Summer Challenge 2015:   Scott Voth and Craig Doell

Introduction:  Operacion Muerto (Manitoba Ultra-Endurance Racing and Talking Organization) is a website dedicated to the sport of utlra-endurance racing and riding events in Manitoba as well as events attended by Manitoban’s outside of the province, whether it be on bike or foot. It contains stories and pictures from rides and runs mostly based on the challenges that are put out by us each year. Each Challenge requires that the participant not only complete the ride or run as described in the challenge but also requires that they write a story about their ride or run, complete with pictures. A new challenge is created each year but people can do any challenge on the list.

This year’s challenge:  Go to three shelters in three Provincial Parks. The three parks are Pembina Valley, Turtle Mountain, and Spruce Woods; in those parks get a picture of the picnic shelter in Pembina Valley, the West Main Cabin in Turtle Mountain, and the Jackfish Lake cabin in Spruce Woods Provincial Park. Start and finish at Tim Horton’s in Morden and don’t take paved roads (with a couple exceptions).  Simple.   

Looks good on paper

My story:  When this year’s Operacion Muerto challenge was announced there was no doubt I was doing it. How could I not? It begins and ends in my town! I don’t remember when I started planning but the first step was to make sure my best friends John Loewen and Craig Doell were coming with me. They were and we began our training. What kind of training? Just riding. We tentatively planned for a mid-July departure. As time went on Craig suggested we bump the date up sooner so he’d have more time to recover before a 100 mile race at the end of July. I didn’t care. This conflicted with John’s vacation plans and at the same time he was second guessing this ride after one of our “training rides” brought some perspective to the absurdity of this challenge. John was out and that sucked. The fellowship was down to two. Craig and I decided on a start date of July 1st. We declared our intention to participate, agreed to and accepted the waiver stating that we are doing this under our own volition, and that we understand the risks. We get one shot at this. Make it count.

Worthy Steed

The Chronicles of Gnar-nia:  Day 1

Craig and I are practically neighbours so I brought my 40 lbs of bike and gear over to his garage the night before our departure.  On Wednesday, July 1st the day starts with a wake up text.


We ratcheted our shoes, cinched our helmet straps, and snapped every buckle, then pedaled over to Tim’s for coffee. I met Rod Elias from Morden out front and he asked where we’re headed today. I tell him and he shakes his head. Is anyone really surprised anymore what Craig and I are up to? We hit the road at 7:00a.m.

We headed south of Morden first. There’s no shortage of things to talk about right out of the gate. We haven’t seen each other in a week so we get caught up on each other’s life, practically cutting each other off mid-sentence. We’re giddy about the journey because we’re doing what we know how to do best – pedal. The weather is absolutely beautiful. No wind, no clouds, just the haze from the fires in Saskatchewan after they decided to burn down their province following a Rider loss to the Bombers in the season opener.

The Pearce church southwest of Morden.

Before decending into the Pembina Valley we stopped so Craig could post a video update for his Facebook followers.

After putting our phones away, we descended into the valley at a comfortable 66 kilometers per hour. At that speed a weighted down cross-country bike feels like a Cadillac.

The mighty Pembina River.

Climbing out of the valley wasn’t nearly as tough as we thought it would be with the extra baggage.

Pembina Valley Provincial Park.

Waypoint #1: The picnic shelter.

You’d think the parking lot would be full of cars that brought hikers and picnickers to the park on a gorgeous Canada Day morning, but it was empty. So I took advantage of the vacant lot to hit some dingers over the evergreens in right centre field.     

Enough horsing around and back to business.

Short pit stop at my friend’s farm where I had a jug of water stashed so we could top up before the trek to Cartwright.

As you can see, only two Lutherans have ever died in Snowflake. And Snowflake is a huge place. 

Snowflake’s skyline. 

One more quick sugar fix before real food in Cartwright. Rocky road trail mix is pretty tasty but I need meat! 

