled over by a Mountie.  I was surprised since I was pretty sure I wasn’t speeding.  Turns out someone left a wallet at the Esso and they guessed it was me and the Mountie was sent after me in pursuit.  However, I knew it couldn’t be mine since I never removed mine from my shoulder pouch.  A quick check look in the wallet showed it belonged to someone else.

 

Not too much later a car coming from the opposite direction pulled on to the shoulder, talking on his cell phone.  I presumed he did that for safety reason but he waved to me as I passed and it looked like he wanted to talk to me.  Sure enough, he turned around and came after me and told me I had left my wallet at the Esso.  I filled him in that a Mountie had already contacted me.

 

I thought it was great that these folks took such an interest in locating me.  It seems that they must have put out an APB on me.  It was almost disappointing that the wallet wasn’t mine and I couldn’t reward them for their efforts. On the other hand, I wish I had gotten this kind of service when I DID lose my wallet in Port Townsend, WA, in 1994.

 

I stopped at another Esso on the outskirts of Carlyle after 116K around 1:30.  I left this place with all my belongings and no one chased me.  It was another 40K to Redvers, the last real town in Saskatchewan.

 

Along the way there was about a 10K stretch of highway “improvement.”  This appeared to consist of dumping some bituminous gravel on the bad shoulder spots, running over the loose gravel with a tire, and declaring the spot repaired.  This, of course, just made the shoulder riding worse so I was glad when the repair section ended.  To make this worse the large trucks coming from the other direction gave me a wind lashing all day.  Now with the loose gravel I was also getting some gravel bashing as well when the trucks roared by.

 

Just after 4:00 I rode into Redvers, a small town of 900 that billed itself as the “Gateway to the Red Coat Trail”.  It had a library and I managed to do some research on my route through Manitoba and check the weather for the next few days just before the library closed at 5:00.

 

I did a little grocery shopping and ate at a restaurant by the road.  Unfortunately, they didn’t have a buffet so I settled for a pizza.  I paid $10 for a campsite in the city campground on the western edge of town.


Day 24: Wed, Sep 28, 2005 - Redvers, SK to Baldur, MB [130.7, 9:10:17, 14.3 mph, 210.8K]

It was a chilly 37F when I got up at 6:30.  I packed and rode the short distance to the restaurant by the road that I ate at last night.  There were quite a few vehicles in the parking lot, usually a good sign.  Inside about 12 folks were gathered at a long table.  The waitress’s pancake description wasn’t encouraging so I just had an omelette which was fine.

 

When I left around 8:00 it was 40F.  A couple flags in the restaurant parking lot were waving in the right direction so I was encouraged.  It was 20K to the Manitoba border and that didn’t take long to reach. 

 

Manitoba welcomed me with a better road without patches as the road changed from SA 13 to MB 2.  The price of the better road was a non-existent shoulder and loose gravel in its place.  So I never hit the shoulder unless absolutely necessary.  In one case it wasn’t necessary but the truck driver behind must have taken exception.  He blared his horn as he pulled into the oncoming lane to pass.  There was a semi coming from the other direction but he had plenty of time to pull out and pass.  I considered this driver to be the first jerk of the trip.  This action was in contrast to the overwhelming courteous drivers across Saskatchewan on the Red Coat Trail.  Almost everyone pulled way over into the next lane when passing, giving much more room than was necessary.  Of course, drivers are more likely to be this courteous on a road where there was so little traffic it was easy to move over into the other lane.

 

As I entered Manitoba the small stands of trees became more ubiquitous and seemed to be trying to take over.  In one case they lined both sides of the road, a fairly scenic sight in their past prime fall foliage.

 

After 45K I stopped in the small town of Reston for a cereal breakfast.  I discussed my route with a grocer where I bought some milk.  MB 2 continued the Red Coat Trail all the way to Winnipeg, its start, but I needed to drop down to the southeast corner of Manitoba where I planned to re-enter the US.  So the question was when to drop down to MB 23 as the first step.  The grocer assured me MB 23 was a well paved road and that Ninette, a town on Pelican lake and about 100 miles, should be a good destination.

