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Days 29 - 39
Day 29. June 13. 88 km. Total 2033 km. Piapot.
Today was a rough day. The wind has swapped around and it is now blowing right into my face. It just makes biking much harder and the heat did not help either. The longer I am on the road the more I realize that car drivers are useless as sources of road information. Saskatchewan is NOT flat!! I had to climb for 15 km from the Alberta border and the rest of the day was rolling hills. The sky here is amazing, I have never seen the sky such a dark, brilliant blue, and with the land all green from the rain I would have to say that the beauty of this country is comparable to my trek through the Rockies. Along the way I hooked up with two young guys who were touring as well. They had just graduated from Grade 12 and had bicycled from Regina to Vancouver and were now on the back home. They had left on April 31 and were actually snowed out on a couple of the passes. The rear tire of one of the guys was so worn that the tread was all gone and the tire liner was showing. They still had 400 km to go and were down to their last $10. I did not think that that tire would last until Regina so I lent them $20 just in case they needed to buy a replacement. I just figured that if I was in a similar situation I would want someone to do the same for me.
The water from the taps all along this route is undrinkable. It is really high in minerals and just gross. I ended up stopping in at a tourist info center at the Hwy 21 junction and filled up my water bottles from their bottled water fountain.
As the end of the day approached I realized that there was no way that I would be able to make it to the next fair sized town so I just pulled into the next place on the map, Piapot. This is a real live (dead?) ghost town. The entire population of the town could not be more than 30 people or so and all the buildings are just slowly rotting away. In looking for a place to stay I met up with a older fellow who said that I could sleep in his camper if I would like. I jumped at this opportunity since the mosquitoes were out of control, hundreds of them all trying to suck my blood.
I guess they don't get many visitors through this area because this old guy really went out of his way to show me the town and then we went over to another families place for coffee. Since I like meeting different people I accepted and boy oh boy was it ever an experience! This was a REAL pioneer family. They were pretty much completely self sufficient, with a greenhouse for vegetables and the husband hunted for much of the meat (he was a full status native Indian so there is no closed season on any animal for him). We were sitting around the table drinking tea when the conversation got around to hunting. It seems that he had just been out the day before bear hunting and had shot a good size black bear. He asked if we had ever seen one skinned out and when we said no he said that their carcass look very human (yes I know, a real pleasant thought). So he says to his wife "Honey go get those feet from the freezer". Did he just say what I thought he said? Yelp, I heard right, she comes back into the dining room with the skinned bear paws and plunks them right down on the dinner-table. They were skeletal hands with the muscles and tendons still attached and yep, they sure do look like human hands. Well, I just continued calmly drinking my tea while these feet slowly defrosted in front of me. This stuff doesn't bother me much but the old guy was looking a little green around the gills. "Want to see the head?" he asks. "Honey go grab it". Oh oh, he's upping the ante. She comes back in and plunks this grinning bear skull in front of me, again on the bare table. It still had green alfalfa bits in it teeth. So here I am, out in the total boonies, drinking tea with 4 skinned feet and a grinning skull sitting in front of me, melting slowly on the dining room table. Yep, you just can't make up stories like this ;-).
We continued talking about stuff and when I told them about my plans to head south to Hwy 13 from Gull Lake they suggested that I continued on to Swift Current before turning south as the road was better. They also mentioned that if I wanted to see a real cowboy town (unlike Calgary which is a wannabee cow town) that I should have gone to Maple Creek. They have real cowboys, 6"+ tall, cow S**T on their boots, the western bar mustache with waxed ends and a belt buckle that weighs more than them. He did warn that just like 100 years ago, it is a tough town so don't go to a bar looking for trouble (not usually a real problem with me). They also said that if I enjoyed the badlands around Drumheller, that there are even better ones along Hwy 18 near Estevan.
It was getting late and it seemed to me that this guy would talk for a couple more hours at least so I feigned a couple yawns and said that I had a long day tomorrow and that I should be heading to bed. So we headed off at 10:30 pm and I was nearly carried off by a swarm of mosquitoes on the way back to camp (good thing I had drunk a lot of tea to help weigh me down). In all I counted 38 bites from that walk alone, time for an itchy nights sleep.
Day 30. June 14. 136 km. Total 2169 km. Wymark.
