Maple Creek to Brandon

Published: July 7th 2017
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Maple Creek to Brandon
Ominous thunder clouds were building and the wind was rising as we relaxed after supper at our Eagle Valley campsite - the first night we would spend in Saskatchewan on our ride home. Raja noticed that there was a large broken limb hung up in a tree right above our tent. A 'widow maker', he said. Maybe a widow and widower maker! He helped us move our tent to a safer location. Lightning started striking and the sky was the colour of a bruise.. Paul, Mariette and Doris decided to move their tents under a concrete roofed picnic shelter while Raja, Michele and I decided to stay put. We hunkered down in our $65 Walmart tent and watched for leaks as the wind and rain buffeted the nylon fly. It was intense but didn't last long and we came through unscathed.
In the morning, I experienced rain on the road for the first time. I retrieved my "World Famous" brand vinyl rain poncho that I had bought about 10 years ago and had not yet taken out of the package. The ancient vinyl turned almost instantly to tatters in the strong wind. I balled it up and stowed it back in my saddle bag and just got wet. Luckily this downpour was also short lived and I soon dried. A fine tailwind developed and I sailed along past the small towns of western Saskatchewan : Piapot, Thompkins and Gull Lake. Michele caught up to me In Gull Lake and took me out for lunch at the Esso. We had set our sights on Swift Current that day - 130 km - and by lunch at Gull Lake I had already ridden 80 kms. Michele found our group sites at Trail Campground, a nice place right in Swift Current. The theme of the campground seemed to have something to do with old machinery: vintage pumps and motors were scattered about like lawn ornaments. Near our site was a rusty model A pickup truck, its wheels sunk deep in the dirt.
The next day our goal was even more ambitious: 140 km to Besant Campground just west of Moose Jaw. Our luck held and the wind was at our backs the whole day. I swept past the fantastic brine lakes at Morse and later Chaplin. These lakes are famous for the millions of shorebirds that come to feed on the plentiful supply of brine shrimp (sea monkeys!) found there.
My nephew Jesse is paddling across Canada and it so happened he was in Lake Diefenbaker, about 70 kms north of our route that day. Michele had arranged to meet him at the town of Elbow, near the dam from whence the Qu'Appelle river flows. They connected and over lunch they had a great time recounting their adventures to each other. Jesse looked tan, lean and strong - he was in high spirits and clearly enjoying every minute of his trip. After lunch Michele couldn't find her phone and, unfortunately, the rest of their visit was spent looking for it. It was Paul's birthday, and Michele had arranged with Mariette to make a special meal for him at Besant. She had shopped to get the ingredients in Swift Current, and knew she could spend no longer looking for the phone if she was to get to the campsite in time to make the birthday supper. It was only a cheap flip phone that we had purchased just for the journey, so she abandoned the search and headed back down to highway #1. For once I arrived at a campsite before Michele, though I had no tent to set up. Paul, Mariette and Doris arrived shortly after me and Raja (who likes to start later) not long after them. Paul proclaimed that it had been a perfect day of bike riding - a tail wind and mostly downhill - and we all agreed with him. Michele arrived and produced a delicious seafood pasta dish even though she was in a state about losing her phone and had been driving all day. Paul was genuinely touched that we were celebrating his birthday (his 62nd) and we had a fine time sharing the meal, some vino, a cake and many stories. Everyone assured Michele, who is a cell phone neophyte, that it was par for the course to lose at least one phone.
Canada's 150th birthday saw us on the road to Regina. This was a hard day for me, not because of winds or hills but just because of the very flatness of the country. I saw the potash mine at Belle Plaine and then seemed to pedal for hours before drawing level with it. Then it took days before I couldn't see it anymore. Then I saw the buildings of Regina and it took me several months before I passed into the city limits. After riding for about a year since I left Besant that morning, I finally got to the east side of Regina and encountered a lot of highway construction. Since she had lost her phone, I had given Michele mine so that she could communicate with the others. We had developed a complicated and not very well thought out system of signals that would inform me of where to go. If our prime choice, Buffalo lookout campground, was not suitable, she would tie a strap to its sign with a note attached. As I pedalled through the traffic and construction, I began to realize the many ways this system could fail. I could miss seeing the sign being the most likely. Just when the thought crept into my mind that this day might never end, I heard the chipper and insistent beeping of a horn. I looked to my right and there on a service road far away on the other side of the as yet unopened new highway was our little car with Michele madly waving out the window. I pushed my bike through the newly dug ditches and over the pristine asphalt of the new highway to the service road. Because of the construction, all the signs for our chosen campground had been removed, thus rendering our communication plan unworkable. Poor Michele had instead stationed herself where she could see me and waited for nearly an hour before I appeared. I gratefully followed her to the campground where she had erected our home for the day. That evening, friends of Raja picked him up and they went to watch the Canada Day fireworks at the provincial legislature. I was so tired I went to bed before it was even dark.
