La Crosse, Wisconsin

I do plan to write a post about riding to the Twin Cities and our experiences in Minneapolis.

However! La Crosse was so amazing that I had to write this post first.

We get into town about an hour before sunset on Saturday and head to the co-op grocery store, where we start asking if anyone knows of a good place to camp, and after pointing out that backyards are fine, the woman at the customer service desk offers hers! But Bree didn’t get off work until after ten, so we spent some time at the co-ops deli eating area, on our computers, before heading out for a quick beer.

The bar had plenty of bicycles parked outside, and while Shawn and I were locking up, a couple people were checking out our bicycles. One of them turned out to be a member of the band playing the bar that night, and he bought our beers! Sweet!

We met up with Bree as her shift ended and did the short ride to her house, where we set up in her backyard while talking with her and her co-habitant (boyfriend? partner?), Eric. Their house is filled, almost, with stuff they’ve canned themselves, and we settled in and had another beer and chatted until about one in the morning. It was that wonderful easy kind of conversation you can have with new people sometimes, and it’s part of why I love this kind of traveling.

The next morning Shawn and I get up and eat delicious muffins (mmmmmm…) and head out to the bike shop, since Shawn has a slow leak in his rear tube that’s already been patched. He figured he’d try and buy a thorn-resistant tube. We get to the bike shop and the lights are off, but there was an employee there who saw us with our loaded bicycles and let us in.

The bike shop itself is interesting, as it’s been in La Crosse under various owners and in two locations for almost a hundred years!

But Scot, it turns out, is also someone with whom we really connected.

Every year there is a tour of three-speed bicycles between Red Wing and Wabasha along Lake Pepin. I learned about it years ago, and wanted to go but never thought I would, until Shawn fixed up his Raleigh Wayfarer, and we’ve talked about it off and on since.

Scot was also into older three-speeds and made some new ones himself, and had done the tour, so we talked bikes for a while. Shawn and I left the bike shop after Shawn gave him a postcard from his three-speed ride in Portland, as well as a Cycle Touring Primer and pin with an illustration of the guts of a three-speed hub, and we went to the co-op again to pick up some groceries.

We were chilling in the deli area again when Scot showed up and asked if we wanted to come to his house, check out his bikes and various collections, and stay the night.

We looked outside: it was raining. Did some mental calculation: we could afford another rest day. So: yes!

Scot not only has gone to the Lake Pepin tour every year except the first one, he also collects Sturmey-Archer hubs, old Raleigh catalogs, old Campagnolo parts, vintage bicycles, and he’s started making new custom bicycles in the style of older British bicycles. His library of older cycling literature–magazines, catalogs, etc.–is worthy of a museum collection. It was amazing.

I really enjoyed the catalogs in particular. Here’s a couple quotes from the 1934 Raleigh catalog:

The bicycle is the modern edition of the magic carpet of old. It is the key to the pleasures and the treasures of the countryside. It constitutes at once the easiest and cheapest method of travel, and thousands of cyclists will assert that it is the best all-round pastime ever though of–a pastime for both sexes and for all ages, a pastime which will readily fill an hour as a week, a pastime for all weathers, a pastime for the hours of darkness no less than for dalight, a pastime as strenuous or as lazy as one likes to make it, a pastime which almost guarantees the securing of good health and which most certainly produces happiness and contentment.

The pleasures of cycling are varied and abounding. It would be difficult to describe in cold type the joy associated, day by day, with a fortnight’s cycle tour running into a thousand miles, when every minute and every yard produce some new sensation, some delicious pleasure. Nor would it be appreciably easier to describe the joy of the lazy potter thorough delectable lanes, or the strenuous evening jaunt or the gay dash to meet friends at some distant rendezvous. No two occasions are ever the same, and the pastime holds an infinite variety of delights–physical and mental joys which, for the majority of people, cannot be obtained in any other way.

Just lovely.

And then another from the 1937 Raleigh catalog, when describing a women’s model of a bicycle:

Sister to the man’s model, it is, of course, similarly equipped with the same Sturmey gear. Light, and by virtue of the gear, speedy, the keen, sporting lady-rider, when once astride it, will have no difficulty in “keeping-up” with the men; and who more than she can appreciate what a desirable quality this is.

