The whole ride was great, fantastic roads, great scenery and good weather made for a memorable weekend. A bunch of us got together and we decided that we would attempt this year’s challenge the weekend of August 15. Graham and Mark were going to leave Friday morning and go clockwise; Ian, Dallas and Pete the same day but later in the afternoon. Dan and I decided to leave Saturday morning and see if we could do the whole route in one shot, the others were going to camp a night or two on the trail.
Dan and I got started by 5:30 on Saturday morning. We made a quick stop at Tim Hortons for some coffee back before we headed North out of Neepawa. The road North was straight as an arrow with a couple of minor jogs before we had to make the turn to the Park. As we rode through Kelwood, the only small town we passed through before Wasagaming, we were greeted by people wandering the streets, not unlike zombies. It seems Kelwood had their agricultural festival that weekend and the people wandering the streets were those that were camping and partying at the festival, it looks like they had a good time the night before. As we rode past the community hall and the smell of bacon being made for breakfast smelled fantastic, it was very very hard not to stop and see if we could find us some of that goodness.
Reeve’s Ravine was easy to find (very good signage – sorry Pat, I guess you had to be going west to see it). We stopped to study the trail map where there was a couple getting ready to hike the same trail that we were about to ride. As we were chatted with the couple the gentleman informed us his last name was Reeve and he officially welcomed us to use and enjoy “his” trail – nice.
The trail was great and not too difficult even on fully loaded bikes. There were a couple of hike-a-bike sections but that was mostly due to my developing mini-bonk. As with last year’s challenge I seem to hit a low energy period early on in a long ride. I tried my best to keep up with Dan but soon sent him on his way, agreeing that we would meet up at the end of the trail. Normally Dan and I would ride together during each other’s bonks but Dan is an absolute bug magnet and the flies and mosquitos on the trail were relentlessly dive bombing him as we slowly crawled up the trail, it was painful to watch Dan swat and ride. Once we cleared the bush I met up with Dan, a couple of gels and water I started to get my energy back. From there we made our way onto #19 which was a great hard packed gravel road that would take us to Wasagaming.
Rolling into Wasagaming we found that the Riding Mountain Triathlon was in progress and we quickly found ourselves riding along a road with a bunch of the triathletes who were in their finishing run leg. We got more than a few stares, us on our loaded bikes, as we rolled through the group and into town. It was just around noon and we quickly found a place to eat. I should say I found a place to eat as Dan’s diet precludes him from eating in most restaurants. Two large slices of pizza, a couple of soft drinks and a water refill and we were on our way. We found the trail between Clear Lake and South Lake which connected us to 354 which would take us to Lake Audy road. The trail between Clear Lake and South Lake is great if you are not too beat up to enjoy it.
Highway 354 to Lake Audy road is really nice, smooth packed gravel that was mostly downhill to Lake Audy. Getting to Lake Audy we found the trail that took us around the bison enclosure. The trail was basically a ATV/jeep trail with some great views of the Lake. From the Lake Audy Trail we connected onto the Central Trail which was in great shape. As we make our way up the trail Dan and I wondered if we would run into either Ian, Dallas and Pete or Graham and Mark, the timing for meeting them along the trail seemed like it would be about right for this to happen. After some time on the trail we had given up hope that we’d see the boys and we proceeded towards Whitewater Lake. When we got to the turn off for the lake we were unsure if we had to go all the way down to the lake or just as far as the sign, we decided to go to the lake. As we approached we could here voices, sure enough it was Ian, Dallas, and Pete. I was kind or surprised to see them, thinking they had already gone by, but once we heard about their death march trough the tall grass on the west end of the Central Trail it made sense that they had only made it to that point, it was great to see them and share stories and tips.