I am super tired tonight so I am going to be brief. I had a horrible nights sleep last night as the common theme to all my dreams was savage attacks by giant mosquitoes. Not conducive to a good nights rest by any means.
Today I also had to fight headwinds again, making climbing even the minor Saskatchewan hills challenging. To top things off, I ate at a truck stop last night and have been paying the consequences all day. Thank god for Pepto-Bismol and semi-frequent rest-stops with restroom facilities. GI distress at the best of times is no fun but on a bike it really sucks. I don't think I need to say anymore about that.
Compared to the secondary roads, Hwy 1 is a really crappy ride. Although there are huge shoulders and the road is in fair condition, the constant stream of cars and trucks flying by really takes away from the scenery (actually the scenery along the hwy is pretty boring itself). The difference was obvious since as soon as I got off the Trans-Canada at Swift Current the change was startling. Immediately the traffic dropped to nearly nothing and the scenery was stunning. I really like this part of Saskatchewan.
Tonight I am staying with a wonderful family just across the road from Wymark. As before it is a young family and they are treating me fabulously. I had a great shower, they gave me food and said that if I ever passed through again to be sure to stop by. Very nice folks.
Well it was a long day on the road so I am calling it quits.
Oh wait, one more thing. Going through BC I would quite frequently get honks of encouragement and waves but so far it is quite different on the prairies. Here the farming folk are more laid back and you have to be watching close to catch it. You need to look at the left hand of the driver, it will always be on the wheel and the index finger will raise slightly in a salute as they go by. If they are feeling particularly friendly you might get two fingers or even the whole hand raised. It took me a while to notice it, it was so subtle.
Day 31. June 15. 104 km. Total 2273 km. Kincaid.
The fricken wind blows, and blows, and blows. It is blowing in the morning when you wake up and it only increases in ferocity as the day progresses. It whips up dust and debris from the side of the road and threatening to knock you off your bike and beat you down. I am so very, very tired.
To make matters worse the section of road I covered today was the most horrible that I have run into yet. Hwy 4 south from Wymark to Cadillac was quite cracked and the shoulder was unrideable but the traffic was so light that I could dodge all over the road to miss the worst of it. From Cadillac to Kincaid it got really bad. There were large cracks and the potholes could swallow cars whole, but by far the worst thing had to be the ruts. Like usual government and corporation short sidedness, I hear that they are closing down many of the small rural rail lines and grain elevators in the area. This means that the farmers must now transport their grain for longer distances over the roads to the elevators that are still open. So now these huge, heavy grain trucks are traveling long distances over roads not designed to carry that type of load. This causes a phenomena I like to call "the asphalt wave", in some places the trucks have caused ruts that are over a foot deep and the pavement has been displaced up and out the sides to form a foot high wave like wall and some of these waves even have little breakers on them! Insane! The cars must have a horrible time with them but I am able to make the most of my maneuverability to ride all over the road to find the smoothest sections. I think the car drivers complain much more because they can't avoid them like I can and since they are moving 10 times faster than me, they hit 10 times more potholes per minute than I do.
Even with the wind and the road the riding is still quite pleasant. The scenery along the road is beautiful, the drivers along Hwy 1 have no idea what they are missing. The landscape is one of beautiful lush green, rolling hills with the odd farmhouse and barn along the way. As in Alberta, there are no trees except those planted near farmhouses and then those are all short and stunted (must be this damm wind!)
I have also had the unpleasant experience of discovering how Saskatchewan patches their roads. They just put down a layer of tar over the cracks and holes, then pour 2 inches of gravel and small stones over it and leave it. The passing cars then compress this mess into a semi-smooth layer. Unfortunately, the problem with this is that whenever a car or truck goes over a patch of this, they kick up all the loose gravel and send it flying my way (ouch!). When a big rig goes by I have to duck my head so I don't get a face full of it while my arms and legs are assaulted by this stuff. Some of the rocks have hit hard enough to cause bruises and by the end of the day I am covered in black specks of tar and dirt.