I need to take a moment now and go back to 5:30 a.m. When I woke up, my wife was very much awake and staring at me. She says, “I’ve been awake for two hours.” Why?!! “Because you don’t realize it’s Canada Day and nothing will be open. At least take some pickles and a can of beans along just in case”. I said I would, but I didn’t because I was already packed and thought surely at least coffee shops would be open.

This was Broadway Street in downtown Cartwright. Closed for Canada Day. That can of beans would be so good right now. 

And then we found the Iron Rail. It’s a coffee shop and it was open. The chairs at all three tables were occupied when we walked in but the locals made room for Craig and I. We sat down with our Pepsi, ripple chips and garlic & onion dip. No meat, but whatever. The lady running the store asked where we were from, and then realized we were doing the same challenge as a guy named Jim Raddatz, who was the first to tackle this year’s challenge. She told us to help ourselves to the sink in the kitchen to fill our bottles and Camelbaks. We sat quietly listening to the local patrons talk about Sidney Crosby getting traded (what??!! – Exactly!) and the year the grasshoppers were so bad that the trucks couldn’t get any traction and just spun their tires on grasshoppers. The walls looked like a twister hit a garage sale. I didn’t want to leave but we did and so did everyone else.  When we exited the store we passed two gentlemen sitting at a picnic table out front.  The one looked like he was from ZZ Top. I’m telling you, this place had it all. 

The miles really drag on in this part of the province. It’s no wonder there is at least one empty Bud Lite can per mile. Selfie time!! 

Still travelling west, the “fire break” road north of William Lake Provincial Park is a roller coaster. It starts out twisty and the ups and downs just keep coming. It never flattens out. The first time I was ever on this road was 20 years ago in my uncle’s green extended cab Chevrolet 4×4 half ton. My cousin Ben was behind the wheel and sped 140 kilometers an hour down the road. I asked him if he wasn’t worried about meeting another vehicle coming over the top of a hill. “Nah, nobody drives this road.” But, um, we were driving on the road though. Oh well. 

We crossed over highway 10 and were soon ripping along a double track road on the way to the west main cabin. 

One slow poke and one turtle.

I was getting really tired by this time. We’d been pedalling for twelve out of the last fourteen hours and eaten nothing but instant energy food all day. Suddenly a truck appeared on the trail/road! We asked the driver if we were close to the cabin and he said it was five minutes ahead. Awesome!! I’ve never been so happy to see a little building. We held our breaths as I turned the doorknob, it opened! So we dragged our bikes inside because we needed a snack and there were a million mosquitoes outside.

Waypoint #2:  The west main cabin. 

Sardines and Hawkins cheezies for supper. I practically fell asleep at the table. That’s it, we’re staying here for night. A sign on the front door said “no overnight use”, but it couldn’t be helped. Out came the thermarests and we would’ve fallen asleep instantly except that the Turtle Mountain Bible Camp lit off an epic fireworks display for Canada Day. The booming went on for 15 minutes. Finally it ended! Now I can fall asleep. Nope. Then the scratching and clawing began underneath the cabin. A critter was busy ALL night long beneath the floor. Ugh. Regardless, it still felt like a Holiday Day Inn Express after such a long day.   

Really nice artistic work on the walls.   

Distance on day 1:  220 kilometres. 

The Chronicles of Gnar-nia:  Day 2

It was really hard to get moving in the morning.  My muscles and joints ached and my head was foggy.  I got up and put my sweaty, damp clothes on and ate some cookies and Twizzlers.  Time to roll.  On the way to Boissevain we went past the old homestead where my dad grew up.  I have fond memories of that house before my grand parents moved into Boissevain in 1983.  It’s been abandoned ever since.  I wanted to stop in and get a picture of me and my bike in front of the old house but I was too tired to turn down the lane.  The house isn’t looking so good these days anyhow.  The last time I visited, the south wall was leaning precariously.