In the morning, Mariette, Paul and I - the early risers in our group - glumly observed the flag attached to our neighbours RV. It streamed out gaily from the pole, snapping and crackling in the fresh east breeze. In a display of false bravado, I said I thought it would be a good day as I took my leave from them. Paul grinned and gave me a thumbs up - he is always ready to look on the bright side. I tried to ride as many kilometres in the morning as I could for it had been my experience that winds generally grow stronger as the day wears on. Our objective was Grenfell - a ride of about 115 km. I started off the day by nearly riding into a construction barrier that had been placed across the shoulder. I have a bad habit when riding into a headwind of keeping my head down and focussing on the road about 10 ft ahead of my front wheel. I consequently do not have a lot of time to react if there is something blocking my path. I once ran into the back of a parked car. This time I was able to swerve just in time to avoid another trip to the hospital. This day of riding was simple hardship. My feet hurt, my neck hurt, my back hurt, my legs hurt and my butt hurt. The day crawled by. I inched past Emerald Park, White City, Balgonie, Mclean, Qu'Appelle, Indian Head, Sintaluta. I stopped for any excuse. I checked my rear view mirror every 5 seconds in the hope of seeing Michele coming to stop me for lunch. When she did show up, I snapped at her and asked her what took her so long. Nice guy. She still gave me my lunch, though I didn't deserve it. The campground in Grenfell where Michele got us a site is part of the town's recreational complex. It had plenty of shade trees and good facilities and was full of the happy sounds of summer: kids running around, playing, riding bikes and swimming in the pool while their mothers sat in lawn chairs and chatted. It was so good to get off the bike and sit and just enjoy the cheery chaos of the place.
Though the wind had shifted to southeast the following day - still a headwind - there were long sections where brush and trees along the highway provided welcome shelter from it. It was another hard day but enough said about that. Michele stopped in Whitewood to visit "Old George's" an antique store/museum/hoarder. We have stopped there before but never had much time to explore George's huge collection of every imaginable vintage Prairie thing. He charges $5 to look through his house, in which he still lives amid the piles of stuff. He isn't interested in selling anything, which frustrated Michele. You can pay to sleep overnight in one of the salvaged pioneer shacks he has out back. There is only one campground in Moosomin and it is privately run. It boasts a swimming "pond" which is more a weedy dugout - it was refreshing to take a dip though, and if you stayed in the top 8 inches of water you could avoid touching the creepy weeds. The price for an unserviced tent site was high and when Michele balked at the $15 charge for an extra tent (Raja's) the manager told her she could always go somewhere else. After experiencing the evening swarm of voracious mosquitoes, we indeed will be going elsewhere next time we are in the area.
We had experienced three hard days in a row and Paul suggested it would be a good idea to do the 130 km to Brandon in two stages for a little break. I was in favour of this (we asked Robin if he would mind looking after the dog one more day) and so were Michele, Mariette and Raja. Doris, however, had made an emergency appointment to have his dentures repaired in Brandon and was unwilling to change the appointment. He also was concerned that he would arrive later to Quebec than he had planned for. He decided to press on alone at a faster pace. We were all saddened by the departure of Doris - a big loss for our team.
The next day we had a tail wind and it took no time to pedal the 50 km to Virden. Michele set us up in the Lions Campground. It was an excellent place, with nice trees, clean and well maintained facilities and even good wifi. I had a chance to catch up a bit on my blog posts (always a challenge for me), as did Raja and Paul with their social media of choice. Michele drove Mariette to a laundromat and then they looked around this historic and interesting town for a bit. It still has its original train station which is now a museum. Did you know that Dr. Ballard came from Virden? In the evening the sounds of a cattle auctioneer drifted in on the breeze. We met two young Montreal westbound cyclists, Valerie and Ariel, who set up their tent near our enclave. We met Allan and Diana from the Vancouver area who were in a truck camper and were travelling the country at about the same pace as we were on our bikes. One of the Lions Club volunteers who helps run the campground remembered some old family friends (now dead) who we used to visit at their ranch near Virden back in the sixties. Paul talked to a New Brunswicker who turned out to have been the babysitter of one of his grandchildren. It's a small world here on Main St. Canada.
There were about 80 kilometres left to complete our bike riding mission for this year. I had ridden to Brandon from Kenora at the beginning of June - now at the beginning of July I was approaching it from the opposite direction. I jumped on Allan only to find he had a flat rear tire. I put a new tube and tire on just to avoid missing a hidden poker that might be lurking somewhere in the tread or sidewall. Raja is always bugging me about my choice of cheap tires, and I knew I would take some heat from him later as this was my third flat of the journey. I'm a cheapskate - what can I say? About halfway to Brandon my rear derailleur cable broke. This turned Allan into a 3 speed - only the front derailleur worked, thereby limiting my gear choices to the 3 chain rings. It was like Allan was just about fed up with the trip. There were not many hills though- and when there was, I just put my head down and pedalled as hard as I could. I had my head down when Michele pulled on to the shoulder in front of me and I very nearly rear ended the car because, again, I wasn't looking up. The last hill was up the east side of the Grand Valley, the valley in which flows the Assiniboine. It was big and long and I had to walk Allan up the top half as I just didn't have the power in my legs. At the top it was straight and flat for the 5 or 6 km to the Meadowlark. Michele was waiting for me there and we hugged and congratulated each other on our accomplishment. We felt proud that we had each done things that were difficult enough that we weren't sure we would be successful. We also both found benefits from the journey that we could not have imagined before we undertook it. That is what I will talk about next post.
Talk to you then.


8th July 2017

I think you should just keep going.. to the east coast!.. what will I read over my morning coffee if you don't continue! Just loving your adventure.. so proud of you both.
8th July 2017

Great Journey
Richard and I enjoying your blog. This must be quite the adventure for Michelle and you. Thanks for sharing!

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