Archive for August, 2009

Winnipeg, the cottage, and great oatmeal

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

We spent four nights and three full days in Winnipeg – actually, it was two days in Winnipeg and one afternoon out at the Tuenis’ cottage. We were happy to visit to the cottage, but really did wish for better weather. Upon our arrival, it started to rain. Luckily for us, Tony had started up the sauna, so we were able to enjoy an afternoon sweat session before adjuring to the cottage for a not-so-rowdy game of dice – amusingly the same game we learned to play back in Comox with Jane and Paul. For the record, Becky and Scott both won the second game.
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Hanging out at the cottage.

On Saturday, we were treated to a wonderful lunch and visit with Fred and Diana (Diana is Scott’s first cousin once removed) and a great dinner with Scott’s Uncle Terry. It was nice to visit, and hear stories about their travels while sharing pictures and stories about our journey.

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Fred, Scott, and Dianna

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Uncle Terry and Scott

It rained pretty much the entire time we were in Winnipeg, so we were extra happy to have a home to live in (thanks Donna and Tony). It was also very neat to see where Katrina got her super cheery personality and tenacity. Although it took some searching, we certainly did find some great examples of “Friendly Manitoba”.

On our way to Diana and Fred’s for lunch, we detoured to Grant’s Old Mill, a Winnipeg historic site where Scott remembered buying grain and flour as a child. We picked up some stone chopped oats and barley for our morning oatmeal, but skipped the mill tour and free hotdogs in favour of Diana’s delicious lunch.

Oatmeal is our breakfast staple, and we think we have now perfected the recipe, so we decided to share it.

Ingredients:
1 pound of whole rolled oats
1/2 pound of rolled barley (looks just like the oats) – just add more oats if you can’t find the barley
1 cup of coconut (unsweetened)
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 to 1/2 cup hemp seeds
1/4 to 1/2 cup cinnamon
3/4 to 1 cup brown sugar
1 to 1 1/2 cup whole almonds
1 tablespoon sea salt

Directions:
1. Place whole almonds into two bags (zip locks work well). Take hammer or other hard object and break up the almonds – I find a hammer and a cement floor work well. If no hammer available, whole almonds are OK too
2. Add almonds plus all ingredients above into a large bowl and mix.
3. Distribute oatmeal into six containers (I use zip lock freezer bags – medium size). Each container serves 2 hungry cyclists first thing in the morning.

Cooking directions:
1. In an insulated pot, add one packet of oatmeal and boiling water to cover 1 cm.
2. Stir and let sit for 5 minutes.
3. Serve into bowls.
4. Add your choice of milk (cow, soy, rice, almond,…)
5. Add a large spoonful of peanut butter or almond butter and stir.
6. Enjoy.

Note 1: You could also boil the oatmeal for 2-3 minutes instead of letting it sit.
Note 2: We use regular oats, because we like the texture. If you use quick or instant oats, then you can just add milk immediately after stirring the boiling water – no need to heat or let stand.

That wasn’t in the forecast

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

Following highway 1 east of Portage La Prairie – where the shoulders are wonderfully wide and smooth – we see huge dark clouds to the south of us that appear to be following us as we ride east. Occasionally, we see a flash of lightening but are not close enough to hear any thunder. We pull into Millers Campground and ask the lady at reception if they have any cooking shelters, as there is a storm threatening to come our way. Her reply is “That wasn’t in the forecast” and she quickly looks up the weather radar to confirm our observations. Someone new walks in the store and we mention the pending storm. Her reply is “they said nothing about that on the radio”. Again, there is a disbelief that said storm could actually exist. Finally, a gentleman that appears to be the partner of the reception enters the store. The storm is mentioned and he says “They didn’t say anything about a storm in the forecast”.

Our conclusion is that this must be the ONLY place in Canada where weather forecasts are mostly accurate, as everyone seems to be in disbelief that a storm could occur if it wasn’t in the forecast. Fortunately, the weather held until we finished setting up the tent and making dinner. As we were showering and cleaning up the rain started and with it thunder and lightning that continued throughout the night and into the morning. Our days ride was only a short haul into Winnipeg, so we waited until the rain stopped and sun came out to dry off our tent before packing up and hitting the road.