 

At around 90K I took 21 south and felt the crosswind that was previously a nice tailwind.  I headed south for about 18K before turning east again on 23 and regaining the tailwind.  At the same time the land reverted to large wheat and other fields with no trees, much like Saskatchewan.  I had to double check myself and make sure I hadn’t pulled a Cypress Hills and made a U-turn along the way.

 

But I was headed east on a 35K straight stretch that seemed to climb very gradually for a while.  I passed through the small town of Elgin and stopped on the east side at the West Elgin Mall, a one building mall with a small grocery store, small restaurant, post office, and another business.  I gave up on finding a real chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwich and broke down and had an Oreo ice cream sandwich, a poor man’s substitute.

 

After 35K, 23 headed south for 5K and again I felt the crosswind.  Then it headed east for another 25K to Ninette.  Near Ninette I saw a farmer in the field pulling a special wagon for loading round bales.  Each side of the wagon had an arm with a hook extending outward that could lift a bale onto its side of the wagon, forming 2 rows of round bales.  This was the first time I’d seen this type of bale loader.  Previously, I always thought these bales were loaded by a tractor with a scoop attached to its front end.

 

After this farm there was a little dip in the road and I realized that was the first real hill of the day.  Right after that the road descended into the Pelican Lake valley and the town of Ninette.  It was about 4:15 and I still had a tailwind and wasn’t tired so I stopped at a service station and discussed options with a young guy.  He told me that the small town of Baldur, about another 30K, had a hotel.  Since that was well within reach I decided to continue there.

 

However, as I rounded a bend in the road through town the lake beckoned with a campground right on the lake.  I asked myself why I was passing up a scenic spot so I stopped.  The campground was empty and sites were $10.  I checked out the restrooms and saw a sign saying they were coin operated.  Not sure if I had change and no one around, I decided to check what was needed and found the restrooms were locked.  That made me decide to continue.

 

I climbed out of the valley on a modest hill and discovered some very scenic fields, especially in the late afternoon sunlight, the best scenery of the day, along with Pelican Lake.  The rest of the way to Baldur was easy and I arrived just after 6:00.  There was a hotel that didn’t look inviting so I didn’t bother to stop.  I found the town campground and then retreated to a small café, the only eatery in town.  I debated pizza again but decided on a sub for a quick meal so I could get setup in the campground before it was totally dark.  The café proprietress assured me she knew how to make real pancakes so I said I would be back in the morning.

 

Then I rode to the campground in near darkness and setup.  I also found the restrooms were closed so I didn’t get a shower but figured I would not have to pay for the site since there were no signs around.

 

A long day but not that tiring, a tribute to the modest tailwind I enjoyed most of the day.


Day 25: Thu, Sep 29, 2005 - Baldur, MB to St. Malo, MB [113.6, 8:06:51, 14.0 mph, 183.2K]

While I was still in my tent in the early morning I could hear the wind and see the tops of some trees swaying but I couldn’t tell whether it was a good or bad wind.  I got up at 7:30, an hour later than usual because Manitoba was on Central Time.  I packed and rode to the café where I ate last night.

 

There was a local there and we had a good conversation.  While I waited for my pancakes he was able to offer some route suggestions for tomorrow when I would be riding in an area where he once lived.  He also said I was at a high point on the road and would be descending 1200 feet on the way to Morris.

 

My pancakes arrived and they were large and good.  So good that I ordered a second half stack.  It was great to have large, fluffy, and inexpensive pancakes.

 

When I left at almost 9:30 it was overcast and chilly because of the wind and lack of sun.  I had hoped to make St. Malo, a little over 100 miles, but figured I would probably only make Morris at 90 miles away.  And indeed it was slow going at first.  However, over the course of the day the wind gradually shifted to the southwest and then west.

 

Interestingly, near Somerset there were about 10 wind turbines scattered around with a couple under construction.  They were oriented towards the southwest, which was the direction of the wind and presumably the prevailing wind.

 

My pancakes were good enough to get me 80K down the road to Miami where I stopped for my second breakfast after 1:00.  I also hoped to find a library but it was apparently closed.

 

So I pressed on and was surprised to find a significant increase in traffic, much of it truck traffic between Miami and Roland.  I considered stopping in Roland to search for a library but it was off the road a bit.  Since the wind was helping I figured I would be able to make Morris before 5:00 and I knew there would be a library there.

