Archive for the ‘Saskatchewan’ Category

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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Like an ant crawling slowly over a giant machine

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Shortly after we left Banff National Park, we saw our first oil derrick pumping away. It looked quite pretty with its multi-coloured paint, so we stopped and took a photo. Little did I know just how much oil and gas infrastructure we would pass by in the following days.

Our first oil derrick

It was the ride from Rocky Mountain House to Lacombe which first gave me a flavor for the scope of the industry. It seemed every few minutes we would pass by another oil derrick, pumping station or processing plant. Then I started noticing the pipelines. Little signs by the roadside indicated the type of pipeline and owner. We never seemed to be out of sight of one. After a few hours of this, I started to feel like it was all part of one giant machine, and we were ants crawling slowly across. There was farm and ranch land everywhere, surrounding and covering all this infrastructure, but it felt like a thin covering, partially concealing the giant machine.

Approaching a processing plant, with flare stacks
Processing plant, flare stacks and nearby fields

Every so often, we would get a whiff of petrochemicals, either the complex scent of hydrocarbons or the rotten-egg smell of hydrogen sulphide from sour gas. Not exactly pleasant, and protests by locals and farmers against the sour gas wells have been ongoing for years. Lately there have been a number of bombings of sour gas processing equipment and pipelines, especially in British Columbia.

Sour Gas processing - dangerous
Warning signs for a Sour Gas facility

derricks and pipeline signs
Derricks and signs for the pipelines under the road

In the ensuing days, we saw more and more, sometimes pipelines, sometimes oil transport trucks, but never out of sight of something for more than a few minutes. Occasionally we came across some new construction, either the scar of a recently constructed pipeline snaking across the fields, or active construction on a new plant or well. Even when we entered Saskatchewan the machine stretched on around us, with storage tanks, steam injection systems and more wellheads and pipelines.

pipeline construction, recently closed up
Recently constructed pipeline

Another Sour Gas facility - note the windsock
Another Sour Gas Facility. The windsock is so workers know which way to run if any of the alarms go off, since un-perfumed Natural Gas is odourless

In Western Saskatchewan, oil and gas exploration and construction is helping to keep the small towns alive, as fewer and fewer farmers are needed to work the land. As part of our farm tour, Clem showed us the nearby oil and gas infrastructure, including a new natural gas-powered generating station, which will be used to power the large Enbridge pumping station as well feed power into the grid for the surrounding area. He also pointed out that crops actually grow better on top of a pipeline, so you can see where the pipeline goes, even years after construction. We had noticed the distinct lines, but assumed they must be due to different crops or recent construction. People have hypothesized that the heat from the pipeline may help get the crops an early start, or the turning over of the earth leaves the soil in better condition.

natural gas electrical generating station
Natural gas powered electrical generating station under construction

One thing we had not noticed was the underground natural gas storage facilities. These are massive salt cavern formations where gas is pumped underground until it is needed. I wonder how many other bits of this giant machine we missed?

huge storage tanks
Huge oil storage tanks, much easier to notice than the underground salt caverns

It is a massive amount of infrastructure, all pumping non-renewable resources east and south to the voracious appetites of Eastern Canada and the United States. All this to give us the gasoline to fuel our cars and the natural gas to power our electrical plants and heat our homes. I hesitate to think what the area around the Tar Sands must look like! I found the engineering for this huge machine to be fascinating, but it is also scary to think of all the things which could go wrong.

Even if nothing goes wrong, we’re behaving as if there is a limitless supply of this stuff, and the quantities we’re using are huge. Throughout our travels, we saw how people in other countries – especially the less developed ones – conserve the energy they have (people actually unplug TVs and appliances when they are not in use – they drive small cars and use public transport). Now that we’ve returned to Canada, we see so much waste it is no wonder our energy use and carbon footprint are so high. It is easy to wonder at the lack of sustainability in a typical Canadian lifestyle, and we wonder how our lifestyle will change when we get back home and become “normal” again.