We chose to ride Highway 1 into Winnipeg because it was shorter and the wind forecast was favourable; unfortunately, forecast and actual turned out to disagree and all day we had a head wind instead of a tailwind. Outside of Brandon, Highway 1 is 4-lanes, but does not have any shoulders. For the most part, we were able to take a lane and cars and trucks passed us in the left lane. Once or twice when we saw that both lanes were occupied, we hopped onto the shoulder which involved a small drop and some loose gravel – the shoulder was definitely not ride-able for any sustained amount of time. The 50 km mostly parallel road through Carberry (provincial road 351) gave us a chance to get off the Trans-Canada and find a nice bakery for lunch. The folks there were really friendly and amused by our funny looking bikes.

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Scott inspecting our first sighting of Hemp on highway 351.

Once provincial road 351 re-joined the Trans-Canada, we were delighted to find wide shoulders that lasted until the Yellowhead Highway joined the Trans Canada just outside of Portage La Prairie. Unfortunately, the shoulder ended at a terrible spot – too far out of Portage La Prairie such that there were no alternate routes, but close enough to experience a significant increase in traffic. Fortunately, these conditions only lasted for 10 km. We had expected to find a campground West of Portage La Prairie, but unfortunately there weren’t any. We were also not able to find a campground in Portage (we didn’t look that hard), so we were tired by the time we approached Millers campground, 10 km East of Portage La Prairie.

Millers campground was a nice treed campground with a swimming pool ($18.50 for an unserviced site). We were surprised that they had a pool but showers were $1 – certainly encouraging people to use the pool to get rinsed off rather than the shower. The drinking water was also very heavily chlorinated, such that it smelled like swimming pool water!

The next morning dawned wet, so we turned over and went back to sleep. By 9 am the rain finally stopped and the sun came out, such that we could eat breakfast whilst setting the tent out to dry. The ride into Winnipeg was on beautiful newly paved shoulders, right up until highway 1 turns into Portage Avenue, which is also OK for cycling. Our biggest challenge when entering a city is keeping our attention on the road, as there are so many things to distract us after so long on small roads and in small towns. 20090813_0001

Coming into Winnipeg we saw something that was even funnier looking than us – someone riding a large unicycle. He must have been riding at least 25 km/hr as it took us quite awhile to catch up to him and pass him. Unfortunately, he was riding on a service road on the other side of the highway, so we didn’t get a chance to meet.

When we arrived at Katrina’s parent’s house (We met Kat and Mike – in Malaysia and then again in Bangkok), we were welcomed by her parents Donna and Tony. Thursday night was family dinner night, where many members of the extended family came for supper – a great opportunity to meet many of the clan. It was so neat to meet Kat’s family, and they have been so wonderful to us, welcoming us into their home as if we were family ourselves.

Shilo to Millers Campground – 10 E of Portage La Prairie – 136 km, 7h 15 min
Millers Campground to Winnipeg – 73 km, 3h 15 min

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Friendly Manitoba – Fact or Fiction?

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

Our ride out of Saskatchewan was on one of those days when you feel like you could ride forever. The sun was shining, but it wasn’t too hot – the wind was blowing lightly and in mostly the right direction – the road was mostly flat except for the occasional river valley, and the cars on the road were few and far between. We stopped in Esterhazy Saskatchewan (the town where we think both Becky’s grandmother’s were born – however, there are no signs of Bogars or Ondas now) for lunch and to check out the Potash Interpretation Centre. We were fascinated to learn that Saskatchewan is the world’s largest producer of potash. Potash is used in farming to provide potassium salts that are necessary for plant root development. Esterhazy has a huge potash mine at a depth greater than 1 km, and a giant pile of pink potash tailings which dominated the horizon as we got close.

Potash Museum, Esterhazy
A mining machine display at the Potash Museum

Potash tailings dominating the skyline
Potash tailings dominating the skyline

A herd of Bison
Just before entering Manitoba we saw a herd of bison. Manitoba uses the bison on its coat of arms and on highway signs – but we have yet to see Bison in Manitoba!

