Summer Challenge # 4
As I was re-assembling my bike after my flight from Ontario, I dropped the nut for the end of the skewer for my front wheel, and watched it roll off the 16th floor balcony, never to be seen again. Was this the way my summer challenges were going to go? Fortunately MEC was still open and had an old one lying around that they could give me. Ready to ride!
It had been 30 degrees when I arrived in Winnipeg, but was 13 and damp and windy Saturday morning when we rode out to Beausejour for a hearty breakfast at Country Bumpkins, and then got the bike set up. By 9:30 I was off on my adventure.
I was soon warm as I fought the strong headwinds from the northeast, enjoying the wide open spaces, old churches, and even a house that I might be able to afford.
Before long I was on secondary roads that were a little more challenging. First there were some sections with soft areas, and firm ridges from vehicles going through. My front tire caught one of the ridges and I was sent flying. Fortunately I was able to roll out of the fall with minimal damage to myself, or more importantly, the bike. Shortly after that I had my first real encounter with some of the famous Manitoba gumbo, and everything seized up on the bike. In this area with no trees it was a challenge to poke all the gumbo out of wheels and drive train and forks without even a twig to scrape with.
I thought I was doing a good job of avoiding the worst of the wet areas but hit another patch of the thick goo, and suddenly came to a stop. Besides having my forks jammed full of muck, my derailleur hanger had broken. I had a spare hanger, but had never worked on one before, but thought that I should be able to figure it out and get going again soon. When I took off the piece attached to the frame, I found that it allowed the small bolt in it to turn, but the metal was bent enough that it was trapping the head of the bolt, and I couldn’t get it out to put on the new hanger. I wondered about pounding it with a rock, but that would have destroyed the thread on the bolt. As I was wondering what to do I saw a van driving up the nearest intersecting road and sprinted towards it, waving my arms to get them to stop. Unfortunately they didn’t have any tools on board. I was contemplating a very long walk to the nearest farm carrying my bike, but after numerous attempts I was able to clamp the small piece of metal in the chain breaker on my multi-tool, and then use an Allen wrench to bend the metal enough to get the bolt free. I decided I had better be very cautious, at least until I got out of the muck, so I did a couple of kilometers of hike a biking.
After a lunch break in Lac du Bonnet I enjoyed riding on the paved road into Nopiming Provincial Park. I had thought that the forest would block the wind, but it seemed to funnel it down the road, so riding wasn’t really any easier.
I had hoped to ride further my first day, but by the time I got to Black Lake Campground after about 150 km, I was out of water, and the sun was starting to get low. There was no potable water at the campground, but I was able to beg some water off RV campers and cooked up my dehydrated meal before camping for the night. I had a LifeStraw with me, but nothing to treat larger quantities of water.
I had planned on getting up when the birds woke me, but hadn’t counted on them getting started at 4:15 in the morning! Getting underway by 6 I was able to beat some of the rain and was able to do the hike at Ancient Mountain while it was still dry and beautiful.
The sign about steep hills had me concerned but most of them were just small rollers, and other than quite a bit of washboarding, the road was in good shape. As I had been riding I thought I kept hearing something rubbing at times, from the front of my bike, but over the noise of the gravel and the rain I couldn’t be sure. When I checked I couldn’t find any problems until I finally stopped and found that my seat bag had sagged lower today when it was loaded differently, and I had worn a hole into it. The plastic plate in the bottom of it kept my tire from eating a hole through my tent and sleeping mat. I felt pretty stupid about using my seat bag for a brake for about 40 km.
As I came over a hill I saw a moose up at the side of the road. The wind noise kept it from knowing I was nearby, and I considered riding up close to get a good picture, thinking that it would be much more afraid of me than I was of it. I then thought about some of the YouTube videos I had seen of moose chasing mountain bikers, and the fact that I was on my own, and hadn’t seen a vehicle since I had started cycling almost 2 hours ago, and decided that perhaps I should be a little cautious. I yelled until I got her attention and then rode past her waving my arms until she headed off into the bush.
I rode through the area that had seen a forest fire not too long ago, and then at the north end of the park there were some larger hills and then the wet ride to Bisset where I had lunch and tried to dry out and warm up a bit.
