AND THE PRAIRIES ROLL ON…BIKING MANITOBA!!!

cycle tourists biking manitoba

Michael’s write up of biking Manitoba during our cycle tour across Canada in the Summer of 2016. Click here to read Kelly’s write up of biking Manitoba. 

Manitobans had a lot to live up to after the super friendly Saskatchewan locals made us feel welcome in the prairies. The border sign and their license plates say ‘friendly Manitoba’ so I think they’re up for the challenge!

We parted ways with our German cycling buddies Jacque and Luisa in Deleau and rolled into the small town of Hartney. Our first dealings with a local was at a gas station that only accepted pre paid gas cards (which we didn’t have) when we tried to fill our camping stove without success until the kind farmer paid the 80c with his card to let us fill up! Not exactly a huge amount, but a pretty kind gesture and it made cooking dinner slightly easier with fuel!

First impressions of Hartney were that it was a borderline ghost town, but after visiting the local supermarket and chatting with the cashier we were told it was actually the town festival that night and we should stick around for beers, fireworks and general shenanigans. It didn’t take much convincing (they mentioned beer) and we decided to call it a day and check out how they party in Manitoba!

Biking Manitoba… Friendly Manitoba!

It wasn’t quite on the scale that we’d been led to believe but it was still a fun night where we met half the population of the town and had drinks bought for us the whole evening before watching a surprisingly kick ass fireworks display. We were even invited to a wedding, had several offers of places to stay and given contacts for our onwards journey.

Unfortunately the night got a bit shitter after the party when we returned to the municipal campsite next to the public swimming pool which had basically been transformed into the underage kids after party. We had a swarm of smashed teenagers sitting meters from our tent cranking shit music, drinking and shouting until 4 am before ripping down the fence around the swimming pool to jump on the diving board. It sounded like we’d set up our tent in the middle of the shittest blue light disco ever held.

The police eventually came and the kids dispersed…only to come back again briefly to finish the beers and discuss how hardcore they were for vandalizing a fence.

Needless to say we didn’t get much sleep so the next day was a slightly crappy time on the bikes, and when we eventually decided to call it a day in Belmont didn’t really feel like staying at the town’s campsite….it was also their the town festival and the campsite was in the same park. Never fear though, friendly locals to the rescue! A lovely old lady called Irene invited us back to her place to camp in her ridiculously big back yard where we sipped fireball and hot chocolate and scoffed down a massive plate of banana bread courtesy of Irene’s wicked baking skills and slept like fluffy little lambs.

elgin manitoba
Love these small town buildings we kept passing as we were biking Manitoba

Awesome campsites… a plus of biking Manitoba!

One of the best parts about biking Manitoba was never having to worry about where we would be sleeping that night because there was always a town roughly every 20 Kms with a municipal campsite for a measly 10 bucks a night! Felt odd for us getting to shower that regularly and being able to set up the tent without fear of having the cops called on us or having a farmer shoot us in the butthole with a 12 gauge for sleeping on his land.

Saved by a couchsurfer!

We had a couchsurfer lined up near Morris and had planned on riding down the unpaved gravel rode to his farm until my newly purchased EVO front low-rider rack decided to be a metallic prick and snap in two making it a bit hard for me to carry all my crap along a bumpy road without having an accident and potentially injuring my precious face. Our couchsurfing host Jordan kindly offered to drive out and pick us up and it just so happened that his father had an aluminum welder and his neighbor was a blacksmith! Well that’s handy isn’t it!

Over the next couple of nights at Jordan’s place we heard all about the Mennonites and Hutterites.

We even got a chance to visit a Hutterite colony and see how they lived which was a pretty cool experience. They were pretty much self-sufficient growing and making nearly everything they needed to survive and spoke a German dialect and wore traditional clothing. They did drink beer though and baked some mighty fine bread so it seemed like a pretty rad life and one I could probably put up with.

Everyone in the colony was very friendly and welcoming to us even though they are generally suspicious of outsiders and even gave us a parting gift of a jar of honey from their own beehives, a fresh loaf of home baked bread and 3 dozen eggs. Yes, 3 dozen eggs. We were on a protein high for weeks.

Turns out as well as having a Hutterite hook up, Jordan also had his pilot’s license and half owned a light plane with his father so we were off the bikes and into an airplane! It was a very random couchsurfing experience but it gave us a different view of Manitoba and from the sky confirmed what we had suspected; it was a fucking flat place and the roads were dead straight as far as the eye can see.

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

We were nearly out of the prairies!!!

At times it seemed that they stretched on forever but we were finally rolling to the end of theses flat friendly lands! To give us a proper send off they decided to give us one last tornado experience in the town of Vita where we stupidly set up outside a local school under a rickety old wooden storage area.

The rain and wind started up not long after we hopped in the tent and soon sounded like a freight train approaching our flimsy little home to mount us in our sleeping bags. At the time we thought it would be smart setting up somewhere under cover to shelter from the rain, but soon realized it was not the wisest choice as it seriously sounded like the whole aging wooden structure was trying its best to rip away from the earth and fly off into the night.

Luckily no debris flew off the shelter and sliced us in two and we weren’t crushed in our sleep, but we did learn a valuable lesson about where not to set up a tent in a storm. Later we heard from locals that a tornado did indeed touch down in some fields not too far from the school so were pretty lucky really.

We could see trees! Lots of trees!

That was a dead give away that our time in the prairies was at an end. We spent one last night camping near the U.S.A border in a weird town called Middleboro In a local park where we had some kids stand outside our tent while we were in it discussing if they should ‘tackle’ the tent. Happily they decided not to and I wasn’t forced to use my mad knife fighting skills to defend our home and the next day we zipped to the U.S.A border to enter Trump country! So we have come to the end of biking Manitoba and the Canadian Prairies.

