Mother Nature always wins.
Who, in their right mind, wants to ride their bike in the prairies in July. July is the month of terrible storms, terrible bad storms, terrible bad storms and hot humid temperatures. Fools, fools are the ones who want to ride their bikes in the prairies in July.
“Hey Pete, do you want to do Muerto #3 the weekend of July 11?”
Two fools are born. Here is the tale of two fools in pictures and words.
We should have known better, the forecast was ominous with temperatures in the 30s, with the potential of them soaring around 40 with the humidex, we ignored that and were ready to leave Tim Hortons in Morden on Saturday morning.
We started fine. The winds were from the southeast and in our favour. Our moods were good and our optimism and anticipation of exploring the back roads of southwestern Manitoba was high.
“Where’s my Spot?”
“What do you mean Pete?”
“I don’t have my Spot, I think it must of fallen off when I adjusted my sleeping bag.”
We discovered that Pete had indeed dropped his Spot GPS when he adjusted his sleeping bag.
Nice thing about dropping a Spot is that it tells you where it is, 6km of back tracking, being chased by the again by the dog we just passed, got us to where Pete’s Spot lay in the grass.
With Pete’s Spot firmly secured to his handlebar we were back on track enjoying the scenery and the ride, minus having to pass the same bicycle chasing dog for the third time.
Manitoba backroads are ever fascinating and pretty, dotted with interesting cemeteries, landscapes and rivers.
In no time we found ourselves at the first checkpoint.
With the first waypoint under our belt, the Pembina Valley Provincial Park shelter, we were back on the road to the two remaining waypoints. Sure we were little behind on our intended schedule because of the Spot SNAFU but we would have no trouble making that up, no trouble if you don’t count the heat and humidity as factors.
As we wound our way west we came across a sign encouraging wayward travellers to visit historic Star Mound.
“Hey Pete, that looks interesting, want to go see what Star Mound is all about?”
Star Mound is the odd little hill, it looks like an inverted bowl in the middle of the flat Manitoba prairie. On top of this odd inverted bowl of a hill is an old single room school house.
“We need to remember this place.”
“Why’s that Pete?”
“It would be a good place to bivy.”
“Yeah, it sure would be – it might be kind of spooky though, it feels haunted.”
After we visited the school on Star Mound we had a decision to make.
“Pete, what do you want to do? Should we go back 1 mile south into the wind? I’d rather not.”
“I don’t think we have to, we should be able to to stay on these roads, there is however, one part I am not sure of if we go directly west though…”
“Shouldn’t be a problem, let’s try this road going west.”
So, instead of staying with our planned route we deviated, and it was not so much that we deviated that caused us or next set of problems it’s that we did not pay complete attention to where we were as we headed down the road on our deviated course. A few kilometers later we found ourselves standing in front of a paved road, ugh. Since the Muerto rules say you cannot travel on paved roads except within a mile of a town we had to go 1 mile back and another mile south to get back on the gravel roads that would get us to Cartwright, the midway point for our first day. Backtracking sucks.
Another problem with our deviated route was we were not quite sure the route was completely passable.
“Hal, pretty sure this road ends up in the farmyard up ahead, I think the road continues on the other side of the yard but we’ll need to cross a creek.”
“Should we see if we can go through the yard to cross the creek?”
“Sure, but we should probably ask permission though”
We approached the two story white house at the end of the road and knocked on the door. A woman answered the door, I introduced myself and explained what we were trying to do and asked if we could cross her yard to get across the creek, Judy said “I’ll show you where you can cross.”
With the problem of the farm yard and the creek solved we continued on Provincial Road 4N, although not really a road it seemed to be okay.
The road/path changed however and we soon found ourselves on a mowed field
“Hal, it looks like the road continues at the other end of the field but I am not sure”
“Hmmmm, I don’t feel like backtracking so let’s go see”
We found out that it did not continue, a wheat field is what we found at the other end of the mowed field.
We decided to ride through the field because at this point we were in too deep to turn back. We could see telephone poles up ahead, a sign that a road was there so we pressed forward.
We got to the road, looked at our maps again and decided that 7N would be the best choice to get us to Cartwright. We made our way to 7N and eventually to Cartwright were we planned to stop for lunch.