This wind is really starting to get to me now. Wearing me down. What happened to my wonderful west wind? The farmers I have talked to have said that an east wind brings rain so I guess that in a couple of days I am going to get wet. Oh well, no one said it was going to be easy. Here is another difference from Vancouver. In Vancouver talking about the weather is nothing big, just small talk when you don't have anything else to say. Here on the prairies the weather is serious business, where a good wind and some hail could mean the ruin of an entire years crop. I have found that I can hold up my end of the conversation with the most grizzled of farmers. "Yep, this east wind should be bringing rain in the next couple of days", says I. "Yep.", says the farmer. "Got hit by about two tenths yesterday (that's 2/10ths an inch of rain)", says I. "Really, we only got 1/10th here." says he. Yep, just call me farmer Trev, (or Nature Boy to my friends at Merck, hi Dita).
Day 32. June 16. 58 km (30 hitchhiked). Total
2331 km. Assiniboia. 6 hrs
What a day. Some might say that todays events were simply coincidence but I tend to think that the Big Guy up there had a hand in it.
Today was the absolute hardest day of the entire trip yet. Harder than Anarchist mountain, harder than Blueberry Pass, harder even than Manning Park. The wind was so bad that I could hardly stay on my bike. It was blowing from the south-east at something like 50-60 kph. I could spit up in the air and it would be blown 30 feet across the road. This is just crazy. I was on my bike for 6 hrs and had only traveled 28 km (also due to frequent breaks) when I decided to just give up. I have a friend who had moved out to Assiniboia a month ago to be a Pastor at a church and they were waiting for me to come by for supper and so I REALLY wanted to get there in time for a real meal and a warm bed. I didn't want to have to hitchhike again but with 30 km to go I would not get there until 8:00 tonight which is just too late. Also my body was starting to give out too. The wind was coming from the side so strong that I have had to lean to the right to avoid being blown sideways. This has caused me to pull a muscle in my hip which was really starting to pain me when I called it quits.
So this is the course of events.
At 3:00 pm I gave up and started hitch-hiking.
At 3:30 a guy in a pickup stopped and gave me a life the rest of the way to Assiniboia.
At 3:45 I started unpacking my gear and setting up camp in the back of my friends yard.
At 4:15 Patricia (my friends wife) comes racing to the back door and says that Rebecca (their daughter) was riding her bike and was hit by a car. I asked which direction and raced off in the direction she pointed way, hopping fences along the way. I arrived just as the ambulance was driving away and I heard someone say that she had been sitting up and crying so I was praying that she was just shaken up and not seriously hurt. No sooner had I arrived when I see Al (my friend) get out of a car and stand their looking at the scene. When talking to him later he said that he had just come upon the scene and was wondering if he should stop when he saw the green bike and thought "Rebecca has a green bike!". Then when he got out he heard a little girl say "That's her dad." and right then the colour just drained from his face, it was a fathers worst fear realized. I rushed over to him and was able to reassure him with what I had heard and we headed off to the hospital. At the hospital he and Patricia went into the emergency ward while I went and called home to our church to get people praying for them, something that never hurts.
While the doctors took her away for X-rays Al and I went back to his house so he could pick up Rebecca's health card and he went back to the hospital. I stayed there and dug around their pantry and made up a big pasta dinner so that it would be ready for them when they came back. In the end it turned out that all she had was a bump on her head and a broken leg, she was a very lucky girl. I hear from the police that what had happened was that Rebecca was racing some friends and rushed across the road without looking. She was hit by the front of the car, bounced up onto the hood and then fell to the pavement. She wasn't wearing a helmet.
So to summarize the series of "coincidences".
Day 33. June 17. 0 km . Total 2331 km. Assiniboia.
Day 34. June 18. 0 km . Total 2331 km. Assiniboia.
Day 35. June 19. 0 km . Total 2331 km. Assiniboia.
Day 36. June 20. 0 km . Total 2331 km. Assiniboia.
Day 37. June 21. 29 km . Total 2360 km. Verwood.
Ugh, the wind today is even worse than on the 16th. After 30km I said to heck with it, and decided that I would try biking at night when the wind is not as bad. I pulled up to a farmhouse outside of Verwood and asked them if I could pitch my tent for the afternoon and that I would head out that evening. They said sure, but if I wanted I could sleep in their spare bedroom in the basement. Since it was a hot day and their cellar was cool that's exactly what I did. She woke me up for supper (gotta love that prairie hospitality) and then I went back to bed until 7:30. I got up and was ready to leave when I looked out their windows and saw a HUGE storm coming. I mean the entire Western horizon from North to South was a completely black and this wall of clouds was mushrooming up over us. I looked at the couple I was staying with and said "Perhaps I should stay the night." They thought that would be a good idea and so that is what I did.
