Authors note: Before I begin my report I need to say something. I have no idea how people like Hal, Peter, and others are part of the same species as me. The fact that they do this challenge in three days when I could barely finish in a week is almost impossible to comprehend.
Being a resident of Morden I was lucky in terms of packing and getting ready. The morning of June 24 I set out from my house, stopped in at Tims and set off south.
My route was created in an odd way, backward but doing checkpoint 1 on the first day then heading north, and while I certainly added KMs to my final tally I felt it was the smartest for myself. First off the climb in and out of the valley just north of the Pembina Valley checkpoint sucks. There is no other way to describe it because you are either grinding up the steep side or grinding up the long grueling other side. With first day fresh legs, I preferred to just get it out of the way instead of facing it on the last part of the last day.
Another reason for this direction was that the prevailing winds in this area are west and I was hoping I could luck into a nice tailwind on my last day. At the very least I was hoping to lessen chances of a headwind.
Now because plans last as long as your first pedal rotation I knew I was in trouble before I even left town. Despite the morning time, the air was already warm enough to ensure instant sweating, and upon hitting the gravel I realized the road had been recently grated and I would be spending the foreseeable future slowing pedaling through deep gravel trying to stay upright.
Sometime later I was standing on the precipice of the Pembina Valley with half of my 5L of water gone (yes I drink a lot when I ride), and the temperature was sitting nicely at 34 degrees Celsius. On top of the scorching heat, I was covered head to toe with dust and more than a little coating my mouth and lungs. However, I knew I didn’t really have a choice so I pushed forward and met what would be my enemy over the next week, hills.
90 minutes later, with the first checkpoint behind me, I finally passed the grater and hit the hard pack. Surprised at how much joy I could find in the hard gravel I decided that this called for a water celebration…… and nothing. With the heat, and over packing my bike, I had run through all five litres and I still had several hours to Manitou which was my nearest possible stop.
With a waterless hour behind me, I thought I was hallucinating when my guardian angel appeared. Crawling along and dreaming of hydration I saw a truck making their way towards me. They slowed to a stop and looked at me like I was crazy (not that far off considering how my dusty bearded self probably looked).
GA: What are you doing out here?
Me: It’s this challenge on my bike where I ride a course from Morden to Spruce Woods to Turtle Mountain and back to Morden.
GA: (returns to looking at me like I am insane), do you need a ride?
Me: No thanks, for some reason I chose to do this. You don’t have any water do you?
GA: No but I have a beer, would that work?
The smile on my face must have been from ear to ear because they laughed and handed me one of the best-tasting beers I’ve ever had. Yeah, it was Pabst Blue Ribbon (great beer, don’t care what you say) but it was ice cold, washed away the dust in my throat and gave me the energy to make it to Manitou. After filling and draining my water bottles once more I filled everything I could, bought a bunch of Gatorade, took my historical photos and plodded down the road to a local wildlife refuge where I stayed for the night. There also may have been a few more of those angelic beverages purchased.
McClung House and Hazel Cottage in their relatively new, and very visible, location in Manitou. Worth a trip to learn a little about this important figure in Mb history.
Surprised to wake up and not feel like I am going to die, so I brew some coffee and pack to leave. Day two was a repeat of day one with ridiculous temperatures and heavy water consumption, although I didn’t run out again thankfully and adding a quick nap in Mariapolis (after a delicious burger from their hotel) was definitely the right move.
To say I was still merrily pedaling away would be a lie and day 2 was probably my second hardest day. There were certainly harder physical days but day two and three were probably my mentally weakest and there were several times I seriously considered calling my wife and ending this insane ride. At one point late in the afternoon, when it was only +33, I openly mocked myself about the intelligence it took to do something like this for what amounted to not much more than pride.
Oh look! More hills to ride
There is a funny thing that happens when you are teetering there at the edge of giving up. Your mental and physical body wobble between putting your foot down literally, and pushing out one more rotation, but it’s also a strange place that I feel you become your strongest. Those are the moments where you see those flashes of the human spirit, where things that shouldn’t happen are willed too. (author’s note: when those moments of doubt actually happened I wish I could say I was this calm and well spoken, in reality there was a lot of swearing and promises of beer at the day’s finish).
What do you know, I didn’t stop and made one more rotation, and another one, and another one. Soon I was pulling through Glenboro and off towards Spruce Woods. Oh, and even more hills which you know, is awesome……
13 hours after I started I rolled into the campground, proud of myself for already riding my first century which was something I didn’t think was possible, I set up my tent and collapsed inside.
I didn’t think it was possible but somehow the third day was the hardest of the trip at that point and the hardest day of cycling in my life. With two 100+ km days in a row (for a guy where previously 80KM once a week was big) I set off for what I thought would be a quick 65km day on a mostly unloaded bike.
Muddy Trails, out of water again, stupid hot but in a windless swamp now with flies, instead of a windy plain. Two incidents in particular on this day highlighted my fatigue and tested me mentally. After a short water stop, I had continued on down the trail for another km when I realized I wasn’t listening to music anymore. Looking down I could only see an empty space where my phone/GPS/music player was supposed to be leading to a 2km total backtrack to find it laying on the trail. The second incident was after taking the checkpoint picture and 1.5 km away from the cabin realizing first how bright it was, then the fact that I didn’t have my glasses and they were no doubt back at the cabin. Cue another backtrack, this time for a nice round 3 km.
