Dino's blog for mini adventures and endurance challenges

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.

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.


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.