We had a wonderful sleep at Anicinabe and were up early. When we were sitting outside last night, a white-tailed deer visited and so did a white-tailed eagle. We had not seen either at close range before. We had to walk our gear up the hill and pack the bikes up there (where the cars park) as fully laden we would not have been able to push them up. But it was worth it! We skipped brekky and raced back to Tim Horton's for breakfast and coffee. Both were good. Passing the local Walmart, the car park was empty save two campers who were sleeping in lightweight hammocks that they had strung from the trolley storage bay to their car roof racks!
We had first seen the roadside distance markers on Highway 17 at Sault Ste Marie. They count down to the end of the highway where it crosses into Manitoba and becomes something else (PTH 1 I think). The 1296 km (to go) marker is always the one we remember seeing first. They count down 2 km at a time. They disappeared for us after Thunder Bay when we took a different route and we had them back again before Dryden. Today was quite exciting as the first one we saw was 56 km and the last was 2 km and then we got to the border with Manitoba.
It was a little hilly in parts leaving Kenora and getting to the border, and we had a stop-go which was good for us as we could continue to use the wide shoulder. We stopped at the info office at the border as we wanted to push on further than our planned 70 km but were unsure of camping options. Our plan had been to stop at Whiteshell Provincial Park but we now realised this would be too soon and also we had started to think that we could get to Winnipeg a day early ie. Sunday, if we pushed on today. We had planned for three days from Kenora with quite a complicated route into Winnipeg. This morning the signs advised that Winnipeg was 200 km away so we were sure we could do it in two days. The helpful info lady gave us a list of campsites and there was one which she used herself in Prawda, about 50 km further on that we would aim for.
We have been wondering where the prairies will start and two cycle tourists we met at the info building told us this was after Winnipeg. However, the road into Manitoba was still flat enough for us! We made good time even though there was another stop-go. It didn't impact us though, although the wait would have been in the region of hours for motorists. As we passed them waiting, many called out "What's going on, is there an accident?". The queue stretched for kilometers. They are probably still waiting to get through. We have long stretches when no cars passed us at all and then a bunch would come at one. They are widening the highway which is clearly a good thing. The distance markers through Manitoba started the minute the Ontario 2 km marker became 490 km (this is the length of the Tran-Canada Highway through Manitoba). The highway here is divided and dual carriageway. There is a 23 km section which we did about 7 km of where the left lane is closed off as they are undertaking this widening task. At the same time the right-hand lane had no shoulder so luckily we could just ride in the closed off lane. About 5 km from our campsite we passed a motel which advertised meals and sat down to a HUGE hamburger, fries and onion rings meal. Delicious! So convenient to get a meal like this right at the end of our day! The campground is very good. We used our mosquito coils again and the mosquitos do not bother us. The black flies are now gone but there are thousands of caterpillars. They are everywhere, you even ride over them on the highway crawling around. We have a tree over our picnic table and the table is covered with caterpillar turds. You can see the caterpillars in the tree munching. The caterpillars started in Dryden. At first we thought they were cute, but now they have started to irritate us.
Yesterday we realised that with a bit of route tweaking and a 115 km day we could make it to Winnipeg today. The huge carrot was that we could then have two days and three nights in our hotel. Yes please, point me west and tell me to pedal. We were off and pedalling in the rain of course by 8:00 am. Check-in time at Best Western Pembina was 3:00 pm. We had previously booked two nights of accomodation, Monday and Tuesday, and as luck would have it had no internet access last night to book in for Sunday night as well. So this morning after about 10 km we saw our first aerial and pulled over to log in to the Booking.com app. Sure enough, we could log in and secured a room for the night. Only 104 km to go!!
The highway stretched ahead, flat as you like and so the riding was easy. It is a dual-laned highway through Manitoba so seems quieter as you have no oncoming traffic a lot of the time as it's on the other side of the trees. Also not much or no shoulder a lot of the time. But as it is a dual carriageway this does not really matter yet, in our experience. The road was very wet though, we had a lot of rain. We also had a long way to go. After about 40 km we suddenly got a brand new super wide shoulder. In fact, the rest of the road was old so starting improvements with the shoulder was a great idea! We got exicited when we saw signs advertising hot meals at Geseppe's (on the left in 2 km) but when we got there noticed that it would be too much effort for us to get there. Due to the dual nature of the roadway, we would have to exit at the next turn left spot and then after eating ride back to the next turn left spot and then back to where we were. So near and yet so far. We satisfied ourselves with our flasks of hot chocolate which we haven't had for a while and some protein bars.
After 58 km, we turned off the highway onto a quieter road. Mike had found it quite tricky to plan a route into the city which took us off the highway. We were unsure how busy the road would be and although bicycles are allowed on the highway all the way, coping with lane changes and peel offs etc. could become stressful and dangerous. So we had this route which was quite direct. It took us through Ste Anne, where we stopped for hamburgers and onion rings (which repeated on me all the way to our hotel where suddenly the indigestion cleared and I ate a huge pizza). We had two sections of gravel road and one interesting black road which looked like it could have been pig sludge or something from a distance, but ended up being hard peat without the gravel bits. A bit weird but certainly rideable. We had mainly a crosswind but not too bad. We crossed through farmland now and small suburbs. The hardest part about getting into the city from the east on an alternate route is getting over this long drain which not many roads cross over. In the end all was well and we had a great cycleway at the end straight through to our hotel which was happily set amongst pizza places and all manner of eateries. Would we recommend this route? Defintely from a traffic stress point of view. It added on a few kilometres but we arrived at 3:30 pm which was reasonable for the length of day.
Linda in reception at Best Western was fabulous. Nothing was too much trouble. Our bikes were happily stored in a gargage at the back, she assisted us with information and showed us around. There is an indoor heated pool complete with slide (yippee for me) and they serve a light meal in the evening. We skipped this in favour of going next door for pizza. It is great to have three nights indoors. We can't believe that nothing is biting us.