Welcome to Manitoba! (in both official languages)
We were welcomed to Manitoba in both official languages! (Manitoba has a significant Francophone population)

For our first night in Manitoba we stayed at the Pool and Park campground ($15) on highway 16 (the Yellowhead) just outside of Binscarth. Upon entering the Yellowhead we were immediately unimpressed. The Yellowhead is part of the Trans-Canada highway system, but at Binscarth it was single lane with absolutely no shoulders. We had originally planned to ride highway 16 down to Minnadosa, but without shoulders or a passing lane, it just isn’t a safe place for bikes – so we altered our route and headed towards Rivers instead. We lasted a grand total of 2.5 km on the Yellowhead!

After our first night in Manitoba it occurred to us, that within the last year, we have lived at least 1 day in every timezone! Not many people can say that, as at least one of the time zones as we crossed the Pacific Ocean didn’t have anyone living permanently in it.

Our second day’s ride involved much more southing, which unfortunately meant more wind in our face. The minor roads have very little traffic and are generally in better condition than the roads in Saskatchewan; however, they are often a rough chip-seal that is very noisy for cars and slow for bicycles. The minor highways also had no shoulders, but when you can count the cars that pass you in an hour on two fingers, it isn’t really a concern.

Memorial to an old school house
Immediately after turning off of highway 16 onto highway 41 we saw a small model building. Upon closer inspection, it was a model made out of cement and had a plaque indicating that it was a memorial to an old school house which used to sit on the land that is now a farm.

Potash mine tailings, still a huge mountain from 42 km away
Further along the road, after climbing a small hill, we looked west and were surprised that we could see the Esterhazy potash mine in the distance – it was 42 km away! It certainly dominated the landscape.

The western part of Manitoba where we are riding is not particularly flat. We found ourselves frequently climbing hills to get a great view of the surrounding farmland and descending into ancient river valleys, which were much lusher than the surrounding areas. Unfortunately, these valleys also often had a horrid stink associated with them. It seems that valleys are a good place for pig or cattle farms. We are definitely noticing more of the horrid smells associated with factory-scale animal farming in Manitoba than we noticed in either Alberta or Saskatchewan.

We arrived in Oak River at 6 pm and hoped to find camping there, but no such luck. They are in the process of building a small community campground, but nothing is in place yet. We talked briefly to some locals, but soon realized that it wasn’t going to work out, so we hopped back on the bikes and continued our slog down to Rivers Provincial Park. We have found that the people of Manitoba are much more reserved and sometimes even defensive compared to those in Saskatchewan. The drivers of cars often ignore our waves, where in Saskatchewan they often initiated the waves. The license plates for Manitoba says “Friendly Manitoba”, but the friendliness seems to be more of a goal for Manitobans rather than a reality – of course this is an over generalization, and we are meeting many wonderful, friendly people – it is just that the average person we interact with in grocery stores or on the road aren’t as openly friendly as those we cross paths with in Saskatchewan.

By 8 pm, we pulled into Rivers Provincial Park, which is located on a reservoir called Lake Wahtopanah. The campground was nicely treed and rather pretty, and the bugs were not too irritating. The lake appears to be a favourite destination for folks with power boats that like tubing and water skiing, as well as a few people fishing. Fortunately, the sun was setting at we arrived, so we were spared the constant buzzing of boats zipping up and down the narrow lake. Unfortunately, the campground was too close to a pig or cattle farm. Overnight the wind was calm, so we didn’t notice it much, but in the morning it was absolutely horrid – so bad that Becky had a hard time eating. We met some folks that planned to spend a week long vacation camped at this park and were amazed that they did not seem to notice or be bothered by the smells. We can only guess that after a while you get numbed to it.

After two long days, we were happy that the ride from Rivers to Shilo was only 70 kilometers. It was another hot day – it seems we are in the middle of Manitoba’s first real hot streak of the summer. Everyone keeps telling us that it is first real days of summer they have had this year and most people are happy for the heat.

We took a lunch break in Brandon, which turned into several hours of eating, getting some groceries, checking email, and enjoying a great soft ice cream cone. Each time we stopped, someone approached us to ask about our bikes and our trip. For the first time in Manitoba, we saw some of the friendliness that we know is out there. It seems that people are shy at first, but once they start talking we end up have more interesting and deeper conversation than we have had in other places.

