Day 33: May 17 – Medicine Hat almost to Maple Creek
After a couple day’s rest I was ready to be back on the bike and my expectation was that once I cleared the hills in Medicine Hat I would be on relatively flat terrain. I mean this is the prairies, right? How wrong I was. Although not necessarily steep hills, there are hills a-plenty! Constant, rolling hills. Every time I reached the top of one hill I would hold my breath expecting to see nothing but flat road on the other side only to be met with another hill. Turns out I was travelling just north of Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park (shared between Alberta and Saskatchewan) and has the highest elevation between the Rockies and Labrador.
Shortly before noon I crossed into Saskatchewan!
About 30km in to Saskatchewan I was minding my own business cycling down the nice wide paved shoulder of the highway when I saw what I’m PRETTY sure was a wolf heading my way! I didn’t stop to take a picture, but the creature was grey-ish/white and was probably about 90-100lbs. He was trotting along the fence line on the same side of the highway as me, but in the opposite direction (heading west). He looked at me for about 5-10 seconds (I’m pretty sure picking up Dash’s scent) and then as quick and nimble as can be he hopped over the fence and carried on his way. There are not a lot of towns along this stretch of the highway, however there is a campground (Eagle Valley Park Campground) a few kilometres west of the turn off to Maple Creek (Maple Creek is 4 or 5km south of the highway). This put my distance for the day just over 90km and seemed like a good place to stay for the night. I thoroughly enjoyed my stay at this campground – free, super clean showers, nice staff, nicely maintained grounds and it looks like they are in the process of installing a pool and lounge area. Although I was the only camper in the tent section when I first arrived, a motorcyclist showed up around 7pm. He is in the process of riding his bike across Canada as well – I’m pretty sure he’ll make better time than me!
Day 34: May 18 – Almost Maple Creek to Gull Lake
Waking up around 7am I was surprised to see my fellow cyclist/camper friend was already packed up and ready to head out for the day so after a quick wave and well wishes on each other’s journey I started packing up my camp. I’m proud to say I’ve now gotten this process down to about an 1hr and 45 minutes. I’ve shaved off 15 minutes. It’s a start, but I think I can still do better. A few kilometres into today’s ride I came across a provincial tourism info office so I stopped in and picked up a map and booklet on the province. It turns out
the lady who was working at the tourism office stayed at the same campground as me the previous night. We chatted for a bit where she informed me that flooding is not currently an issue in the province along Highway 1 (good news) and that the terrain remains ‘rolling hills’ until Moose Jaw (not so good news). Back on the road I was quite disappointed to see that my nice lane-wide paved shoulder was quickly reduced to a mere two foot shoulder. I know this still sounds like a wide shoulder, but when you’re on a highway with oodles of transport trucks and the speed limit is 110km/hr, that 2 feet is a little too close for comfort (for me at least). In almost all cases the transport trucks were kind enough to move over to the far lane (in fact, most transport trucks do this even when I have a full lane wide paved shoulder), however there were two scenarios when a transport truck passed me at the same time as a car and therefore wasn’t able to move over. I had to be careful to not let the draft of the vehicles suck me on to the road. I breathed a HUGE sigh of relief when after 20km the full length paved shoulder returned!!
Around 65km into the ride today I saw a road side ice cream stand – and it was open!! I couldn’t resist stopping in! The lady at the stand said there was a couple gals there two days prior who were also cycling across Canada. It always gives me a little peace of mind hearing of or seeing others who are tackling this same journey.
The last hour of the ride the winds really started to kick up (I guess mother nature felt I had to work off the calories from the ice cream?) I was pretty happy to see the campground in Gull Lake (with 80km under my belt for the day) and for the 2nd night in a row there was 1 other person camping old-school in a tent instead of an RV or trailer!
After setting up camp, showering and eating my dehydrated beef teriyaki stir fry I took Dash and I out for a stroll around town after which we quickly zonked out for the night.
