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Swimming in the heat

July 6th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 26: Rennie to Kenora (96.5 km)

It’s so hot. Too hot.

The heat was making me wilt like an unloved pot plant. I was just laying out my towel in the shade at the side of the highway when the pick up pulls up. We don’t want to hitchhike. But we wander over anyway to the wound down window

“You know just 3-4km ahead the lakes begin. My house is right by the lake and you’re welcome to swim off the dock.”

This sort of thing has happened again and again in Canada. It’s all going downhill (in everything except the literal sense) and then a friendly Canadian pops up, offers us something amazing and the days turns around again. Today this man’s kind offer (and waterslide) saved us from wilting in the soaring mid-30s heat. Tumbling in from the waterslide instantly rejuvenated me.

The “look” for Ontario is this: swim suit, sunglasses, deep tan lines on leg and cleats. It’s a style.

Milan called. They want their fashionista back.

Milan called. They want their fashionista back.

Swimming is apparently good for my knee. As is cold. In Ontario that essentially equates to swimming in cool lakes. Oh yes, did I mention I’m now in Ontario?

You could tell it’s Ontario even without the signpost because of the change of scenery. Gone is the flat, agricultural land. We are now cycling through the forest on endlessly undulating land. The cycling is quite challenging but much more enjoyable than Manitoba (thanks to decent tarmac). There are more bugs, more birds, more… Life. I think I could enjoy Ontario.

Province number 5

Province number 5

After a long splash in the lake the heat of the day had cooled off. We still had 30km to go to Kenora. It was approaching dusk as we whizzed over the steel bridge into Kenora in a tangerine light that illuminated the lakes around us.

We arrived not at the campsite but at the pub. It had been a long, hot day and we needed beer. We pulled up at campsite just before 11pm and for the first time on this trip pitch our tents in the dark.

Bugs and bears

July 4th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 25: Winnipeg to Rennie (131km)

“I feel like a celebrity being swarmed by the paparazzi,” Katie Wanderer remarked.

Word has clearly got out that three famous cyclists were on the road as we were chased along the highway by a swirling mass of black flies. I’ve never known flies like this before. There must have been more than twenty frenetically whirling around my bike and body, distracting my vision like floaters in my eyes.

Today we encountered horse flies, black flies, mosquitoes, heat, pain and a black bear. Yep, you know we’re nearly in Ontario.

We started the day waking up in a luxury Fairmont hotel, courtesy of Sofi Wanderer’s Dad’s connection. Unlike Chateau Lake Louise, I slept very well in the pressed white sheets. I could get used to this. The disadvantage of a luxury hotel is that extra services cost extra – the cheapest breakfast was $18 for a slice of melon and it cost $7 to have a pair of socks washed. Oh, unless you wash them yourself in the bath tub. So while Katie Wanderer nipped to Tim Hortons (translation: Canadians biggest coffee chain) to pick up breakfast, Sofi Wanderer dried out her clothing with the hair dryer.

Katie and I have matching knee pain. The solution is apparently ice, ice, ice. So we nipped to the drug store to spend a small fortune on lotions and potions to keep our bodies in order. There’s something to be said for my increasingly ability to feel comfortable and at home wherever I am standing. Hanging out with the Wanderers it has become normal to wheel a muddy touring bike along the smooth marble floors of a hotel lobby. We stood in the lobby spraying ourselves with deep freeze and popping arthritic painkillers. I would highly recommend staying at a hotel like this: the front staff always open the door for you. Makes wheeling a bike in and out the lobby an awful lot easier.

Today it was hot. It was approaching 30 degrees when we left the cool interior of the hotel and set off down the muggy, humming streets of Winnipeg searching for a route out into the wilderness.

Today we saw the scenery change as we headed east of Manitoba towards the Ontario border. Manitoba was agricultural, flat and there were few trees. Today the trees popped up quite suddenly. The woods closed in around us, the road steepened and fell… And the bugs appeared.

We cycled past 10 acre wood, the home of Winnie the Pooh (Did you know he’s Canadian? He was named after Winnipeg). Later in the day we startled a real black bear that was feeding by the roadside. It ran off as we noisily cycled past.

