Cycling in Manitoba. New Province, More Prairies!

Kelly’s write about about cycling in Manitoba. Click here to read Michael’s write up about biking in Manitoba.

Cycling in Manitoba

As we entered Manitoba the roads went from bad to worst! The hard shoulder disappeared and was replaced with a soft shoulder (or gravelly road that cannot be cycled). This meant while cycling in Manitoba we were forced to ride in the road. Luckily, the roads were relatively quiet and the drivers were very polite and would tend to get right over in the next lane when passing.

Just the two of us…

We had another great day of cycling with a strong tailwind! Luisa and Jacque cycled with us for the day. The four of us managed to smash out 85km by lunchtime. After lunch we said “goodbye” and headed our separate ways. Lusia and Jacque were headed to Winnipeg, where they thought they might catch a bus from, and we had decided to bypass the city and head towards the USA border in the south east of Manitoba.

Originally, we thought we would cycle the south side of Lake Superior, which would mean cycling through the USA for a couple of weeks. We came up with this plan based on several recommendations from other cyclists and because we had heard horror stories about the highways between Winnipeg and Thunder Bay in Canada.

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Our German cyclists friends – having lunch just after crossing into Manitoba

Country Town Festivals

Hartney was the next town we were passing through, and we needed to stop for supplies (ie. food). The town looked like a ghost town! We headed to the grocery store and got chatting with some locals. Apparently the town had it’s annual weekend festival, and the locals we spoke to convinced us to camp at the local campsite and join them at the festival.

The festival was cute and the locals were super friendly. We joined them for some beers, watched the fireworks then headed back to the campground. Little did we know the campground would turn into a nightclub in just a couple of hours. Teenagers were up until about 4am making a racket, breaking into the pool and just being super loud. So, we didn’t get much sleep! We discovered that it was an annual tradition – we just wish we knew that before we decided to camp there.

The next day was pretty much a write off, though we did manage to cycle 90km and made it to the tiny town of Belmont. When we arrived we headed to the town campsite (surprisingly, most towns in the Prairies had a town campsite with facilities). We then discovered it was Belmont’s town festival! Not wanting a repeat of the night before, we took up an offer of a local that said we could camp in her garden. We had a great night sleep and even woke to homemade banana bread – people are awesome!

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Love this buildings in the towns we cycled through in Manitoba

Mennonites and Hutterites

We still had a little way to go before our planned rest day at a farm near Morris (100km south of Winnipeg). I had arranged for us to stay with a couchsurfer (Jordan) there. Originally we were only going to stay 1 night, but ended up staying 2, which gave us enough time to clean the bikes, our gear and ourselves, as well as hang out with Jordan. Jordan was awesome! He taught us loads about Mennonites, and the Christianity religion common in the area. We even got to visit a Hutterite community.

If you’re not familiar with Hutterites (or Mennonites for that matter), they are similar to the Amish in the USA. Like the Amish, Hutterites have their own communities. Simply put (and how it was explained to me) the biggest differences between the 3 Christian types; Mennonites don’t agree with violence and don’t live in communities like the Amish and Hutterites. The Amish don’t agree with modern technology, so live in communities that are completely cut off from the modern world. And, the Hutterites believe in living in common (kind of like communism), so everyone is equal, and they also live in communities, though they do use modern technology, but everything they have must have a purpose and be practical. There are different degrees of conservativeness in each group.

Visiting the Hutterite Community

The hutterite community we visited was quite conservative. We were shown around the community by some of the schoolgirls. They wore homemade clothes, with shawls or bonnets. Hutterites even speak their own language, which is a German delict. They also pray in High German, but are taught in English. This meant they had a very distinctive accent. The community was super modern and was made up of about 120 people (approx. 17 families). They had a commercial hatchery for eggs and a dairy farm, beehives, vegetable garden and grew wheat, and were practically self-sustained. They also had their own school. If a Hutterite wanted to leave the community to visit family in another community then they would have to get permission from the Minister. If they needed to visit the doctor or buy something, they would need the minister’s permission. Everyone had a job, which was assigned to you.

Though this all may sound quite restrictive, at the same time, they never had to worry about unemployment or poverty. I don’t think I could live in a community like that, but it works, and it is sustainable, and the people lived good, happy lives. It was an extremely interesting experience. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take any photos, so I can’t show you what it was like, but if you get the opportunity to visit one, I highly recommend it. This is definitely something you’re more likely to experience cycling in Manitoba, opposed to driving through in a car.

Flying the high life

After visiting the Hutterites Jordan took us for a flight in is Dad’s plane – yep, we flew in a plane. Not exactly eco-friendly, but it would have been rude to decline. The wind was quite strong, which made for a bumpy ride, but we got to see for ourselves just how flat the Prairies were.

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The view from Jordan’s plane – you can see how flat the Prairies are!

Friendly People

The next day it was time to hit the road again! We planned to make it 2 the US border in only 2 days, so we still had a few hundred kilometres of cycling in Manitoba. The first night we spent in the cute town, Vita, where we were greeted by more friendly people and a really good café and grocery store. If I could sum up Manitoba in one word, it would be “friendly” and funny enough, that’s what it said on the “welcome to Manitoba sign” and even on their car registration plates. The people most definitely live up to that expectation.

Tornado?!?

That night we camped at a school, under a shelter as we heard there was a bad storm coming. The storm was terrible! Hail, strong winds, rain, you name it we had it. Jordan had told us when you hear a tornado coming; you will hear a noise like a train speeding pass. We heard cycling in Manitoba could be a challenge, but we didn’t think tornado warnings would be apart of that. That night while we were camping, we heard a train, only there was no trainline anywhere near Vita. After about an hour or so of terrible weather, it suddenly went completely silent. It was an eerie silence. We never found out whether a tornado did touch down that night, but it was definitely one of the worst storms we had ever camped in.

Goodbye Prairies – you’ve been fun!

For the rest of the day we cycled to the US border, with the plan to camp as close to the border crossing as possible. The terrain had already started to change. We could tell we were leaving the Prairies and coming to an end of cycling in Manitoba. We managed to camp only 5km from the border crossing.

Throughout the Prairies, I spent a lot of time staring at a grain elevator in a distant town. I wondering whether we’re ever going to reach this town, or whether I’m actually hallucinating. You really feel the distant on the straight flat roads, and a lot of the time you feel the strong winds too. I think these are the main reasons why many cyclists dislike the Prairies. However, they are still quite beautiful, with beautiful people and beautiful towns. So, though the Prairies go on and on, don’t skip out on cycling in Manitoba or Saskatchewan! That’s over 1000km of Canada you’ll be missing, along with some amazing people and beautiful, but challenging landscape.

Are you about to finish a long term cycle tour? Or changing to a different style of travel? Check out our article on the transition from cyclist to backpacker to see what to expect.

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