Michael’s write up about discovering Saskatchewan on two wheels during out cycle trip across Canada in the summer of 2016. Click here to read Kelly’s write up about Cycling in Saskatchewan and Pedalling the Prairies.
Ready to discover Saskatchewan on two wheels
We rolled out of Calgary full of hope for dry weather and favourable winds through the farm belt of Canada; the prairies! We were both still in need of a bit of a break and the one full day off we had in Calgary wasn’t really enough, so spent a couple of nights in Airdrie just outside Calgary guzzling craft beer with our awesome couchsurfing host Kolin, playing with his 3 cats and cleaning our stinky tent as it now smelt like a sweaty pair of soiled manpants. After a few extra rest days, we were ready to head to Saskatchewan on two wheels.
It didn’t take long for the scenery to change and the Rocky Mountains to recede into the distance behind us. The world became flat! Yellow Canola fields popped up everywhere and the farmland began again. We spent a night camping in a rest stop next to horseshoe canyon with dozens of cute furry prairie dogs darting around our feet hoping to catch some stray spaghetti falling from our plate…no chance little prairie dogs, I’m a hungry cycling fatty with a huge mouth.
Drumheller was an interesting place, a mix between Cappadocia in Turkey and a weird tacky dinosaur theme park.
Cool mars like rockscapes and the most intense heat of the trip so far…but around this time is when the mosquitoes really became an issue. Horrible swarms of the nasty little shit-tards would descend on us and annoy the piss out of us constantly, not just when the sun went down but during the day! The rudeness! Mosquitoes are supposed to give you a break until nighttime, that’s the rules!
The constant headwinds, savage horrible mosquitoes and heavy rain took it’s toll on us through Saskatchewan, as well as the distances between towns to get water and food as we had chosen a less travelled route along the number 4 road to avoid the busy trans Canada highway. Although it did make for a trying period of cycling, I’m glad we decided to take this route as we met some incredible people and experienced levels of hospitality we hadn’t come across since cycling in Iran several years ago.
Our introduction to discovering Saskatchewan on two wheels was long stretches of not a whole lot other than abandoned farms and ominous storm clouds rapidly approaching us. On the second night we were forced to take shelter in a slightly creepy (but also slightly cool and photogenic) abandoned farmhouse on the side of the road. The thunder and lightning had started up and it was raining very heavily so we reluctantly dragged our bikes inside the derelict house that was still furnished with a burnt out old cot bed, an oven that appeared to predate Christ and some busted up kitchen cabinets. We managed to squeeze the tent into a dry section where the roof wasn’t leaking and settled in for a pretty poor nights sleep, both of us half expecting the roof to blow away in the middle of the night or an axe murderer to appear and help us shed weight from the bikes by hacking our legs off in our sleep.
Death by Mosquito
The mosquitoes were relentless and whenever we saw a slight hill in the distance a sense of impending doom gripped us knowing that we would slow down going up hill giving the bloodthirsty little pricks a chance to land and feast on our already weakened bodies. I’ve never ridden anywhere before where the mosquitoes actually keep up with you while riding and attack every inch of you body including your face. Saskatchewan on two wheels definitely had new challenges we didn’t consider – mosquitos being one of them!
We pulled into a tiny village called white bear with a population of 13 to treat ourselves to an ice-cold beer at the bar…only to discover that they were closed on Mondays. Locals in Eston the previous day had told us of this pub and it’s reputation for ‘the best wings in Saskatchewan’. Not really interested in the wings, but after a few days of boring hot riding with occasional freak downpours, the thought of a cold beer and being able to refill our water bottles was pretty appealing so we were close to broken when we arrived at the pub to see it was closed. We plonked ourselves down on the table next to the pub feeling very sorry for ourselves and started sporking our jars of peanut butter and Nuttella when a guy called Russ pulled up in his truck for a chat. He invited us back to his place to refill our water and ended up offering to let us stay in his ‘spare house’ behind his own place!
Befriending the locals
The pub may not have been open, but we did end up getting fed many ice cold beers, met nearly the whole town and ended up at a BBQ at the bar owners house where he cooked up a feast and we learnt all about life and history of White bear! The bar owner was originally from Bangladesh but had lived in Toronto for 25 years and randomly ended up buying the local pub in White Bear, but his wife and kids weren’t too keen on the isolation of living in a town of 13 in the middle of the prairies so chose to stay put in the slightly larger Toronto.
Being a pair of weirdo biking vegetarians at a BBQ in rural Saskatchewan we filled up on baked potatoes and salad while the others scratched their heads as to why we weren’t touching the mountains of chicken wings and burgers. We didn’t help get rid of the meat but I definitely did my best to help clear the beers and felt pretty rough riding the next day. After the BBQ we visited a local couple Lynn and Darryl’s farming property nearby, had a few more beers and then returned to Russ’s ‘main house’ and into his amazing crazy basement saloon for a chat before sprinting like fuck to his ‘spare house’ to avoid the clouds of savage mosquitoes.
