Eastend to Weyburn
The late night in Eastend catching up with internet, caught up big time next day. A measly 32 kilometres into head wind into Shaunavon, a quiet little country town with a nice shady camp right in the middle of town. A quick lunch turned into an overnight stop. Next day provided further howling headwinds and a gradual climb. Who told me it is all flat/downhill across the prairies? The hills are long rolling swells like the imperceptible big Pacific swells hitting the Solomons.
A lunch stop at the almost-ghost town of Cadillac found a peaceful little park beside the Post Office (the only remaining active building). The impossibly uncomfortable steel park bench still allowed an hours sleep. Onward to Pontiex, shady campground beside the swimming pool and golf course. Swim was welcome after the burning winds.
Next day's aim was Assiniboia, I was on a promise of BBQ with Treena and Bobby. The day produced some other generous offers. Lunch at Lafleche and an invitation for a bed and a beer with a local farmer. The beer almost swayed it, but with only 75km on the clock, had to keep rolling. Assiniboia arrived to find Bobby and Treena were unavailable. I looked at the void in the map past Assiniboia and decided to wing it for a few more hours. A big day of 156km, wind changed again and I pulled into the tiny dot that marked Verwood. Population 20 all heading to the same party across the road from my campsite. Music hitting the tent with the velocity of wind gusts.
Verwood also had Al Birchard cleaning up land around the church. He suggested a campsite in the municipal land across the road. His classic Mercedes arrived back an hour or so later with a large container of cool water, oranges and best wishes from his wife. Good people positioned at every stop on my journey.
The only stop next day was Ogema, another classic small prairie town. Lunch followed by a 3 hour sleep on the grass behind the grandstand of the local sports ground. Heat and moisture sucking wind taking it's toll. Weyburn was the aim for today's rest day, the only town with necessary supply. Four pm and still 80kms, it was ride or bust. Darkness arrived before Weyburn, first motel was within budget after the $5 discount from the owner. Glad to turn the light out at midnight. 140 hard fought kilometres.
No doubt the heat and fickle wind is taking it's toll across these vast plains. Never been so constantly tired. Mental focus becomes a struggle as I try to plan the new route. 5059 kilometres on the clock.
Classic ranch relics
Towns appear like Islands in the distance
Saskatchewan Tractor Tyre Spring
The last thing I anticipated is to have a tractor tyre as one of the highlights of the trip. On Sunday one of the few cars I encountered was a young woman who showed concern. It was a concern I didn't share, I had enough water for the 100 km or so to the next water point. However she didn't believe me and half an hour later her father turned up in his pickup. Blaine Walburger had a ranch just down the road, he arrived bearing cold iced tea and iced water plus two bananas, but his greatest gift was the tractor tyre.
"Ten miles up the road you will cross a creek, look to your left and you will see an old tractor tyre. It holds fresh clear springwater, best water in the area, stop there."
I am now in the southern Badlands, just 30 km from northern Montana. The wind blows hot and dry, the temperature in the high thirties. I have left Manyberries and the gravel grind to the next town is 100km. In that context fresh clear cool water is looking pretty good. The tyre appears in a grassy basin, a deer disappears through a gap. The setting is silent and peaceful just the gurgle of the spring continuously running into the huge tractor tyre. It is bigger than a bath and works better, the water has no contest with the tepid plastic bottles on my bike. In spite of my protest about the 30 unfinished kilometres, the tent is already up.
Thank you Blaine Walburger, the iced tea was sucked in a single gulp, the bananas similarly, but the night in the setting beside the tractor tyre spring was a special gift.
I left Waterton National Park with some regrets. The first was leaving friends behind after they had hosted me so well, the second was leaving the mountains after 4,500 kilometres, I was sure the prairies would be a trudge to just ride through nothingness. How wrong. The remoteness opened up peace and space. Cars became a rarity, people waved, some even stopped to talk. The huge dome of blue above, the thin slice of prairie below, the lines of the road meeting at infinity ahead. The wildlife continued, ground squirrels bouncing along the verge, deer appearing from nowhere, antelope with their unique all-four-legs-once springing, a coyote looking back at me after slinking across the road.
