The first couple days after leaving Edmonton were interesting.
Of course we left late, and made it to Elk Island as it was getting dark. By the time we got to the campground, it was totally dark.
But the night had a few surprises in store. The first one was more cute than anything: frogs! They look like the kind I’ve seen before in northern California, and acted like it as well, in that they tended to move if you pointed your light at them, but then freeze, and often allow you to pick them up. They’ll jump out of your hand in a few seconds, and the sensation of them jumping out of your hand is strangely fun. Ah, the joys of harrassing innocent frogs.
The second surprise was pretty awesome. I went to walk to the bathrooms to pee and brush my teeth, and I’d heard that Elk Island was part of a chunk of land preserved against light pollution, so I looked up to see if I could see the stars.
I could see some of them, but I also saw something even better: the aurora borealis, aka northern lights! At first I thought I was just looking at thin clouds, but the giveaway was the streaks of pale green and pink and the slight curtain shape. When I realized what I was looking at, I clapped my hands over my mouth in shock, and then ran to get Shawn.
It wasn’t the most spectacular aurora I’ve ever seen, but I hadn’t seen the aurora since I was a kid in Iceland, where my family lived on the American military base (now closed) for several years. I saw the aurora plenty of times during our winters there, including one specific instance where me and one of my brothers put on our snow pants and heavy coats and lay on the snow outside one evening in early December, just watching the show of pink and green and white, looking a bit like a curtain, gently waving in space. The colors of the aurora are why white opals and moonstone are my favorite gemstones.
This aurora was a bit more sedate, but Shawn and I sat on top of a picnic table, craning our necks to watch the fain colors slowly move across the stars, until we were tired of getting bitten by the local mosquitoes.
As we left, we saw clouds on the horizon flashing distant lightning, which led to the third surprise of the night, which was the least pleasant. Early in the morning we woke up to a thunderstorm of non-stop lightning and thunder, which seemed to have stalled over the campground. Some of the strikes were so close it was pretty scary. After that died down, several hours later the rain started coming down in a downpour so strong I wondered if it was actually hailing, in addition to more lightning and thunder.
On the positive side, the tent held up fine and didn’t leak. But we had hoped to leave early, and there we were, it was almost nine am and we were stuck in the tent waiting for the rain to at least slow down a little…especially since, as we both realized, our rain jackets were out on our bikes! Mine was even outside, lashed to the pannier I usually leave on the bike. I did stop raining though, and after a few hours we had a sunny gorgeous weather for the rest of the day.
And as we were leaving the park, we were delayed again…this time, by some of the park’s bison, who were fond of standing in the road and staring at you. It’s mating season for them, so not only are the boy bison stinky and fond of making a noise that sounds like really big farts, they’re pretty cranky, so we weren’t going to try and approach Mr. Bison and his huge body and scary horns. No, we’ll just hang back until he’s done deciding where he’s going to go.
We had hoped to bike a good distance that day, but even with the mostly-flat landscape and a tailwind, we weren’t going to make it to our destination before dark, and we really didn’t want to be biking at night again. So, *sigh*, we got another ride, from our excellent warmshowers host in Vermillion. We got a room to ourselves behind their shop in town, which was comfy and, it seemed, filled with food. The next morning I managed to burn myself on their toaster oven, though. I am such a klutz. It wasn’t a terribly bad burn, but it’s on one of my knuckles where my fingers meet my hand, making it impossible to bandage well. It’s still healing, and when I bump it into something (as I inevitably do) it hurts like a mofo.
The next few days are a bit of a blur. We got rained on some more during one short day and then did two long sunny ones, ending with the 92-mile day that got us into Saskatoon. Oh lord, was I tired at the end of that day. And I need to start stretching more, my legs were so stiff and tight the next day.
Our hosts in Saskatoon have been Tim and Amanda and their two kids, Keira and Finnegan. Keira is five years old and decided fairly quickly that I was one of her favorite people, asking me to read to her, or “help” her play Apples to Apples (which is, I must admit, one of my favorite games), or holding my hand when we were walking to a party. She’s a total sweetie, and an excellent reminder that I want to get to know my similar-age niece better when we get back to Portland. Her older brother Finnegan is pretty funny himself, and a rather good sport about me and Shawn living in his bedroom during our stay.
We’ve been pretty lazy during our stay in Saskatoon. We’ve puttered around town a little, but we’ve mostly hung around the house, partially because Tim and Amanda, between them, have an astounding collection of pretty awesome books. The number of bicycle-related books and comic books are enough to make even me jealous. I don’t know how Shawn is handling it, although he did spend a good portion of one evening going through Tim’s collection of mini-comics, which included a bunch of Shawn’s from the late 1990’s.
Last night we watched a few DVD’s. The first one included Return of the Scorcher, a movie made in 1991 about bicycles. It was followed by We are Traffic, a movie about the first few years of Critical Mass in San Fransisco. We are Traffic was especially good at explaining why group bike rides are so fun–the intentional creation of non-commercial space, the socializing that happens, the sense of camaraderie you have with other people who ride bicycles, the way they can inspire you to do more of your transportation by bicycle.
The last movie we watched last night was called Rubber Side Down, and it was about two guys riding across Canada to raise money and awareness for Crohn’s disease and other Inflammatory Bowel Diseases. Which sounds serious, but it turned out to be a hilarious movie, because the two guys did not take themselves very seriously and were just very funny people. Plus Shawn and I could definitely sympathize with some of their problems/complaints in terms of touring.
Shawn and I are hoping to leave tomorrow, with our next destination being Winnipeg. It will take a week to get there, through more beautiful and flat (but slightly monotonous) Canadian prairie. I’m hoping for a good stiff tailwind to make the days easier/shorter.