It was great to have two days to rest and re-energise in Winnipeg. We had an order to collect from MEC (an outdoor store) in downtown Winnipeg and did various maintenance things like get a haircut. One day is never enough for this sort of thing. We had good weather and used the indoor pool and spa and even the waterslide. We visited The Forks which is a famous meeting place at the point where two rivers meet in Winnipeg. We looked at arts and crafts and ate A LOT. The hotel even had a laundrette which guests could use so we did washing. The clothes came out clean as opposed to campsite laundries where sometimes they come out dirtier than when they went in!
We reviewed our itinerary and worked out that we would arrive in Calgary (our next city) on 15 July. We are staying 50 km north of Calgary actually, in Airdrie. We booked into a hotel for three nights there as well and then found that the Calgary Stampede runs to 16 July, so we bought tickets for the rodeo finals on that day. Pretty exciting!
After two days of sunny weather in Winnipeg, rain was forecast for today so we ended up leaving the hotel early while the weather was still good. It was overcast so we knew rain was coming. We left the city on a really good cycle route and then joined Highway 3. We are staying off the Trans-Canada Highway in Manitoba as far as possible. The highway had a very narrow shoulder in most places but it was all easily rideable. As we drew away from the city, the big skies and wide horizons of the prairies unfolded. We had no wind but a lot of rain, heavy in places. The road was wet.
Shortly before Sperring the highway was closed due to a fatal accident between a semi-trailer and a motorist. Traffic was being diverted onto a narrow gravel road and due to safety concerns for us with the big trucks, the policeman at the roadblock told us to go ahead to the next roadblock and we would be given further instructions. The accident scene itself was far in the distance. When we got to the next roadblock there were two firemen there who told us we could not pass and it would be about a 20 minute wait. We felt that we could not go back to the where the cars were being diverted as we had sort of been told it was too dangerous. It ended up being about a 40 min wait. Apparently the road had been closed since 6:45 am and it was about 11:00 am then. While we stood there it rained and we got quite cold but we had our flasks of coffee to warm us up. We were allowed to go ahead before the cars and trucks and escorted by another fireman on foot through the accident area. We found out afterwards that there had been a fatality.
Our route ran along the railway line and I guess we will see many of the grain silos dotted along as we cross the prairies. We stopped at a roadside diner for lunch at Carman and then went into town to buy some supplies. We decided to go on 20 km to a provincial park to camp and were about 6 km down the road when Mike remembered that we had a package to pick up at the post office in Carman. So we turned back to get it. We had actually cycled straight passed it TWICE when going to the shop. Then the post office had a power failure and the staff told Mike that "they get so many parcels everyday it was not possible for them to locate it, try coming back in a half an hour". Really - Carman post office gets THAT many parcels? Anyway, we chatted to two ladies who invited us to a hotdog BBQ that evening and Mike went back in at 4:30 pm when they could help us and he got the parcel. By this stage we decided that there were too many reasons to stay in Carman so went back to our original plan and pulled into the municipal campsite. Seems a nice place. Hopefully won't be drive-by's tonight (shades of Thunder Bay!). People in Carman are super friendly. Showers are HOT and campsite costs $15 for the night!
Well, a drive-by would have been a treat comparted to what DID happen. We were in the small unserviced tent area and there was a little pop-up van there and two tents in various states of dishevellment. The van belonged to a polite guy who chatted to Mike a bit, looked like he might have been working in the area. We see this a lot at campsites, people stay for a while for work, usually labourers. Employment seems pretty seasonal here in the sticks. We weren't sure about the tents but thought maybe they were his too. At MIDNIGHT a MASSIVE trailer arrived, as well as two feral guys who were the tent owners. The trailer was a work vehicle. They proceeded to LIGHT A FIRE (at MIDNIGHT??) and speak very loudly, well shout actually. One guy took out a guitar and played it and sang. This went on for two hours. We were wide awake and about 20 m from the action. Didn't seem a good idea to approach them. At 2:00 am Nice Guy from the Pop-up Van came out and asked "Are you guys about done?" and received an abusive response. This was while one of the ferals was banging the trailer door off it's hinges. He then said "There are other people here you know and it's 2:00 am" to which Feral replied "Don't be rude". (????) so anyway after that we probablly grabbed a few hours sleep. Shocker! We were up at 6:30 am anyway and figured an early start couldn't make anything worse. Ferals were awake too, as they had to be on the road by 6:30 am for work.
Although we knew we would have a headwind (Ye ol' westerly the prairies warn of) we had planned an ambitious 111 km day. After about 30 km we realised was were not going to be able to rise to this challenge. The road was good and the prairie scenery also good, we find it interesting actually but it is only day 2. One very interesting thing are the LONG carriages of trains which sit in sidings that dot the landscape. We had this headwind (gusts up to 60 km/hour were warned of) and also a bit of a climb up to the town of Notre Dame de Lourde (5 percenters on the prairies, what...?). These two things conspired to an average speed which was too low for a 111 km day. When we set off it wasn't too bad and our GPSs gave an ETA of 6 hours. It didn't get any less. After we had been riding for 2 hours it was still 6 hours predicted ride time! With a few climbs this grew to 8 hours. I lost interest after that.
We arrived in the little town and stood outside the grocery store being blasted with sand whirled by the wind down the main street. At least 3 very friendly and interested people chatted to us and offered smiles, encouragement and advice. "You could just camp here was the one we liked the most". Our planned route had actually split these two days so we were doing two in one. When we worked it out we could camp in this town and just do the rest tomorrow with no dent to the schedule. So that's what we did. We were breaking our "never again to municipal campsites" on day one. However, the site was lovely and simple, just our thing and we had a good feeling about the place. No other campers YET. It has been a very very windy afternoon, stormy actually minus the rain. Tomorrow is another day.... on the prairies.