We stopped to eat lunch at 6pm (sic). The heat of the sun had melted the cheese in my pannier so we had pre-grilled cheese for lunch. Finally, after a long break the heat of the day had abated. We enjoyed the final two hour cycle to the campground as the embers of the day glowed behind us. The road was quiet, there was almost no traffic. The sun set slowly behind the forest as we pulled into a wonderful campground off a dusty track.

We spent the evening massaging our legs with ice and tiger balm before going to sleep.

What a change in a day. I woke up in a luxury hotel. I fall asleep on the thermarest inside the common room of a campsite, the midgies swamping around my ipad. But I am equally happy in both.

Leg 2: 2,500km to Winnipeg

Cycling across four provinces and two time zones, I have witnessed the gradual and remarkable transformation of the Canadian landscape. And as quiet as the changing seasons, as definite as the cycle of day to night, I have experienced the transformations of my own body.

The Hills of Oxfordshire legs

The Hills of Oxfordshire legs

The hills have become mountains.

The hills have become mountains.

The contours of my body are changing with the landscape of Canada. My legs look different. But more remarkably they feel different as through this journey I have discovered a new appreciation for the interior physicality of my body. The way it moves, aches, bleeds, itches, breathes, and rests.

My hamstrings tighten. My quads burn. My knee stabs. My feet itch from the mosquito bites. The skin of my shoulder is peeling from the southern sun as I head continually east. A single releasing droplet of sweat rolls down my spine. And I keep on cycling.

I have laid flat on the ground, my eyes dazzled by the sun and felt the hot beating of my heart against the tarmac. I have gasped for air against the ice cold shock water. Never before have I cared so much for my body. Never before have I loved it so much.

At the risk of sounding like an inane fridge magnet, I am beginning to appreciate that my body is not the vehicle, it is the journey.

Day 24: Wawanesa to (almost) Winnipeg (142km)

Here I am sitting cross-legged by the side of the road. As I look up I could be just a few miles from home. I know those fields of rape seed. A horizontal band of ripe yellow under drifting cumulus clouds. But scanning the level horizon I cannot see a hill. No Wittenham Clumps. No Didcot power station. No signpost to Henley or Reading. In that momentary pause between sight and recognition my optimism peaks and falls with a slump of the shoulders. I am not in Oxfordshire. I am in pain.

Yesterday I learnt how to keep going – today I learnt to stop.

I woke up at 6am this morning. Given I’ve just crossed a time zone it felt like 5am and the morning sun hadn’t yet climbed over the line of trees on the far shore of the river. The mosquitoes, however, were awake and out in force, biting any patch of skin that wasn’t covered by at least 3 layers of deet and clothing. I was on the road by 8am with a daunting 200km ride to Winnipeg ahead of me. My cellphone was completely out of signal and I felt quite isolated as I plodded alone along the highway.

There is no hard shoulder on highway 2. The edge of the road just deteriorates into puncture-inducing gravel. I find I can’t relax while cycling as I always have to keep my eye out for traffic. The truck dodging that I commented upon in yesterday’s blog post is like a fatal video game of judgement. But every time an oncoming truck passes me the air current it creates overwhelms me like a crashing wave. It reminds me of swimming in the surf: a wave approaches, you can see it coming and count down. You gasp for breath, duck your head and grip tightly onto the security of your handlebars. Sometimes it’s a relief that the wave doesn’t crash on you but glides past. Sometimes the wave tears at your body and shoots a jet of grit at your skin. It has almost torn the helmet from my head.

The only benefit of these trucks is that, like the sand on a surf beach, the grit that is blasted onto my exposed skin becomes stuck on my sweaty sun-creamed limbs. When I next rub in some more sun cream the effect is very exfoliating. Who knew that the highway could provide its own beauty regime. I also am beginning to develop a Heading East tan. As I continuously pedal east on the highway, my right side is exposed to the southern sun. So while my left side glows a pleasant peachy-brown, my right side is increasingly beetroot.

All morning I fought against the heating sun and the blasting waves of trucks. I managed to keep up a decent speed by consuming an enormous quantity of energy bars, water and fruit. But my legs were beginning to weaken. My knee pain was gradually getting worse. I took painkillers. But my knee wanted rest. I stopped for lunch after 110km. It was still a long, long way to Winnipeg.

