Winnipeg!

It’s taken a long time to get to Winnipeg from Saskatoon. It was just a long distance, but also, it got a bit monotonous. At least for a lot of it, we had a tailwind and the road was nearly flat!

Our first night out of Saskatoon we camped at a rest stop with a lovely secluded spot. We also chatted with a few motorcyclists who, for the most part, were nice guys…but while it was nice to get some whiskey and soda from them, I did think it was kinda sketchy that they were drinking and then getting back on their motorcycles. While talking with them I kept thinking, this is the kind of connection with strangers that people say is one of the benefits of travel! Too bad that they drink and drive. I hope they’re not the people who throw beer cans and bottles on the side of the road. (Lots of people throw Tim Hortons cups out their windows too. What the hell?)

Our second night we stayed with warmshowers hosts, Pat and Howard. I was surprised to find out they weren’t cyclists themselves, as most warmshowers hosts are! Instead, they’d just noticed a lot of people with bicycles camping in the town park and kept inviting them in for dinner and letting them stay there. Speaking of dinner, oh man. I felt guilty I couldn’t eat more than I did, and I ate plenty! Everything I tasted was great, especially the saskatoon berry crumble. And in the morning, there was a variety of home-made jams and jellies and I wanted to try all of them.

So as I’ve said before, I spent a couple of years as a kid living on an American military base in Iceland. As an adult, I’ve really wanted to go back to Iceland for a visit, and Iceland in general is a mild obsession of mine. So imagine my glee when we passed a sign for the tiny village of Elfros that said it contained an Icelandic Pioneer Memorial!

To make a long story short: in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s, a good quarter of the population of Iceland, left Iceland to form New Iceland in Manitoba, Canada. Not all of them stayed, many went to other places, especially North Dakota. But there is still a strong population of people of Icelandic ancestry, centered around Gimli, on the shores of Lake Manitoba. They have a festival every year and still print a newspaper in Icelandic!

Unfortunately, we don’t really have time to go visit Gimli (no relation to the dwarf). But we did stop at the memorial in Elfros, and I even picked up a brochure in the Co-op grocery store in town talking about the local Icelandic population. There are some pictures of the memorial in Shawn’s photostream, starting with this one.

The next day was kinda shitty, no way around it: my chain broke, we were in the middle of nowhere in Saskatchewan, where it’s apparently illegal to pick up hitch-hikers. It took us almost three hours to get picked up. And in the process of wrestling our things into her car, I lost my helmet mirror. And the campground in Yorkton was kinda sucky. But the bike shop was open the next day and had a lovely new Shimano chain for my bicycle. Yay! All’s well that ends well? (Shawn’s version of the story is a bit more detailed.)

Another nice place we stayed was with Brian in Dauphin. He built his house, hidden in some trees, himself, and lives in it with two cats–one of which is insanely affectionate–and a sweet dog. He also fed us some amazing food! And we got to see a little outbuilding he’s still building for guests, with a woodburning sauna built in.

The way to his house on a bypass road held a surprise for me, however. There we were, riding along, when I smell something that’s familiar, but I can’t place it. What is that smell? It’s sort like tomato plants….no. Wait a minute. It smells like marijuana! And that’s when I looked up and noticed that we were biking next to a field of hemp! I knew it was legal to grow hemp (the “industrial” kind, used for fiber and oil, as opposed to the kind that’s a drug) in Canada, but I had never seen it before. A few days later I learned that there used to be a lot more hemp growing in Canada, but it didn’t turn out to be the money crop people were expecting, and so it’s been scaled back quite a bit.

After we left Brian’s house and Dauphin we went through Riding Mountain National Park, which was pretty in its own way. We were planning to camp in the townsite of Wasagaming, but it turns out there was some kind of huge concert going on in the park, and the 500+ site and really expensive campground was filled with drunk jerks despite an alcohol ban. So even though we were tired we got the hell out of dodge. In a small town outside the park we went into a coffee shop/used book store that looked cool, and asked if they knew of any other campgrounds, and to our relief they let us camp in the backyard of the store. And they fed us! Nice folks. The bar across the street, however, has all but convinced me that the USA shouldn’t lower the drinking age. Drunk 19-year-olds are obnoxiously loud. Damn.

Manitoba’s roads suck. I’m just going to say that. It’s true. The major highways have a gravel shoulder. To say this is unpleasant for cyclists is an understatement. It would be bad enough if they had no shoulder at all, we’d still be watching over our shoulders constantly hoping not to be hit from behind. But a gravel shoulder means that many drivers can’t understand why you’re not in the shoulder and honk at you. Have you ever ridden a loaded touring bicycle on gravel? Yeah. Shawn and I both fell off our bikes in less than twenty-four hours riding on gravel. There’s no way we’re going to do that all the way into Winnipeg.

So we cheated again getting into Winnipeg, and stuck out our thumbs on Highway 16 just outside Neepawa, and got picked up in about half an hour by a lovely woman named Brooke. She was borrowing a nice big truck, so we had the bikes in the back and our stuff in half the backseat and there was still room for us to comfortably sit. Hallelujah! Turns out Brooke loved having the company on the way to Winnipeg, and so it was a very pleasant ride, even if it was strange to be in a car for so long. And we shaved off a good two days’ worth of riding.

Our first full day in Winnipeg (where we’re being hosted by Cara and her roommate Gill) I spent asleep a great deal. I’m not sure if I caught a minor virus or what, but I had really bad joint aches (like you get with the flu) and fatigue and my stomach was bothering me. And of course it was the hottest day of the year in Winnipeg, at 36.8C (that would be the upper 90’s F). I napped a lot and kept putting my camp towel in the freezer and draping it over my head.

Today I’ve mostly felt better and the temperature’s far more reasonable, but I’m still taking it pretty easily. We’ll be here another couple of days, I’ll let you know what fun stuff we get up to!

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