After our extended break in Brandon, we hopped back on the bikes and headed out to the army base at Shilo (CFB Shilo). We had a great whirlwind visit with Becky’s cousin Stephen and his wife and daughter (Heather and Isabelle). Since Stephen is one of the few long-term army soldiers who has only been to Afghanistan once, he is expecting to be called for a second tour of duty sometime within the next year. Most of the people he works with have been two or three times already. We were surprised to learn that Canada sends 17 year old soldiers (new recruits whose parents signed the waiver allowing them to enlist so young) on tours of duty to Afghanistan – it is tough to imagine sending such young kids to war.

Melville Sask to Binscarth Manitoba, 146 km, 7 h
Binscarth to Rivers, 145 km, 7h 40 min
Rivers to Shilo, 71 km, 4h 20 min

Our first view of the Assiniboine River, which we will cross many more times
Our first view of the Assiniboine River. It winds through western Manitoba to join the Red River at “The Forks” in Winnipeg.

Giant Paterson Grains elevator in Binscarth
Giant Paterson Grains elevator in Binscarth, bigger than most others we’ve seen

The first field of sunflowers we've seen
The first field of sunflowers we’ve seen

Steven, Isabella and Becky in Shilo
Steven, Isabella and Becky in Shilo
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Saskatchewan doesn’t want us to leave

Saturday, August 8th, 2009

Saskatchewan has us in its grips and doesn’t want us to depart. It started with poor roads after Raymore, which slowed us down, then it was winds from the east, making every kilometer a struggle. Finally, we got drenched in unseasonable downpours. OK, so maybe it isn’t a conspiracy, but it does feel a little like the universe is conspiring to hold us back.

Our chosen route through Saskatchewan has brought us through many small towns – all with exceptionally friendly people. Just the other day Becky was walking to the laundromat (about 3 blocks from the hotel) with two grocery bags full of wet laundry, and a gentleman in a pickup stopped and asked if she needed a ride. We wouldn’t see that in Ottawa!

We left Watrous on a joyfully sunny day – although the wind was definitely slowing us down. It was one of those days when the clouds were just right (like on the Simpsons) such that all your pictures look great. To add to the sunny skies, the flax was in full bloom. Twice Becky was confused – she commented to Scott we should take a break up near the lake, only to discover it wasn’t a lake, rather a field of flax! Then later in the day she thought she was seeing flax when it turned out to actually be water.

At one point we passed a pond with four large birds that looked an awful lot like pelicans! When we stopped to take a picture, they flew away. We were amazed at just how big they were – especially in comparison to the ducks with which they were sharing a pond. A bit of Internet research later turned up the White Pelican, the only pelican native to Canada. It turns out Saskatchewan has more than half of Canada’s breeding population, and until 1987 they were a threatened species. We feel lucky to have seen them. Throughout our ride in the flat lands – the prairies and the flats of BC between the Coastal Mountains and Rocky Mountains – we have observed hawks with smaller birds flying around them and sometimes even landing on them. At first we thought this was some weird symbiotic relationship between the hawk and a red-wing blackbird, but we confirmed that what we were seeing was hawks with fledglings. They are very amusing to watch as they fly over us and the fledglings try to catch a ride on mom’s back!

White Pelicans flying away from us
White Pelicans

When we turned off onto highway 15, and stopped for a snack, Dave from the Last Mountain Times (a local newspaper) stopped to take our photo and ask a few questions about our bikes.

When we pulled into Raymore, we went in search of the two campsites listed on their municipal website. We have found that municipal websites can be a very handy resource for learning where there are small town campsites, that are never listed in Google Local or any of the provincial accommodation guides. Raymore had two campsites, one next to the Memorial Park and one near the sports fields. We noticed that the Memorial Park campground backed directly onto the train tracks and the Cargill grain elevator, promising a noisy night, so we went in search of the one near the sports fields – which also mentioned showers. We found the campsites, but the shower building was locked and there was no indication of life. Needing groceries, we headed to the grocery store to ensure we had enough provisions for the night and delaying our decision on where to camp. In the grocery store, Becky asked about camping in town, and the lady in line after her offered to make a quick phone call regarding the sports field campground. Half an hour later, the person from the town hall office drove up to the campsite and gave us the key to the shower building. For $10 we had our own private showers, and a safe place to store food and our bikes for the night. The campsite was basic and did not have any picnic tables, but we were able to use the wood storage container (an old freezer) as a table for cooking. We were glad for the place to store our food, as several times in the night a skunk came near our campsite – a not to subtle reminder that even though we are not in bear country any longer, there are other threats to our food supply.