After lunch I turned north into a brutal headwind. My speed dropped to less than 16km per hour. At this rate I wouldn’t get to Winnipeg before nightfall. A truck whipped past me and the speed of its wind turbulence swept me off the highway into the gravel. I lay Monty down carefully on the gravel shoulder. I pulled out my emergency ice pack and stuck it on my right knee. I cut up an orange, slurped every bit of its juicy goodness and waited for meaning to come back to me. I put some music on my ipad. And waited. The wind did not abate. The trucks streamed by. And still meaning did not come. And the pain in my knee only seemed to feel worse.

image

I looked down. I forgot myself. I looked up and saw that horizontal band of ripe yellow under drifting cumulus clouds. I felt at home. But in that momentary pause between sight and recognition my optimism peaked and fell. I am not in Oxfordshire. I am in the middle of sodding nowhere with an inflamed knee.

Today has made me question why I am doing this. I have exchanged the comfort of my own bed for a thin thermarest. Instead of soaking in a hot bath, I have swam in a glacier-fed lake. Instead of contentedly ignoring the cool air conditioning in my car I have learnt that mosquitoes can bite through bike shorts. Instead of reading books and browsing BBC news I have begun to read the sky. I swapped the office for the great outdoors. I swapped security for the unknown. I swapped contentment for the oscillating misery and euphoria of life on the road. Why? I still don’t know.

Could I have pushed myself another 63km? Probably yes. But I still have another 5,000km to cycle this summer. I feel a bit crushed to have had to call for a lift to Winnipeg. I had only done 142km of what was supposed to be the great 200km+ ride. The pain in my knee is sharp and stabbing. The tiredness of my body is slow and dull. In the last 6 days I have cycled over 800km. And more than I want to push myself to the limits – I just want to continue.

I hope that my lesson for today will prove to be that knowing when to stop is the same as learning how to keep going.

Day 23: Redvers to Wawanesa (137km)

Today I feel like I’ve earned my colours. If I started today as a rookie cycle-tourer who tries hard then I finish it as an intermediate who succeeds even when it goes wrong. Let’s be honest, today wasn’t my favourite day so far. Nor was the cycling the most enjoyable. I am now too tired to feel any emotion other than tired (if tired can be an emotion rather than just a state).

Today was the day that I pedalled off by myself as the Wanderers (my companions for the last 2 weeks) wandered off because one of them really didn’t feel very well and said I should go ahead.

Today was the day that I left Saskatchewan and entered Manitoba. Today I crossed a time zone without realising it because there wasn’t a sign. And I didn’t figure out I’d lost an hour until I noticed that my cellphone and iPad were displaying different times.

Today was the day when I said goodbye to the nice tarmac shoulder my wheels have been hugging for weeks and bumped into the gravel shoulders of a new province. Today I swore under my breath to the provincial government that couldn’t be bothered to build decent roads when Saskatchewan’s could.

Today was the day I decided that it is legitimate and probably quite wise to put your bike into a pick up truck when the town you wish to cycle through has experienced a 297mm deluge of rain in 3 hours. Today I figured out that it’s okay (and still counts as cycling across Canada) if you have to get a lift for 20km because the flash flood has meant that the houses are being pumped, the power is out, the highway is closed, the surrounding roads are swamped bumper-high in water, the cows are floating in the fields, and the government has declared a state of emergency in southern Manitoba.

Ceci n'est pas un lac

Ceci n’est pas un lac

Picking up a passing Wanderer to avoid the floods.

Picking up a passing Wanderer to avoid the floods.

Today was the day that truck dodging become a reality. When sod’s law dictated time and time again that even though the road was quiet if one truck appeared behind you then another would appear in front. Today was the day when I quickly learnt to estimate which one would arrive first, to identify from the sound of the rumbling wheels whether the truck behind was pulling out, whether the other would brake, whether it would be better to pedal faster, slower, or to give in, screech on the brakes and make a 6 inch dive down onto the gravel verge to avoid a collision (either with me or between the two vehicles).

Today was the day that I held on tight when the oncoming trucks blew a swirling furnace of grit into my face. Again. And again.

