Day 21: Regina to Francis (87 km)
“I really hope this evening we’ll be sleeping in a house.”
When I said those words, sat indoors in Regina with the rain lashing outside, I hadn’t expected that the house would turn out the way it did.
We left Regina late morning once the thunder clouds and rain had done their worst and passed to the north east. Although now dry the weather forecast for the day didn’t look good – there was a strong south-easterly wind. And today we departed the Trans Canada highway to avoid the traffic, heading instead directly into the south-easterly wind in search of quieter roads.
We only succeeded in cycling a punishing 73km, many kilometres short of our intended destination of Fillmore. For lunch we sat on a patch of lawn to devour the usual selection of avocado, crackers, cheese etc. None of us wanted to move. I don’t know if it was the late start, the tired legs from many miles on the road, the oppressive humidity of the air, or the unrelenting headwind but we all felt very lethargic and didn’t want to get back on the road.
Cycling into a headwind isn’t very social. You can’t ride side by side and chat as it uses up so much energy and the wind will catch your words and toss them behind you before they reach the other person. To brighten things up, one of the wanderers suggested that we play leapfrog on the road.
We all had the same album on our iPods (Tegan & Sara, Hearthrob) to use for the leapfrog. We lined up in formation on the road. On three we pressed a simultaneous play on our iPods and punched into the wind. I started at the front, Sofi sat right on my back wheel and Katie right behind her. We pedalled fast, head down, punching into the wind.
After two songs the person at the back sprinted to the front and pedalled as fast as possible. We cut through the wind like the women’s team pursuit at the Olympics. Our average speed pushed up to 23km. My legs ached with lactic acid. They ached from all the miles I’ve cycled these last few weeks. They ached as they punched the wind. The music made me push as hard as I could until the end of the second track then Katie raced to the front. It was a relief to be about to cower on the back wheel, sheltered from the buffering wind. The pace quickened with the fast opening beats of each new song. The rider at the front picked up the speed with their fresher legs.
When the last song on the album began to close we were just 12 kilometres from Francis.
We pulled up at the gas station. Francis is a non-location: a scattering of houses, a small gas station, a pot holed gravel road to the south. The guy behind the counter, a young guy with a Canada Badboy tshirt and a hint of stubble, informed us that there wasn’t anywhere to stay. No motel, no campground, nothing. There nearest place was to backtrack north or continue another 30km along the highway. By now it was past five in the afternoon and none of us had the energy to cycle any further into a headwind.
A group of three men in boots and baseball caps were having a coffee by the window. One of them advised us that we could sleep in the sports ground in the town. Being outside in the wind didn’t look inviting so we sat in the gas station drinking diet coke waiting for the time to pass.
We were about to head off when Becky came over. Becky was a local and lived just 13 km down the road. She and her husband are in the process of building a new house. “It doesn’t have flushing water or anything,” she explained, “but you’re welcome to stay.”
What a relief. We cycled down the road and along a bumping, muddy track to the unfinished house. It stood like a white beacon on the horizon – it’s exposed walls shining in the low evening sun. It felt strange to be the first people staying in a new house but I’m really grateful to Becky for letting us stay. I got what I wished for: a house to sleep in.