Somehow it just strikes me as a rather poetic way of saying “this bicycle is just as good as the man’s and won’t make you fall behind.” Plus, how can you not enjoy the phrase “keen, sporting lady-rider”?

We’re in the co-op again, and if for some reason someone offers us another night here we’ll have to turn them down, as we need to get a long day in today. The weather has improved, though, so it shouldn’t be a problem.

And I really do promise a post about everything from Duluth until La Crosse.

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Duluth!

Unlike most of my posts, this one is going to be day-by-day. And very long.

Leaving Winnipeg, day one: As usual, we left late, and ended up at an RV park. The tent site was nice enough, and the showers were great, but hooo-eee was it expensive! Oh, and there was either a really dirty dairy farm nearby, or all the local farmers used some really godawful fertilizer, as the smell on the ride in was so bad that you could taste it.

Day two: We had a bit of a headwind and didn’t make much progress, so we stopped at St. Malo, a provincial park in Manitoba. It’s a dammed lake, but the park is lovely, with lots of trees and two man-made beaches, where Shawn and I did the only outdoor swimming so far on this trip!

Day three: Crossed the border back into the USA. The border guard asked a lot of questions I thought were pointless, like who we were staying with in Minneapolis and how did we know them? What the hell, man. Other than making sure we’re not smuggling anything (like Cuban cigars), none of that matters. We’re citizens and have proof. What’s he going to do, make us stay in Canada?

We’d been in Canada almost two months by then, so it was strange to get used to distances in miles again! I found myself still trying to convert distances in my head.

That night we stayed in a state park filled with beautiful aspen and birch trees. It was also almost completely empty–there was no one else in our loop of campsites, and at night it was borderline creepy to be all alone like that. Excellent showers, though.

Day four: It rained on us. A lot. We were wet. We had a place to stay in Thief River Falls, and had just gotten into town when a car pulls up next to us and a teenage boy yells out the window, “Are you April and Shawn?” It was our host (and his son), and they stopped to tell us directions to their house. At Andy’s house we admired his Salsa Mukluk, drank a couple New Belgium beers, talked about cycling, and pet his huge white dog, appropriately named Snowball.

Day five: We stopped at the Wal-Mart in Thief River Falls. I think it’s the first time I’ve stepped foot in a Wal-Mart in something like a decade. There go all my lefty credentials. Oh well.

That night we stopped in the little town of Erskine, not knowing where to stay, and tried the popular trick of going into the local bar, getting a beer (Michelob Amberbock, which is surprisingly un-sucky), explaining that we’re bike tourists, and asking about places to stay. The bartender’s grandparents own a campground/RV park right on the edge of town, so that’s where we went. Cute place, pretty small and inexpensive.

That night though….yeesh. We woke up to almost constant flashes of lightning, high winds, and thunder. We turned on the weather radio to find out there was a severe thunderstorm warning near us, and it loved telling us that “tornadoes can occur with little or no warning…” Not knowing what else to do, we put on some clothes and hid in the laundry room of the campground, where I read two issues each of Oprah’s magazine and People magazine, as it poured rain and the wind blew and thunder roared and we took turns cranking the radio. We didn’t get back to bed until it was getting light out after the worst of the storm had passed, and we managed to grab a couple more hours of sleep.

Day six: Despite our lack of sleep, the riding that day was pretty good. The humidity, though, was incredible. It was cloudy and low 80’s F and insane humidity. Normally my way of dealing with heat is to get my clothes wet with cold water, but it would have been pointless. There was also many tiny black insects, the size of poppy seeds, that got stuck to my skin and clothes and tried to go in my mouth.

But our goal that night was Lake Itasca, where Shawn had a surprise for me. We get to the entrance of the park, and the signs point out the attractions, and on the list it says “AYH hostel.” I look at Shawn: “Hey! They have a hostel! Did you know there’s a hostel here?” He gives a noncommittal “…maybe.” Sure enough, Shawn had reservations at the hostel! So we got to take long showers and wash a load of clothes and sleep in real beds, hallelujah!

Day seven: We did some sight-seeing in the park, since it’s the headwaters of the mighty Mississippi. We took some pictures at the exact spot where it becomes the Mississippi River and waded across, since it was only about a foot deep and a few dozen feet across.

