Saturday, 30 June 2012

On Manitoban roads

My entry into Manitoba wasn't nearly as dramatic as my entry into Saskatchewan. Just a short bit of a road with a few signs and an end to the hard shoulder. I already miss that shoulder.

The day went pretty smoothly apart from the loss of two bananas.

At Souris, I found my B&B and washed both my clothes and Leonardo. In the process, I noticed a tear in one my Ortlieb bags which is a pain. I have patched it with duct tape (inside and out) for the time being but I am not very optimistic about the efficacy of the repair.

Fortunately, the weather forecast is for mostly dry weather for the next few days. Unfortunately, it is also for fairly hot weather.

Manitobans live up to their license plate motto: they are quite friendly.

There are signs of cultural shifts in the form of slightly different town layouts as well as menu variations. One dubious one is the appearance of deep fried pickles.

Friday, 29 June 2012

On the Prairies, English gentlemen

Between the iPhone getting confused by the proximity of the Manitoba border (more on that later) and general sloth, I got off to a late start today. However, my goal for today was Redvers which wasn't that far. In fact, I deliberately made decisions to increase the journey time.

The first of these was to look up the Cannigton Manor Historic Provincial Park. Cannington Manor was set up in the 1880s to be a place where young, English gentlemen would learn how to farm the Canadian West in genteel conditions. Almost predictably, these remittance men spent more time socializing than learning about farming. I'd read about the place in a book about Saskatchewan Alice had lent me. I had envisioned the place as an example of Victorian grandeur on the Prairies. The first place on the list of places seemed to confirm the notion. The Humphrey/Hewlett house seemed to confirm my opinion. While I couldn't enter, the floor plans of the three story structure included at darkroom!

However, when I got to the town site and was able to enter one of the structures, I was disabused of my notions. It was a reproduction of one of the houses that one of the few of the gentlemen who stayed that did it. It consisted of a two story structure which had no internal divisions! The original had been in use until the 1960s with no electricity! Part of me wonders what sin the man had committed in England that he wore such a hair shirt for the rest of his life.

My conclusion was that the young men from England might have spent a lot of time socializing, fox hunting, etc. but that they lived in relatively rustic conditions. It puts a different spin on things.

The place also made me appreciate just how rich my great grandfather had been in comparison. Robin Hill was much more luxurious than these tiny shacks, yet it was built only thirty or so years later. It also had the advantage of a railway nearby and motor transport, two things denied Cannington Manor.

After leaving the park, I headed South to my old friend Highway 13 and the village of Manor (which was connected to Cannington Manor). It lacked an open restaurant so I opted to head West for 13 km to Carlyle which I knew had a restaurant for lunch. This decision was influenced by the fact that otherwise the day would be quite short, as Redvers was only 31 kms to the East of Manor on Hwy 13.

Anyway, tonight is my last night in Saskatchewan. I get to Manitoba and Souris tomorrow. As someone who is fluent French, I tend to pronounce "Souris" as "soo-ree". However, the Saskatchewaners seem to say "soo-rees". I don't know who is correct.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

On the day after

Raymond made it to Broadview and the room I had rented. The room showed the Teutonic influence of the owner complete with lots of instructions notes on the walls which sometimes had small elements in the phrasing of them that hinted at their Germanic origin.

This morning, Raymond and I set off to the East. At Whitewood, I turned South bidding Raymond goodbye.

In the town of Whitewood, I noticed a sign that said "Nous parlons le français" at a motel. This is just about the first bit of bilingualism I have seen in a while.

I stopped at a museum that had farm machinery painted pink outside. Apparently, a friend of Raymond stopped there the day , the guide asked me if I was on of the MS bikers. I laughed and said "No, but I know of who you are talking about!"

Heading South, the relatively light wind was on my right and thus not helping me. After yesterday, it was a let down to have to plod along at a relatively slow pace. The pace was slowed by the lesser quality of the highway I was on and the increased number of hills. At some level, this was expected as my destination was Moose Mountain Provincial Park.

The park ended up being a let down as it seemed to cater to RVs and cottages. That's right, cottages, and in significant numbers. I looked around a campground but couldn't find a spot where I would feel comfortable with just my bivy sack. I half feel I have missed an opportunity. On the other hand, what the hey? What is done, is done. I did get in a short and refreshing swim.

Partly out of curiosity, I inquired at the Bear Claw Hotel and Casino in the White Bear First Nation just South of the Park if they had a room for one tonight. They did and the rate was all too reasonable, although the registration process was a tad convoluted as in order to get the best rate you had to get a club membership at the Casino which also got you a cash rebate and a meal discount. My depressing conclusion is that evidently casino gambling is only too profitable if they can eat the relative loss to blokes like me.

Anyway, I have booked my next two nights in advance as it will be a weekend and Canada Day. I will in Redvers tomorrow and Souris the day after.

It has been a nice day but a bit of a let down.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

On too much of a good thing

The forecast called for strong winds out the South West or West depending on the time. Strong as in up to 50 gusting to 70 km/h. Raymond remarked that it was a good thing. I replied a bit more cautiously as my intended route to Weyburn would take me on a route that angled South, and said it was possible to have too much of a good thing.

We left Moose Jaw behind us and headed West together until the junction with Highway 39 and we parted company. I didn't get very far on 39 as the wind was coming in at such an angle and speed that it took a lot of concentration and effort to keep the bike on course. After a kilometer, I gave up and went back to the T-Can were I soon caught up with Raymond who'd stopped to adjust his clothing.

We set off again and zoomed along to the outskirts of Regina where we parted company again as he wanted to look in at the RCMP museum. I had decided that I wanted to see just how far I could let the wind push me along. (Raymond asked me to keep him informed about where I got to tonight.) I wanted to "carpe ventus".