I had been told that I might be able to get some water at the place next to Wood Falls, and I was in luck that there were some people working at the catering place there.
Shortly after leaving Manigotogan I had a flat tire. It was an uneventful repair, other than the black fly convention that seemed to be taking place right at the same spot. Not long after, as I was riding along I heard something metallic bounce on the road and turned back to find that I had lost a plug that goes in the middle of the left crank. I was not sure what it was for, but thought it was a strange thing to drop off, and put it back on.
The ride to Pine Falls on the paved road was pleasant, other than the times when the rain was a steady pour instead of drizzle and some sunny patches. I had been to Pine Falls over 30 years ago when my sister-in-law lived there, so I made a side trip to find her old house. By the time I was done, I had ridden about 195 km and was tired and cold and wet, and considered getting a motel room, but I was doing a bike-packing trip, and I felt like that would sort of be violating the spirit of my challenge. Since I didn’t really have the energy to look for a campsite I just set up my tent in the back corner of a tiny town park for the night. As I was settling in for the night I had a fox run across in front of my tent.
The next morning was sunny and the ride south from Pine Falls through the trees was lovely. I was surprised when I came around a corner and was suddenly out on the prairies again. Leaving the pavement I found that all the rain had made the gravel soft and spongy and riding slower and more difficult than I expected.
I had gotten used to meeting nothing but friendly, helpful people on my travels in Manitoba, so as I got close to where I thought the Peter Skrepetez Trail was to start, I stopped to ask for directions. As I rode into a yard near the end of the road, a couple of 120 pound dogs came roaring out at me, barking and growling, but soon settled down. The man that I had seen in the yard approached me with “What do you want?” When I started to ask about the trail he gruffly said “I don’t know nothing about no trail!” I then started to ask if the road I was on continued past the hill next to his house and he yelled “I DON”T KNOW NOTHING ABOUT NO TRAIL! – NOW BEAT IT!”, with a big wave of his meaty arm, as if he was trying to swat me off the property. I apologized for bothering him and left, thinking that he must have been in a hurry to get back to his meth lab or something.
I found the end of the trail and enjoyed riding down it. After the rain the beaver dam next to the trail had overflowed, so there was a bit of walking involved, but as I was walking my bike through the water, surrounded by mosquitoes, I found myself grinning and thinking how much fun I was having. Then I started to wonder if there could be something wrong with me!
Patricia Beach was beautiful, with the sun shining, and not a person on the pristine sand. I was tempted to stay and relax for a while.
Near the lake most of the roads were very wet with a lot of sections that I had to walk, either because of very wet sand, or thick gumbo that had me walking through the grass alongside of the road. As I got closer to Beausejour the roads were drying out and much easier riding.
I got into Beausejour about 2:30 to end the challenge, and had a big meal to celebrate.
It was still early, and a lovely day for riding a bike, so I thought I would head for West Hawk Lake or Falcon Lake. I had been considering doing both summer challenge 1 and 4, and since it was only about 135 km between the end of one and the start of the other, I could do it all as a loop if my bike and I could hold up. My bike was no longer shifting onto the large cog on the front, but that has been a recurring issue since I had my drivetrain upgraded, so I wasn’t too worried about that. I would just have to spin a little faster at times.
I had a tailwind most of the way down highway 44, and the only problem were the 20 to 30 horse flies that kept buzzing around and trying to take their pound of flesh as I tried unsuccessfully to outrun them. The ride was great, with the section from the Whiteshells area to West Hawk being one of the most beautiful rides anywhere. Since I was now between challenges I had decided to get a motel room for the night, and arrived in West Hawk just as the motel was closing. It was so nice to have a shower and a chance to dry out some of my gear. It had been a 215 km day and I was ready to relax.
Summer Challenge # 1 (in reverse)
I had a visitor greet me as I left my motel room and headed off to Falcon Lake for the actual start of my next challenge. I had a nice east wind helping me along, but without my big gear I couldn’t take advantage of it as much as I would have liked.
As I was riding west from Falcon Lake suddenly my left crank came off my bike. Fortunately the pedal and crank were still clipped on to my shoe and not bouncing down the Trans Canada Highway. I was able to put things back together, although the little piece that had come off before was now gone. Surprisingly I could now shift properly again. I wondered if the crank had been loose all along, causing some of the shifting issues.