A day earlier I had stopped at Etzikom Museum. Lynn the currator photocopied maps for my new on-the-fly routing. I was now following the Red Coat Trail, built for the Mounties to control lawlessness in the west. By the time I reached Manyberries classic old pub later that evening Lyn had also arranged a meal and a bed. Thank you Lyn.
There a few holes in the blog since Exshaw. We had been joined there by Vince and Kay from NZ, great friends, and riders from both Africa and the NZ tour. Wayne and Trish had a full agenda, including tickets to the Chuck Wagon racing at Calgary Stampede, followed by a spectacular show after.
I returned to Banff to ride the start of the Canadian Great Divide Trail with Vince and Wayne, bike unburdened. This was a test for continuing the ride on this trail with the load (failed reroute required). Wayne had added a new trail to the days agenda, the High Rockies trail. This Trail was new and raw, steep sharp drops and climbs and big boulders. We ended at Engadine Lodge where I spent a night in a Mongolian yurt, awaking to minus two degrees and frozen water bottles. From there I rode alone over the 7200ft Highwood Pass then down towards Waterton.
Trish had arranged another cycling friend to meet me at the first camp at Green Ford, bringing a picnic supper. Janice had completed a trans-Canada ride in 2004 so we had a lot in common. Her friend Lindsay, had NZ roots and NZ wine to complement the dinner. More great people with gifts along the way.
Three days riding later I was reunited with, Wayne, Trish, Vince and Kay in Waterton NP. More magic mountain scenery, and the final split with the friends. Thanks to Glen and Susan who shared their campsite in the packed campground, and Jim and Jeanette who hosted us at their cabin.
From Waterton it was east into Badlands, which brings us up to date.
The iconic Banff Springs Hotel
About to test the trails behind Banff Springs Hotel -with Vince and Wayne
Big climb out of the Rockies from Engadine Lodge
My neighbour at Maycroft Camps - thanks to the two Foscil fossicking students who supplied water
Farewell to friends and wonderful hosts at Waterton
Then into Badlands
Only 30km from Montana
Another State Border crossed
Tractor Tyre Camp
A few days before reaching Prince George (last blog) I stopped for a drink at a small settlement called Fort Fraser. There I chatted to a Dutchman called Bill. Bill had ridden across Canada a year or so before so understood the trials and long haul nature of cycling. Three days and one hundred and eighty kilometres later, I was camped in a riverside rest stop. Seven o'clock next morning I heard a car pull up, and a voice calling my name. It was Bill on his way to Vancouver, checking every campsite to track me down. His parting gift was a coffee card for a major coffee shop chain (Tim Hortons). Just a small touch of random generosity, greatly appreciated.
I was now starting the climb into the real Rockies, a climb that would take six days to complete, through the towns of McBride and then east to Jasper. Jasper reconnected me with Julian (who I rode from Dawson to Whitehorse with). I was carrying his bear bangers which he didn't want to get confiscated at the USA border. I was to deliver these to his friends, Gary and Claude in Jasper. Gary immediately invited me to stay. The stay started with a refreshing swim in local Lake Edith, complete with elk swimming across from an island in the lake. Gary and Claude dined and entertained me and gave me the luxury of a real bed. Another act of greatly appreciated random generosity.
Left behind in BC were something like 300 raging bushfires. The legacy to the east was a thick pall of hazy smoke and and orange glowing sun. The mountains were turned to bluish silhouettes, layer after layer. From Jasper the real climb started, surreal ghostly mountains in the smoke haze. I had crossed the Continental Divide way back on the Alaska highway, but now the peaks were getting serious, not the babies I thought were so big a month ago. Signs said heights of 3000 metres or 10,000 feet. The pedals became a lot heavier.