The day was cool and sunny with some friendly clouds.

Also windy, very windy.

In fact at the Tim Horton's I stopped at on the East side of Regina while I was fiddling with my bike, a large piece of metal paneling blew off the building a few meters away and fell to the ground. I first stepped on it to keep from blowing further and more dangerously afield. I then picked it up and took it inside. The manager came outside to survey the damage and in a slightly corporate manner asked if I been hurt or if my bike had been damaged. I said "No, just startled."

I set off again and made Indian Head ("Home of Little Mosque on the Prairie") for an excellent lunch at its bakery. The land has become flatter with more trees. At Grenfell, I passed the 200 kilometer mark and I started pondering where I should stop for the night even though it was well before 4 PM and I wasn't particularly tired. I settled on Broadview. I checked into the last available room at the Sweet Dreams motel courtesy of the German owner who had been keeping one room available more or less for waifs and strays.

So the numbers for today are: time, 6 hours, 50 minutes, 18 seconds of easy biking; distance, 230.58 kms; average speed of 33.6 km/h; maximum speed 60.0 km/h (more on that later). I attribute these numbers almost entirely to the wind combined with the flat landscape and excellent Saskatchewan roads. Obviously, Leonardo did his part and my reasonable fitness level contributed.

One slightly nerve-wracking bit was a construction zone where I was obliged to get into the one lane available. This was for quite a substantial stretch and I was slightly nervous about traffic coming up behind me. However, I was doing 40+ and I was wearing my most vivid shirt. Nonetheless, I decided I would turn on the red Turtle light on my helmet and push my speed up a notch assisted by a slight descent of the road. I quickly got my speed above 50 which was reasonably safe as the speed limit in construction zones is 60. There wasn't, in fact, any traffic behind me to get annoyed at my taking the lane, but that didn't mean some couldn't catch up. I pedaled faster until noticed my speed was nearly over the limit. So I slacked off just in time, as fines are doubled in construction zones!

Anyway, I am pumped by today's achievement. The downside is that I now have to figure how not to arrive in Winnipeg too early! ;-)

Addendum, 2013-02-18
After talking with Margo and the Mole on the weekend about this extraordinary day, I was inspired to look up the wind speeds for the day on the Environment Canada website. It gives the average hourly windspeeds in Moose Jaw as over 50 km/h between 1000 and 1600 hours on June 27, 2012. It shows a windspeeds in excess of 50 km/h in Regina between 1000 and 1800 hours on the same date. The wind directions are always close to 270 degrees or due West.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

On my head, a burrowing owl

The burrowing owl in question was an "ambassador owl" and a member of the team of the Saskatchewan Burrowing Owl Interpretation Centre. I had stopped by there just as a group of school kids were about to be shown around the modest facility which houses about seven burrowing owls and a short eared owl. As it was sunny I donned my Tilley hat.
Burrowing owls are very small, scarcely bigger than a robin but have a defiant stare that makes them oddly cute, as well as appearing larger than they actually are. They are endangered, alas, hence the need for the centre. The staff member showed us the owls in their cages and told us about them and their plight.

 As a finale, we went into a building where the ambassador owl was brought in so we could get a really good look at her. She was a little restless often flying off on the leash attached to the keeper's arm.

The presentation over, the school kids trooped out and the keeper put the owl into her carrier for the short trip back to her enclosure. This involved taking off her leash whilst in her carrier. Being a bit fractious, she bolted out the carrier door and alighted the tallest object in the room which was my head!

Thankfully, I was still wearing my Tilley hat so I didn't suffer her talons. I stayed very still and tried to remain as calm as possible as the keeper returned the bird to its carrier! Alas, I have no photos of that incident.

On what awaited me as I left the movie theatre

I ended my day off in Moose Jaw with a late afternoon showing of Madagascar 3. When I came out, there was a thunderstorm in evidence and a message on my cellphone from Raymond that tornados had been reported in the area. Not terribly surprising as the day has been very hot and muggy. Consequently, I holed up in the lobby of the theatre waiting for things to clear!

Monday, 25 June 2012

On getting to Moose Jaw

Raymond and I agreed to get an early start today with a planned 7 AM departure time to reduce our exposure to the blasted and blasting East wind that has been plaguing us. However, when we arose, there was a storm in evidence so we delayed things by an hour.

By our revised departure time the wind had dropped entirely and we had fast pedaling conditions across a relatively level section of Saskatchewan. As it was such a joy to be free of the wind and that I knew that Moose Jaw was an interesting place, I kept up a fast pace as Raymond drafted behind me: having left Chaplin a little after 8, we pulled up at Mac the giant moose statue outside the tourism office at a few minutes after noon having covered nearly 90 kms with a few stops along the way, and getting buzzed by a training jet out of CFB Moose Jaw.

We checked into a slightly dodgy downtown motel for two nights. I spent the afternoon looking for replacement footwear (ending up with a cheap pair of sneakers) and taking in one of the two Moose Jaw tunnel tours. Moose Jaw has a network of old steam tunnels that were used for various purposes including illegal and/or morally suspect ones. These included hiding and exploiting Chinese immigrants after the railway was built and assorted bootlegging and other vices associated with Al Capone and company. There was a large crowd for the Al Capone themed tour and me for the one on the Chinese experience. I won't go into the details but I came out rather ashamed to be a white Canadian.

When I got back from the tour, I had a discussion with Raymond, a recent Chinese immigrant, about the general topic and other facets of life and history in Canada. He's car mechanic so my liberal arts perspective on life seems to be a novelty to him.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

On making headway

Well, I am farther along the Trans-Canada than I anticipated today. The weather forecast when I got to Herbert, SK, was for more of the same for tomorrow (i.e. strong contrary winds) so I decide to make a bid for the town of Chaplin which had finally revealed the fact that it had a hotel.