My memory of our time in the prairies is always going to be linked with mosquitoes and the feeling of being constantly on edge and under attack, it was not possible to step outside without being swarmed and face fucked from all angles. I think I am going to be permanently mentally scarred by Saskatchewan mosquitoes.
We pushed on through the prairies stopping in Swift current for our first hotel of the trip where we basically lazed around in air-conditioned glory and I filled my system with booze and chocolate. You’ll notice a theme to my traveling habits here; booze and food. It’s basically why I ride.
Amazing People and cheap campsites
One of the best parts of riding throughout Manitoba and Saskatchewan on two wheels was not having to worry about where you will be sleeping that night, particularly in Manitoba as there was a town roughly every 20km and the vast majority of them had a municipal campsite for 10 bucks a night! We also had quite a bit of success with the website ‘warmshowers’ in the prairies meeting some amazing people who have been involved in the cycling community for years. Glenda in Moosejaw was particularly cool seeing as she wasn’t really into biking, had never done any bicycle touring, but over the years had hosted hundreds of cyclists! She called it her “summer hobby” looking after cross country cyclists and giving them awesome history and cultural lessons in her kitchen while feeding us amazing food and telling us about her time in the 80s as a best selling microwave cook book author! Not surprising really seeing as she had also rescued and looked after 6 or so cats too! Cycle tourists are pretty similar to stray cats really; living off scraps, sleeping in bushes and bathing themselves in public.
The ride through Saskatchewan while sometimes boring and windy was made a whole lot better by the quietness of the roads allowing us to ride side by side without fear of losing a limb to a passing truck. It got busier heading into Regina, but even then pretty cruisy compared to most other cities we’ve ridden in.
Ron in Regina was another colourful character we stayed with; for over 50 years he’s been tinkering with bikes and touring across Canada and since his retirement from teaching he’d set up his own fully decked out bike shop as a hobby in his basement and helped out cycle tourists and locals with low cost repair work and maintenance. Ron was a super cool generous guy with a big heart who cooked amazing Asian dishes and while he could no longer cycle due to knee issues was still passionate about biking and pretty much an encyclopedia of bicycle knowledge…handy for me because I don’t know a fucking thing. He replaced Kelly’s stretched chain and I used his workspace to fit a front low-rider rack as I was getting pretty sick of wobbling all over the place due to an unevenly distributed load on the bike.
We had to stay a couple of nights longer in Regina as it was a public holiday and Kelly needed to see a doctor about her eye which had developed a red swelling since the beginning of the trip and had not gone away, so we got to stay indoors for a while like real life normal people which was nice for a change.
The whole ‘sleeping indoors’ thing continued as we left Regina and stayed with a warmshowers host’s brother Brad and his wife Lisa and their kids in a little town called Sedley 50 km from Regina. Brad and Lisa ran the local newspaper for Sedley and the surrounding areas so we got quizzed about the trip while enjoying a few frosty cold beverages and we eventually made it onto the front cover of the local paper so felt like cycling celebrities!! Fame at last!
The weather had not improved and we rolled out of Sedley in the rain the next morning, made it 50km before finding out the town of Stoughton where we had planned to camp was under a tornado warning! A fucking tornado! The prairies really did hate us, but we loved its people so in the end we won the battle. There was really no point continuing any further for the day as every km we pedaled into the 60km an hour headwind brought us closer to where the tornado was supposed to touch down so we decided to camp in the small town of Fillmore where we had heard about the imminent tornado. There was no need to bust out the now rarely used tent as a local lady called Ava heard of our plight and immediately offered to let us sleep at her place! Sleeping indoors again! We really were being spoiled. Ava and her family were totally cool, took us around the local farms and showed us a little bit of harvesting of wheat, fed us a kick ass dinner and gave us a warm comfy place to sleep. The kindness and generosity of people really never stops amazing me and is always a highlight of cycling. As well as being able to drinks lots beer and eat lots of food without feeling guilty, that’s a highlight too.
The kindness and generosity of people really never stops amazing me and is always a highlight of cycling
The weather cleared up the next day and we managed to make up for lost time by smashing out 137kms, our biggest day of the trip so far! Unbeknownst to us, we had had two other cycle tourists hot on heels for a while now and today they finally caught us! Jacques and Louisa were also cycling across Canada but had started in Victoria and zig zagged through the Rockies and other areas, and had first heard of us from Glenda in Moosejaw and then Ron in Regina who they had stayed with days apart from us! It was awesome getting to ride with another couple doing the same thing as us and we spent our last evening in Saskatchewan at a cheap official campsite in Redvers chilling out with our new friends over a few beers and huge camp dinner.
Visiting Saskatchewan on two wheels had pushed us to our limits mentally sometimes, but the friendly helpful locals had made it a great place to ride in the end and if we had to do it all again I definitely would not skip this province! I’d skip the mosquitoes though. Actually I’d strap a giant vacuum cleaner to my bike and suck all the little fuckers out of the air before depositing them in a blender. Bastards.
Next stop Manitoba!