A mile or so out of Boissevain we met up with a convoy of farm machinery.  After I got home I was talking to my Dad on the phone and he said, “So, you met up with Cochran’s.”  The Cochran’s do custom hay cutting, manure spreading, and barn cleaning.  My dad works for them when they need an extra man.  They had said to him, “We saw the boys on their bikes by the Albrect farm.”  The parade of tractors were all headed to my cousin’s farm (the same cousin that took me down the “fire break” road 20 years ago) to do some barn cleaning.  My dad would’ve been with the Cochran’s on this morning but he had to make a delivery into Brandon.  When we got into Boissevain we went to my parents’ house but my mom and dad were working so we filled up with water, cleaned ourselves up, charged our phones and left town.

After Boissevain we headed for Ninette.  We started making really good time even though Craig’s leg had been in discomfort since 10 miles into the start of the day, and it wasn’t getting better.

The town of Ninette sits at the west end of Pelican Lake.  I was ahead of Craig as we came ripping  down the valley into town from the south.  As soon as Craig saw the lake he yelled at me to stop.  His aching leg needed a soak. 

While Craig’s leg was enjoying the cool lake I went off in search of directions to a grocery store and a burger shack.  I found a nice lady reading a book on a bench  beside the lake. She told me the “Hot & Frosty” was straight ahead on the left, just past the 4 way stop sign, and the grocery store was right across the street.  At the store Craig found beef jerky and Tylenol for muscle aches and I stocked up on sardines, beans, and chewy Jolly Ranchers.  At the Hot & Frosty we dined on the “Pelican Burger Platter”.

A few miles out of Ninette I led us down the wrong mile road and we were now swamp road bikers. 

When I got us back on the right road we slowed down considerably and started having the first conversation about what to do if Craig’s tendinitis would not permit him to complete the challenge.  He said he couldn’t even think about doing the Epinette Creek trail with how much pain he was in.  I didn’t know what to say or do.  After all, it was Craig that got me past Boissevain and now I was feeling good and he was suffering.  My answer was to keep popping Tylenol.  Some doctor I’d be!

Manitoba countryside. 

We began mixing in some walking because that was better than the excruciating agony of what a pedal stroke was putting Craig through.  I wished I could bare half of his pain.  If I had a tow rope I would’ve at least pulled him home.

We coasted and limped into Glenboro and found the hospital.  We both knew the challenge was over for Craig.  He pedalled the last 25 miles with one leg.  Once admitted, he got an anti-inflammatory shot, pills, ice, and was told to stay off his bike.  I went to the end of the hall to charge my phone and make a call. 

I started to wonder what this challenge really meant.  Did I need to complete it?  What would Craig do if the roles were reversed?

Craig began to make arrangements to get picked up and I made up my mind to finish the ride without him.  It was a hard decision to make.  This was going to be a lonely ride home.  I made one phone call to tell my dad what was up.  Why didn’t I call my wife?  Because I didn’t want her worrying about me riding home by myself.  I told my dad exactly where I would be going and that I would check in the next day.  Dad said, “Well, you better get a move on.  And be careful.”

The Assiniboine River. 

15 kilometers north of Spruce Woods campground is the Epinette Creek trail.  The parking lot was empty when I got to the trailhead.  So it was going to be just me, the squirrels, and deer out there this night.  The trail weaves over rolling hills covered in wild flowers and evergreens.

Waypoint #3:  Jackfish Cabin. 

I brought my bike inside this cabin and devoured sardines, buns, and a Pepsi that I saved from lunch.  What a feast!  There’s supposed to be no overnight use of this cabin from May until December but my clothes were soaked and the temperature was beginning to dip.  Fog was rolling in too.  I made a fire in the stove to dry my clothes and fell asleep almost immediately.  Remember the critter underneath the cabin on the first night?  Tonight there was one on the roof and I drifted off to sleep listening to it scampering all over the cedar shakes.

A carving of Radagast the Brown on the door frame. 

Distance on Day 2:  184 kilometers. 