I was now on the Icefields Parkway. My head was constantly back at an angle of 45 degrees. Both sides these peaks loomed. I wasn't the only tourist here, when the day ended the campgrounds were packed. I didn't have the energy for another 100 km to the next. Head was down and sulky as I scoured Wilcox camp for any small nook I could sneak my tent into. A cheery voice called "you can camp on our site". Frank and Kim were from Saskatoon. As soon as I had squeezed my tent beside their truck, a red wine was thrust into my hands. My needs were apparent from the body language. Kim resurrected Franks dying fire, Jasper their dog inspected my quinoa meal and walked away in disgust. Conversation started and I enjoyed some great company. The random generosity touched me again. Kim even disappeared with my billy into their caravan and returned with an object unrecognisable without its two months baked on food spills. I departed next morning with an invitation to Saskatoon. Route under revision.
Next day dawned with clear sky. The monster hills showed rocks and ice without their blue shroud. The ride was reduced to half-a-kilometre, photo, turn a corner, photo... The climb reached its peak, the road spiralled downward, rivers began to run the opposite direction, plunging into to deep gushing canyons. It was a visual and scenic feast. I briefly was engulfed in a cycling tour group. The speed and competitive streak crept upward. I looked up, what had I missed in those 20 kilometres? Sense prevailed, I pulled out and stopped for a drink at a tourist hub. A young woman and her friend shyly approached me. She had walked 24 hours for cancer after losing a best friend. They both handed a donation. I was humbled and quickly put back on track.
The day cruised on photo after photo. It ended in Lake Louise, another tourist hub. Everything full. Last resort one of 5 beds in a small hostel room. Happy to escape early next morning down to the kitchen for usual oat bran, nuts and cranberry raisins. The day started with texts from both Trish and Wayne, friends my Africa ride and more recently the New Zealand ride. Trish provided detailed instructions to their house in Exshaw, and Wayne an invitation to join him for lunch in Banff.
Despite being totally comfortable with Trish's instructions, I was approached by two "I have cycled everywhere" cycle touring specialists. The route option competition escalated, highway numbers fired like machine gun bullets. I smiled and tried not to look at my watch too many times. Gratefully I finally headed out the gate on Trish's route. I was treated to the peace of a quiet road, continued scene fest, a gradual downhill and a tail wind. A cyclists dream day.
Reuniting first with Wayne in Banff then Trish was the culmination of years of planning, it seemed surreal that it had come together. Wayne and Trish invited me into their house with huge warmth. This was old friend generosity of the best kind.
Recently Wayne set the Masters over 60 years World record for a ultra-marathon 24 hour running. A staggering 214 km - more than 5 continuous marathons. I am dreading what lays in store for my "rest" days.
Another State Border - just before Jasper
Jasper a tourist town with some character
The real Rockies begin
Boe River Lake Louise to Exshaw
Trish and Wayne lead me into the woods of their backyard
Thanks to my rest day hosts
Up to my knees on "rest day"
Tatoga connection Gord and Sofia
Smithers to Prince George
Rather reluctantly left Smithers behind with a wander around the shops and a top up at the Supermarket. Great to have some interesting food for lunch. On the road with ominous black clouds following me but no rain. Houston arrived at 70km so stopped at the Info Centre to have my pasta salad and fresh fruit. Talked to the lady on the desk for a while the back on the road heading for Topley.
Topley was another of those important looking dots on the map but again I passed right through before I realised the single shop and motel were it. Turned back to receive complicated instructions to a campsite at a nearby lake, until one of the customers interceded and suggested the big grassy rest area back up the highway.
I had just set up camp when another slightly eccentric cyclist arrived with his small dog. He switched conversations in a loud voice, alternately talking to me or the dog. I waited for the dog to respond first before I took my queue. The night was frosty cold and loud with both traffic noise and a elk bugling (according to my neighbour). I waited for the sun to hit the tent before my fingers would allow pack up. Quick free coffee at the shop on my way back through Topley and on the road again.