Goodbye Manitoba, your license plates are correct you friendly little minx!

Interested in what gear we took with us – check out our gear list! Kelly’s also been a bit geeky and kept trip notes and stats of our trip through Canada.

Pedalling the Prairies: Swift Current to Manitoba

pedalling the Prairies

Kelly’s write up of pedalling the Prairies during our cycle tour across Canada in the summer of 2016. Click here to read Michael’s write up about cycling in the Prairies.

Pedalling the Prairies of Saskatchewan

While pedalling the Prairies we discovered friendly people, good campsites and great cafes. We also discovered that the Prairies went on and on, and on. from Swift Current we got on the Trans-Canada highway 1. It felt like a dream after spending a week cycling through the bumpy roads of the forgotten Prairie lands. The section of highway between Swift Current and Moose Jaw had a wide, smooth hard shoulder. It even felt like we were on a slight descent, though I’m sure we probably weren’t. We were smashing out the kilometres! It felt great! On top of this there were plenty of cute towns to stop at. All of them had a museum, coffee shop and free wifi. We were in cyclist heaven!

We spent an enjoyable couple of days cycling to Moose Jaw. Spending too much time at the various towns and cafes along the way.

One thing I noticed about Saskatchewan is the interesting town names. We visited Kyle and Herbert, and seen signs for Elbow, Eyebrow and Cereal. Moose Jaw and Antler also got a visit from us. I can’t help but be intrigued to how a town got a name like Eyebrow – at least it gives you something to ponder while on the bike.

Warmshowers’ and Prairie Hospitality

Once in Moose Jaw we were greeted with the lovely Glenda, a legendary warmshowers’ host. This was followed by a few nights stay in Regina with Ron, another legendary warmshowers’ host. And then yet another warmshowers’ host in Sedley and an offer in Arcola.

People tend to give Saskatchewan and the Prairies (in general) a hard time! We were told numerous times to skip the Prairies; that they were boring and had nothing worth seeing. Well, what I have to say to those people: if you want to see boring head to Western Australia and drive 5 hours east – red sandy desert for days. You’ll be lucky if you even pass a gas station or see another person!

The Prairies on the other hand are fully of extremely friendly people, all whom have an interesting story to share. We met ranchers, famers, Mennonites and Hutterites, Germans, British, Ukrainian people, plenty of cyclists and people enthusiastic about cycling, and just a whole bunch of awesome people. In fact, I don’t remember one person that I met in the Prairies that wasn’t amazing in one way or another. For me, a large part of travelling and cycle touring is the people you meet, and we met some amazing people in the Prairies.

regina, cycling the prairies
With our amazing host in Regina!

Rest Days in Regina

We decided to have a few rest days in Regina. There were a couple of reasons for that, firstly for Ron’s amazing cooking, secondly to get a few bike things sorted, and thirdly to sort out my eye! 6 weeks (since the day we arrived in Canada) and I still had an infection on my eyelid. Obviously, at this point I was a little concerned about it and decided it was a good chance to get it checked out. I was told some good and bad news. The good news was it didn’t look like a virus so it shouldn’t spread to my eye and affect my eyesight. The bad news, it will still take some more time to heal and potentially I could have a bump on my eye for the rest of my life. At least I didn’t have too much to worry about!

After Regina we planned to get off the highway and head onto some quieter roads through some smaller towns. Usually the roads weren’t as good, but they were quieter. We also got the opportunity to pass through less travelled areas, which we always preferred.

Cycling through Canada’s Tornado Alley

One thing we hadn’t considered to be an issue or concern while pedalling the Prairies, were tornados! To be perfectly honest, I didn’t even know Canada got tornados, so when I received an email from Brad (another warmshowers’ connection) about a tornado warning in the town we had planned to camp in that night, we were a bit concerned. The day had already been struggle, with 60kph+ headwinds we were at times barely cycling 8kph.

We pulled into Fillmore at 1pm for lunch and pretty much passed out from exhaustion and defeat. After lunch we headed to the town hall. This is when we discovered the tornado warning! The lovely people of Fillmore came to the rescue. Before we knew it we had a basement to sleep in and was being shown around the local towns. The random kindness of strangers never fails to amaze. It really does restore your faith in humanity.

After a goodnight sleep, out of the danger of any potential tornado or hailstorm, we were back on the way. And, for once, the wind was at our backs! We were practically flying down the road towards the next province, Manitoba.

Saskatchewan, pedalling the prairies
Friendly hosts in Saskatchewan!

Making Cycle Touring Friends

We had just passed Stoughton (where we were supposed to camp and where apparently a tornado did touch down the night before), when we heard some strange noises behind us. As it turned out, a German, cyclist couple, Luisa and Jacque had been following us for a few days. They finally managed to catch up with us. They were the first couple we had ever cycled with, so it made a nice change to cycling just the two of us. So all four of us continued pedalling the Prairies together.

We spent the rest of the day, cycling with an unbelievable tailwind and made it 137km to Redvers, right near the Saskatchewan/ Manitoba border. Redver’s had an awesome (and cheap) campsite, so we decided to camp there for the night and celebrate with a few beers.

After 2 weeks pedalling the Prairies of Saskatchewan we finally got to cross into the next province, Manitoba.

Though Manitoba would be a new province, we still had a few hundred kilometres of cycling through the Prairies before we would be out of the pastures and meadows and into the lakelands of Ontario.

Planning your own cycle trip? Don’t forget to buy insurance! Check out this article to find out why it’s important to get sufficient cover on your trip.

pedalling the prairies
Jacque, Luisa, Me and Michael having lunch somewhere in the Prairies!