Day 19: Swift Current to Moose Jaw (172.5 km)
The truck pulled over behind the zigzag of bicycles scattered across the hard shoulder. Two riders sat huddled on the ground. The third lay prone on the hot tarmac, her arms outstretched but her legs still bent awkwardly around her pedals.
“Oh, we’re fine,” Katie wanderer called, giving the driver thumbs up.
We were fine, all of us. We’d just decided to sprint 15km in order to reach an average speed of 30km by our 100th mile. This spot on the side of the highway, bordered by fields on all sides, under the heat of the sun cooling in the late afternoon, marked our first English century.
5 hours 17 minutes and 04 seconds.
This was the longest and fastest ride of my life. I felt lucky, and relieved, to be here as the ride to Moose Jaw had been riddled with problems.
Yesterday we’d had perfect weather for the 173km ride but while loading up my panniers in the morning I noticed a problem. Uh-oh. Broken spoke.
As we cycled to the bike shop I was muttering under my breath” I don’t like bike shops, I don’t like bike shops.” Seriously, as a girl in a bike shop I usually get either ignored or patronised (sometimes they actually manage to do both). I was not looking forward to this.
Lo and behold I wheeled Monty in the door and over to the mechanic’s stand. The main mechanic takes a look at Monty and then before I’ve had a chance to open my mouth measures the chain and tells me I need a new one and possibly a new cassette. Seriously? I have a broken spoke. Please can we focus on that.
The guys in the shop were bimbling around and I was keen to get Monty fixed and on the road as soon as possible. “Oh, we don’t have a spoke that will fit so will have to cut one” the guy says. “I have a spare,” I interject, burrowing into my panniers.
Out comes the spoke. The guys in the bike shop are still bimbling so I thread it myself. “Excuse me, where’s the grease?” I ask. I fit the spoke and head over to the trueing stand.
Mr Mechanic has now spied what I am up to. “I have 30 years of experience.” Mr mechanic announces, puffing out his chest, “some of these guys in here have 5 or 6 years experience but I won’t let them do this.” There’s a pause as Mr Mechanic notices the flame of determination in the crazy English girl’s eyes. “But I’ll let you have a go.” Clearly he expected me to fail.
Wheel building is supposed to be a dark art. Mr Mechanic clearly didn’t expect his customers to start boiling the magical cauldron by themselves. But he hasn’t accounted for me.
Geez. 30 years experience to learn the hocus pocus of making a bit of metal straight? My Dad and I built a wheel on Boxing Day last year and its been good since. My Dad just printed the instructions off the Internet and we went through bit by bit. It’s not actually a dark art.
I carried on trueing the wheel. Then with the help of the wanderers put the cassette back on and was tightening it with a wrench when Mr Mechanic came over again. I’m sure he wanted to diss my work but he crouched on the floor, spun my wheel and it was true. Ha!
Given that I’d used only my own components and my own labour they didn’t charge me anything although I did buy a spare chain and some energy gels.
We wheeled out the bike shop. By this time it’s midday, the sky is beginning to cloud over and riding to Moose Jaw seemed a little ambitious. The wanderers suggested we make it a rest day- a wise decision. We wheeled over the road to the market. Folk music is playing in the town square surrounded by stalls of fresh produce and crafts. Last night’s host, Sarah, has already sold out of bread but is still at the stall selling the last of her cinnamon buns and cookies.
We stop to eat a scone. I check Monty’s back wheel again. Uh-oh. there’s a bulge in the back wheel. I take Monty back over the road to the bike shop for a second opinion. Mr Mechanic thinks he’s fine but just as he is checking it my Dad phones. My Dad advises swapping the tyres and fitting the chain. So I do. (Funny how I prefer the opinion of someone on holiday in the Azores over the opinion of a mechanic standing right next to my bike.) It’s now that we realise the the chain I’ve been sold is too short (note to self it’s a 114 link chain). They have to get a new one, soak it in paraffin wax etc. The wanderers have all bought new chains from the shop.
We sit on the floor of the bike shop, Saskatoon berry scone in one hand, greasy finger on other hand counting the chain links in their bikes. We count the chain links four times: yep, they are 114 link chains. Their chains are too short so they have to be swapped.
Eventually Monty has a new chain fitted and it fits. The wanderers have spare chains. We’ve been in the bike shop for the best part of five hours (!) and no way are we going to make it to Moose Jaw.
This morning at the very same point in packing up our panniers Sofi noticed that her rear back wheel was flat. A nasty bit of metal that looked like a twisted staple had got in. Oh well. We flipped the bike over, changed the tube and were on our way in half an hour.
All morning we cycled to the sound track of the prairies: the rapping of the wind against anything that will flap, the occasional gull or black bird calling, the quick ticking of the freewheel hub and the off beat clunks of a gear change. The wind was behind us slowly picking up strength. This is cycling in the prairies at its best.
We cycled past treeless green fields. At one point we passed Chaplin Lake, the second largest salt water lake in Canada and home to sanderlings and plover. From a distance the piles of salt around Chaplin look more like smudgy snow.
We stopped for lunch at a shabby looking road side cafe that looked like it had been abandoned for years. A sheet of roofing had partly peeled off and was crashing in the wind. In classic Sofi style, we were just about to pedal off when… Uh-oh. Another flat. It looked like a slow puncture so we thought we could “save time” but just re-pumping it up and then Sofi could ride on it for the next, er, 57km…
But in the process of pumping up the inner pump (or more precisely Dino and Sofi shuffling around to change turns pumping while holding both bikes all upright) Sofi’s bike fell over.
All our hard pumped air burst out as the nozzle bit of the inner tube snapped off. Erm… Time to get the spare tube out. Fail.
We pedalled on happily all afternoon. At 145km I noticed that our average speed was, thanks to the wind, 29.7km per hour. Do you reckon we can get to 30km per hour? We set ourselves the challenge of pushing our average speed up to 30km by the time we reached our English century (ie the 100mile mark). With 15km to go we pushed up the pace to 37km per hour on the flat and raced up every curving incline. Katie and I had it in our minds to reach the desired 30km per hour speed and then just maintain it. By 150km we’d ticked over to 30km average speed. But Sofi hadn’t got the memo about just maintaining the pace and pushed off faster and faster – now up to 40km per hour. Katie and I pedalled as fast as we could to keep up. The tempo got faster and faster. The kilometres dropped.
“Century!” I yelled. Slamming in the brakes and rolling onto the hot tarmac to cool down. My heart pounded throughout my body, I could feel it beating against the road. Our wanderers too had screeched to a halt and their bikes lay like road kill smeared across the shoulder. We were fine. We’d just done the longest and fastest ride of our lives. And we still had 13km to go to Moose Jaw.
172.5km we get to meet the Moose of Moose Jaw