I left at noon and didn’t roll in until 930, skin covered with three days of grime and hair full of dead flies. I was certainly a prize.
This morning started with me feeling pretty rough due to the last few days, however, the thought of what awaited me at the end of today, a shower, propelled me forward. Besides being lucky enough to live at the starting line I also have family in Boissevain and was planning to stay there for the night.
The day itself was fantastic, had a tailwind for almost the entire time and found an amazing dual track that was packed like concrete and took me through fields full of old stone foundations and forgotten farms. I also started to feel a lot better after getting warmed up and happily ground out the km throughout the day just enjoying the scenery and much more reasonable temperatures and roads. It was also animal day apparently as I passed herd after herd of cattle and many groups of beautiful horses, including this group.
I left the house with good weather and a fresh shower ready to take on the day, and then I left the town. The recent weather had had a lot of rain and the mud/gravel roads were definitely showing it. With mud that clung to the tires every meter of the way, including low points that clogged everything with mud, it was tough going from the get-go.
Hoping for a reprieve when I reached the turn south for the Turtle Mountain Checkpoint I was only met with more of the same, but with a 40-50 Kph headwind. As much as it was demoralizing it was also the moment I realized I was truly committed to this and there was a good chance that I would finish this challenge.
Thanks to the same rain that made the roads gummy to ride down the Turtle Mountain road to the checkpoint and back was a sloppy mess. Mud gave way to puddles which gave way to mud.
Surprisingly I wasn’t even the craziest one, that award went to the car full of people who were using the road to travel in the park thanks to Google Maps. Mentally, I was tough on day 5 but physically it was exhausting to the point of dry heaving at times. The humidity was off the charts, bugs were everywhere and anytime you tried to ride you were quickly having to stop and scrape mud out of everything. It was as close to hell as I choose to get.
I started off for my final checkpoint that would be Rock Lake but something was wrong. I wanted to get going but even from the start things were slow, the weather was once again hot and my legs just weren’t cooperating. I wasn’t in pain or anything I just didn’t seem to have the energy to tap into and in general just felt hot and “blah”. This was the moment that I realized if I wanted to do something like this again, “are you really that *bleeping* stupid” were the first responses to that thought, rest days were essential. I’m aware I am not breaking new ground with that statement but despite me spreading the ride over seven days, and taking it “easy” in general, I was still desperately needing a day off. Unfortunately, my planning for this, and supplies didn’t allow for one so I had to keep pushing on and soon I was approaching the outskirts of Killarney.
At this point, I need to take a moment to talk about the food in Killarney. Without mentioning names one thing I found during this trip was that more and more burger places were using premade store burgers while charging much higher prices. Thankfully there are still those that believe in handmade burgers, with fresh ingredients, and The Beach Hut in that beautiful Killarney was just the place. After inhaling one of the best cheeseburger and onion ring combos I’ve ever had from a “burger shack” I grabbed a nap in the baseball field and once again set off. Despite fresh water and supplies, I was still feeling pretty drained and for the next five hours just spent focusing on one pedal rotation at a time, the last two of which I was raising a storm to get to my camping position. Unfortunately, due to my route, I didn’t have a lot of choices for gravel so I probably added at least 3 km to my route in that area but thankfully the finish point for the day made it all worth it.
From my direction of travel, there is a nice hill that leads to my chosen camping spot so I was able to coast and look around taking in the beautiful sites. After a really tough day, and with black clouds on my shoulder, it was an amazing site to see.
Having bought supplies in Killarney there was no need for cooking that night, which was just as well because just as I got the last of my camp set up, and settled in with food, the first of the raindrops began to fall.
Owing much to the fact I was all settled in with nothing to do but eat the light rain made for an enjoyable cap after the day, as well as a nice cooling effect, and then as quick as it started it stopped and I was treated to a beautiful sunset.
Wake up tired and sore but excited for the fact it is the last day. Strangely at this point I still love this trip and its type b fun but I was also ready for a shower and some sweet, sweet air conditioning. Thinking about that, and a cold beer, almost made me miss the thing this entire route had been planned around…. A TAILWIND! Rolling out of my camping spot I immediately felt it at my back and couldn’t stop smiling, I could still feel the lack of energy but this wind was making up for it.
Before I knew it I was coming through La Riveriere and approaching the last big hill of my trip. Now I wish I could tell you this is where I buckled down and cranked out the elevation but those empty tanks I mentioned before reared their ugly head once again. No matter how much I screamed at myself to keep going my legs just wouldn’t keep pushing. Recognizing I had nothing left, I employed the technique I had already used many times, the droop over the handlebars, keep putting one foot in front of the other, barely stay upright walk up the hill.
And then I was in Morden, and it all seemed like a dream in a way. Rolling down Mountain Avenue towards Tims I realized that I was actually finishing this thing. In 2016 when I began cycling I could barely finish 5km and yet here I was two years later finishing just over 650 kms with a fully loaded bike.
Perhaps it’s a testament to cycling or just the obsession it encourages, but as I sat there in my place soaking up the AC and cracking that cold beer I couldn’t help but start planning my next multi-day ride.