When I was off the highway I missed a turn in the East Braintree area and did a little 14 km detour, and then, when I got closer to Hadashville, I found the road I was following was closed. When I stopped to ask directions I was told I had to go further north and then work my way back south. I told him “Man, you’re killing me – you’re adding over 3 km to my ride”. He let out a big booming laugh and said “Well, you’re doing it for the good of your health, aren’t you?” When we looked at the next part of the ride he told me that I wouldn’t be able to get through the forestry roads that I had upcoming, saying that they were way too sandy to ride a bike on. Not what I wanted to hear.
The first parts of the trails were good, although a little sandy in places, and then there were some areas that the rain had collected a bit more, but still very ride-able.
Instead of having no road where one existed on my map, I came to a corner where there was an extra road. Of course I took the wrong one and ended up my detour at a gravel pit. Back on the correct road I came to a new section that looked like someone had folded it up like an accordion, with humps a foot high and depressions as deep, filled with water. As I was walking through and around this section I saw a 4 wheel drive truck slowly working it’s way down the road. I stopped them to make sure I was on the correct trail and found that it was a Conservation crew checking the roads. When they found out where I was planning to go, they told me that the roads up ahead were impassable, and that I would have to turn back and make my way up to the highway. I told them that with the challenge that was not an option, and I would have to go ahead. They then told me that just a few km further on there had been a huge timber wolf standing in the middle of the trail, and that I definitely had to go back to the highway. When I pointed out that I really didn’t want to retrace about 15 km of poor roads, and then take the highway, they told me that if I took the trail, and survived, I deserved a medal. I thought “A medal !?- cool!”, but asked how scary a wolf really was. Their reply was that if there was a pack it would take me down easily. Since I had never heard of a cyclist being eaten by wolves I thought I should be fine. Before I left, the one man stared at me for a while and then said ” I am just memorizing your shirt and helmet in case we need to identify you later”. That really didn’t sound good.
I clipped my whistle to my jersey zipper thinking that if needed it might startle any animals I saw, and headed off. I rode as fast as I could on the uneven surface, knowing that I couldn’t outrun a wolf pack, but thinking that if they were not right near the road I could pass by before they realized that “Meals on Wheels” had arrived.
When I got to roughly the area that the wolf had been I saw a huge set of paw prints on the road, and what looked like a thousand other tracks with it. Of course this area was very sandy and difficult to ride through, but I was soon past that section and on my way.
There were parts of the road that were very sandy and I had to ride in the narrow strip of grass along side of the road, and but in other areas where trees lined the road I had to walk long sections. Of course there were nice sections to ride, and some damp areas that had me wading in water halfway to my knees.
I finally got to the end of the forestry roads, had a meal in Richer, and headed towards Ste Agathe. The riding was now straight forward, except at one point I could see a group of 15 to 20 white and black animals on the road up ahead. When they saw me they started to run down the road in my direction. I thought that if it was a pack of dogs I could be in trouble, but figured that here on the prairies at least I shouldn’t have to worry about wolves. As they got closer it turned out to be something much less sinister.
As I got close to Ste Agathe I could see the black of a long stretch of gumbo road ahead of me and considered turning back, but found that it was dry and very easy to ride on if I dodged the ruts in it.
The community campsite at Ste Agathe had no facilities available, but I had my choice of campsites. With my detours and start in West Hawk it had been another 200 km day, so it was another early night.
The next morning, rather than taking time to cook my oatmeal, and not wanting to do the 2 km backtrack into town, I had a chocolate bar and headed west to Brunkild, about 30 down the road. My notes indicated that I could get food there, but I found that there was a Bar and Grill, advertising that it was open late, but unfortunately it didn’t open early. The little variety store was also closed, but I found someone at the Esso gas station. While they only had basic junk food, the coffee was on, so I spent some time sitting and chatting with the owner and a local farmer, while I ate a Twinkie type cake, a granola bar and some pretzels – breakfast of champions!