When we got to Cartwright we found a bakery/restaurant and I quickly downed a milkshake and a coke. I ordered a table full of food and waited for it arrive. As I sat there I started to sweat, I was sweating before I sat down but this was different, I didn’t feel so good. The food came and all I could was look at it, I stared at if for an hour nibbling here and there but I could not really eat any of it. I gave up, paid for it and asked Pete if it would be okay if I lay down for an hour or so. We went to the town park and we lay down on top of some picnic tables under a shelter, an hour later I got up and felt much better.
After the nap we continued west, climbing towards Turtle Mountain. As we rode along we noticed that the storm clouds were starting to build – it looked like Mother Nature was about to throw us a haymaker. We got to the trail that we though of taking to the Park and looked at gathering storm clouds and then back at the trail.
“What do you think Pete, should we chance it?”
“No way, if it rains when we are on those roads we’ll never get the mud out of our bikes.”
“Okay, we’ll stay on the gravel and figure it out when we get to the Park”
We pressed forward but our the window for riding didn’t stay open too long, the thunder was rumbling non-stop and the lightning flashing in the distance was closing fast. We surveyed the situation, there was a farm yard and shelter belt a couple of kilometers up the road and we thought we could make that if we hustled. By the time we got to the farmyard it was getting dark and we were feeling really pressed to find some shelter. We got to the driveway of the yard, it had a closed fence around it and there were cattle surrounding the house and I swear there was even one on the porch of the house, we looked at each other…
“What do you think, should we go ask?”
“Ummm, I don’t think so, it looks kind of weird, let’s try our luck with that shelter belt.”
The storm was almost on top of us by now. As quickly as possible I got my tent up between the Canola field and trees, Pete was already in his bivy sac beside me when the shit show began. From 9:30 to 12:00 it was non-stop rain and winds. The rain (maybe hail) was so intense and heavy that Pete had to press his bivy sac upwards with his hands to keep if off of his body because the pounding hurt too much, inside the tent it was bad, but not that bad. The rain let up for periods of time but they were replaced with winds, winds that threatened to send you and Toto back to Kansas. At one point I was holding the side of my tent out sideways with my hand because the tent was completely collapsing because of the intensity of the wind. On top of that there was enough lighting constantly flashing that I swear I could read a book – it was nuts. When the storm passed I eventually drifted off to sleep but it took some time because I was completely wound up from the storm.
(This video captures the essence of the storm, especially starting at 1:28 through 2:39)
Three hours later it was time to get up. As quickly as possible we broke camp, fought off the mosquitoes and got on the road
An couple of hours later we were in Turtle Mountain where we had breakfast.
Following breakfast it was on the trail to the West Cabin, the second waypoint.
Which we reached the cabin in about an hour
The trail to the cabin and back was nice with plenty of small lakes along the way.
Once we got out of the park we had a kilometer stretch of road that was all downhill, it was the best 5 kilometers of the whole trip up to that point, fast and easy.
In no time at all we were in Boissevain
Boissevain is big enough to have a few choices for lunch, as we rolled through town we pondered our choices…
“Hey Pete, how about Veva’s? It looks kind of fancy though?”
“We smell too bad, we don’t want to ruin someone’s Sunday lunch”
Hmmm, good point, how about Subway then, we won’t bother anyone in Subway”
An hour later we rolled out of Subway.
Our next stop was Ninette, 3-4 hours away. Time was starting to become an issue, in order to finish the challenge I needed to be done by Monday evening at the latest, but with our mistakes compounding and the cold cock from Mother Nature last night we needed to be mistake free for the rest of the ride, finishing the challenge meant no more mistakes and no more weather related body blows from Mother Nature.
About an hour out of Boissevain…
“Do we turn here?
“I think it is one more mile before we turn.”
10 minutes later…
Although really really hot and humid we had the wind somewhat at our backs and we were not doing too bad speed wise, managing 20kmph for the most part.
Sometimes the roads turned to field access paths, these were a nice change from the gravel.
Just before we rolled into Ninette we came upon this gentleman who was attempting the foot version of Challenge #3, only problem was he never declared so this attempt didn’t count.