 

From Miami to Morris the land was as flat as the pancakes I had for breakfast and the scenery uninteresting but I rode on around 27 kph.  There were a couple stretches where 23 had a real shoulder but mostly it had an unrideable shoulder and I kept an eye on truck traffic to bail out when needed, which was only a couple times.

 

At almost 150K I rolled into Morris near 4:30.  The library was open until 6:00 and I spent almost an hour on the Internet.  There were 4 Internet PCs around a circular table and a young guy next to me was having an interesting Internet session.  He had a headset and was grooving to something, stamping his feet in time to some music and humming along.  It was actually rather annoying but I wasn’t really in a position to question his library usage.

 

I continued on 23 another straight 29K but without the aid of the wind which had abated.  Then 23 abruptly ended as it approached a forest, as if it were unwilling to disturb the forest.  I turned south on 59 for the 4K to St. Malo.  There was supposedly a nice campground outside the town somewhere but darkness was approaching so I signed up for a room at the hotel, a rather expensive $74.  It was a nice enough room but I would have chosen the campground had there been more daylight.  I ate at the simple hotel restaurant and had an uninspiring meal.

Day 26: Fri, Sep 30, 2005 - St. Malo, MB to Piney, MB [57.4, 5:34:18, 10.3 mph, 92.5K]

I ate at the hotel in the morning.  The pancakes didn’t sound interesting so I just had the daily special which was fine.  I picked up a few things at the grocery store as I left town at 8:30.

 

There was a fair headwind from the south as I left and  I seemed to be going up a slight hill so going was slow at about 14 kph.  It was 27K to the intersection with 201 where I planned to head east.  It was hard going so I stopped at a place just before the intersection.  I would have splurged on pancakes but they didn’t sound exciting so I just had my cereal breakfast.

 

It was obvious that I was dragging and that wasn’t too surprising after my 5 consecutive days of at least 100 miles.  It helped a lot when I headed east on 201, changing my headwind to a crosswind, but it was still obvious my legs were dead.  My goal would have been Warroad, MN, just across the border but that was 100 miles and out of the question given my condition.  I was sure I could make Piney at about 90K and perhaps further.

 

As the day wore on the south wind gradually shifted to a modest helping wind.  I pedaled as easily as I could and managed about 18 kph.  I stopped at Vita after 20K on 201 for a rest and some food/drink.  I hoped I could do this every 20K until I reached Piney but the rest of the towns along the way were just dots on the map.  As I continued it became obvious I would need to stop at Piney, which was the first place with services.

 

Scenery was OK for the day, mostly forests with fields cut out of the forests and occasional cattle grazing including a buffalo herd.  As I neared Piney, the trees became pine trees so it was easy to guess how the town got its name.

 

At the intersection of 201, 12, and 89, I turned south for the 1K to Piney.  However, Piney didn’t appear to be anything as I neared and I feared I would have to take 12 east another 20-30K to find something.  But there was a nondescript hotel along the road and I stopped and met the owner, Sparky, the only person in the hotel.

 

It was 3:00 and I was glad to be able to get a $15 room with communal shower/bathroom.  The upstairs was a dive although the downstairs was fine but I didn’t care.  Turns out Sparky had tried to upgrade the place but got fleeced by a construction outfit.  He had bought the hotel in 1999 and after a promising start had hit some bad times.  In addition to getting fleeced, 9/11 really crimped his border patronage when border crossings became difficult.  Then there was a big flood in 2002 that caused damage to the hotel and some unexpected expenses.  Finally, smoking in bars had just recently been outlawed and that killed more business.  After hearing all of this, my hard day didn’t seem so bad.

 

Interestingly, although it seemed unlikely, Sparky said this was a popular cycling route.  Turns out the route from Winnipeg to Thunder Bay was a bad cycling route so many cyclists detoured into the US from southeast Manitoba and then crossed back into Canada a little later in Minnesota as a way to circumvent this bad stretch.

 

I spent several hours at the bar watching “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” and “Lingo” and getting filled in about the area by Sparky.  Sparky was also the cook and I got a decent meal of short ribs which was the special of the day.  Then I crashed early to get as much rest as possible, hoping this would rejuvenate my legs.

 

 


 

Copyright Denis Kertz, 2005. All rights reserved.