Shortly before getting to Herbert, I'd stopped to eat a banana. Unable to eat it and ride at the same time, and unwilling to stop completely, walked the bike as I munched. I was surprised when a passing driver stopped to see if I needed help! These Prairie folks sure are decent.

Shortly before I got to the town of Morse (my original destination) the highway went along side a good sized lake with all kinds of waterfowl in evidence. How I wished I had my bird book on hand. Among the fowl were some Canada geese with goslings that were much bigger than the goslings I had seen in the Cypress Hills. Altitude/climate difference?

About this time, saw a red spot up ahead that came to reveal itself as a fellow cycle-tourer. I was a little hesitant as he was doing his journey to raise money for MS. I believe my readers are aware of my antipathy towards cycling for causes. Anyway, the cyclist was a young (21) guy from Vancouver, born in Hong Kong called Raymond. We chatted as we rode on before coming to a salt lake(!) and Chaplin. We have ended up sharing a room tonight and we will see how we get along tomorrow.
Interestingly enough, he was wondering if there was a technique I was using to get up hills with the relative ease he saw I had. I didn't have anything to offer except that I had more relative weight to throw around. Raymond is a skinny guy of about 110 lbs whereas I was 178 the last time I weighed myself. As our loaded bikes both come in at about 80 lbs, I have an "unfair" advantage. I also have the advantage having been riding road bikes longer than he had been alive as well as nearly seven years of biking touring experience under my belt. This is his first trip. So I think I will stay with him for a bit to guide him.

On llamas in unlikely places

I opted to head back to and along the T-Can today. My logic was that this would spread my exposure to the Easterly winds over a couple of days. The planned distance was 131 kms. Unfortunately, after I had committed to it I noticed that I had missed a 9 km section in my caculations. This was going to be a long day and in order get in a visit to the T-Rex centre, I had to start late. Consequently, it was 7:30 PM when I arrived at the first motel in Swift Current after 8 hours of relatively slow biking, including a three and a half hour slog along the Trans-Canada. However, the T-Rex centre was worth it and I am now in position for a short day tomorrow that sets up a reasonable day to get to Moose Jaw the next day.

As I left Eastend, I passed an old farm site covered with assorted farm machinery in various states of disrepair. That wasn't that atypical. However, the presence of llamas was atypical. You read that right: llamas. I wondered in a humorous vein if the llamas were also abandonned farm equipment! I didn't stop for a picture as I only noticed the llamas a bit too late for a photo and I didn't want to turn back. Just to prove that it wasn't a total fluke, there was another such abandoned farm, only with more llamas! This time I stopped for photograph the scene.
 As I approached the town of Shaunavon and lunch, my iPhone rang with a call from Margo. As lunch was also calling, the call was a short one. After eating lunch and watching an auction in progress, I headed North to Gull Lake. Along the way, a disturbed a pair of pronghorns who were in the ditch. They moved away then stopped to assess me as I dug out the camera. They then scarppered away to a small herd farther away that I hadn't noticed.

I zoomed down a hill, past a stereotypically beefy Hereford bull and into Gull Lake. At the highway gas station I bought some milk and juice. As I drank them on the porch. The Chinese(?) owner came out and gave me an apple. We chatted for a bit. Then there was no more stalling as I had to face the 56 km grind into the wind. Having had the time to adjust I was able to just keep pedaling at low speed. So here I am in Swift Current.

Time for bed.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

On a "good day for cycling"

Several people said to me that today was a good day for cycling. Presumably, on the grounds it was sunny and not too hot. Unfortunately, the wind today was out of the South and East at various and most inconvenient times. As a result, I made exceedingly and frustratingly slow progress to the point I let out several frustrated "argh"s. I had hoped to get to Eastend in time to get to an exhibit about a T-Rex they found nearby, but made it about 45 minutes after the place closed.

More devastatingly, as I was getting ready to go out for supper, I discovered that my sandals were missing. At this point, I believe I did something dumb regarding them whilst searching in a pannier for food on the road. They probably sitting by the side of road somewhere about 20-30 kms from here. My fragile psyche broke at that point. My psyche being what it is part of why I was upset was that I was upset about something so trivial. I phoned Margo to vent. Tomorrow's forecast is for more of the same.

As accommodations are just a little too scarce or far to the immediate East or South-East of here, my plan is head to Swift Current tomorrow. This is a retreat from my plan but I've nearly exhausted my reserves of energy and ideas. This makes me wimp compared to Victor, the Swiss cyclist I met at tonight's motel. He has come here from Argentina. He was stuck in Pincher Creek by contrary winds for five days! He is spending a month working here in Eastend. Otherwise, I think I would have tried to "latch" on to him. Then again, 99% of the population probably thinks they are wimps compared to me.

On the plus side, I saw a female moose today as I was leaving the East Block of the Cypress Hills Park. Oh, Eastend is so named because it was the "East end" of NWMP patrols out of Fort Walsh.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

On telling my tale

My mileage for today was zero. Instead, I spent the day in Maple Creek doing laundry, cleaning Leonardo, doing research and seeing the sights. I have told the tale of yesterday's misadventure to a number of people today.

The most useful time was at the tourism office here in Maple Creek. To set the scene, I must tell you that said office is in an old newspaper building which it shares with Service Canada. When I went there in the morning, the building was open but the tourism person wasn't there. As there was a display of assorted pamphlets and the like, I helped myself to some and sat down on a bench to read through them to determine their worth to me. Several people came seeking either tourist advice or Service Canada services. There was a moment of confusion as people sorted themselves in which an older couple revealed that they wanted to know if they could drive through the Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park in their van! I was able to advise them based on recent, firsthand knowledge. The advice, which they accepted, was "no".

