Looking at the three cities on a map, one wouldn’t expect I would take thirty eight days for Vancouver to Edmonton and seven for Edmonton to Saskatoon. I’ve reached province number three, and am finally consistently showing Eastbound progress!
Before I departed Edmonton, University Friend Nils treated me to a frisbee golf clinic and a casual bike ride around town via the North Saskatchewan River valley. While cycling is not generally my first choice activity while “resting”, I was glad to enjoy Edmonton’s greenways and soak up more of the city. I found a striking resemblance to Calgary’s cycling greenways along the Bow River – quite lush, great pavement, and solid scenery.
A late Tuesday Edmonton emigration featuring an on-the-fly brakes swap took me next door to Fort Saskatchewan, which confusingly is in Alberta…
Wednesday I progressed to Waskatenau, the start of the Iron Horse Trail.
Prairie Kindness, Exhibit A: While stopped on Waskatenau’s main street to cook my late spaghetti dinner, I was greeted by a couple driving by who stopped to chat and wish me safe travels. A while later I was packing up and Jim and Sandra drove back, again rolling down their window, this time to offer me a shower and bed! I’d planned to bite into the rail trail that evening, but with the sun being replaced by rain clouds I took them up on the offer. That made seven of the past nine nights I’d slept inside! I set out early the next morning, feeling the need to re-earn my ruggedness…
Unfortunately, the Iron Horse Trail was a flop for me. I can see why ATVers quite enjoy it, but it’s really not for cyclists. While there were a couple short sections good for cycling, most parts I took were tough or impossible to pedal through. Lack of solid base and chewed-up terrain from ATVs combined for sandy ground, as I hopped between the rail trail and highways from Waskatenau to St. Paul over two days. On the plus side, it was peaceful and isolated with some nice scenery!
Just after exiting the trail on Friday, I found myself under assault for the first time all trip!
I’d heard the prairies would feature endless wheat fields, straight flat asphalt, and a single silo in the distance for days. I’ve experienced much the opposite so far – many rolling hills, greenery with sporadic trees, and many small ponds and lakes. Granted these aren’t the popular routes of highways one and sixteen, but further North, less travelled areas of Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Prairie Kindness, Exhibit B: Saturday morning on my way to Whitney Lake to pause for a late breakfast, I came across an interesting crew on Secondary Highway 646. A large border collie leading the pack, a tiny chihuahua fully exerting itself to keep up, and a horse and rider between them. The middle-aged moustached man rolled up beside me, noticing my Canada flags as his horse slowed to my cycling pace. “I love Canada! Where ya cycling to!? … My golly, all the way to Newfoundland? That sure is a hell of an adventure! Do ya need any money? … Whadda ya mean ya have enough, what if ya run out?” At this point, we’d all pulled over and stopped to let a truck pass, and the rider was reaching towards me with a $20 bill. Dumbfounded, I asked what for. “That’s because I love ya, I love what ya doin, and I love Canada!” He dropped the bill, yanked on the reins and accelerated into the big blue sky. Awestruck, my mind and body entered a state of slow motion. I stopped, picked up the green note, stared at it in astonishment, and delivered it to his intended destination of my jacket packet.
On a completely unrelated note, I’ve been puzzled by “Important Intersection” signs through the prairies. I wonder if drivers out here think “I was about to run that stop sign ahead, but since it’s an Important Intersection I suppose I could stop.”
Later that same day, I encountered a couple barriers blocking the pavement and a left-pointing “Detour” sign. My eyes followed the arrow towards a long dirt road, which I couldn’t see the turnoff from. I couldn’t scope out the blocked section, as the road dipped downhill. So I was presented with two options: Follow the rules and suffer through difficult pedalling across seemingly endless dirt… Or bend the rules and inevitably enjoy a more alluring affair while saving time and effort. Quick side note: to the owner of @therules on Twitter, I am quite jealous, but will not follow you. I was greeted by a single worker at the excavation site, willing to let me pass and skip the “4 miles or so detour” but sceptical that I could maneuver my bike down and up the small dirt walkway they use while working. I grinned and looked him in the eye, “I guarantee this bike and I have been through a lot worse.”
Prairie Kindness, Exhibit C: Just after crossing the provincial boundary, I paused for a Saturday night spaghetti dinner in Onion Lake. A maroon minivan stopped on the dirt road, a young boy and his father, both wide-eyed and fascinated to hear my story. After a couple minutes of chatting, they continued on as I returned to my pasta preparations. Time passed, I feasted, and the same maroon minivan pulled up. The man’s wife had joined them, dangling a plastic bag out the passenger window. “Would you like some buns? We just baked them!” I approached, bewildered by their generousity. They refused my money, calling it a gift for the road ahead. The six pack of fresh dinner buns fit nicely into my right rear pannier. A very warm welcome to Saskatchewan!
The next few days blended together, as I targeted a Tuesday Saskatoon arrival. I camped on farmland or public grassy areas, enjoying overall tailwinds and passing minimal amenities.
Tuesday afternoon was the beginning of a three-day Saskatoon Airbnb pit stop. My mother ventured all the way from Parksville to visit and check out the city with me!
Great timing too, my bike was due for a tune-up and new parts. The Saskatoon Bike Doctor informed me I should have replaced my chain a couple thousand kilometres ago, which cascaded to wear down my cassette and chainrings. A couple days in their shop will have my baby road-ready to soar into Winnipeg!
PS: A quick briefing on my experience of prairie weather so far:
Apparently there’s a saying in Saskatchewan, “if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.” Extremely accurate. While most of every day has been clear, I’ve experienced micro-storms which literally start and end within fifteen minutes, leaving me decked out in waterproof gear as the small dark cloud passes and it clears up. Quite the change from several days of perpetual precipitation at home!