Today was the day that the wind behind me managed to turn into a strong cross wind. When the road meandered north for no reason and I had to tack like a hopeless sailor to get just a few kilometres north before the road bent back east.

Today was day 5 on the trot of pedalling (I haven’t had a rest day since Swift Current). By lunchtime I’d done 87km but it was 3pm and I was beginning to feel tired and stiff. Today was the day my right knee twinged in a sharp and painful way. When I thought for the first time of emailing the osteopath/physio back home but realised I had no cellphone coverage. And that by the time I did it would be the weekend (and she told me not to get injured at weekends.)

Today was the first time in over a week when I climbed up what could reasonably be called a hill. I actually had to use my small front chain ring.

Today was the day when in the process of diving into the gravel to avoid a truck (and using that moment in the gravel to discover I had no cellphone service) that I was bitten in the ankle by a mosquito. And then bitten lots more when I arrived at the campground. And then discovered that mosquitoes round here can bite through your shoes (!)

Today was the day that I discovered a new use for my buff as a knee bandage used to hold the deep freeze cold patch onto my painful kneecap.

The buff solution: for when I felt, er, weak at the knees

The buff solution: for when I felt, er, weak at the knees

Today was the day that I grew tired of arriving in the Middle of Nowhere. When I became bored by yet another small, dusty, pot-hole ridden town that only consists of a gas station, a patch of grass, a few houses and more gravel and dirt.

Today I decided that wanted to be Somewhere. And so decided that I will cycle to Winnipeg tomorrow. It’s 200km – further than I’ve ever cycled before by a long shot and now on six day old legs with a knee begging for a rest. But there’s Somewhere at the end of it. Somewhere with a hot shower, a cold beer and a familiar face who I am looking forward to seeing again.

Today I decided that this cycle across Canada marlarkey is worth it. Every truck, every gravel dive, every mosquito bite and every pedal stroke: today was a lesson in how to keep going.

Day 22: Tyven to Redvers (167km)

The southern highway has been quieter than the rushing trans-Canada. However the trucks and cars still zoom past. Today the wanderers and I found a way of slowing down the traffic in Southern Saskatchewan.

Nice tan lines.

Nice tan lines.

A house to sleep in

June 27th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

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.

What we looked like today (for 15km...)

What we looked like today (for 15km…)

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.

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The people you meet

June 25th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (2 Comments)

Day 20: Moose Jaw to Regina (79.5 km)

“Oh, I would have thought you would have cycled further than this,” the man said by way of introduction. I gave him a blank stare. Apparently he’d seen us in the bike shop in Swift Current two days ago. Further than this? We biked 173km yesterday.

“Do you have a pump I can use?” He asked. He’d flagged us down just as we were headed about 10km outside of Moose Jaw. He had been sitting on the verge with his bike strewn around him. He didn’t look like a tourer because he only had one small pack on his road bike. It was already mid-morning as we’d taken a leisurely breakfast at Timmy’s in order to catch up on blogs and drink a coffee that doesn’t taste like every other camp meal we’d eaten.

“Schrader or presta?” I asked.

“Huh?” He looked at us like we were stupid.

“Skinny or fat valve.” Sofi translated pointing at the difference between the tubes in her wheel and mine.

“Oh, skinny. I should cancel my taxi.”

Taxi? I dug into my pannier for the pump. The guy started talking to the wanderers. The usual conversation: where did you start, where are you going etc. Oddly this guy told us he was biking across Canada (albeit in stages) and was headed to Winnipeg. That’s 700km away I thought, overhearing the conversation. Would you not take a pump on a 700km bike ride?

The guy was clearly rich. A plastic tourer with a much greater credit card limit to pannier bag ratio than we have. Who else pulls out their cellphone in the middle of nowhere and calls a cab? Who else DOESN’T CARRY A PUMP WHILE CYCLING ACROSS CANADA?

The wanderers and I shared a glance: what a twat

Thankfully just as I was pulling out my pump a taxi pulled up and the guy decided he would head back to town. I would have thought he’d have got further than this… If only he carried a pump.