In telling my tale to people, I have refrained from actively dissing Saskatchewan roads as they are generally better than those in Quebec. At least, the highways are. However, the locals are quite happy to grumble about the relatively poor roads.

I have noticed that there is an interesting difference in road sign distances on the T-Can. In Alberta, the distances given are those to the junction, whereas in Saskatchewan it is to the location. So from Walsh, Alberta, the distance to Maple Creek is 40 kms. However, the distance on the sign on the Saskatchewan side is 48 kms! I'd say the Saskatchewan way is more honest.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

On getting stuck in the mud

The Cypress Hills are said to be the highest point between the Rockies and Labrador. This is technically incorrect as the highest point of Labrador is also the highest point of Quebec, and Quebec being being West of Labrador, it stands to reason its highest point is by definition, closer to the Cypress Hills, at least by some tiny degree.

Certainly, they are quite high and the view from the South Rim allows one to not only see into the States but also pee into the Mississippi drainage basin should one feel the need. According to HBC early records, the native population referred to the hills as the "Dreaded Hills". The reason for this lies in the fact that the tribes in the area were mostly plains Indians who only went to the hills for resources from trees they couldn't get elsewhere. The treed environment was alien to them and they didn't like it much. For one thing, it was too easy for another tribe to ambush you. There seems to have been a lot of inter-tribal warfare in the area. I think I went by the site of one particularly nasty battle.
The Cypress Hills have much to recommend themselves as a park: scenery, history, geology. The problem is that they lie in two provinces. The park services have worked together to create adjoining parks referred to as the Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park. However, the join is all too visible.
I went into Elkwater in search of the visitor information centre. Along the way, I saw a fledgling great horned owl. I inquired about state of the park roads and was told they were muddy and rutted. Also, one of them was closed. However, a route to Fort Walsh on the Saskatchewan side was open. So I took it. Soon after I got on the Graburn Road, my shoes became clogged with mud and I couldn't use my cleats. However, the road was passable. I cruised along the tableland at a decent speed seeing mule deer and cattle. The road went through a ford where I cleaned my cleats. It then descended steeply and roughly enough that I had to use alternate braking to descend safely.
After a junction, I crossed into Saskatchewan. Things started to get bad quickly. I lost momentum going up a hill and had to stop. I soon discovered that the road surface consisted of thick, glutinous mud that I could not push Leonardo through for more than a few feet without needing a rest. The mud was clogging the wheels preventing then from turning. I could see a building up ahead. So I unloaded the bike and "portaged" along the road to it. It wasn't a useful building, but there was a trail head marker.
I was worried at this point. However, I calmed myself from outright panic, by reminding myself that I had a bivvy sack and enough food for a couple of days, worst came to worst. I also had the iPhone to try and phone for help, but I was sufficiently self-proud that I would have made a significant effort to self-rescue before phoning. Also, I wasn't sure if there was cellphone reception that far into the Park. Rather like Pandora, I wanted to have at least the hope of rescue via cellphone.
I started to try to clean Leonardo to the point he might be ridden when a bright yellow pickup truck came along from the Fort Walsh side. This was the second vehicle I'd since joining the Graburn Road. I flagged it down. In it were two guys from Shaunavon (Sask.) on a fishing expedition. I explained my predicament and asked them fairly directly if they wouldn't mind giving me a lift out of there. They didn't and drove me and Leonardo some speed (except when the driver slowed down to look at fishing possibilities) to the Trans-Canada at the Alberta border. I thanked them profusely and set about cleaning Leonardo using an outside tap at the Alberta tourism bureau.

I estimate this took the best part of an hour and Leonardo still wasn't very clean by the end of it. However, he was clean enough to ride in the near ideal conditions offered by the Trans-Canada.
Consulting my map of Saskatchewan, I decided that Maple Creek was my best bet. I was however surprised by the fact there wasn't a Saskatchewan tourism office right across the border. Instead, the office was at the turn off for Maple Creek, some 40 km inside the province. So with the wind, behind me, I set off for Maple Creek and got into a pretty good rhythm despite the relatively late hour and the stresses of the day. The tourism office was closed for the day. Having seen an ad for a B&B beside the T-Can, being tired and a trifle dispirted, and as the motel at the junction looked like a fleapit, I pushed myself down the last 10 kms into Maple Creek and to the Redmond House B&B.
The Redmond House B&B is very nice. I have decided to spend two nights here as I am zonked after what I thought would be an easy day. I also need to rethink my itinerary in light of today's events and where it has left me physically, mentally and geographically. I also need to clean Leonardo and a lot of other stuff.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

On an easier day

As the estimated distance for today was only 67 km, yesterday being so demanding and tomorrow featuring dirt roads, I firmly let myself relax today. I got up relatively late, ate, washed yesterday's clothes and then went to the laundry room to use the dryer. I sat in the lobby of the combined motor hotel and motel and used the free wi-fi to surf the web, catching up on the news and comics. Also the fact that Alice and/or Mark have seen a bear.

Once my laundry was dry, I packed my bags and set of in search of a bike shop and an actual bank ATM. The latter to the form of the drive through ATM at a TD bank. Among the bills it gave me were two of the new plastic fifty dollar bills. These were the first I had come across. A little later, I found the bike store where I got a spare inner tube to replace the one I used two days ago. I then found a grocery store where various edibles were purchases.