The next day the skies threatened rain all day and the temperature dropped. We were actually rather cold riding. We also felt like we were riding uphill and into the wind all day. Our progress was slow. We stopped in at the Broken Spoke Café in Kelliher for a snack – yummy perogies and sausage. We were extra delighted to learn they had free wifi, so our brief snack turned into a 3-hour break. According to the Kelliher website, Kelliher is “situated on the highest point of land along the CNR Mainline from Winnipeg to Saskatoon”. No wonder we felt like we were riding uphill – we were!

We pulled into Ituna at around 8 pm, hungry and with threatening skies. We decided to check out the “hotel” which was situated above the bar. Becky went inside to see only a few men sitting in the bar drinking. When she enquired of the bartender regarding a room, his reply was not overly friendly or particularly helpful. She did learn that rooms were $45 per night, but he was not certain if they even had one available. It all seems a little shady to her, so she decided this was not a viable option. We would check out our first Saskatchewan District and Regional Park. Before we had a chance to leave town, we were greeted by a women jogging and then two other men – all asking about our bikes and our trip. The friendly conversation cheered us up after Becky’s reception in the bar. After chatting for 15 minutes, with the weather threatening, we finally made our out of town and found the park.

The park turned out to have a nice sports area with outdoor swimming pool, soccer fields, and baseball diamonds. There were several campsites and picnic areas protected nicely by trees. They also had a nice picnic shelter, with all the tables removed. The place was almost empty – with only one fifth-wheel trailer which looked to be a permanent fixture. Given the forthcoming rains, we setup the tent under the shelter and also moved a picnic table into the shelter, so we had a nice dry place for dinner and our tent. The showers for the pool were left open for campers, so we also had nice hot showers – although you had to hold the button down to keep the water flowing. All-in-all, the Ituna District and Regional park is rather nice. We are not certain how much it cost, as there was no indication of price or how to pay and no one came by to check us in.

The down-pouring rains started shortly after we crawled into the tent, and were on and off all night long. In the morning, we opted to go to town and grab breakfast at a restaurant before making the journey to Melville – a much larger town with more services. After a delightful breakfast, and answering many questions of the restaurant patrons who were brave enough to ask us – we packed up and headed out towards Melville. The rain had been waxing and waning all morning, but once we got on our bikes it never let up. The rain poured down and the wind hit us full force from the front – fortunately the ride from Ituna to Melville was mostly downhill, such that we were still able to average 18 km/hr.

We pulled into Melville and rode around to get our bearings. Then we found the Bakery and Coffee Shop and hobbled in dripping wet. The folks there were very friendly and allowed us to place our dripping wet weather gear in the back near the ovens where it had some chance of drying out while we enjoyed hot chocolates and sandwiches made with fresh bakery bread. Even though it was only 2 pm, it was clear that we wouldn’t be riding any more for the day. We decided to find a hotel for the night – before doing that, we stopped by the Co-op to get some groceries. Typical of small town Saskatchewan, someone at the Co-op recommended the best hotel in town to us. We are staying at the Melsask Motel, where $44 after tax gets us a nice clean room – albeit a little small when you cram the bikes in – with fridge, microwave, access to a gas BBQ, working heat, and Internet. We love small town Saskatchewan prices! When the rains continued the next morning, we decided to take an extra day to rest up and get caught up with our blog posts.

Watrous to Raymore 100 km, 5h 30 min – headwind but picturesque day
Raymore to Ituna 92 km, 5h 50 min – headwind and threatening skies
Ituna to Melville 62 km, 3h 30 min – very wet

20090805_0001 Fields of flax in bloom that from a distance appear to be lakes.

20090805_0002 Scott riding through the prairies on a picture perfect day!   20090805_0003 Funny looking cow – looks to us like a cow-buffalo cross. We have seen a few of these in different places – any idea what they are?

20090805_0004 A not so smooth chipseal road on a picture perfect day.