The wind seemed to die down overnight a little but then increased again. It rained overnight and again on waking. The campsite and little town were so perfect for us and a rest day was tempting. We didn't really need one though and so bravely got ready to start the day, knowing that we would have a headwind all day, but not as bad as yesterday.
We stopped at the little grocery store first and then headed out on the main street which soon turned to gravel. We rode about 25 km of the day on gravel roads but they were good quality, ran through farm areas which were quite interesting and they seemed quite protected from the wind generally. They were a little hilly though and so far our assumptions about the prairies being flat are being turned on their heads. We then joined Highway 2 and had a strong crosswind/headwind. We rested at a picnic area with 25 km to go. My left arm was strained to the point of pain from keeping the handlebars straight and my back grew very tight. I could only manage 14 km an hour along this straight, flat highway in the wind. I just looked ahead as far as the next avenue of trees for some respite from the wind so that my speed could increase by about 2 km per hour for a brief moment. With 11 km remaining we turned onto Highway 5 and dropped down to the Provincial Park - our first in Manitoba. On the way in there was a take-away place and we had hamburgers, fries and onion rings which was a nice suprise! The wind is quite cold which is apparently unusual for this time of year.
We were on the road at 8:00 am and the dune and woodland scenery suprised us. Surely the prairies don't look like this? The weather was quite grim, grey and dreary with drizzle. Headwind again, not as bad as yesterday but still made things very trying, especially for me. We stopped briefly at Carberry, just at the sportfield under a shelter to put on wet weather gear as the situation escalated. Shortly after we turned north for Neepawa, the farmlands rolling away to left and right. The road was flat, but the wind was punishing. Still, we arrived at Neepawa Riverside Campground at 1:30 pm which wasn't too bad. The campsite was lovely, an open area for the public with picnic areas, frisbee golf (the first we have seen in Canada) and a river ran through it. All beautifully mowed. We pitched the tent and chatted to some locals and two other trans-Canada cycle tourists. We then walked into town and bought delicious fried chicken and cinnamon apple pie as well as many other things to eat. We spent the afternoon relaxing both in and outside the tent, no bugs around. Tomorrow is a longer day but the wind, although still against us, should not be as bad. Manitoba weather amazes us, each evening the wind disappears, the sky turns blue, not a cloud in sight and a lovely sunset. Morning comes, a different story! Perhaps we should be riding from 6.00pm to 12:00am instead?
Today restored our faith in our journey! Light winds, almost a breeze actually! Not even a ridiculous stop-go where we had to wait for AGES and then it wasn't especially clear why we had to wait with the cars as our shoulder was open all the way. It was a long construction area, over 5 km. Along with the much reduced wind, we had blue skies and those massive prairie clouds and the 6 delicious muffins we bought at Tim Hortons when leaving Neepawa must have helped. We really liked Neepawa - it looked and felt like a town that had got it right. We followed the Yellowhead Highway and stopped a couple of times for rests (and to tighten a water bottle cage). Welcoming prairie settlements. We had a wide shoulder all day and the surface was reasonably good. Quite a lot of small lakes and reed areas and birdlife along the route.
Although the riding today was good, it was still a long day and we arrived at the self-registration campsite at about 3:00 pm after doing some shopping. The campsite is nicely situated on the lake, a mix of seasonal and overnight campers as well as locals who seem happy to drive around the campsite many times. It was most perculiar, there was one guy in a red car who passed us about 5 times in the space of 30 min. He then continued to drive around but avoided our campsite. Another woman must have driven passed at speed about 15 times during the course of the afternoon. It's a mystery. There was also a lady walking a cat on a lead all the while talking to the cat. It was no surprise that signs up in the toilets/showers said "No eating sunflower seeds in here". Actually, the campsite last night said the same thing, as well as "No bathing babies or dishes in these sinks. Do not put anything in these sinks that you don't want on your face." Also, in the men's "No standing on the urinals". I ask you!
We had passed a pizza joint of the way in and walked back there, ending up with our new favourite thing, fried chicken (9 piece). It is NOTHING like KFC. Delicious.
The sun is setting later than ever, it is still light at 10:00 pm. We woke to another good weather day, slight breeze of a headwind, nothing serious. We had a short day today, as we would over the next three days. Our plan is to ride as long as the wind remains favourable. We can't believe the conditions we rode in last week over those three days. We set off around 8:30 am after a slightly relaxed start. The Yellowhead Highway was good to us, not much traffic and mostly flat. We had a shoulder for most of the day, except one section where it disappeared to a gravel pit for no reason and came back 18 km later on. The road surfaces are quite inconsistent in Manitoba which is what everyone warns you about.
We popped into Foxwarren about 13 km before Binscarth as the road sign confidently advertised meals, picnic'ing and even camping. As we turned onto the main street we saw the sum total of all this in one glance; a Sports Bar with a "Closed" sign, a handpainted sign pointing to a Campsite and Playground, and at the same time Picnic Area and Point of interest. The sign itself was at the picnic area which consisted of one picnic table and long grass (possibly tick infested) and an abandoned piece of farm machinery. Could that be the "point of interest". Still, at least someone had made an effort. We continued to our campsite which is just before Binscarth. There were two school buses parked in the parking area and about 40 school children using the pool and the mini-golf course and eating icecreams. They were celebrating the end of the school year. Schools shut this week as Canada Day is on 1 July. We were happy to see that we could buy takeaway meals and icecreams, etc. Very welcomed! The campsite is small and cute. We arrived at 1:00 pm so had a lazy afternoon, eating mainly. Our table and the trees around it are absolutely covered in cocoons. I have never seen so many. The irritating caterpillars that have plagued us since arriving in Manitoba are going to turn into moths or butterflies or something. We can't wait!
Great excitement - a TAILWIND!! Well, kind of a tailwind, at least for some of the day. We were travelling west and the wind was mainly south but it was a fabulous day, for the most part anyway.