Five kilometres up the road a local native lady, a First Nation people occupying traditional land from Hazleton to Burns Lake. She took off on her 37 km bike ride. Pride and a need to warm up kept me in touch (at least no more than half a kilometre behind) until she reached her turn around point. We talked again for a few minutes and headed our separate ways. With a warning that ahead was a mother grizzly and two cubs which had charged her car when she stopped to photograph it a few days earlier. More grizzly searching eyes for the next 70km.
I was cruising towards Frazer Lake when suddenly a ute pulled up in front of me. Sofia and Gord, a young couple had talked to me 1000km or so back at Tatogga Lodge. They were heading home on a 15 hour long haul dash to Vancouver. My grizzly story is spreading far and wide.
Just short of Frazer Lake one of the small unmarked villages appeared on my left. Another First Nation village called Slenyah. A conversation with one of the local customers led to a tent site behind the store. I then had a long conversation with another local feeding the crows, a man with great knowledge of the local bird life. The warmth of sun and people at this site made the morning departure slow and reluctant.
The riding has been marred by heavy traffic, little safe verge and constant road works with tar randomly thrown across the road to stick over everything on my bike. The massive logging trucks constantly at my elbow are probably more of a risk than the grizzlies.
Prince George arrived today with the bustle of a city of 90,000 so no riding past this one.
Grizzly or one of these at my elbow every 20 secs - I take the grizzlies
A reluctant departure from Smithers
This one for Val and Grayson - the hay paddock stretched for kilometres up the highway
Misty mountains coming into Smithers today
In spite of the warnings of veteran Alaska cyclist, Mike Vermeulen, I never quite grasped the scale of the problem. Cooking in the outdoors in this region attracts a flotilla of flying things. Led by Mosquitos, but ably backed up by legions of smaller biting flies, big biting flies and nuisance value smaller black bodies. It is best illustrated by the sound in the tent at night which sounds like heavy rain, in fact it is just a continuous kamikaze bombardment of these various insects.
So trying to to eat from a hot billy of food quickly becomes a dilemma. Do you extract the last mosquito dive bombing into the food and risk 20 more as you fish it out, or do you just grin and enjoy the extra protein? In fact it is even better, because the mosquitos are bloated with my own blood it also becomes a form of EPO replacement. I never thought I would be coerced so easily into the world of drug enhanced athletes (or at least drug-enhanced slow cyclists).
I am now 330 km south of Stewart where I touched the Pacific. On the advice of a German cyclist I stopped at the village of Gitanyow site of some massive beautifully carved totem poles. I and chatted to the locals until I discovered the invitation to camp in the village common as described by the German cyclist was more of a self-invite. I headed further south to Kitwanga, I found a beer and a lovely grass campground with a shower plus a broken clothes drier to store my food.
Hitting the junction of remote highway 37 and the busy highway 16 between Prince Rupert and Prince George was something of a culture shock. Firstly continuous (it seemed) highway traffic, houses by the roadside, towns less than 600 km apart. It didn't help that rain was heavy and cold, the verge limited and the traffic oblivious to the cyclist. The highlight was spotting an elk just after the town of Hazleton.
A puncture and the necessary off-load/repack to fix shortened the day further so I called a halt at 88 km after establishing that Morricetown had a campground. Well, almost, after the steep climb up the camp owners apologised, camp closed for renovations. Camp at the canyon they said, it's free. I had not even noticed the canyon on the way up, but it made an excellent campsite. I was made even better when two ladies stopped and provided dessert, they had driven continuously from Saskatoon (15 hours) to pick up their mother then were immediately heading back. One way to spend the Canada Day holiday weekend.
More rain this morning and the legacy of 8 continuous days riding caught up with the need for a warm dry place for the night. When Smithers appeared after a short 30km with a motel room within rest day budget there was no protest. I will celebrate with a shower and warm dry clothes.
Unpacked the bike to ride the convoy lead truck through the dust out from Stewart (thanks to to lolly pop ladies who insisted)
One view I missed on the ride into Stewart
Coming back out from Stewart
Yes I have met most of them
Gitanyow totem poles
The canyon camp last night on left hand side