The road to Rossburn from Whitewater Lake required a quick trip to the Deep Lake ranger station, the second last checkpoint for us. The road back into the park was worst road of the entire ride, uphill and newly maintained – ugh, it was a such a grunt. We made it just as it was turing dark, we quickly took a couple of pictures, turned around to headed towards Rossburn. It was going to be late by the time we got to there but the promise of getting food in the bar hastened our ride and drew us like moths to the flame. As we neared the town we began to hear music in the distance, live music – it was yet another festival, this time time music and not agriculture (albeit most contemporary country music is like some of the byproduct that is found at agricultural festivals); Duke Fest, the Rossburn country music festival was in full swing. We made the turn into Rossburn and began to look for the bar. Now how hard should it be to find the only bar in a such a small town, apparently it can be quite difficult when the hotel your are standing in front of has no lights, no signs pointing to a bar, and looks like it is shut down for the night. There must be another bar, there had to be. We rode up and down main street Rossburn looking for the welcoming neon Coors Light sign indicating an establishment where one could find food and drink. Several trips up and down main street yielded nothing.
We returned to the hotel, that had to be it, and upon closer inspection we discovered that it was in fact open – eureka, hot food and cold drinks!
We entered the bar and it was empty save for an older man behind the bar and a younger woman was behind the till, I can only imagine what they thought when they saw two cyclists walk in with backpacks and water bottles at 11:00. I asked if we could order some food. “Sorry, no, the cook did not show up tonight” was the reply. Really, ok then, I guess I’ll I have a Pils, a coke, and bag of Hawkins Cheezies. Dan ordered a couple of cokes and a bag of chips. We sat, enjoyed our drinks and chips and slowly started to get ready for the 160km ride through the night. The break at the bar was nice, a hot meal would have been better but two beers and bag of cheezies was not too bad.
Riding in the night is kind of nice. The temperature is cooler, the wind is usually down and the miles roll by. At about 2 in the morning we rolled into Oakburn, woke a dog, sat on the steps of the church, ate some food and rested. After a short break we pushed on to our next destination which was Eliphinstone. For the most part we had been lucky with our road selection but outside of Elphinstone we ran into problems. We were rolling down Provincial Road 103 when all of a sudden there was water across the road, not just a standing water but overflow water that went beyond the range of our lights. As we looked at our map and discussed our options we heard a splash not too far from where we were standing. It was a loud splash. A splash similar to one made by a hairy 250lb man jumping into a pool. We looked at each other and wondered what it might be, and then went back to studying our map. Sploosh, another one, this time closer. Hmmm, maybe it was time to move on. As we were leaving it happened one more time, and it sounded about 40 feet away – time to move on with purpose. We selected a road and peddled on only to find it ended at a farm yard. Crap. We had to back track ageing but this time we found the overgrown Trans Canada which took us around the the swamp and into Elphinstone where we awoke dogs who greeted us with incessant barking. Unfortunately it started to rain, not heavily, but enough that we had to put on our rain gear.
The Trans Canada trail out of Elpinstone was not bad, an old railway bed made into a trail. We decided to stay on the trail till Onanole where we get back onto the gravel roads to take us back to Neepawa. The trail was really nice, well maintained and interesting. We stopped along the trail to shed some rain gear we had put on earlier in Elphinstone. We were immediately besieged by clouds of mosquitoes, thick nasty clouds of mosquitoes. Hastily we shed the rain gear, slapping and killing 5-10 mosquitoes with one swat to the leg or arm jumped back on our bikes and made our way toward Onanole.
It was still pretty early when we rolled into Onanole but we hopped that we might find a restaurant that would be open for breakfast. No such luck, we could only find a pop machine, I had enough change to buy a root beer, I dug out the extra bag of cheezies I had purchased in Rossburn, found some chocolate and had breakfast as I watch Dan fall asleep at least 40 times in the 10 minutes we sat there.
We jumped back onto the Trans Canada briefly until we got on the gravel roads that would take us back to Neepawa, our starting point. We could have stayed on the trail the whole way but this would have been slower and longer and we were both pretty tired by this point having ridden for about 27 hours straight. The highlight was the coming down off the escarpment, payback for the long climb 24 hours earlier. We rolled into Neepawa around 10:00, exhausted but marvelling at what a great ride it had been, the scenery, roads and trails were fantastic. Here’s looking forward to next years challenge.