As the day progressed, we crossed the river multiple times. The landscape was lovely, rolling hills with trees and farmland. Near the end of the day we passed through the tiny “town” of Becida, which startled me. To make a long story short, one of my good friends in middle and high school, Shanna, had moved to Becida, Minnesota not long after I left to move to Oregon, partway through our junior years of high school in Virginia Beach, Virginia. I hadn’t thought of Shanna in a long time, but now I was burning with curiosity: did she still live nearby? What was she up to?

When we got to the town of Bemidgi, we stopped at their co-op grocery store, which had unfortunately just closed, and asked some people if they knew a place where we could stay. The folks we chatted up generously offered their backyard as a tentsite, and so we set up in the yard of Thomas and Liz. They also bought us a pizza, which we wolfed down, while the four of us talked about all sorts of things. Turns out that Thomas was my age and had gone to high school there, but it wasn’t until later in the night that I got the nerve to ask if he knew my friend from high school.

“Shanna? Yeah! I dated her sister!” Holy moly. It’s a small world (or a small town) after all.

After that we spent a good ten minutes searching all over the internet until I found out Shanna’s new last name and friended her on facebook. She did still live nearby…but it wouldn’t work out for us to visit. Maybe in the future.

Day eight: After stopping at the co-op to shop (and buying so much food that it barely fit in my bags) we stopped at a local bike shop because once again, I was having troubles with my chain. Thankfully it was a minor issue and quickly fixed.

One part of that day really sticks out in my memory, though. We got near the end of the day’s riding and I discovered that I had dropped my hoodie. I was so frustrated with myself that I announced I was going back to find it even though it was raining and it was already late in the day. Shawn came along, and so there I was, riding on the wrong side of the road, craning my neck, paranoid I would miss it. But Shawn saw it first, five miles from where we turned back. It was soaking wet but otherwise just fine. Whew. I love that hoodie, and I got it at MEC and it wasn’t that cheap. I really didn’t want to try to replace it.

That night we stayed in a National Forest campground on a lake that really was very beautiful, and not crowded at all despite it being Labor Day weekend. The campground host let us stay for free, not far from two guys who were riding what looked like huge surfboards down the entire Mississippi (that’s their goal, anyway).

Day nine: The riding was fairly uneventful, and that night we camped in an Army Corps of Engineers campground, just a couple dozen feet from train tracks, so of course a long freight train went by in the night. It got cold outside, but we were fine.

Day ten: After a day of fine riding, we realized we wouldn’t make it into Duluth before dark, and our warmshowers host picked us up outside of town.

Karen and Bob have been great, with a gorgeous house. And it turns out that Duluth is a lovely little town! We did a little exploring around yesterday (which would be day eleven) and I announced that Duluth is on the short list of “places that aren’t Portland in which I would be willing to live, at least temporarily.” Of course, Shawn pointed out that I was here in late summer–would I manage the winter? I have no idea. (Also on the list: Astoria, Oregon; Vancouver, B.C.; Missoula, Montana…)

But Duluth is built mostly on a hillside, with many trees, facing Lake Superior. There’s a large harbor, along with a huge hospital system and a couple of universities. The houses mostly seem older (in a good way). There’s a well-stocked grocery co-op. We ate at a burrito/brewpub place that was amazing, and then later a gentlemen named Doug took us out to another place that was friendly to non-mainstream diets (at our table of three: a vegan, a vegetarian, and a gluten-free person) and delicious. The multi-use path along the lake gives some pretty amazing views.

Speaking of Doug: He has a Surly Cross-Check bicycle onto which he has put a belt drive and an internal gear hub. He graciously let me ride it around the parking lot, it was fun!

The roads of Duluth are in terrible shape (at least as bad as Spokane) and the whole town is one big hill, but biking around has otherwise been very pleasant. We wish we could spend an extra day here, but Minneapolis is calling our names.

Matter of fact, we wish we had more time in Minnesota, as the state is laced with many beautiful bike paths, one of which we’re riding today on the way to Minneapolis. We’re putting the bike paths of Minnesota on the list of places to visit in the future.