An adventure in Kerrobert

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

Just for fun, this post has been written in a completely different style, inspired by a famous Canadian storyteller … can you guess who?

While my husband and I were riding our recumbent bicycles – the funny looking kind where you lay back like in an easy chair only you still need to pedal – around the world and across Canada – that is a different story, which is much too long to tell now – we stopped in a little town in Central Saskatchewan for lunch. Kerrobert, spelled K-E-R-R-O-B-E-R-T but pronounced KRAW-BET, has a booming population of 1001. It was the first “big” town we came across since leaving Alberta and is the center of activity in the area, with a grocery store, bakery slash cafe, hotel, and library. It was the library that drew our attention. You see, it is the library where, no matter how small the town is, anywhere in Canada, you can find computers with access to the Internet. So, it was the library we were seeking when we arrived in Kerrobert.

We rode up to the library on our funny looking recumbent bicycles at 1 pm. Unfortunately the library was not open until 2 pm, so we had to find a way to occupy ourselves for an hour first. We decided to go and find a picnic table and have lunch. As we discussed our options, we were met on the street by the “Walking Lady”. She was an older lady, who said to us “I had a bicycle, but now I walk … I’m going to walk” as she walked away from us.

Seeing us stopped, a gentleman from Compeer – a small town at the Alberta border marked by great towers of hay bales, that we dubbed straw henge – stopped to say hi. He had seen us riding a few times in the last couple of days and commiserated over the poor condition of highway 51 – which is dramatically emphasized when leaving the really nice roads in Alberta. When you reach the border, the road immediately deteriorates – first it changes to unlined chipseal and then to pavement with lane wide pot holes and 15 centimeter grooves – which felt more like riding on a mountain biking trail than a highway – amusing for a while but definitely reduces how far we can ride in a day. He told us that highway 51 was once listed as “the worst highway in Canada” but has since lost that label because it is “under repair” – although we had not seen any evidence of said repair. He encouraged us to write a letter to Bill Boyd, the MLA for the area letting him know our thoughts on the state of that road.

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Straw Henge

We still had no lunch, but fortunately another feature in small towns in Saskatchewan (and indeed, across Canada) is the hockey arena – and behind the hockey arena was a nice little park with a picnic table – exactly what we needed to make our lunch. We made a quick noodle soup for lunch and as we were cleaning up the “Walking Lady” came by again. She was still walking, but had lost her way. We pointed her back in the direction of downtown and off she went walking again.

After lunch we made our way back to the library – now the way I say that it sounds like it might have been a journey, but it wasn’t really – it was a small town after all, so our way back to the library was only a trek of a few hundred meters.

Happily, the library was now open – it was a small one room library – kind of what you might expect for a town of 1001 people, but not really accounting for all the folks in the outlying areas that also use the library. We asked about computers and Internet and were pointed to a couple of old and really slow machines – like the kind we used back in the 90’s – just good enough to check email but not much else. They did have wireless, so we tried to connect our computer only to learn that it didn’t work. Now don’t get me wrong, we are grateful for the Canadian Government for the program that ensured that all public libraries in Canada have free Internet access, but it would also be nice if they also occasionally ensured that the computers were updated too – anyway the wireless did not work, so my geeky husband – and I mean that in the most affectionate and loving way – offered to be of service and try to fix the wireless. Unfortunately, after much poking and prodding, we still had no wireless.

Of course, while we were working on the computers people would come into the library – mostly curious kids and mothers with their young children. Each time someone new entered, we overheard – in the hushed library type voice – “Did you see those bikes out there? Cool!” It wasn’t long before my husband was talking to the librarian and a few of the folks visiting the library about our journey cycling across Canada and travelling around the world without airplanes – as I said before, that is a much longer story. Curious about us, the friendly librarian, whom we later learned was named Chandra, invited us to her place for dinner and to spend the night.