A quick meal in Ninette (an hour constitutes quick – I guess) and we were back on the road. Coming out of Ninette the choice route is the convereted rail bed.
The trail is a much gentler climb than the road and it has the added bonus of no vehicles – win win. It is too bad that this trail doesn’t take you all the way to 92W which was our road north to Glenboro. We jumped onto a gravel road and worked our way towards 92W. After a few miles the road turned into a quad trail. On the map it looked like our “road” went through to 92W but it had, let’s say, some gaps before we got to there. At one point we had to skirt around a small lake and once we got around that we found a fork in the trail, one trail was used and had definite tracks, the other waist high grass.
“Hey Pete, guessing we stay on this track, that one is way too overgrown.”
5 miles later
“Hal, these road signs make no sense”
“I think we’re going south instead of east”
Stop, look at maps and Garmin (which was being recharged)….
For the last 40 minutes we were heading in the wrong direction, on top of that storm clouds were building to the west, Mother Nature was rolling up her sleeves again and was itching for another fistfight.
We turned around and made our way back to the fork in the trail and headed up the overgrown trail, the one we should have taken in the first place. We eventually popped out of the trail and found ourselves in another farm yard with our road just ahead of us. We stopped for a minute to survey the situation, thunder heads were building and it was starting to rain again.
“Think we should go or wait Pete?”
“Hmmmm, I think we should wait.”
We found a tree to stand under at the edge of the yard to wait out the storm. At this point we tried to figure out how we were possibly going to finish the ride in time for me to get back to Winnipeg on Monday night, we pondered several possibilities (all involving a lot of night riding) but it wasn’t looking promising. Doing the math made it apparently clear that it was not going work: too many wrong turns, too much heat and humidity, too much unstable weather made it impossible for me to finish – I was done, I pulled the plug on the ride.
“What are you going to do Pete?”
“I think I am going to continue, I can get back to work a day later so I want to finish.”
“Sounds good, I guess we’ll ride to Glenboro and I’ll see if I can get a ride form there”
“Alright, first we’ll have to wait out this rain, it looks like it will clear in a few minutes.”
We continued to stand underneath the tree when we saw a man at the other end of the yard, he was moving his truck from into the machine shed.
“Should we go talk to him?”
“Yeah, probably, we should see if we could hide out in his machine shed if the weather gets worse.”
Pete went to go talk to him while I fired up my phone to call my cousin John to see if he could come and pick me up when I here the farmer say to Pete…
“Are you doing the bike marathon across Manitoba?”
What! I was completely floored, how would he know what we would be doing that???
I walked over to where Pete and the farmer were talking. Following a friendly chat with Alfred, the name of the farmer, we found out that Jim had passed through this same yard when he did his Challenge in June, he had spoke with Alfred at that time to ask him about which roads to take thats why he guessed at what we were up to.
We talked for a bit more then Pete and I discussed what we were going to do. We decided that I was going to get a ride to Glenboro, where I would was going to be picked up, and Pete was going to continue. After Pete took off I loaded my bike into the back of Alfred’s pickup and before we drove off Alfred and I looked up at the skies…
“You know Hal, I think we’ll follow your friend for a while in the pickup, just in case.”
“Sounds like a good idea.”
We drove off and soon caught up to Pete, we hung back about 100 meters and followed Pete for the next 45 minutes in the pickup truck. We talked about family, farming, land prices, and politics, it was a good time. As we chatted the skies around us continued to brew, it did not look good. We were not being rained on but rain and lightning was on both sides of us, Pete was seeing the same thing. About 8 kilometers from Glenboro Pete stopped, we drove up beside him,
“You know if you were not following me in the truck I would not have come this far.”
“What do you mean.”
“I am totally exposed out here, if that storm changes direction I have no where to hide, it’s just too dangerous and selfish to be out here, I’m pulling out.”
With that we were both officially done. We put Pete’s bike in the back of Alfred’s truck and drove to Glenboro to wait for our ride to show up. It was disappointing not to finish but there was not a lot of choice in the matter, too many mistakes and bad weather had done in our attempts at Challenge #3.
“You going to try this again Pete?’