The Chronicles of Gnar-nia:  Day 3

When I woke up I was excited to go home.  I got dressed in crispy dry clothes, had some Twizzlers, and hit the trail.  The fog was super thick and sand was sticking and grinding it’s way into my chain.  I was afraid of snapping it while climbing the steeper hills so I did quite a bit of hike-a-biking.  It’s still one beautiful place to ride.

I got to Spruce Woods campground around  9 a.m. and went straight to the shower building.  The campground budget must be a little low because they obviously didn’t splurge on high end shower curtain rings when Del Griffith came around. (Obligatory “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” reference)

When I was finished freshening up I ate a can of beans, charged my phone, called my dad to let him know I was ready to put the hammer down, and was on the open road at 10 a.m.
It was a beautiful day.  Alone with my thoughts, I spun away the miles.  I got a wave from every passing car, truck, and tractor I met.  Next stop Bruxelles. 

If you don’t have a map, chances are that you’ll never find Bruxelles or know that it exists.  It’s hidden in the hills south of Holland.  There is a little general store in town that is also someone’s house.  There is one gas bowser out front and if you stop at the store, everyone in town knows it.
The lady in the store (I presumed it was the owner) asked me if I was doing a little cycling and then told me she didn’t have much to offer in the way of pre-made food.  That’s ok, all I wanted was a Snickers and a Gatorade (or as she called it “the gator”).   She then let me use the sink in her kitchen to fill my water reservoirs.  I thanked her as I walked out.  While I was sitting out front a lady drove up to fill up with gas.  She asked if I was doing the Trans-Canada Trail.  I said I had followed it for a little ways but it wasn’t the purpose of my trip.  A minute later, a kid from across the street, followed by his buddies, came over to see what I was doing.  His name was Cameron and he just turned 10 years old.  He was having a “friend party”.  Cameron was full of questions.  “What’s your name?  Where did you come from?  Where are you going?  Why are you doing that?  How many speeds do you have?  What if you get tired?….We have to go now.  Bye!”  As Cameron walked away, the lady who was getting gas came back out of the store and asked if I was a teacher.  No I’m not.  “Hmm, I would’ve thought you were a teacher.”  And that was Bruxelles. 

Hey horses, am I getting close to home?  “Naaaaay.” 

A bird condominium in a cliff.  

There was hardly even a breeze today to turn the wind turbines in the St. Leon wind farm.  It suited me just fine not having to deal with wind but every time I met a vehicle on the road there was zero visibility as the dust just hung there. 

When I got close to Manitou I started salivating.  I only had 35 kilometers left to go to Morden but if you’ve ever had a burger at the Manitou hotel you’ll look for excuses to go back.  Each patty looks like a meatloaf.   This rest stop did as much good for my mind as my legs.  I polished off my meal and got on my bike one more time. 

Five miles west of Morden a beautiful young husky raced out of a yard to say hi. It ran with me for three miles before it finally turned around.  

I sent Craig a text as I was coming into Morden, asking him to meet me at Tim Horton’s.  I said, “Take my picture and I’ll buy you anything you want.”

Summer challenge 2015 COMPLETE. 

Distance on Day 3: 171 kilometers. 

An hour after I finished my ride, I was filling up my car with gas at Co-op and I met up with Rod Elias from Morden again.  He asked, “Were you guys really riding your bikes as far as you said?”  I told him yes and that I just got home an hour ago. I don’t remember what he said but the look on his face was priceless.  A facial expression is worth a million words and his grin said, “That’s stupid and awesome!”  It was stupidly awesome.

This trip was one of the favorite things I’ve done on my bike and I’d totally do it again in a heartbeat.  I have the best wife for letting me go outside and play for three days.  Thanks Rachael!   I also have the best kids.  Clara took time to make me a huge batch of homemade trail mix cookies the day before I left because she said I packed too much unhealthy junk.   Eli’s Father’s Day gift to me, a “World’s Best Dad” keychain, jingled from my backpack strap and kept reminding me of good times we have together.  They definitely kept me going in between towns.

And now back to doing 1-2 hour rides.

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