Day 35: May 19 – Gull Lake to Swift Current
Today was a shorter day (just under 60k) and I had a hotel booked in Swift Current, so I was looking forward to getting to my destination and exploring the town. I spent most of today’s ride singing along to my music (as I do most days), but today the Lion King’s I just can’t wait to be king jumped out at me. I know it sounds incredibly childish, but the lyrics around freedom – ‘free to run around all day, free to do it all my way’ seemed so fitting. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not particularly tied down in my day to day life in Toronto but there’s something about being on the open road with no commitment or obligation to others for months to come that is incredibly liberating.
Again in the last hour of the ride the winds really began to pick up and it even started hailing/raining for about 10 minutes. The rain passed quickly, the wind did not.
Once getting settled into my hotel I did my customary post ride check of my
bike and Dash’s trailer to discover that Dash’s trailer had another flat tire and here’s the culprit:
So I changed the tire tube, showered, slipped over to Subway to grab some lunch (it was only about 2pm) and headed out for a walk. Swift Current is an incredibly cute town with loads of walking/cycling trails. They have a 22km trail that runs along the river and passes through a very busy golf course. On my walk I also picked up more gatorade, beef jerky, a banana, apple and slice of banana bread for breakfast and snacks for tomorrows ride.
Day 36: May 20 – Swift Current to Chaplin
After a short day yesterday and an incredibly comfortable sleep on an actual mattress I had an abundance of energy when heading out. Turns out I was going to need it because the wind was strong from the get go. I had been keeping an eye on the weather forecast for the past couple days and they are calling for the winds to stay out of the East (which is NOT the predominate wind direction otherwise I would have biked from Newfoundland to BC and not vice versa!). They are also calling for the winds to get stronger over the next five days up to 30-50km/hr.
Heading out of Swift Current there was a particularly long steady climb which I walked up a good portion of. While I was walking a police officer passed me and pulled in to a turn around area near the crest of the hill. Within minutes he had somebody in his crossfires to pull over. After issuing a ticket he went back to the turn around area and had a 2nd car pulled over again within minutes. He repeated this a 3rd time before I finally climbed the hill and continued on my way!
Pretty much every day that I’ve been on the road I have had at least one trucker honk a tune of encouragement as he passed by, each and every time it makes me break out into a ridiculously large grin and gives me an extra boost of energy for a few minutes. Today as I had my head down into the wind I heard a honk from behind me and when I looked up a motorcyclist was passing by giving me a thumbs up. I don’t think anybody will ever understand how much these little gestures provide encouragement and motivation and reminds me that I’m really not in this journey alone. The amount of support I have had from friends, family and strangers alike is quite incredible – so thank you!!
I didn’t notice as many rest areas in Saskatchewan as what I was finding in Alberta, so needing a break I had to make my own rest area:
I did not make particularly great time today, but I was still able to cover about 87km in just under 8hrs of elapsed time. I was certainly happy when I started seeing signs of the town of Chaplin – my destination for the night. Chaplin is a very small town on the north side of Chaplin Lake a salt water lake. I had never actually heard of inland salt water lakes (my lack of knowledge), I had always thought oceans were the only source of salt water. Regardless, it looks like the main business in Chaplin is mining the salt from the lake. I also noticed all but one road in Chaplin is gravel – makes me wonder if paving the road with the salt nearby would cause too much damage to the pavement (that’s just me speculating).
Day 37: May 21 – Chaplin to Moose Jaw
With over a month on the road I haven’t had a lot of tough days yet, but today was definitely a tough one. The winds were absolutely relentless and with no trees or shrubs you are left completely exposed. I also didn’t know of any campgrounds between Chaplin and Moose Jaw (87km), so I knew I had some ground to cover whether I liked it or not. I woke up just before 6 and was on the road by 7:30 in the optimistic hope that I would get an hour or two in before the winds really picked up. Not so. The winds were out in full force. And to add insult to injury, the winds were so strong I could barely hear my music.
It took me about 9.5hrs to cover these 87km. At several points I had to get off my bike and walk ‘cuz my legs were simply too tired to keep pedalling into the wind. BRUTAL! Today was definitely a day I had to draw on all the support of friends and family. To look at the positive (as dad kindly reminded me) – the temperature was ideal for riding, low 20’s so not too cold and not too warm and it wasn’t raining.
After getting settled into the hotel and calling my parents I headed out to pick up some groceries, some coolers and KFC (I know – not good for me, but I was sooooo craving grease!).