My husband came to tell me about the offer of hospitality while I was slowly updating our blog using a library computer. We had to discuss the idea because we wanted to be in Saskatoon on Thursday in preparation for a friend’s wedding and it was already Tuesday. Stopping in Kerrobert would mean the next two days would be long cycling days – but how could we possibly turn down this offer – this was why we were travelling by bicycle – because it gives us the chance to meet real people and take advantage of serendipity when it happens. The whole idea of spending a night in what was likely to be a real farm house was just too cool for us to turn down.

So we hopped on our bikes and headed out to Chandra’s place – now this was a little bit more of a journey, as farm houses are generally out at the farms, which means they are not in town. Once we turned off the main highway, the road turned to dirt which slowed us down. The issue with slowing down on this particular day was that the mosquitoes were ferocious. We couldn’t stop for 5 seconds without being swarmed. Forty-five minutes and 15 kilometers later, we were pulling up to the farm that we hoped to be hers – there were no signs, but it was the only farm anywhere near where we thought she had directed us. Knocking on the door, we were quickly greeted by Chandra’s son and then Chandra and Lois – the assistant librarian, whom we also had briefly met at the library.

We were quickly ushered into the house and safety from the voracious mosquitoes. Upon arrival, we were shown a room that would be ours for the night! We were utterly delighted – you see, we normally sleep in our tent and were expecting a place on the lawn to setup for the night, so a bed was a welcome luxury. Before dinner we enjoyed a warm shower with fluffy cotton towels – a welcome luxury, since is too bulky and doesn’t dry fast enough, but quick-dry microfiber not just does have that same welcome home feeling!

Clean, warm, and content, we sat down around a large wooden table to a wonderful home-cooked meal – a salad made with lettuce and dill from Chandra’s garden, sausage made by a local farmer using his secret recipe, and ice cream with a perfectly tart home-made berry sauce.

Throughout dinner and dessert – which lasted for several hours – we shared stories about our travels and our lives. Chandra, in addition to being the local librarian, is also a busy mother of three boys, and she manages the books for the family’s 2000 acre organic farm. We were fascinated by the farm – neither of us having spent any time on a real farm before. We had visited our local organic CSA but it was more like a large garden – this was a real production farm.

As we chatted, we learned that Lois is a woman of many hats. Not only is she the assistant librarian, she is also the Pastor for the Superb Mennonite Church. Now it isn’t necessarily that the church is superb, although it might be, but that the church is located in the tiny town of Superb, which we thought only had a grain elevator, so we were surprised to learn that it also had a Mennonite church with an active Congregation. However, it doesn’t have a library, which is why Lois was at the library in Kerrobert when we stopped by.

In the morning we awoke to the smell of fresh coffee and a wonderful breakfast of eggs, fruit, and toast. The toast was amazing – Chandra ground the flour herself to make the freshest and fullest home-baked truly whole wheat bread we have ever tasted – it was a special treat to know that the wheat was actually grown on the farm and processed in the kitchen of the farmhouse – one could call it the 3-mile diet!

Before we left, we accepted the offer of a tour of the farm, narrated by Chandra’s husband Clem, who does most of the farming, ably assisted by the three boys. Fortunately this was done in the family minivan and not on our bikes or it would have taken us all day – the roads surrounding the farm are all gravel grid access roads, some in better condition than others – and we would have been eaten alive as the mosquitoes were still out in force. We saw the awesome and scary large machines used to seed, till, chop, and process the crops – and were impressed that the boys start driving the machines in their early teens – the cabs are air conditioned, so they spend their time tilling or combining in cool comfort listening to their ipods… until things get clogged up, then they need to hop out into the sweltering heat and fix it. Apparently they learned quickly to drive slowly and avoid problems.