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Funnel clouds and fun with friends

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

We left Saskatoon on cool cloudy day with the wind blowing from the North. This meant that the ride out of Ancient Spirals felt like it was all uphill – amusing that the ride to Ancient Spirals also felt all up hill. Once we turned onto the road that would connect us to the Yellowhead Highway (highway 16), the winds helped us along and we made good time. After highway 11, the road turned from a paved road to a dirt farm access road. Fortunately, the road was smooth and the ride was rather pleasant.

The Yellowhead had nice shoulders for riding, but it didn’t take long for Scott to get annoyed with all the traffic. He was definitely looking forward to when we would turn off the main highway and re-enter the world of smaller, less trafficked highways. The main benefit to riding on highway 16 is that all the small towns on the map actually exist and most of them have some form of services (unlike on the minor roads) – usually a motel, gas station, and corner store.

We stopped for the night at the Painted Rock campground, 7 km west of Colonsay. They had really nice free hot showers (tenting sites $17.50). The sign indicated there was a store with some basic foods; however, this turned out to not be the case, fortunately, we were carrying dinner and breakfast. It is a nice place to camp, but if you are planning to stop there, make sure you have enough food with you or be willing to ride into Colonsay to stock up and then backtrack.

The next morning, we had a short ride along the Yellowhead before we turned onto Highway 2 towards Watrous. We soon passed a Potash mine where the tailings actually looked like mountains behind the plant. From the mine all the way into Young (about 20 km) there were rail cars sitting on the track – we later discovered they were grain cars, likely in storage until harvest time. We were to see many more kilometers of resting grain rail cars.

One interesting aspect of traveling on the smaller highways is the traffic with which you share the road. Several times a day we are passed by “wide loads”. Mostly they are new grain storage silos, but occassional they are more interesting. At one point we needed to move completely off the road to allow a house to get by!

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A REALLY wide load!

Just past Young, we stopped for a snack and were greeted by Jenn and her daughter Jillian – friends from Ottawa who moved to Regina last summer. They went on ahead and waited for us in Watrous. Just as they were leaving, Becky could see scary clouds in her rearview mirror. We needed to get moving or we would be caught out in the rain. Fortunately, the wind was at our backs so the ride into Watrous was fast. About 10 km outside of Watrous, Scott pointed out the clouds to the North – we could see the formation of several funnels dipping below the layer of dark clouds. Becky snapped a few photos while pedaling at 30 km/hr (very fast for us). We managed to get to the restaurant only shortly after Jenn and Jillian (15 minutes before our ETA).

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Ack, funnel clouds forming in the distance.

After lunch, we rode over to the Sunset Motel and booked ourselves a room for the night ($65). A bit of an indulgence, but this gave us a place to leave our bikes, so we could hop into Jenn’s car and go check out the Mineral Baths in at Manitou Beach – the largest indoor mineral baths in Canada. We first heard of these Mineral Baths via a comment left on our blog – thanks Brian. The water was not as warm as we would have liked (we were reminded our of the mineral baths in Iluca Turkey), but the baths were certainly entertaining. The mineral content was so high that you were buoyant, almost to the same extent as the Dead Sea. You could walk off the edge in the deep end and not sink. Unfortunately, the salt content also irritated some of Jillian’s and Becky’s tender parts – so our soak did not last too long.

Ancient Spirals to Paint Rock Campground Colonsay – 73 km, 4h 15 min
Painted Rock to Watrous, 62 km, 3 hours

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A grain train car with a field of blooming flax in the background.

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Looking into a sea of blue – flax blooming in the background under a rail car.

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Becky, Jillian, and Jenn hiding behind a hedge.
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Scott and Becky in front of some fancy new grain trucks and the Watrous grain elevator.

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Organic farming and Ancient Spirals

Sunday, August 2nd, 2009

Visiting Chandra and Clem’s farm in Kerrobert was fascinating. We had visited our organic CSA in Ottawa, but that was more like a large garden than a farm. Chandra and Clem’s farm was one of the first farms in the area to convert to organic. The transition was initiated after an accident meant that they were washing chemicals out of the eyes of one of their kids. After that incident they realized that they did not want any more to do with chemical farming – the dependency on chemicals in traditional farming is incredible – they use chemicals to fertilize, chemical to weed, chemicals for pest control, and then chemicals to desiccate (that is to kill the green part of the plants to make harvesting easier). The farmers need to pay a fortune for all these chemicals, which raises their fixed costs for each acre they farm. If a crop fails, or even if yields are low, they will take a significant loss. Organic farmers only need to pay for their seed stock, and they can sell at a higher price. Farming organic may mean less chance of a bumper crop, and require more attention to the land and what grows well there, but the lower fixed costs result in less overall risk.