After an early lunch, I set off through the rain. At a gas station along the T-Can, I saw a number of Hutterite women getting out of an SUV. A little latter, I saw a pair of big white birds in a pond beside the road. Thinking they were wild swans, I stopped for a photo. As I pulled out my camera, the birds changed position to reveal they were in fact white pelicans! Pelicans are much more fun than swans. I have only once seen white pelicans before and that was at a significant distance in 1985 around the Grand Tetons.

I left the T-Can on a secondary highway that climbed by degrees towards the Cypress Hills. Compared to yesterday, today's speeds were much slower but then the road was tougher. I noticed a pickup turning at a junction in front of me. The owner got out and asked if I was the cyclist going to the Barzee B&B. As I was, he said he was one of the owners and would I like a lift the rest of the way? I wouldn't have minded, but I felt driven by pride to do it myself. Hence, I politely turned down his offer.

At least a half hour later, I came across a stretch of rolling, hummocky land that reminded me of the low terrain between Campbeltown and Machrihanish. The fact it was raining undoubtably helped the mental association. A little further on, I could see the evergreen trees, while not cypresses, were the trees that gave the hills their name. I caught sight of the B&B. As I rolled up the driveway, I was bemused to see the garage door opening by itself. My hosts emerged from the garage where Leonardo is spending the night. I was shown my room in the outbuilding that houses the guest quarters. The rooms are named for early NWMP officers. Mine is Const. Marmaduke Graburn of whom more will be said later.

After abulting, I had a wonderful snooze. I then cleaned and oiled Leonardo before settling down with a history of Fort Walsh and the Cypress Hills my hostess had provided. The slim history was rather interesting. However, I was disconcerted to read that Marmaduke Graburn was the first NWMP officer to meet a violent end, having been shot and killed by some undetermined person near Fort Walsh. There was a likely suspect but there wasn't sufficient proof.

Still, the book has reinforced my desire to visit the place tomorrow. It is just the other side of the Saskatchewan border, more or less within the confines of the Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park. One mild element of uncertainty is the state of the roads in the park. The park literature states they aren't suitable for all vehicles all the time. Given the rain of late, I will check the latest conditions at the park information center when I go to get a map tomorrow.

It has been a good day and tomorrow I get to visit Saskatchewan for the first time. I will have then visited all the provinces.

Monday, 18 June 2012

On a hard day's end

The weather improved slowly after leaving the provincial park. There were drifts of the lentil-sized hailstones by the side of the road. Eventually, the rain stopped but there remained somewhat menacing clouds roughly upwind of me. The wind being generally on my port quarter for most of the day.
 The landscape has flattened out a bit since Calgary. Except for the sky, crowded with low clouds, there was a sense of emptiness. Even the long CPR trains, waiting for each other at passing loops, seemed dwarfed. The fields were dotted with beef cattle and pump jacks. 

There are a surprisingly number of small bodies of water beside the road. Each has its own population of water birds. Plovers seemed to particularly object to my presence. Many times, I see Swainson's hawks on the prowl for gophers and the like. The most fun bit of wildlife was a small herd of pronghorn antelope.

I got to Medicine Hat and found a cheap motel with many useful amenities including a laundry room. I am wiped, tired and sore to the point that I am only going to the laundry tomorrow morning. The estimated distance is only 67 kms compared with the 160 kms I did today and I know where I will be sleeping tomorrow.

On a different note: this is my 400th blog post.

On seeking shelter from the storm

I am writing this holed up in the Tillebrook provincial park information office about 5 klicks East of Brooks. I had left Bassano under grey skies with rain visible here and there in elegant plumes. About 20 kms out it began to sprinkle, then rain in earnest. It was pouring when got to Brooks where I found an early lunch as there isn't anything of note 'tween it and Medicine Hat. Also, I hoped the rain would blow through by the time lunch was done.

The sight of some other long-distance cyclists spurred into leaving earlier than I should have as it would have been nice to have company on a wretched day. They were out of sight by the time I was back on my bike and an over proud twit I kept on riding through the heavy rain and lightning.

When it began to hail, I began to seriously question whether I should call it a day. Then I saw the sign for this place where I made a beeline for.

The rain is now lifting, but I had made the resolution that if there was no improvement by 2:00 (it was 12:15 when I arrived, I would go back to Brooks. One advantage of this break is that I consulted a bird book in the office. I can add Marbled godwits and eared grebes to my list of birds.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

On my first day on the road

At breakfast this morning, I met a Venezualan cyclist who was going across Canada. He sounded like he was at least a permanent resident having been in Canada for several years. He seemed undaunted by the prospect of Northern Ontario. Afterwards, I wondered if that was because of his immigration status which might make going through the States problematic. As we chatted, he raised the possibility of teaming up at least as far as Winnipeg. I was tempted but ultimately decided against it.

I rode and C-trained to the Southernmost station, playing tag with a CPR freight train on C-train. I noticed that some of the tank cars had the notation that the water capacity of them was on the order of 127,000 kgs or 127 metric tonnes! That is for one car. That number surprised me and made me very impressed at the carrying capacity of trains.

Near the hamlet of Indus, I stopped to change out of my merino jersey into something lighter. As I did, I was passed by a father and daughter team on racing bikes. I caught up with them a few kms later as they were taking a break. We rode in company for about an hour. I believe he was a Brit working in Calgary. This caused a slight communication problem as he was "calibrated" in miles and myself in kms. They turned back shortly before the Siksika First Nation.

Just inside it, I stopped at the Boy Chief trading post and gas station for a late morning coffee. As I sat on the porch sipping the brew and making friends with a scruffy golden retriever, I inquired of the Siksikawan attendant the proper pronunciation of Siksika. This was done in light of experiences in Australia. It is Sik-si-ka which relatively simple.