As expected, we had about about 10 km of gravel road from Binscarth, firstly on the 478 and then on the 22 once we had crossed into Sascatchewan. The 478 route was lovely, with a steep downhill and a little climb. The road was in quite a poor state but repaired with gravel and we had expected that. The scenery was very pretty. The main gravel stretch started from the Saskatchewan border and then once the 22 crossed another bigger road, it continued sealed and with a very good surface (and wide shoulder). The large potash mine might have had something to do with this. When mines arrive, roads improve.
As Sascatchewan is yet another hour behind Manitoba, we gained this time and with happy hearts pulled in to Esterhazy after about 62 km of riding and looking forward to a rest day. We went straight to the regional park where there is a lovely golf course on the hills, and the campsite. It was getting a little warm in the sun and we went to the golf course clubhouse as directed to get keys to the washrooms and check in perhaps. We were then told it had all chaged and were given a website to check in on and a number to call. The website did not work and we left a message on the voicemail as the phone was not answered. We then went to inspect the campsite and found the toilets and showers had signs up everywhere saying "Wet Paint" and it looked as if there were in the midst of renovations. The campsite was a bit of a dustbowl and we started wondering whether we should move on. We would take a rest day tomorrow due to a forecast strong NW wind and we really didn't want to spend it here. A drive-by by one of the "inmates" confirmed this. Suddenly two very charming young ladies in high-vis gear pitched up on a motorized cart. They had received our message and came to check us in. They told us that the showers etc. were fine to use as the initial paintwork was "probably dry by now" but they were locked from 8:00 pm to 8:00 am and it cost $25 to camp. All this was relayed with a smile and they probably didn't give much thought to it, but honestly, we have been paying $15 lately to camp and if I want to pee at 2:00 am there is a toilet for me to use! Anyway, we told them we would think about it and they said they would pop round in 30 minutes.
So we sat and thought and wasted time and I had a bit of a meltdown because I was tired and REALLY did not want to ride another 60 km. I demanded that Mike check Booking.com for local hotels which he did, but honestly, we didn't want to sit in a hotel room HERE tomorrow either. Eventually I saw reason and we went into the town to stock up on supplies, go to the bank and the pharmacy (all the rest day activities that we had planned) and then got back on the bikes to ride to Crooked Lake Provincial Park. We had had a look at our options for camping and they were either that or Bird's Point, which was a little closer but uncertain regarding camping. It as 1:30 pm by the time we were on the road again.
We had an easy 35 km along the main route and then turned off at Dubuc to ride the last 25 km on gravel. We had not expected it all to be gravel! The surface was not too bad and being freshly graded for the first 11 km (the grader was actually on the road) but the last stretch was on a busier road which made it very dusty. Some of the cars and trucks were very good and slowed down a lot for us, but most continued at their usual speed, drowning us in dust clouds. The last bit to the lake was down a very steep hill into the Q'Appelle Valley. It would have been unrideable going up it! The Valley is absolutely beautiful and rivals European river valleys. The Park is great and we have a fabulous campsite on the edge of the lake. Rest day here we come!
It was a great rest day at Crooked Lake. It was one of our favourite campsites on this trip. The weather was good and just 2 km down the road the next campsite had a little shop which was convenient. There are not so many bothersome bugs any longer although the buzzing of mozzies over the tent at night is deafening. The site was full of little squirrel/rodent creatures which look cute, popping their heads out of their burrows, but as usual get too close for comfort, as we found when one ate the inside out of our bread. No one chooses the crust, do they?
We were enthusiastic about the day as we would have favourable winds. However, turns out the weather people got it totally wrong and we ended up with headwinds for 60 km. Things started well though, with a nice climb out of the valley and easy riding to Neudorf. This is a very cute village where we bought milk and cornflakes which we settled down to eat at the picnic site. The townsfolk were very friendly, even the mayor came for a chat and gave us each a pen and a pin to remember Neudorf by, which was lovely.
After Lemberg, the gale force headwind / crosswind hit and really wore us down. The road was good, with views over the prairies as far as the eye can see. It grew busier as we approached our end point and then we had a rollicking downhill run into the town as we descened again into the Qu'Appelle River valley. We stopped immediately to refuel at the pizza place/Robins coffee shop. We then picked up supplies and asked locals abut the local campsite. Everyone we have met without fail has been so engaging. Saskatchewan is a great place! The campsite was nice, but very windy. We went first to the municipal offices to book in but they were just closing so someone came to see us at the campsite. We had a long day... we had left at 7:30 am and by the time we arrived at the campsite it was 5:00 pm!
We spent a long time last night discussing the route and whether or not to go to Lumsden as for us this would mean about 40 km gravel road riding and a headwind (of course). The gravel/wind combo is not to be trifled with! In the end we had nothing to worry about and showed great fortitude. Also, the road condition was good and even excellent in places.
We had an early start and went back to Robin's for coffee and breakfast. We also got them to fill up our flasks with good coffee! We had 22 km along the main highway to Regina (very busy) before turning west. We spent the rest of the day going west where the headwind seemed less, with the road being unpaved from Edenwold until we rejoined the highway again 8 km before Lumsden. We were happy with the route. The farm scenery was interesting and drivers passing us on the dirt roads were careful and did not swamp us in dust for the most part. Arriving at our campsite, we saw that there was a Subway over the road so went there to eat and relax after checking in.
HAPPY CANADA DAY! Extra special as it is Canada 150 this year! Every teeny tiny town has been advertising free donuts, BBQ, face painting, the works, for weeks. We had an interesting evening at Lumsden as the park puts on a pop up moonlight drive-in cinema! We had prime seats in our tent as the parking area to be used and the screen were just in front of us! Patrons began arriving around 9:00 pm and there must have been about 20 cars in the end. The rain did not deter them! They were so quiet and when I peeked outside at midnight, the screen had been deflated and everyone had gone home!
We stopped for coffee at the Esso (petrol station) over the road and were on our way before 8:00 am. Dirt roads today, all the way. They were not as good as yesterday's roads and were badly corrugated (washboarded) in parts which made the riding more difficult.