My ride was uneventful, other than facing a northwest wind, but as I was stopped at an intersection a large gravel truck came around the corner and stopped just ahead of me and the driver got out and was working at the side of the road. As I was passing, he stopped me to tell me what he was doing. This middle aged aboriginal man showed me that there was wild Buffalo Sage growing along side of the road, and he was digging some of it up to transplant to other places along the road. He crushed some leaves and had me inhale the fragrance, informing me of how it healed and rejuvenated. I felt that I could use some of that. He then launched into a lengthy, animated, enjoyable discourse on natural remedies, his upbringing in traditional ways, and the need to get back to our roots. After I left I couldn’t help notice the sage growing in so many places.
I had a stretch of very sandy road, and then in the next regional municipality I passed a truck spraying herbicide along the roadway. My friend would have been very discouraged to see all the wilting sage that I passed after that.
As I passed some of the huge fields there were large tractors pulling huge boom sprayers, spreading a mist over the fields and out on to the road where I was riding. I am not sure if I was being soaked with herbicide or insecticide, but thought it might have been of more value when I was being eaten by the insects along the forestry roads yesterday.
Today I only came across one closed road, and it was not a problem for a bicycle, which was good since the river here was much too deep to ford.
I made it to Treherne by 2:30 and had my one real meal of the day – the huge Chinese food special, while I discussed the roads ahead of me with some of the locals.
By the time I was done eating, the wind had died down a lot, and I had a lot more energy, and really enjoyed the hills and scenery north of Holland and Glenboro.
I made it into Wawanesa in time to set up my tent in the community campground that even had a shower. I had considered walking up the hill to the hotel for a beer, but after another 195 km day, fighting the wind, I just went to bed early.
My last day was supposed to be a nice gentle ride in the sun, but the sky was dark, and as I headed west I could see a huge black cloud ahead, with lightning flashing back and forth through it. I had heard that prairie storms can arise quickly so I kept looking for possible areas for shelter as I rode. For the most part the storm stayed just far enough away that I could keep riding, but at one point I had to take refuge when I found an old truck that had been left open.
Later I hunched down beside an old drive shed to get out of the worst of the rain, hoping that the nearby grain bins wouldn’t attract too much lightning.
The sky eventually cleared and I enjoyed my ride through the wetlands area with hundreds of birds of numerous varieties. Further west I was cursing the affluence of the regional municipality I was riding in, since it seemed like they had an unlimited budget for gravel and road grading. I had mile after mile of fresh, deep gravel to slog through. The few areas where the loose gravel didn’t extend completely to the grass on the side of the road, the narrow strip of sand was too soft to ride on.
There were several roads that were closed so there was some zig-zagging to make my way west to Oak Lake and then north to Virden.
I was now in oil country and was soon in Virden.
I had arrived early enough to tour the town and dis-assemble my bike for my ride back to Winnipeg. (Thanks Scott). It had been a great adventure, experiencing a little over 1100 km of Manitoba scenery in the 6 days on the road. I had been very fortunate with the weather and winds, and having no major mechanical or health issues. I can’t wait to try another challenge.
There are obvious advantages to riding with others, such as companionship and safety, but I have found that riding solo I have a lot of interaction with people along the way (partly because I seem to keep messing up and need to ask for help). As much as I loved the scenery, it is many of these encounters that I will remember. Encounters like the ones already listed, but also others like:
– the hostess at the Black Lake campground who shared the bit of water she had with me, and then found another camper that was leaving soon, that was looking to get rid of some left over water, and then hiking through the campground till she found me to tell me about it.
– the young fellow at the burger joint in Pine Falls that wanted to hear all about my trip, and tell me about a ride he took to the Saskatchewan border with a French group;
– the lady in Wawanesa that has a little tea room in the back of her flower shop, where I got some breakfast. The biggest thing on her menu was 2 poached eggs and toast, and when I was wondering aloud if I should order 2 of them since I would be riding hard, she asked if she could cook up a couple of slices of ham for me (even though they were nowhere on the menu).
– the elderly owner of the gas station who had to get out an old newspaper clipping to show me. It was not long after the passing of Gordie Howe, and he was so proud of the photo of one of the boys from the tiny village, along with his hockey team, meeting his hockey hero.
A wonderful trip and wonderful memories.
Thanks to Hal Loewen for his work with the challenges. It was great fun.