 The main town on the reserve appeared to be Gleichen. I had hoped find lunch there. Either advertising is a white man's concept or else I made a wrong turn somewhere as I couldn't find a store or a restaurant. At the one place I could have asked I did as there appeared to be some sort of kerfuffle requiring two RCMP patrol cars and as a white guy, I didn't my presence would help. White guilt is easy come by when your last name means "white". As I left the town, two ambulances were heading into the place. I hope it was just a coincidence. It was only a dozen klicks later at Cluny that I found gas station selling sandwiches.

After my late lunch, I noticed some ominous clouds over my left shoulder. They had the feel that they might be heading my way, unlike the rain clouds well to my right. After a few too many nervous glances over my left shoulder, I resolved to concentrate on what was in front of me, while keeping my weather eye on the state of the passing vehicles. Only if they started to be wet would I worry. Thankfully, I made Bassano well before the rain.

I booked into a motel run by cheerful Chinese (?) immigrant who'd rented my room the night before to another cyclist. The guy had arrived at 11 PM from Golden in B.C. 400 kms away by the map function on this iPhone. I find it hard to believe. Not that he was underwhelmed by me arriving "only" from Calgary. He talked as if he gets a decent number of trans-Canada cyclists, which isn't that surprising as his motel is on the Trans-Canada. He put me in a non-smoking room and was positively encouraging me to bring in the bike. He seems to admire us nutballs.

I underestimated today's distance by 15 klicks which a bit alarming. Tomorrow's estimate is supported by the road signs. One sad bit about being on the road is that I see too many flattened gophers.

After abulting, phoning the parents to wish the Paternal Unit a happy Father's Day, I dozed a while listening to the storm. While it didn't last long, I was very glad to be indoors. I later headed into town to find some eats. My choices were limited to a place serving a nasty looking Chinese-ish buffet for Father's Day or a nearly empty Italian place. While dithering (I went with the better looking Italian place), I noticed my back tire was flat. After supper, I walked Leonardo home worrying about whether there was something the matter with that tire as it was the third flat in less than a thousand klicks. I made the back up plan that if there wasn't obviously wrong, I would swap it with the front tire as it gets less weight on it. Thankfully, when I examined the tire, there was an uncomplicated piece of wire at the root of the problem.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

On beer in the Ship and Anchor Pub

Who the Hell orders Old Milwaukee in a can at a pub where you get Wild Rose draft beers? Sitting near the serving area for the waitresses reveals that it all too common an order. It also reveals that orders of Red Bull and Jagermeister shots is all too common.

The Ship and Anchor Pub showed up on my working list of places to go on this trip. I am not entirely sure of how it got there. However, it was also on a list of pubs put out by the hostel and it serves beer from the Wild Rose Brewery so its place on my list isn't without merit. Wild Rose beer is very good. I have had a pint of four different varieties they brew over the last two days and only the Velvet Fog was a disappointment.

Anyway, I went to the Ship and Anchor Pub get some grub and, dare I say it, some beer. It being a Saturday night, there was a large crowd, but I managed to find a seat at the bar. I ordered a Wild Rose IPA and some curry. My experience was mildly soured by a drunk guy who sat next down to me. It was barely 7 PM and the bartender was refusing to serve him spirits! Albertans for you. I had semi-playful "what-if" visions of him starting a barfight with me in the middle. Thankfully, he decamped before he became a real problem.

On gophers and other thoughts

 The Calgary Hostel has a very friendly vibe to it. I have been chatting with people from all over. Ireland, France, Austria. As I was coming in the back with Leonardo yesterday evening, I happened to see a staff member walking past, so I asked her what the small rodents that were scampering around were? She said they were gophers, something I had suspected. She then asked me if I knew anything about repairing bikes as the brakes on her elderly ten speed weren't working. I took my jacket off to show her my Tour de l'île bénévelo méchano t-shirt! I then looked over the bike and decided there was too much slack in the brake cables. I set about to tighten then. Fortunately, I had neglected to remove my second wrench from my tool bag after the Tour de l'île so I was able to do the job. The woman said that the brakes had never worked so well since she'd had the bike.

The downside of the hostel is that it is located too near the C-train and a construction site. To add insult to injury, part of the C-train isn't working tomorrow morning so I will be forced to ride a shade farther in the city with a loaded bike.

Not that Calgary is particularly hard to bike in. Yesterday was spent in a preparatory mode: reassembling Leonardo, getting bits at the MEC and mailing my duffle bag, duct tape and my pedal wrench to the hostel in Winnipeg. I also got in a much desired snooze. I should have gone to see the Tsuu T'ina Culture Museum as I only found today that it is closed on weekends. As well, I had planned to stop at the Blackfoot Crossing historic site tomorrow, but it isn't open on Sundays!

On the plus side, I found out before I went anywhere. I went Fort Calgary this morning and the Glenbow Museum in the afternoon. At the former, there was a staff member or docent who was reading some of information about the destruction of the bison and then said she wished she'd hadn't as it made her feel awful. I put forth the classic statement that those who don't study history are doomed to repeat it.

 On the subject of history, the Austrian guy who is sharing my room didn't appreciate until I told him that Calgary was only founded in 1888 or thereabouts. Spanking new in European terms. Time rustle up some grub. Big day tomorrow. The Austrian asked if I planned to leave early. I replied that I might plan to but I knew that I would end up doing a certain amount of fussing around so I end up leaving like a herd of tortoises to borrow a phrase from Alice.

Gophers are lots of fun to watch.

