Summer Challenge #4 – July 1, 2016, Dan and Dallas
Dallas and I decided to attempt the fourth summer challenge on Friday of the Canada Day long weekend. With a typical start, we crammed the car full of bikes and gear and headed straight to the coffee shop for a wake up call. The forecast and current weather looked promising as we set off to the starting point in Beausejour.
Arriving in town, we parked at the Co-Op, assembled the bikes and set off just after 7:30am. Our plan was to navigate gravel over to the Drifter’s Inn in Lac Du Bonnet and pick up anything we might need for the long haul as it was unclear what might be available beyond that point based on our estimated travel schedule and the fact that it was a holiday weekend.
Before crossing Hwy 435 we encountered our first and only mechanical problem. Dallas’s front tire went flat. After demonstrating some lightning fast pit-crew skills, we were on our way again.
The route in to Lac Du Bonnet was otherwise uneventful and there was a bit of a tailwind so we made good time. Some sections had soft gravel and there was a bit of mud/grass (no more than a couple of miles) but the recent dry weather helped make that passable. As mentioned, our first planned stop was at the Drifter’s Inn, we picked up a bit of water to top up and a coke for the road and we were on our way again.
Leaving Lac Du Bonnet the traffic picked up significantly on Hwy 313. We had hoped to avoid some of the long weekend traffic by setting off on the Friday morning (instead of Thursday night) but apparently everyone else had the same idea.
Turning on to Hwy 315 was a welcome relief to get away from some of the traffic and just down the road we were happy to find gravel again.
The weather was holding up in spectacular fashion. The only downside of being back on gravel was our underestimation of steady holiday traffic heading to Nopiming. The road surface was a bit rough, and with regular ‘dustings’ from the traffic it was a reminder that these adventures have the word ‘challenge’ in their title.
Another change that I forgot to mention once we were past Lac Du Bonnet was the constant companionship of horse flies. We each had our own private entourage circling the bikes. Whenever we stopped, the horse flies would disperse, leaving us alone until we started up again and the circling continued. There were enough that a few of my pictures accidentally focused on them.
Traffic started to thin out further North so we were not getting dusted as often and enjoying the ride a bit more. We spotted the water pump near Shoe Lake but decided to take the warnings into account and skip a water resupply there. Instead, we had much better luck rolling into the Black Lake Campground and getting water from the office (they kindly refilled bottles/bladders for us!). With one quick stop for a picture, we set off in search of the first checkpoint nearby (Ancient Mountain, 11km up the road).
We arrived at the trail head for the Ancient Mountain hiking trail and rode as far as we could along the trail, hauled the bikes over a few more awkward sections and decided to lock them to a tree and hoof-it the rest of the way. The hike up to the top was fun, although there was a bit more scrambling and rock-hopping than we had anticipated.
The hike was good fun, an excellent opportunity to stretch the legs out a bit and also enjoy the view from the top. Heading back down we followed the trail in reverse. At one point we got a bit turned around and I managed to get stung by a wasp but otherwise we arrived back at the bikes and were ready to find our way out of the park.
A few clouds decided to appear in the sky, but nothing ominous and the heat of the day was starting to cool a bit. We started to see more wildlife including deer, rabbits, butterflies and a few turtles to go along with the ever-present army of horse flies.
Reaching the end of Hwy 314 our route turned North on 304 away from Long Lake. According to the green sign nearby, we had another 40km to Bissett.
The scenery along 304 was beautiful and the afternoon/early-evening temps made for great riding conditions. Traffic was minimal with the odd truck and a few ATVs but otherwise we were on our own and it was very peaceful.
Neither of us knew much about Bissett so we were unsure of whether there would be any chance of a resupply in town. We hoped to get water for the next part of the ride through the night if possible to help avoid stopping to filter some later on.
As evening stretched on, we were less confident about finding much in Bissett. Just before 9pm we spotted a comm tower, which is always a welcome sign when hunting for nearby towns. Over the next rise we passed a few houses, a bit of traffic and then the sign indicating services in town. Apparently there was a gas station, grocery store, place to eat and lodgings in town.
That sounded promising and as luck would have it, there was a Canada Day party going on at the town centre. Some locals told us that they were serving food and drinks and that we should hustle over there. We rolled up to the event at 5 after 9 to discover they had stopped serving five minutes earlier. They suggested trying the hotel up the road. Unfortunately, the kitchen at the hotel was closed as well, so we engaged in the usual bar food experience (can drinks and chips). Before heading out, we loaded up on water and put on warmer clothes in preparation for cooler evening conditions.
Leaving Bissett the road turned more West than North on our way to the second checkpoint at Manigotagan. As evening wore on and the sun went down, the amount of stars on display were amazing to look at. There were several occasions where I stopped and turned off my lights to look up and appreciate the magnitude of what we could see with minimal light pollution (and little moonlight). The fireflies joined in, making for some spectacular views all around.
The distance from Bissett to Manigotagan was around 50km and we were covering ground at a good clip. Road conditions improved as we rolled past the English Brook park/campground entrance. Manigotagan was just up the road and bypassing the town we stopped at the bridge over Wood Falls around 12:30am and stopped for a bit and took some pictures before continuing the journey South.
The next stretch on Hwy 304 was paved after Wood Falls, the smooth surface was a nice change for a little while. By this point, I think the heat of the day may have taken a bit more out of us. We made our way slowly down the highway feeling the effects of the now much cooler temps. Originally the forecast had called for 10C overnight, but with the humidity, I had my toque on, two pairs of gloves, knee warmers and I was thinking about putting on my rain gear for an additional heat trap (although I never did). I gave Dallas a couple of plastic bags for his hands as well and we shivered away through the wee hours on the highway.
There was minimal traffic leaving Manigotagan behind and around 3am we started noticing the usual signs of the sun coming back up. The dusky morning was in full swing about an hour later and the first rays of sunlight were a warm and welcome relief. We rode into Pine Falls around 6am, just in time for the restaurant at the motel to serve breakfast.
Considering we had covered about 350km by this point, it was not too surprising that the hungry man breakfast and hot coffee disappeared quickly. We discussed the next part of the route over breakfast and then packed up and headed back outside to continue on our way.
Setting off from Pine Falls found us still on the paved highway and making good time toward Stead. The point on the highway where you suddenly pop out of the trees, back on the open prairie was a stark enough difference that we couldn’t help but stop for another picture.
We found our next turn a little before Stead and it was a soft, fresh, odd-sized mix of gravel and powder. Not exactly what we had hoped for, but it got us to where we needed to be (on the trails near Stead). Trail conditions were much better and we followed them over to the final checkpoint at Patricia Beach.
The beach was surprisingly quiet, although it was still morning so we reasoned that perhaps more of the beach-goers were recovering from the Canada Day/Night festivities.
Leaving the beach behind and heading toward Scanterbury, the roads were in good shape and we were pleased knowing that there was not much distance between us and the finish.
After crossing the highway, we rode down Bison Drive E, which was rough and dusty (due to oncoming traffic). We were glad to reach the end of it and get out onto the wide open prairie, heading toward Beausejour, the car and a celebration lunch.The final stretch included a moderate headwind, keeping us cool and providing a reminder that we had been extremely lucky with weather.
Arriving back at the car first, I opened everything up to let it cool, packed my bike away and got changed. Dallas arrived shortly after, we packed up and then set off in search of that celebration lunch to cap off a great adventure.
Thanks to Dallas for joining me and sharing the horse fly swarm, much appreciated buddy! Thanks also to Hal and anyone else that may have had input on the route/checkpoints for this year. We enjoyed plotting a course and then getting out to see some places neither of us had been to before.