We entered the park through the back entrance and were lucky enough to see the herd of Bison on the range. Very exciting. The scenery today had been lovely as usual in this valley region. We had quite a climb up to the camp site registration and then had to go back down to the bottom of the hill to camp. My bike was handling really badly and of course the problem was a puncture, in yes you guessed it, the rear wheel. This had to be fixed before going back down this hill as the bike was difficult to manoevour. The campsite we were allocated interestingly is in an area which does not have showers and they are too far away at the next campsite so we have had two refreshing swims to cool off.
Two exciting and unexpected things happened today, firstly we had a RAGING TAILWIND and secondly we met a lovely couple who invited us for to their cabin for a BBQ and to stay the night on their property!
It is strange how seredipity works. We woke up super early in our campsite at Buffalo Pound and were on the road before 7:00 am which was a first. This was mainly due to large groups of campers on our site unfortunately disturbing our sleep. We were quite disappointed in the amount of garbage surrounding other tents and generally the lack of respect people showed. Anyway, such is life. We first had a steep climb back up to the highway and then off we went with the wind shunting us from behind. Amazing to be riding 30 km an hour without even feeling the effort! We passed through a few tiny communities and the highway was very quiet. This was the first day that we actually saw the prairies for the flat expanse that they are. You really can see forever. The road surface was good and we were happy to have no gravel road for the first time in three days. Except that there was gravel road! We had 22.9 km to go to Eyebrow when a sign appeared advising road resurfacing for 22.9 km and even the budget the works department would spend. Except that they had not spent it yet, merely ripped up a road and poured gravel over it all. So the surface was pretty loose in places and high concentration was required.
We arrived in Eyebrow which we knew had a shop but it was closed on Sundays. We were unsure of where we would camp tonight. We could stop 12 km further on at Tugaske or we could head for Elbow which would make this day longish at 120 km. Douglas Provincial Park sat in between but with the fiasco last night and it still being a long weekend, we were reluctant to go to another provincial park. We pulled in at a picnic site for a rest and found that it was a little camping area and there was only one tent there. There were no showers but there were lovely washrooms with hot water and as we carry a water bag with nozzle, that would work. We sat and chatted and thought about what to do. The tailwind was too good to abandon so had just got up to press on the Tugaske or Elbow, when a car pulled up and a man got out with his dog. We said hi and got chatting. His wife also got out the car. Amazingly they ended up inviting us to thier cabin just before Elbow for a BBQ dinner and to pitch our tent in their backyard!
Murray and Heather, from Regina, gave us their address in Mistusinne and we agreed to meet up there later. We hopped on our bikes, now spurred on at the thought of cooked meat and with the tail wind, we were at Douglas Provincial Park in about 1h 30 min. We pulled in there to have something for lunch and a drink and arrived at Mistusinne shortly after. We can't express enough gratitude at our good fortune in meeting them and their friends Tory and Kyle. They showed such genuine hospitality that by the time we left late the next morning after a great breakfast, we felt as if we had known then for ages.
We decided to leave late this morning as we have some time up our sleeve prior to reaching Calgary and it would be a hot day. We had not even had to pitch the tent last night as Heather offered us the pullout couch! We ended up leaving at around 10:30 am. It was nice to have someone wave us off on our travels this morning!
We stopped at Elbow to shop and it wasn't long before we were at tiny Loreburn. The campsite was brand new with lovely amenities, but it was a hot day and there was not much shade, so we relaxed in the nearby Centenial Park for a few hours before moving to the campsite. This is just our cup of tea, a site in a small prairie community. The weather has turned quite dramatic this afternoon and thunder can be heard from a distance. Murray wished for us to experience a prairie storm in all it's glory. We'll wait and see. We have pitched the tent snugly between a fence alongside a bushy area and a large van which is for sale.
We had a very peaceful night in teeny Loreburn. The feared storm just landed a few drops and then moved on. The skies of Saskatchewan certainly live up to their vehicle registration plate logo "Land of the Living Skies".
It was only a short run up to Highway 15 and then on to Outlook. The road was pleasant and we barely drew breath and we were there already. The prairie views had been wide, green, yellow and blue, interspersed by the large silver grain storage units. As we drew into Outlook the highway was lined with every shiny, brightly coloured, complex piece of farm machinery imaginable for sale. Your one-stop farming shop! Outlook is known as the Irrigation Centre.
We were not able to check in right away but booked a campsite at the entry booth, before going back into town to buy food. There was a swimming pool at the park, but when I asked the campsite representative she said that it was permanently closed due to "the pipes shifting out of alignment". If the town is the irrigation centre, can they not sort out this particular problem? Anyway, the campsite overlooked the wide floodplain of the South Saskatchewan River which was pretty. The water appears shallow and the beach very wide. This river drains from the Gardiner Dam. I suppose that it used to be much bigger before the dam was built.
Many of the campers appeared to be "schoolies", that is, school leavers on holiday after the end of year. That said, they were not the nightmare that the Australian variety poses! We thought we would have a rest day here as it is going to be very hot. We aren't really sure what to do regarding the heat. We had been very hot today and the campsites are not super shady. All we want to do is escape the heat but you can't really so we will just have to toughen up.
We decided against the rest day as around 8:00 am two unappealing individuals pulled in to the next door site, swearing loudly, parked their monstrosity there and disappeared. The thought of spending the day next to these idiots was a fate worse than death. So we were on the road at 9:00 am which is later than we would like, given the heat. Hopefully our next campsite at Rosetown would be free of ferals. We first had to go via the pharmacy as I had developed a large sun blister on my lip which was pretty painful. I got some cream for it and slathered my face with this as well as suncream and off we went.
There was nothing wrong with the day's ride. The wind was not very helpful, but not bad. The road itself was good and quiet, the views were as good. I guess we are just tired. After 7 days riding who wouldn't be? We are totally at the mercy of what the next campsite brings. Is it going to be a shadeless sun trap? Are the other campers going to be inconsiderate? This is what drives you into a hotel on trips like these, not the comfy bed or the aircon, but people and weather.