Friday, 15 June 2012

On a stowaway

I was sorting my gear at the hostel when I noticed there was a bit of my bike computer on a bag of bike tools. Specifically, the magnet that is attached to the wheel. I was alarmed for a few seconds as did this mean Leonardo was losing parts? Then I remembered that I had left the bag of tools on table next to the bits of my new bike computer, which included the magnet. I had left the old magnet on the Leonardo. The new one had been attracted to the metal of the tools and bike parts and thus stowed itself away to Calgary!

On WestJet flight 655

My restlessness is matched by my fatigue. It is only 10:24, Montreal time but I feel ready for bed. Fortunately, Calgary is only an hour away. I had thought that this would be a flight into darkness, but this 737 is flying on golden light. I can see Saskatchewan below with what looks like a river valley. Unfortunately, our great circle routing means the flight is well to the North of my relatively border-hugging intended route.

WestJet's inflight entertainment screens seem small compared to Air Canada's. Also, my seat's audio jack doesn't like my Apple earbuds.

To top it it off, I am surprised at how disconnected with "modern" Canadian broadcast television. My mother and other media skeptics of my circle would probably say this is a good thing, yet I can't help but wonder about it says about our media society that it somehow isn't meeting my requirements. Yes, I might be considered an oddball on the outskirts, but I am probably not that far out of the norm. If can refer to my earlier post regarding Bixis, while I am tall, I am not extremely tall. Yet the Bixis are designed for a shorter range of people, and I suspect a too narrow range at that. Could this be used as an analogy with mainstream media? Probably an imponderable and as we have begun our descent to Calgary, I am going to put away the iPhone. It is still daylight out. 10:50 Mtl time

Thursday, 14 June 2012

On the route Leonardo took to get through security

Leonardo is in the hands of WestJet despite having gone through a rather circuitous route to get there. After printing out my baggage stickers at the self-serve kiosk, I went to the oversized luggage counter dodging a Moroccan(?) family. However, it turned out that it was the Air Canada oversized luggage counter, so I had to go to the WestJet luggage drop-off counter where I dropped off my duffle bag and was directed to the WestJet and Air Transat oversize drop off point. After waiting on some silly disorganized people dropping off a chocolate lab or Weimaraner (I didn't get a good look) the security folks found out that the bike box was too big for their scanner. So I trundled Leonardo over to the Air Canada scanner (which is big enough, having scanned him before) escorted by a security officer. Leonardo receiving a clean bill of health, he and I were escorted back to the WestJet oversized luggage counter where we parted ways. Going through security, I noticed that I had neglected to leave my work ID and excess keys at work as I had planned. (I had left straight from work.) No biggie. The person behind me in the security line up was an Aussie! I am now relaxing over an over-priced beer waiting for my flight to board.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

On my nieces' birthday parties

Caveat: This post has taken me a long time to write. There probably was more of a point to it earlier on.

My eldest niece, Désirée, turned four on Easter Sunday this year. I went out to North Hatley for the event. On the morning of, I went up to her dad's house to get some information from him. She was very happy and excited to see me. She is normally rather quiet however, that day she was talking a mile-a minute and gave me a tour of the house whilst sitting on my shoulders. (That last bit has become some of our special game since her half-sister's birthday.)

I was a little surprised that the party was a "family" party with no other kids of Désirée's age. However, there was a younger party planned for the next day. I was giving Désirée a ride on my shoulders, when she suddenly noticed the bright yellow box with my Easter egg in it on the beam and wanted to know why it was there. This set off the Easter egg hunt. Kudos to her for noticing.
This picture was taken at the April Birthday Party (see below) but it captures Désirée on my shoulders

Late into the main course (raclette) Désirée was wandering around at slightly loose ends. She was standing on a sofa making eyes at the pile of presents for her and her Grandfather (whose birthday was the following day.) Sensing her wishes and wanting to make her birthday party a happy memory for her, I got up and gave one of my presents for her to her to open right away as I guessed that it would keep her occupied until dessert. It was a box of 60 coloured pencils, which combined with some scrap paper eased the wait for her. My brother later commented that the both the present and the fact I gave it to her early were good ideas. He has the view that "tool" presents are the best, coloured pencils being tools. I hope she remembers her "Moncle Daniel" gave her them long after I am gone.

If I sound morbid, I don't intend to. It is just that my personal set of memories truly begin from when I was about four. I have some memories beginning when I was three (and one from the summer I was 2 and a half(!)), but they are fragmentary and mostly date from Christmas just before I turned four, (and my birthday is in January). While my earliest memories may be exceptionally early, my pet theory is that permanent memory begins at around age four and therefore, this year is very significant for Désirée.

I mentioned this theory casually at the party. I was somewhat surprised that Eowyn (Désirée's half-sister) claimed to have no real memories from that age. I was also a little shocked that she made almost a boast of having little knowledge of the life of Jesus Christ. (This was not as random as it seems, as I had just given my Father a copy of "Jesus of Nazareth" on DVD for his birthday in the quixotic hopes of dampening his enthusiasm for his pursuit of a PhD in theology.)

I am at best an agnostic. And to borrow a phrase from an unknown Irishman, it is the Catholic God I don't believe in. Even more specifically, it is the Quebec Catholic God I don't believe in. I suffered through incredibly tedious Catholic public school catechism, which, looking back, never really got into the exciting bits of the Bible. I am far from one to advocate "Christian" thinking. However, I am of the opinion that she should know a bit more about the life of Jesus and related topics simply as part of her general culture. Like it or loath it, Christianity has had a tremendous impact on our planet. Then again, Eowyn might have been playing at being defiantly ignorant.

Two weekends later, there was a party celebrating Anna's first birthday. As luck and a dodgy VW camper van would have it, Anna and her parents (Alice and Mark) were in North Hatley for the event.