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Winnipeg, pt 2

Last night Shawn and I joined Cara on a tour of community gardens, which was fun! There was a handful of people on bicycles, and everyone else was on a chartered city bus, so it was a big group of people. And after that we went to a restaurant where all three of us ended up ordering the same (delicous) veggie burger and drinking beers on their outdoor patio. Ah, summer!

At one point during the garden tour I started chatting up a guy taking pictures, and it turns out he’s the official photographer for the Icelandic festival in Gimli! In addition, he’s descended from Icelanders who emigrated to Canada, and he was able to go back to Iceland and stand on the very farm some of his ancestors lived on. He was even able to find the foundation of one of the older houses. He said it was an amazing experience, and that many Icelanders would hear he was ethnically Icelandic and announce, “Ah, we’re related!” Which is probably true, honestly, seeing as the whole country is half the population of Winnipeg. You can see his photos here. He’s a professional photographer, so many of them are quite good.

Winnipeg in general has more bicycles than I was expecting, but even better, it has more than its fair share of mixte frame bicycles! Good lord! How did they all end up here? Also, Winnipeg is pretty much flat. Yeah, it’s really windy, and a headwind is jokingly referred to as a “Winnipeg hill.” But this is definitely a city that would work for single-speeds and coaster brakes. Gill, one of our hosts, rides a fixed gear, and he says that many fixie riders locally have ridiculously high gear ratios because of the flat landscape. “It’s hard to get going, but when you do, you just fly.”

Since today is the day Shawn and I leave Winnipeg, and we’ll be back in the States in a few days, I figured I’d take this opportunity to talk about a handful of the differences between Canada and the USA:

*They have potato chip flavors we don’t. Dill pickle, ketchup, and “all-dressed” flavors are common sights. All-dressed is the most confusing, as nobody can seem to tell me what it actually means. The Lays brand all-dressed chips have a picture of a tomato, and onion, and a vinegar bottle. They taste like BBQ flavor except less spicy and more vinegar-y. The pickle chips are pretty good, we’re thinking of writing Kettle Chips in Oregon to see if they’d try making them!
*Their debit cards work differently. My debit card in the states says “debit” on it but then has the VISA logo, which confuses people sometimes. We have to make sure our cards are run as credit or they don’t work.
*They do not say “eh” nearly as often as stereotypes would lead you to believe. Although I must note that in Saskatoon it was more “hey” then “eh,” (e.g. “This bike path is pretty awesome, hey?”) and that many Canadians do have a discernible accent to American ears.
*There’s French on everything.
*MEC’s in-house stuff is often cheaper and better than that at REI’s.
*Tom’s of Maine toothpaste is still in aluminum tubes! (Since being bought out by Colgate, they’re in plastic tubes in the USA.)
*Unexpected things are more expensive. Despite the stereotype that Canadians drink a lot, beer is super expensive. Canned beans and dry cereal are really pricey as well. In general, though, the weak dollar has hurt us.
*CBC radio is pretty good.
*Many more things are named after British people and places. Although certainly the east coast of the USA, in the original colonies, has its share of British place names. I mean, once upon a time when I was a kid I lived in Virginia (named after a “virgin” queen) in a city formerly known as Princess Anne County. But in general, Canadians are more aware of what goes on in the UK and keeps a closer eye on the royal family, and a lot of middle-of-nowhere land is Crown lands, and therefore still (technically) owned by the Queen.

I have gained a fairly good grasp of kilometers vs. miles and Celsius vs. Fahrenheit. Kilometers to miles: move the decimal point over once to the left, multiply times six. So twenty kilometers is twelve miles. The other method is to divide by five and multiply times three, so thirty five kilometers is twenty-one miles. It’s approximate but it’s good enough for cycling. In terms of temperatures: 10C is fairly cold but not that cold, 15 to 25 is about perfect for cycling, anything above 30C is hot.

As a side note, the day we arrived in Winnipeg, a well-loved politician (how’s that for an oxymoron) died of cancer. John Layton was a cyclist, a Trekkie, had charisma in spades, and was respected even by people who disagreed with him. Reading stuff about him online reminded me of how little I know about Canadian politics. It’s embarrassing, because I’ve met several Canadians who were required to memorize all the American states and their capitols in school, and it wasn’t until recently that I even could place most of the Canadian provinces on a map. Hell, I don’t think I ever had to memorize all the capitols of the American states. What I know of them I learned from a Carmen Sandiego video game. (Anyone remember that? Or the TV show?) I have met Canadians who know more about American politics than I do. Eep.

