We declared pretty early, and for the most part our intention was to gear up completely and tent along the way. After a May 7th half-day recon ride, and as the date with destiny drew nigh however, we started to reconsider a couple of factors: First, though we had given ourselves three days and an evening to finish we were pretty sure that if the weather and conditions were difficult, it was going to be a killer to finish in three; Second, once you’re about half-way into this ride there aren’t any outs really – if we’d have to call it quits it was going to be a long drive for the rescuers (and a long wait for us) – inconveniences abounded. So we discussed and debated and finally settled on a “lighter and faster” set-up, made some calls to Bissett to see if we could line up night’s lodging and food, and opted for a plan that we expected would more likely to succeed, regardless of the weather. We were right, I think. At least, things worked out.
And that turned out to be a good call. On Thursday at 6:15 pm as we rode off from Beausejour, it had been raining, and it was raining, and the roads were soft.
By 7:48 we were north of Beausejour on soft gravel that spat a tan-coloured cement-textured slurry onto us and our bikes. I’ll admit at times like these to being a bit of priss about my steed. Seeing it thus, so sullied, so early into the journey, was disappointing, but that’s the way it goes when plans and imaginings meet the gravel and the mud. You take a break, eat some food, stand over your bike, thanking it for its work. Then, less than 10% into your trip, you get back on and start pedaling.
And still the roads will get wetter, softer, and less all-weather than the maps would suggest. The first 60 kilometres, that first day, turned out to be the greatest test of the whole ride really, mostly mental. In my head, the first 20 or 30 kms of any ride are the best – the promise of spending a day on the bike, the energy of fresh legs, and the destination still bright in the mind – everything looks and feels right. But not on this day. That first day of rain and muck nearly beat it out of us. Spent and feeling a bit up against it, we pedaled into Lac du Bonnet shortly after 10 pm and headed south down MacArthur Rd to break into my sister’s cottage on the Winnipeg River for the night. A decent night’s rest helps, if you get it. Or you can spend the night thinking about what was, and wondering about the day to come. We did a little of both, after we’d cleaned the bikes and ourselves and then eaten, of course.
We stepped out into a day of cloud and mist and threatening rain and pedaled off to Drifters Inn for breakfast.
After pedaling 40 kms of pavement we felt a damn sight better. I could even say that we even felt strong and that we looked forward to the day with renewed strength and optimism, despite the radar images from Environment Canada still predicting rain and more rain.
Still, there were signs, good signs, of better times. Heading Northeast into the park the roads looked great. Wet, sure, but great. The promise of hills and trees and lakes and something other than prairie gave us some joy. Soggy joy.
Along the way we stopped to eat. This is Franklin eating at the intersection of the Tanco Mine Rd. It was still wet.
At this lake we stopped to eat. Again Franklin found such joy in his thermos of noodles. It was still wet.
At the Black Lake Campground we stopped to get out of the rain … even though at this point it had stopped raining. By force of habit, we decided it would be a good time to eat.
This is about as far as we could ride up the Walking on Ancient Mountains Trail. Here we changed footwear (‘cause we’re smart and forward-thinking like that) and hiked. It took us just over 30 minutes round trip. Including time to take pics.
Walking on Ancient Mountains selfie time. Yes. It was that memorable! (Actually it was really something. Nice views and all that.)
After walking on ancient mountains we met a moose and chased it for a km or so. (This is true. That is a moose in the distance.) The beauty and pleasure of the second day’s ride cannot really be put into words: the winding roads, the regular climbs, the rewarding descents, the good roads. Yes, it was wet and raining for most of the day, but while riding we were already talking about coming back to redo this loop (320 kms total, starting and finishing at Lac du Bonnet (leaving out Beausejour and Patricia Beach)).
The day was capped off with a civilized, and dry, night at the Northern Wings Bed & Breakfast: supper, a good bed, breakfast, and a lunch to go!
By 8:30 am we were on the road again. No rain to start, but it was chilly and cloudy enough to start with rain jackets. Which turned out to make it start raining pretty much on cue, by 9 am. And though the roads were, again, well-maintained and interesting the ride, they were wet and kicked up a spray of fine whitish-tan grit that caked on to everything.
Wood Falls. Just plain pretty! Though at this point in the ride we were about as cold and wet as we’d be.
More grit. (Franklin took this pic after the gravel at Wood Falls. If you zoom in on the camelback, you’ll see it’s encased in a layer of cement-slurry-looking grit.)
As if on cue with the pavement, the rain stopped. Stupid rain. Anyway, this warmed us up as we rode on. The pavement, you’d think, would raise spirits and ease things, but really there was a kind of deadening, chaffing, monotony to it. (Not sure how those randonneur’ers do it.) While the road rose and fell gently, and wound lazily, it kind of ground us down.
When we got to Powerview, at around 3 pm, rather than riding on to what we anticipated could be the wet and soft roads around Stead, we stopped for burgers and beds at the Papertown Inn.
(Here we enjoyed said burgers and beds, and also learned some Cree while spending some time on the patio outside. “Poonch” (pronounced as it looks): which means to do the hoochy coochy with that special someone who doesn’t mind you hoochy-ing with their coochy!)
We got onto the road by 7 am on a day that, because of our prudent approach I’m sure, started out reasonably enough.
Then, just before the road opened up to the prairies, a mother bear and her cubs wandered onto the highway. We stopped and waited while they wandered and sniffed, and then a car came along and the driver offered to run interference for us, so we could get by. We took his offer, we got by.
The rain held off while we headed west. All of the roads here were good, including the Peter Skrepetez Trail, which was completely rideable.
Patricia Beach was cool and windy and deserted.
Somewhere north of Beausejour the rain set in again, as if to see us off, but in total the last day was great. The roads heading south and east from to Patricia Beach were better than expected and we cruised in to town in time for lunch.
(A closing shout out for Compass Barlow Pass tires. They were super comfortable, durable, and easy-rolling!)