As we approached Rosetown we joined Highway 9 which will take you south to Swift Current on Highway 1 (Trans-Canada) or north to Saskatoon. We drew into town and as we spotted TIM HORTON'S our spirits immediately lifted! Timmo's - where have you been????!!! In we went and after two frozen drinks apiece we were cold and ready to go outside again! Next stop, Subway, for a good feed and then on to the campsite. Prairie View is perfect for us and real rest day potential. They accomodate tents nicely with a little area near to the washrooms (which are immaculate). There is even a tent rate which we haven't had for a while. The staff are fantastic, friendly and HERE which is great as they assist each arrival and get them to the correct spot. Our site is nicely shaded for afternoon and evening. There is even a little undercover area you can use to sit in or cook, etc.
As evening drew in, we watched in fascination as the largest RV we have ever seen pulled in. After trying to manouver it into a few spots without success the site manager tried to assist the driver get it in behind the undercover area. This involved someone getting into a tree with a saw to cut down branches. It could be that this is someone coming to work in the area. They have an ever expanding pipeline project here (both oil and gas) and there will be many people moving into the area for months whilst this is done. We saw the huge pipes piled alongside the highway today.
We were so happy that we had not spent our rest day at Outlook as Rosetown ticked all the boxes. The place was completely flat, so popping into town and back was a breeze. The campsite itself was perfect and we had enough shade even if it turned hot. There was also the town swimming pool if we needed. The other campers were all quiet and nice. The washrooms were spotless and right on our doorstep. We slept in and woke to find our tent in the shade. This is the only place we have ever stayed where you could lie in bed in your tent and look out about 2 km in the distance over wheatfields to the highway and actually see the truck wheels as they drove along. That is how flat the prairies are.
We hopped on our bikes with a full bag of cornflakes, rode into town and picked up a litre of milk and then ate breakfast on a bench outside the tourist info office on Highway 7. Then on to Timmo's for coffee and to pick up a half a dozen muffins. On our way back to the campsite, we stopped off at the bank to exchange some notes. There was a display of quilting and other fabric work by a local quilter, Anne. The fabric was all in Canadian prints. It was beautiful work and as Mike had been trying to replace his pillowcase, I thought maybe this was an idea. Mike had brought along an old white soft cotton pillowcase from home which was not proving very servicable, as we thought it would. The bank teller gave me the lady's contact numbers and on the way home we passed two ladies chatting in the street and said hi. I actually thought at the time "Wouldn't it be funny if one was her?". Well, when I called her she said "Did you just cycle passed me?". What a laugh! Anyway, I arranged to meet her at her studio later on. We looked as some fabrics and I chose one with a great Canadian print - all different animals on a dark red background. As it was a simple project she said she would bring it to the farmers' market later that afternoon. I also bought a small fabric bag with Canadian emblems on it. Mike and I met her at 3:30 pm at the market and she brought along the complete pillowcase. It is beautiful! We also bought homemade strawberry jam (made with homegrown strawberries), and homemade fudge. We are starting to understand the contribution we can make here by supporting the local communities we travel through.
The weather is warm and getting hotter each day, but the overnight temperatures are still quite low and the mornings are cool. It is getting light at 4:00 am so we could be on the road by 5:00 am to miss most of the heat. We might try that...tomorrow! Today we got up at 6:00 am, the sun already high in the sky. We were on the road at 6:30 am, the road to Timmo's of course, for a great breakfast. We had a good day's ride along Highway 7. It is quite busy though, and also quite noisy. The surface was good and the route quite flat. We will never forget the endless prairie views; green, yellow and blue for as far as you can see.
We began to think that with the small tailwind, we could tack on the extra 60 km to the Alberta border at Alsask, but we were a bit unsure of the campsite there and what facilities they had for tents. We stopped at the tourist office in Kindersley for some more info and a map of Alberta and then on to Timmo's for a planning meeting. It was only 11:30 am. Our recipe for dealing with hot days: go inside Timmo's and sit in airconditoned comfort, drinking iced cappucino's or chocolate chills until you are so cold that you long to go outside again. By the time we had finished two each we had booked a night at the Canalta Hotel on the edge of town. Timmo's makes everything clearer! The hotel is new, only 2 years old and is perched, well, on the edge of nothingness with a view of forever. The manager was very helpful, bikes went into storage downstairs and we went into a room complete with couch, footrests, king sized bed and bath. Fabulous! It was only 1:00 pm and we were checked in. We passed the afternoon rechecking the route and making some changes. Then out for a pizza for dinner (pizza place in the parking lot). The hotel even makes popcorn as an afternoon snack! Tomorrow we will be first in for breakfast, then Alberta, here we come!
We had a tailwind again today, a raging easterley. This is very exciting for us! We did not leave the hotel in a big rush but we were on the road at about 7:30 am. We stopped at Alsask where we knew you could camp and it was a very nice spot from the looks of things. We weren't sure about water, but if there was not any on the site you would have been able to fill up at the gas station over the road, which also served meals. Of course, the Canalta couldn't be topped, but had we ended up at Alsask we would have been happy. We then crossed into Alberta and not much else happened after that. The road was a little hillier today and as well as the usual prairie canola, there was quite a lot of natural grassland which we thought pretty. Weo saw some very lucky cows along the way which look as if they have a couple of acres of grazing land each to themselves, or they've been put into solitary due to bad behaviour!
We stopped at the tourist info centre on the highway at the turnoff to Oyen, but did not really benefit that much from it. It was hot today, by the time we arrived at Oyen at 12:00 pm it was 30 degrees. We will aim to be on the road by 6:30 am tomorrow to try to avoid some of the heat. Oyen itself had a good grocery store and a Subway, where we enjoyed a early dinner. The campsite looks to have some sort of large reunion or family holiday on the go. A few loud families in 5th wheelers who took over the undercover camper area without a thought for anyone else. Luckily there is the town swimming pool adjacent to the campsite and Saturday afternoons are free! We somehow managed to get two of the loungers and then lazed by the pool for the afternoon!