Did you know that Shawn and I have a “new” Indiegogo page where you can donate to our trip? It has a whopping ten days left on it! There’s cool stuff you can get depending on how much you donate.

And not to sound desperate, but we could use the cash. Canada has been more expensive than we expected. We’re not huge spenders these days, but a campsite can be $20, food in the middle of nowhere is sometimes twice as expensive (and we have to eat a lot) and we (very) occasionally do get a beer to share. Add in needed bicycle repairs here and there (my new chain last week, a new tire the week before that) and various incidentals and it adds up.

We’re not a charity and nobody should feel obligated to give us anything. If you can’t or don’t want to, that’s totally fine! But if you like reading my goofy stories about our travels and feel moved to donate a few dollars, we’d really appreciate it.

And a big THANK YOU to people who’ve already donated.

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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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Saskatoon!

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.

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Edmonton!

We keep putting off leaving Edmonton. Tomorrow for sure! No, really! Seriously! Good lord, we’ve been here a whole week. It’s the longest we’ve spent anywhere.

Part of it is that warm summery days can make a person feel lazy (warm, not hot: I don’t think it’s gone above 80F during our stay, which is very nice). Part of it is that Keith’s house feels like home to us somehow…maybe because we’ve known him a while? Because he’s been a guest where I’ve lived before? (He was there to see my now-former roommate, to whom he’s getting married in just a few weeks). I don’t know.

Speaking of feeling at home: Within a day of arriving I went to my first Critical Mass ride, which was a lot of fun. It was casual and non-confrontational and there was a good diversity of cyclists and one rider had a stereo setup with an eclectic mix of music. And apparently a bunch of people in Edmonton had found out about me and Shawn via Keith and had been reading our blogs and wanted to meet us! And that’s how we fell into a group of super-awesome people that we saw repeatedly throughout our stay in Edmonton. We went on bicycle rides, we went out to eat a few times and had one lovely picnic, we hung around the Edmonton Bicycle Commuters’ Society bike shop, and I just generally got to know some rad folks. I couldn’t help but try and convince them all to visit Portland.

There was one experience we had that’s just too funny not to share: Shawn, Keith, and I are waiting at a stoplight when a gentleman pulls up on an Electra Townie with suspension and an internal gear hub. He proceeds to tell us, with a slightly-drunk Latino accent, how much he LOVES his bicycle. “Every ride is like an orgasm!” he said, while making a vaguely humping motion. I have never seen someone so enthusiastically positive about an Electra Townie. I have…opinions…on Electra Townies. But if someone loves theirs, then god bless’em.

In saddle news: After talking to lots of people, I’ve given up on the Brooks and I’m selling it (it’s on the bike of a friend right now as she tries it out), and at MEC today I bought a Terry saddle. Keith put it on the bicycle while doing a few tune-up type things (’cause he’s awesome like that) and it was love at first ride. Not too wide or narrow, not too hard or soft, the cut-out is in the right place. Aahhhhh. We’ll see how it does on 80+ mile days, but I’m optimistic.

Does anybody else find it odd that for newbie/casual riders they sell thin (or nonexistent) padded shorts and super-squishy saddles, and for hardcore riders they sell hard saddles and super-squishy padded shorts? I mean, what the hell? (For the record, I prefer shorts with really thin lining. Like these, which I also bought today.)

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Milestones!

Shawn and I have officially done 2,000 miles total!

A hundred of which were yesterday!

Which makes my first century. I never thought my first century would be with a loaded bicycle, but there you are. We’ve arrived in Edmonton, where we’re staying with our friend Keith. (How I know Keith is an interesting story–he’s the fiancee of a former roommate, and they met online.)

It helps that the road into Edmonton is mostly a very slight downhill with a few rolling hills, and that for some of it we had a tailwind. We also got rain dumped on us twice, but whatever.

Anyway, just checking in for now. I’ll write more later.

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