Archive for the ‘Manitoba’ Category

Welcome to Ontario and the land of lakes

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

We awoke to a beautiful sunny morning, but that wasn’t to last long. We managed to get ourselves organized, said our goodbyes and profuse thanks to Donna and Tony and got ready to go – then the creepy crawlies hit! Becky put on her helmet and notices a few things flying around her eyes – she thought at first she had some gnats – so she removed her helmet to discover some webs and about 10-15 little black spiders (about 1 millimeter wide). Scott came to the rescue. He blew on the helmet and removed the many strings of webbing and associated spiders – which turned out to be many more than 15. Upon closer inspection, Scott found a nest under one of the pieces of removable padding. After a thorough inspection and careful cleaning of the helmet, it was pressed back into service. Our best guess is that a mother spider nested in the helmet on one of the nights it was left out on the bikes rather than brought into the tent – we’ll be more careful from now on to ensure that our helmets spend the night in the tent – although we are exceedingly glad that the spiders didn’t hatch in the tent!

By the time we got on our bikes and left, the weather was looking rather threatening. Within 10 minutes of leaving a drizzle started – so we donned our wet weather gear and kept on peddling. Unfortunately, the rain held all afternoon. We stopped in Anola for lunch and to warm up a bit; in addition to the wet, the temperature was only 14 degrees making any thought of stopping a chilling idea. After talking to the folks in the restaurant about what services lie ahead, we decided to head north up highway 12 towards highway 44 and the town of Beausejour, which was only 30 km away – rather than riding 60+ km further in the wet.

Just as we pulled out from lunch, we spotted another touring cyclist in the distance. He was on Highway 15, and moving fast, so even if we had been going that way, we likely wouldn’t have caught him. With a mental shrug for lost opportunities, we headed north. A minute later, we saw a bicycle approaching in our mirrors – the cyclist had spotted us and decided to come and visit. We were soon happily chatting away with Dharma and his dog Rowan. Dharma had left from Vancouver Island with Rowan and his B.O.B. trailer a few months back, and is headed for the east coast. In the downpour, we felt pretty overdressed in our full raingear – by comparison, he seemed quite comfortable in a t-shirt and sleeveless vest. We had fun sharing stories of our rides, but in Beausejour he wanted to press on, and we had had enough for the day.

In Beausejour, we checked into the small Motor Hotel for the night ($70) with hopes of drying out a little. There is another hotel in town – the Superior Hotel – but the cheapest rate they would give us was $94 plus tax, which was a quite a bit more than we were willing to pay if we could possibly avoid it. The reaction of the lady at the hotel was quite comical, if a bit annoying at the time:
Lady: You’re all wet! What will you do with all those wet clothes?
Scott: Hang them to dry?
Lady: Don’t get the carpets all wet!
Scott: We can look for another place to stay if you wish.
Lady: No, that’s OK
At this point we figured our wet, muddy bikes were going be a big deal, but she never said anything about them. She later lent us her kettle, and was quite friendly in her brusque way, so we’re guessing she’s just like that…

The next day started with a pocket of sun – we could see clouds both in front and behind us. We quickly got organized and were riding by 9:15 am (early for us). Helped by a nice tailwind and good roads, we made it to Whitemouth just as the clouds gobbled up the sun. Whitemouth has a great little bakery and coffee shop with super friendly people. We enjoyed a first lunch of cabbage rolls just like Becky’s Mom makes, and yummy cinnamon buns.

Our next stop was Rennie for a second lunch and a break from the cold. When the sun left us, the temperature dropped down to 14 degrees. Manitoba certainly is not experiencing a typical summer. In Rennie Becky heard a garbled story about a cyclist ahead of us who had been shot at. We wondered if something had happened to Dharma?

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Welcome to Rennie Manitoba.

Shortly after Rennie the highway turned into Whiteshell Provincial Park. The road quality degraded almost instantly and the traffic went away – no more trucks passing us. There was also a shift from farm land into Canadian Shield country with lots of small picturesque lakes. Halfway between Rennie and West Hawk Lake, the sun came out making the scenery that much more enjoyable. With the Shield we also got hills – and Highway 44 being a minor road at this point, some of the hills were rather steep; however, they were all pretty short so we could enjoy the rolling hills as a nice change from the flattish prairies.

We stopped in West Hawk Lake for our requisite afternoon soft ice cream break to discover that Dharma was at the restaurant. He had just finished up a meal and was about to hop back on his bike – so it was nice to have caught up to him. Apparently, he had been shot at by a passing car – he figures it was likely paintballs they were shooting. He was delayed a little in Rennie when he called the police and gave a brief statement. Unfortunately, he did not have a license plate number, so there was not much the police could do. It was a late model, dark green Japanese sedan, but there are a lot of those.

Dharma joined us for our journey across the border into Ontario. We took pictures at the first Welcome to Ontario sign – which wasn’t that impressive. At the visitor information center (which closed at 5 pm grrrr) there was a much nicer sign, so we paused again for another set of photos.

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Dharma, Becky, and Scott being welcomed to Ontario.

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A nicer welcome to Ontario sign.

We had thought there might be a campground in Clearwater Bay, but were sadly disappointed. There was an seasonal RV park with resort type structures on the lake, and a trailer park which required reservations – neither of which looked good for tenting. We continued up the road to the Clearwater Bay Market (a truck stop) and inquired there about tenting. The manager there said we were welcome to tent either near the gazebo or in the septic field – we chose the septic field as it was nice and flat and well protected from traffic and lights. In hindsight, it also meant that the tent was wet, as not too surprisingly the field had an underground water source! Oops. Fortunately, with our entry into Ontario, the weather improved dramatically – much warmer in the morning, with the sun making an appearance.

75 km, 4h – Winnipeg to Beausejour
150, 7h 30m – Beausejour Manitoba to Clearwater Bay Ontario

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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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