Yesterday evening an older couple from Brooks, Alberta, called Helga and Dan parked near our tent in their RV. They kindly invited us for a bite to eat and we went along. It was pleasant chatting to them and hearing about their travel experiences. The family reunion was not as loud as we had feared and we had a sound night's sleep. We were up early and on the road by 6:30 am. The usual route to Drumheller is to remain on route 9 via Hanna, but we were to travel south from Oyen and then take the route 570 to Drumheller the "bottom way". We would really recommend this road. It is quiet but excellent quality. Alberta is definitely more arid when compared to Saskatchewan or Manitoba and the grasslands are given over to cattle farming, so not so much crop. The green and yellow stretching forever is a thing of the past for us now. It is fun to see cows again though! Another feature of the landscape are the oil donkeys, pumps which seesaw up and down to draw oil up. You can tell from the quality of the tertiary road that we are using that this is oil country. Oil money equals good roads the world over (we are reminded of the roads on the remote Shetland Islands, off the north coast of Scotland).
We had some information about Carolside Reservoir. We knew there was free camping there and being a reservoir there was water, but we didn't know anything else about it. It was a hot day and we had 100 km to do, but we had a tailwind and we did not mess around. We were there by midday. We were pleasantly suprised as we drew near as there was a formal roadsign indiating a campground and from a distance you could see a large shelter providing shade. As we pulled in, there was even a drinking water station and you could purchase water for 25c per gallon. It was self-service. Anyway, we would be filtering straight from the reservoir so didn't worry. Still, it was nice to see and throughout the day we saw cars and carvans pull in there to have a look. The shelter was a lifesaver as there was no other shade. There was a hot dry wind blowing and without the shelter we would have been in trouble. Unfortunately, when we went down for our swim we saw that the water in the reservoir was like pea soup, very thick in algae and so you would be dirtier when you got out. Another plan was required. We decided to ride up to the water station and buy water for our two water bags (one serves as a shower bag and the other for water). We had the right coins but as we fed them in they rolled out the slot. BROKEN. So then we climbed over the fence and traipsed down through the long grass to a very small pond on the downstream side of the dam wall, where we filtered two bags of water for drinking and showering if required, and also had a dip with a very large fish which was making a right on spectacle of itself by breaking the water surface.
After all this we were exhausted and just tried to survive the afternoon as best we could under the shelter. We made a little barrier with our panniers for the wind and lay down on our mattresses with damp towels over our heads. Next to the shelter was some very outdated playground equipment, including a rocking horse type thing made of METAL. It looked like something out of Communist era somewhere circa 1965. Can you believe that throughout the afternoon, every so often a family would drive in to use the (pit) toilets or give the kids a break and they would sit on this thing and play on it? Backsides must be hardier than ours that's for sure! Anyway, eventually the sun did set, like around 9:30 pm and we had another quick HOT shower as the shower bag had been dangling in the sun from the roof of the shelter. Unfortuntely we had been plagued all day by horseflies and can you belive it; the black flies have made another appearance three provinces later? Round two.
The wind really whipped up last night and it was noisy in the tent, and still quite warm throughout the night so we didn't sleep very well. We had another early start, both feeling a little rough. Again we had a good wind for the first half. No services or towns on the road today again so we just kept pedalling. The road continued very nicely and we were grateful for it. It seemed a bit cooler today as forecast. All of a sudden, at the 40 km mark, the wind changed in intensity and direction to a westerly, and as we started the descent into Dorothy and the valley, we had a very strong headwind. The last 2 km are very steep down and it was tricky riding down the slope into the wind. As we passed Dorothy with it's original grain elevator that was saved from demolition we saw the Cottonwood Campground. We had seen reference to this online but no actual information and in the last Google streetview picture we had seen, it was closed. Today however it was open and although basic, exactly what we were after. It meant a short day, but a quiet campsite. After this the sites towards Drumheller would be big and busy. There was only one other RV parked at Cottonwood and the washrooms were good. We decided to camp here tonight and then have a 30 km ride into Drumheller tomorrow as we have some time to kill before we get to Clagary (Airdrie) on Thursday. We pitched the tent as it was overcast and then had about an hour of rain. After that it was quite hot again but we coped by having cold showers and sitting in the small bit of shade. The views of the "Badlands" are good and we will check out the Hoodoo's tomorrow.
We had a very peaceful night. Our only neighbours were a couple from Munich, Germany who have been travelling North America in their campervan since September 2016. They had been to Alaska as part of their trip and were able to give us some info about the Top of the World Highway which they had driven and we are planning to ride. It set our minds at rest a bit as although we want to ride this road, it will be a bit of a challenge. We had a late start today as it was regarded a rest day, and thank goodness the day was quite cool and overcast. It was a short 21 km ride to the Hoodoos and was very picturesque. We stopped there and had a look around. The Hoodoos are sandstone outcrops formed by erosion. There were many people there, climbing up the hills. Shortly after the Hoodoos we lost that beautiful valley view that we had had at the campsite. The town of Drumheller is only 14 km on from the Hoodoos and our main destination was Tim Hortons which was busy. Drumheller has definitely capitalised on it's Unesco World Heritage Status and Dinosaur capital of Canada reputation. There is a dinosaur sculpture on every corner! Of course there is also the World's Largest Dinosaur Statue which we passed just near our campsite. It seems to be a BIG drawcard. It made me laugh a little as it is SO huge. There is a renowned museum a few kilometres away that is very popular, the Royal Tyrrell Musuem, but we are happy relaxing at the tent. The campsite is very busy.