We toured and learned to recognize wheat, barley, and flax – all a little short this year due to the shortage of rain early in the season – but there is still hope that the heads will fill and the crops will still produce at least 50% of their normal growth. We stopped to see the lentils, which were still really small and can be difficult to harvest because they are so low to the ground, and peas – a favourite of ours and fortunately some were just right for picking as a yummy afternoon snack. In the days to come, we would be extra thankful for our tour as we now could recognize the fields of grains as we rode by – the flax being particularly beautiful with its blue blossoms often giving the impression of a lake ahead rather than a field of grain.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and our bikes, the open road, and Saskatoon were calling us. We said our good-byes but will always remember the generosity of one particular librarian in Kerrobert Saskatchewan!

Major to Kerrobert, 55km, 3h 15 min

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Grain elevator in Suberb Saskatchewan.

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Scott picking some yummy organic peas.

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Clem, Becky, and Chandra in front of a giant tractor.

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Becky, Scott, and the family dog giving a demonstration of the bikes.

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Saskatchewan didn’t welcome us, but the people did!

Monday, July 27th, 2009

When we finally crossed the border into Saskatchewan, we were disappointed at the lack of a “Welcome to Saskatchewan” sign. This is the second time in recent memory that we were looking for a photo op that turned out to not exist! Oh well. Although we did not get a formal “Welcome to Saskatchewan”, it did not take long for us to notice how much friendlier the people were. In less than an hour, someone pulled up to talk to us while we were riding, and another person pulled over when we were stopped to make sure we were OK. It was almost like we entered a whole new country!

The other immediate difference was the road. You could see the provincial boundary based on how the nice road turned to crap once we hit Saskatchewan. One of the locals told us that Highway 51 was once listed as the worst highway in Canada. It no longer has that honour only because it is now “under repair”. Unfortunately however, the repair work was very minimal when we passed. There were places where the road was down to one lane because the other lane had eroded so badly and other places there the grooves were ten to fifteen cm deep. We figure it is likely to cause anything without a high clearance to bottom out.

Not exactly a great road
At least they admit it isn’t a great road.

We had hoped to make it to Kerrobert for our first night in Saskatchewan, but the road conditions and the north wind put an end to that plan. We also got a bit stuck because there were no services along the highway between Consort and Major – and it being a Sunday, most of the stores in Consort were closed. We pulled into Major at 7 pm very short on water. There were a few farmsteads close to the road where we probably could have got some, but we held out hoping for The only thing open in Major was the “OK Kafe” and the attached “OK Tavern”. We stopped into the Kafe and Jerry, the owner, made us a two wonderful hamburgers – perhaps the best burger in Saskatchewan, and certainly the best one we’ve had in ages! His brother owns a feed lot only 3 km from Major and they pasture a few of the best cattle for personal use – and use in the OK Kafe. It was wonderful to taste some real grass-fed beef again.

Another couple who entered the restaurant offered to give us a ride to Kerrobert given the late hour. We declined hoping to find a closer place to camp, and continue with our goal of riding all the way across Canada. Later, Jerry kindly offered a spot in the yard behind the cafe and allowed us to use the showers at the OK Inn (next to the cafe). Given that we were beat and there was no way we could make Kerrobert before dark, we happily accepted his offer. We were delighted at such hospitality our first night in Saskachewan, and enjoyed a delicious breakfast the next morning too.

Jerry and Becky in front of the OK Kafe
Jerry and Becky in front of the OK Kafe

If you’re ever passing through Major, stop in and say hi to Jerry – tell him the folks from Ottawa on the funny bikes sent you.

121 km, 6h 45 min – killer north wind and bad road in Sask

One of 6 or 7 Alberta commandments, displayed at the border
One of 6 or 7 “Alberta Commandments” displayed at the border. Others include: “Think Safety – safe driving starts wtih you!”, “Speed fines double when workers present”, “Alberta Checkstop: What are you willing to lose”, “60 kph limit when passing stopped emergency vehicles”

Part of a map of the farms and owners in the Major area
Part of a map of the farms and owners in the Major area. Each square is a quarter-section; a half-mile by a half-mile or 160 acres. Most farmers will farm at least a few quarter-sections, although they may not be adjacent.

Grain Elevator in Major
The Grain Elevator in Major – a fixture in almost all prairie towns

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