After meeting The Rich Twat With No Pump we merrily pedalled on in the sunshine. We passed through the Queen Elizabeth trees. Apparently, when Queen Elizabeth came to visit Saskatchewan in 1959 the powers that be decided to plant a corridor of trees on the road from Moose Jaw to Regina so that Her Majesty wouldn’t be bored by the endless, boring prairie view.

These are Her Majesty's trees

These are Her Majesty’s trees

The cycling today wasn’t too challenging but nor was it particularly exciting so Katie and I played Top 5, 20 questions and our own home brewed version of Sporkle to entertain us while Sofi focused on the pain of her chafing inner thigh hinge (!)

When we arrived at Regina we stopped at a bike shop so Sofi could fork out a small but worthwhile fortune on a shiny new Brooks saddle (it’s brown so it matches her handlebar tape).

We’ve spent the evening staying with a very friendly guy called Ron, a keen cyclist who has converted his basement into a bike workshop. After stuffing our bellies with turkey, strawberries and cookies we played bike mechanic with Ron. We all learnt a few things from Ron, clearly an expert, as he checked over our bikes. I was relieved that he wasn’t worried about the miscellaneous bump on my front tyre and chuffed that he approved of my true back wheel.

One of the greatest aspects of this trip is meeting people on the way: from friendly bike mechanic hosts to idiots without a pump. They all add a brushstroke to this expanding picture of Canada by bicycle.

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.

Cooked Dino

Cooked Dino

Saturday morning
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.

Not amused

Not amused

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.

Sunday morning
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.

Pssssssst!

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

172.5km we get to meet the Moose of Moose Jaw

Am I hallucinating?

June 23rd, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 18: Eagle Valley Campground to Swift Current (137.2 km)

Is this happening? Or is this just a dream?

As previously mentioned, the prairies could drive you crazy. Today I began to wonder whether I was hallucinating in the heat – in a good way. It’s been that sort of day.

I was fired up for our epic 137km of riding today. It would be the longest ride I’d ever done so to energies I drank a litre of coffee. We all plugged in our iPods to listen to some tunes to make the ride more enjoyable.The surrounding hills all look like an endless… Golf course. Undulating slopes. No trees. Green, green freshly mown grass. You need a few tunes to make the five hours of cycling through an monotonous golf course just that bit more interesting.

Mid morning Sofi got a flat. We swapped the tube and no sooner had Sofi said “the worse but of getting a flat is pumping up with this thing” when a man pulls up in a car (bikes on the roof.)

“Hey, do you wanna borrow a track pump?”

Yes, this really happened. We had a flat in the Middle of Nowhere and a track pump turns up.

A few kilometres later we are still in the Middle of Nowhere (theme emerging) when we swing round a rare bend in the road to find..

Ice cream oasis in the Middle of Nowhere

Ice cream oasis in the Middle of Nowhere

Are you serious? An icecream stall with 20 flavours of delicious and colourful calories lovely piled into a waffle cone? You’d be lucky to find Kalua Chocolate Fudge icecream in the centre of Oxford and here it is in the Middle of Nowhere.

As we were tucking into our cones an RV (translation: caravan) turns up with 9 men looking like leprechauns dressed as Tiger Woods. Eh? In turned out these guys were doing a mini gold tour of southern Saskatchewan. The whole get up of these guys seemed very Hunter S. Thompson. We witnessed the grim sight of one of these guys (the one who’d lost the last golf game) being cajoled by his mates into eating an icecream decorated with their choice of toppings.

“Wait, lemme get some dead bugs off the windshield,” one of them called. Returning a few minutes later he added his toppings to the collection of dried grass and dandelions already on the vanilla scoop. They filmed as this guy munched the icecream. Eew.

There was a lot of cycling today. 137.5km in the end. So please imagine 3 hours of cycling through a golf course…

Photo credit: Sofi (taken while riding- kudos to you)

Photo credit: Sofi (taken while riding- kudos to you)

Finally we arrived in Swift Current. Luckily we are staying with a baker. As soon as she opened the door to greet us a warm smell of fresh bread waffled out the hallway. We merrily munched away at the still-hot cheese and jalapeño scones we were given, pleased to have completed our longest bike ride ever. A sweet end to the dream of a day’s cycling.

This is what a bakers front room looks like the evening before market day

This is what a bakers front room looks like the evening before market day