There are always plusses and minuses in staying in a townie campsite. Plusses include being able to get whatever food you want, like the delicious pizzas we had for dinner, and other luxuries like cold milk for cereal and cold drinks. Minusses include the over-priced campsite you will get and being forced in close proximity to people who are not particularly concerned with paying due consideration to those around them. Neighbours like the ones we had at River Grove who were perfectly amenable and apoligised in advance for the noise, as they had two young children, and then proceeded to play the radio at full blast. For the people who pile into these sorts of campsites, this is their summer holiday and it's all about fun and we get that, but gee, most people are pretty inconsiderate. Like our other neighbours who arrived to pitch their tent in the dark after 10:00 pm. Anyhow, enough complaints, we had the perfect campsite by the end of the day!
Today's ride was short and sweet. We continued along the valley from Drumheller for about 10 km, the valley walls being more of the same eroded rock walls we had seen since Dorothy. One kilometer from Drumheller, and linked via a little cycleway, is Nacamine, a tiny place with a grocery store that advertised camping. Had we known we would have gone there last night. There was a steepish climb out of the valley with lovely views of the valley floor below and all of a sudden we were back up on top, no longer surrounded by the dry prairie grasslands we had been used to since arriving in Alberta, but once again the green and gold of canola and barley. We could have been back in Saskatchewan!
We were travelling on route 575 which is a great road once again. Perfect surface and shoulder. It was a little exciting when a one of the "oversized load" warning vehicles came towards us. It's always fun wondering what the load will be. This one was a complete double storey house! We wisely pulled off the road and waited for it to pass. We arrived in Acme (beep beep) and checked out Main St, and even the menu at the diner we would eat at later. We pulled into the Frank Fooks Memorial Park and this campsite was perfect for us! A few RV's parked in a circular area and many treed and well grassed spots to pitch our tent. We self-registered, paying less than half of last night's rate and set off to shower. The showers required a code to enter as they were at the town pool adjacent to the campsite. We thought we did not have it and asked at the pool. The pool attendant was very helpful but also didn't have it. He said we were welcome to shower in the pool changerooms, which we did. We then realised that the code was printed on the back of our self-registration stub! When we used them later they were pristine.
We had a delicious meal at the diner and bought frozen yoghurt for dessert from the grocery store. We whiled away the afternoon reading and as evening drew in a thunderstorm approached. The site manager has come across to warn us about the storm as there is a tornado warning in place for the next town over. The advice is to go into the concrete shower block if a tornado appears! We'll keep you posted.
The storm missed us! We had a peaceful night and an early-ish start (8:00 am). The ride was uneventful and the road into Airdrie was easy on a great cycleway. We arrived at about 12:00 pm and visited Timmo's which was close to the hotel. Although check-in was only at 16:00 pm (quite late!) we pitched up at 1:00 pm and had to wait about 15 min before we were checked in to our large king suite which has a seperate sittng room to the bedroom (crikey). We used the hotel guest laundry. This is a very useful feature of Canadian hotels. We've never had the use of a laundry in European or Scandanavian hotels. They work just like campsite laundries, you put money in the machines. Very useful. It will be great to be here for three days. We'll go into Calgary tomorrow to pick up some orders at various places and have a look around.
Part of the reason behind choosing this hotel was the bus stop outside the front door where the ICE to Calgary stops. There is an ICE bus that goes all the way to Downtown Calgary but it only runs during commuter hours, so early morning and late afternoon. The bus we caught takes you to the outskirts of Calgary and then you catch the CTrain into the city. All together the trip took about 75 minutes. We had looked into staying in Calgary, but with it being Stampede week it was almost three times the price of the Airdrie hotels which did not seem worth it. As it was the city is crazy busy, everyone wearing boots and cowboy hats. And denim jeans. It was not super hot today, only about 25 degrees but too warm for jeans I thought! We collected some online orders we had made at MEC (outdoor store) and The Bike Store. These were: new pedals for Mike (his are squeaking) and another pair of three-quarter leggings for me as the others I got in Winnipeg were so good. We also bought a spare tyre just because we felt an insurance policy was a good idea. We haven't carried a spare tyre in years, but I guess the combination or remoteness that we will be heading into, and bears, made us start thinking it was a good idea. We visited a few interesting stores - Smithbilt, where they have been making the inconic Calgary Stampede white hat for 100 years and still make all hats by hand on the premises. We also visited a store that stocked indigenous craft, and a craft gallery. All very good stuff. As far as indigenous craft goes though, we haven't found anything to rival the beautiful white carved bear we saw all those kilometres ago at Ten Mile Lookout, Manitoulin Island. We will know when we find the thing we want to take home. We have to be selective.
Rodeo Finals Day at the Calgary Stampede! YAHOO! The show commenced at 1:15 pm but we arrived by 10:00 am as we wanted to check out the craft and animal displays. We assumed it would be open early, but actually the grounds and exhibitions only opened at 11:00 am. Still, we were in the queue for the bag check and were inside by 10:30 am. We had a look at some wonderful stone carvings but still do not want to commit to the purchase as we are sure we will find a lot to see further north. Much of the work is done by coastal communities in the northern territories so we assume that we will come across more examples. There was a lot of wonderful fine art, paintings and sculpture. We had a look at the Indian Village, mainly a group of very sparkly looking teepees. The animal hall was great. We watched show cows being spruced up; a cow beauty salon complete with hairdriers, hair spray and all manner of combs and brushes. The cows were even having final haircuts with clippers for those wayward hairs. Never seen cows with such silky coats. We also met a HUGE horse called Mike. Weighed a ton (literally) - a heavy weight pulling horse. It was about 2.5 m tall. You couldn't believe it was real.
It was hot in the sun when we sat down for the show, but would you believe in the end we had rain, hail and shine? We had been warned by Helga at Oyen that it can be hot and end up hailing and that's what happened!! It was very interesting for us to watch the diferent events - steer wrestling and tie down, bull riding and bare back riding, with the women doing barrel racing. The cowboys sure are strong as are the horses. The winner of each event took home $100,000 so not bad for 8 seconds work! All in all a great day and a great experience.