Winnipeg, Canada - Polarsteps
Total trip mileage: 3185km
I don't even understand what happened yesterday.
I know I woke up to Kini's 5am alarm, still not adjusted to the time change and feeling like I'd been hit by a ton of bricks. I remember stuffing my sleeping bag into its stuff sack in slow motion while Kini went to get bagels and three extra-large coffees to split between us from the Tim's down the road, and wondering if I could ride a bike at all that day. We were 208kms from Winnipeg, two big cycling days that we planned to split into a longer one to Portage la Prairie, and then a shorter one that would end with navigating the city to the house of a friend-of-a-friend who was out of town and was very kindly letting us stay. The longest day we'd done on this trip (and possibly ever) was 128km, a distance that felt incredibly long and pretty much at our upper limit.
We left the campground at 9am with clear skies, very little wind, and no extreme weather events, which is becoming a rare treat these days. The land varied between totally flat and gently rolling hills, it rained on us for a short bit but not badly, and when the wind did pick up it was a stiff tailwind. We both put on music/podcasts in our ears, ended up pedalling comfortably in our highest gears, and were surprised to have covered nearly 60kms nonstop by noon. We stopped for lunch on a side road by some aspen forests, and then kept sailing along the highway.
At some point we started asking, "ARE WE ACTUALLY DOING THIS," and it only very gradually became evident that we were. We passed Portage la Prairie, navigated highway construction, kept flying on flat flat farmland, some of the last of the prairies, until at the end of the day we were passing the 'Welcome to Winnipeg' sign and then skirting traffic in that part of every city that has no road shoulder and constant turn-offs to strip malls and big box stores, and then we turned onto tree-lined residential streets, crossed the Assiniboine and followed it on a bike path through a city park past kids playing volleyball and Mormon families having a cookout and lots of other cyclists out for an evening ride. We turned up on the doorstep of Agata's house around 9:30, just as the sun disappeared over the horizon, said hi to the cats and backyard chickens who are in our care for the next few days, dragged ourselves through making and eating chickpea curry for dinner and showering off about four applications of sunscreen and sweat, and went to sleep in a bed indoors with a breeze coming in the window.
We're taking just a moment here to rest our lead-legs, explore the city a bit, pick up some extra bike parts and replenish our grocery pannier, and do some in-depth route planning for our jaunt through Ontario (we're two cycling days from officially entering Eastern Canada); we have some of the most remote stretches of the trip coming up, some of the hardest roads for navigating traffic, and some steep climbs that some cyclists find more challenging than crossing the mountains through BC. Word from down the road, too, is that the climate apocalypse doesn't by any means stop at the Manitoba border. We'll take it a day at a time and keep muddling through, which is mostly how we got from Vancouver Island to Winnipeg, and mostly how we're going to get anywhere.
We stayed in Meadowlark Campground in Brandon; it is set up basically right beside the highway. The tenting area only had some bushes and a small side road between us and the highway. I didn't sleep well either night with large trucks not only driving past us but there is a set of lights so the brakes, as well as the start-up at the light, was really noisy. Because there were thundstorms the first night I imagined the roars of the trucks were tornado related. Anyways, not my fav but we had hot showers and could take it easy; we stayed an extra night because the forecast called for daytime thunderstorms (which didn't happen where we were but probably did down the road). There was a young guy, Eddy, in the campsite next to ours who is living there while he works in Brandon. He also had relatives here who had to be evacuated from their homes because of fires up north. Eddy is one of those people you can tell is super sweet within a few moments of meeting. He smiled as he biked past, and when I offered chain lube for his squeaky chain he was stoked. He asked me to help him put on some bike lights and I did a few other small adjustments. I really love it when people just enjoy thier bike so much; he had recently bought his and was expressing how much of a difference it makes for him to get places on it. And that it feels so freeing to be on one. He wasn't concerned about brand or anything like that, which I also like.
When we left Brandon we had no idea that we would be going all the way to Winnipeg that day; it just kind of happened in stages. When we realized it was completely possible we just kept going (I was fueled by root beer). We had a place lined up to stay at thanks to a good friend, Charity. Thank you so much Agata, Kalen and Majka for letting us stay at your home, especially while you were away on vacation. We spent three nights here resting, recouping and getting ready for the next leg of our journey. I am very excited to have the landscape keep changing (there are already so many more trees!) and to cross into another province. I feel that Ontario is going to be a challenge from the landscape and length; I have been hearing mixed feeling from cyclists who have done this section. Hopefully we can get on plenty of trails and wild camp as much as possible (some places are 50$ a night, unserviced. Ummm, cheque please.). Ontario here we come !
🚲 Bike Jaunt 🚲