The storm hit around 8:30 and what a storm it was. The farmer estimated that the winds were over a 100 kph (I heard on the news the next day that there were gusts over 120 kph) and I saw it blow their picnic table across their yard! Seriously! It rolled across like it was a tumbleweed. Lightning was flashing like a strobe light and the thunder was deafening, I was counting my lucky stars that I decided that I was not out biking in it or out in my tent in a field somewhere. I am certain that if I was I would have done the old Dorothy thing and ended up in Regina or OZ.
When I called my folks tonight my mom said that we might have relatives in Weyburn so I am going to try and look them up tomorrow.
Well back to bed.
Oh wait, for you cyclists, there is a big ravine just before Verwood. Unlike out west where you work to climb the mountains then rest coming down, here on the prairie you always coast down then have to work to get back up and out.
Day 38. June 22. 140 km . Total 2500 km. Weyburn.
It is just like the old saying, you don't know how good you have things until its gone and you miss it. Well I did not realize how big of a factor the wind plays when cycling until I had to fight headwinds for days on end. Since I have never heard how people deal with the wind, this is all trial and error for me. So far just pushing on into the wind does not seem to be working, I will just end up tiring myself out or hurting something. Holing up and hiding from the wind does not seem very appealing as the way things are going I could end up off the road for days at a time. I have ruled out biking at night because after thinking about it I feel it would be too dangerous because I have heard that drinking and driving is quite common here, the roads are so empty that the drunks don't have to worry about running into anyone. I would be quite the sight in my bright yellow jersey with reflective tape all over and that is attention I can do without. So far it seems that most of the wind is the result of thermals and it does not seem to get really bad until 10:00 or so. So if I face headwinds again (I hope I don't) I will try going to bed early and getting up at 4:00 am to be on the road by 5:30. That way I can get 5 hrs of biking (50-75 km) out of the way before the wind picks up, then press on until 2:00 and call it quits then. That should give me around 100 km which would be a respectable distance and would also put me near a farmhouse near suppertime ;-). As a side note, here in the country, dinner is what I would call lunch and supper is the evening meal. I am used to using dinner and supper interchangeably so I get funny looks when I mix the two up.
The importance of the wind is clearly obvious when looking at the distance I did today. I left Verwood at 8:30 and was in Weyburn (140 km) at 3:00, an average speed of over 20 kph. This is compared to yesterday where I only covered 30 km in 3 hrs and had to strain to do even that.
In Weyburn I looked up my relatives address in the phonebook and headed over. I knocked on the door and said to the lady who answered "Hi there, my name is Trevor Hennessey and I am bicycling across Canada. I think that we are related so I dropped by." She did not recognize me and seemed quite suspicious but after trading genealogies we were able to determine how we were related (she is my mothers cousin, making us 2nd cousins). And so I spent the night with a roof over my head after a great dinner, err..... supper.
Day 39. June 23. 36 km . Total 2536 km. Griffin.
Only a short day on the road today. Weyburn has a very nice computer setup at their library, 6 new computers with a high speed internet connection. It is free to use them but you are only allowed 1 hr on them, not nearly enough time for me. Since I had a lot to type up I went into town looking for a computer to use. The internet cafe wanted $10/hr which I felt was outrageous so I went to a computer store and they let me use their demo computer. In all I was able to catch up to June 13 and I hope to have the rest done by Winnipeg.
After finishing at the library I headed back to my cousins place for a bite to eat then continued on. They offered to let me stay another night but since the wind was blowing east I wanted to take advantage of it while I could. Also, I find that when I am on the road I tend to go to bed earlier and get up earlier than when I am staying at a house so this way I can cover more distance tomorrow as well.
Because I did not leave Weyburn until 7:15, I only covered 36 km before the sun started going down. I was just passing through a small town and decided I would call it a day there. Well I want to make an early start tomorrow so I am going to call it quits now. Right now I am about 150 km from the Manitoba border so I should be in a new province tomorrow and if the wind continues to come from the west I am confident that I can break 200 km.