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.

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