On our drive around the farm, we learned to recognize canola (the bright yellow flowers, which are actually a weed to the organic farmers, since most are GMO), wheat, barley (which looks like fuzzy wheat), and flax. The flax is especially beautiful in the mornings while it is still in bloom. The flowers are a deep blue that make the fields look like lakes from a distance.

Our departure from Kerrobert was later than we had hoped, but we don’t regret for a second the time we spent there. After our tour of the farm, Clem gave us a ride back into town where we stopped at the Bakery for a wonderful lunch – sandwiches on homemade bread and fruit smoothies. When we stepped up to the cash to pay, we discovered that Lois had paid for our lunch! Thanks Lois! Fortified for our ride, we hopped on our bikes and began the slog to Biggar. It turned out to be slog as the wind was directly against us and the road was still in pretty bad shape – the road was nice for about 10 km outside of Kerrobert but then quickly degrade to the grooved and potholed highway that was more typical of highway 51.

We had been warned about deep valley (called a coulis/coolie by the locals), which is an ancient river valley (there was no river anymore), between Kerrobert and Biggar. Unfortunately, the wind slowed us down so we couldn’t enjoy too much of the downhill. The climb was not minor, but with fresh memories of Sunwapta pass, we did not find it too taxing.

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Scott riding into the prairie valley.

We arrived in Biggar and enjoyed their amusing welcome sign “New York is Big, but this is Biggar”. There are two campgrounds in Biggar – a private one and a city campground. We found the private one first as it was right at the highway 51 intersection. It was an OK campsite, but a bit expensive for what you got ($20). The sign said “Shower” not “Showers” and they were not kidding. They had a small trailer with a single bathroom (toilet and shower). Fortunately, there were only a few campers, so we did not run into conflicts too often.

In the morning, for the first time since we arrived in Saskatchewan, we had an east wind. It was like someone was looking out for us and knew we had a long ride into Saskatoon. The wind pushed us most of the way there, and we averaged over 25 km/hr for the ride into Saskatoon. Arriving in Saskatoon was culture shock. There were so many places to eat that at first we were unable to choose. There Becky saw a Vietnamese restaurant – perfect! Then we saw the sign “closed July 30-Aug 8 for vacation”. Very sad. Now we were fixated on Vietnamese food, which could have been a challenge. A quick search on the GPS showed no other restaurants with “Viet” in the name. We followed the bike path signs toward downtown, and just as we were giving up, the Saigon Palace appeared at the top of the restaurant list. Must be Vietnamese we said. When we arrived, it was called the Royal Thai and served Thai/Lao/Vietnamese food, with an excellent Thai buffet! It was wonderful to get a good fix of ethnic food.

Of course the wonderful east wind that blew us into Saskatoon made the 20 km trek out to Ancient Spirals feel like the ride was uphill all the way. The weather was starting to look threatening, so we pushed through it.

We stayed out at Ancient Spirals Retreat, which was the location of Jodi and Cameron’s wedding and several of the associated events. It is a pretty spot overlooking the Saskatchewan river and many farmers fields. They have a couple of spiral shaped labyrinths – a small one in the back yard and a large one a little further out back. Unfortunately, we never did get a chance to check out the larger one, given that the mosquitoes were still pretty vicious, we think that was for the best.

Between the wedding events and the chores we needed to do, we were kept rather busy during our three days, four nights in Saskatoon. We met some pretty fantastic people and enjoyed our time, but were also glad to get back on the road.

Kerrobert to Biggar, 90 km, 5h 30 min – Headwind and bad roads slowing us down
Biggar to Saskatoon, 126 km, 5h 45 min – East wind pushing us to Saskatoon

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All the cows turn to look at us as we ride by – very odd.

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Riding into Biggar, Saskatchewan.

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Amusing welcome sign.

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View from the back yard at Ancient Spirals.

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