Among the presents I gave Anna was a board book copy of Robert Munsch's "The Paperbag Princess". The following week I was amused to see that it was on a top ten list of books for geeky dads to read to their kids.
Anna is quite the little cutie. At the time, she was crawling and standing with the aid of furniture. Doubtless, she is probably walking by now.
For complicated reasons, Alice, Mark and Anna then spent a night chez moi, making Anna the first of my nieces and nephew, to do so. This involved a considerable amount of rapid tidying, cleaning and baby-proofing. Of particular concern were the DVDs in my collection which are colourful and lots of fun for Anna to pull off the shelves.
At one point Mark took Anna for a longish walk in a carrier. The journey included a trip in the Metro. Mark has a slightly quirky idea about entertainment for bairns.

The following weekend saw a large gathering of relatives from my father's side of the family for the annual April Birthday Party. If I may explain, for some reason, a disproportionate number of people in the family were born in April, both my parents among them. Hence the need for a mass April Birthday Party. It serves the function of a family reunion as well.

All my three siblings and their families were there. I was somewhat surprised that one of my siblings had never been to one before. However, it allowed me to get in some photos of shot of both my nieces and my nephew together.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

On the other side of the fence on the Tour de l'Île

Like many years past, I was in the Tour de l'Île this year. Unlike previous years, I went as a volunteer bike mechanic. A friend of mine who has been volunteering for the Tour for many years talked me into it. (In fact, he has been doing it for enough years, that a picture of him is featured in the volunteers' manual!)
In honour of my role, I eschewed my semi-"traditional" Tour de l'Île corroplast moose antlers. Instead, I made a corroplast "wrench" to simultaneously "decorate" and announce my particular function as a volunteer. People got a huge kick out of it. While I was waiting at the start, someone took my photograph. (The above picture isn't it.)

The team of volunteers I was in was the last group of bike mechanics to start the tour. Consequently, we spent well over an hour standing by the side of Parc Avenue wielding bicycle pumps. A number of tour participants asked us to pump up their tires for them. One of them had a very odd-looking valve, not unlike a Presta valve on his rear tire that we weren't quite sure how to operate. However, we could fill it using the Presta valve opening on my pump. The bike had been brought from Europe by the significant other of the rider. With the benefit of a computer, I now think it was a Dunlop valve.

In addition to pumping up tires (including my own) while waiting, I also replaced an inner tube and adjusted the wire on a front derailleur. I also used the time to clear my chain which was grungy after a week that featured a lot of rain.

The weather forecast called for showers and quite cool temperatures. The predicted high was no more than 15. This may explain why the turnout seemed quite low and why the demand for mechanics' services wasn't very high on the whole. My theory is that the "soft core" cyclists are more likely to need help and to be dissuaded from attending by a bad weather forecast. Conversely, the more hardcore types will be the opposite. 

Not that everyone in today's Tour de l'Île were die-hard cyclists: at around the 16 km mark, I spoke to a mother with a young-ish (about 8) girl whom I had noticed biking along quite determinedly in her pink shirt. The mother (who looked slightly Hispanic) wanted to know about whether there would be places to take a break and if so how far the first one would be. I was able to say inform her that there were several breaks and that the first one would be in just a few kilometers. I got the sense that it was there first time doing the Tour and the mother wasn't sure about their ability to do it. I did my best to set her at ease, by saying that she could (and should) take her time, and that there was a drop-out service should they need it. I hope they finished. While they were keen, they weren't hardcore.

Contrary to my expectations and the forecast, the weather was actually very nice with sunny skies and no rain. The former has sunburned my arms and face as I didn't pack sunscreen! I thought it was going to be a wet slog, and went in a merino shirt which I kept on putting on and taking off under the red mechanics t-shirt they gave me.

The need for my services was relatively light. I really only helped in the first third of the route. First, a man asked me to raise the seat on his son's bike. A little later, I replaced a man's inner-tube as his friends and family watched. In the second third, I shielded a young father as he pushed his son's stroller across the route. In the last section, I pointed out to an older woman that a strap on her saddle bags was hitting her rear spokes and jobbered a solution using a bit of old inner tube.

I stopped for a breather at the first relais. As I walked back towards the course, I asked one of the participants about the yellow, blue and red flag he had on the back of his bike. It turned out it was a Venezuelan flag, (I'd had the idea it was from South America) and he was on vacation from that country. I kept on coming up beside him during the rest of Tour, including once when I had to tell him that wearing earphones on a bike was against the law. I also jokingly warned him about being careful about escapees as we passed the Bordeaux Prison. He commented that it looked five-star compared to prisons in Venezuela.

I had lunch at the second relais. As I left, I saw a pedal car, and chatted with the owner. Thankfully, he wasn't participated in the Tour as if anything went wrong, I suspect very few of the mécanos (myself included) would be able to help him.
We went around the Olympic Stadium.

As always, some people go wild with decorating. Here are some examples.
 Here are some angels
 Some people taking their flowers for a ride
And someone with a (fake) bird on her helmet.

Given the relative shortage of people in need of mechanical assistance, there was a tendency to bunch up. Near the end, I saw my friend and another 4 mechanics standing around one client. I stopped as well to make a quip about how many mechanics were needed to help one person. J.-P., my friend, replied that unless I had a spare derailleur, none of us would be of much use. I observed that we had just passed La Cordée (the outdoor store where I had bought die Fleddermoose) and they might have a derailleur for sale. My suggestion was considered but not taken up.
I bumped into J.-P. and his gang at the end. I enlisted one of them to take my picture from behind so as to show off the wrench along with my mécano bénévélo t-shirt. J.-P. is the figure at the left of the picture.

Not a bad day on the whole.

Anyway, time to start getting ready for the next section of AMUAM JuNITO.