With three kids, a wife, and a full time job, I rarely get the time to do the things that I like to do, so I have to pick and choose carefully. This year, I decided the 2014 Summer Challenge would be one of those opportunities, particularly when I found out it was routed along the Trans-Canada Trail (TCT) and through Riding Mountain National Park (RMNP).

Sunrise on the way to the start line
Sunrise on the way to the start line

My planning included doing the route counter-clockwise so that I could get the difficult ascent of the East Escarpment over and done with, be able to stop in Wasagaming to get the proper park passes, have the trees in the park as cover from the prevailing wind, and, ideally, have the prevailing wind and a long gradual downhill at the end. Sound strategy, or so I thought!

Mukky waiting for the front tire
Mukky waiting for the front tire

I stubbornly stuck to this plan despite the last-minute mystery activity of riding Reeve’s Ravine and believing that I could ride to the top and drop the bulk of my gear to better enjoy the downhill ride. It would also give me a lighter bike to ride back up the escarpment. This was my biggest mistake. I can’t describe how much I underestimated the effort required for the ascent of the East Escarpment. This mistake cost me dearly in terms of time, energy, and morale.

My biggest mistake!  The East Escarpment double loop.  The Red Arrow is pointing at the East Gate.
My biggest mistake! The East Escarpment double loop. The Red Arrow is pointing at the East Gate.

It took me almost two hours to make that ascent and drained me of enough energy that I really did not enjoy the Reeve’s Ravine ride. In fact, it scared me a little given that my fatigued state decreased my capability to handle the bike along some of those cliff faces. I made it to Wasagaming campground by 8:30 pm, thoroughly thrashed. I got the tent up and made some more hot food literally seconds before the rain started.

Kelwood Store where they were sold out of Sun Block!
Kelwood Store where they were sold out of Sun Block!
East Gate RMNP
East Gate RMNP
The view looking North East from the East Escarpment
The view looking North East from the East Escarpment
Waiting to do Reeve's Ravine at the North Escarpment Trail System trail head
Waiting to do Reeve’s Ravine at the North Escarpment Trail System trail head
Failed attempt at the South Shore Clear Lake Trail
Failed attempt at the South Shore Clear Lake Trail
On my way back to Onanole from Lake Audy.  The temp was already dropping at this time.
On my way back to Onanole from Lake Audy. The temp was already dropping at this time.
A little company on the road!
A little company on the road!

The rain didn’t let up until almost 11 the next morning, and I didn’t get leaving until almost noon. With a couple more setbacks, including an aborted attempt at the South Shore Clear Lake Trail, my mind started playing games. Thoughts of “go home” and “you’re not going to make it” started bouncing off the soft tissue of my brain, but I finally decided to wait until Lake Audy before making a decision to continue on or not.

I arrived at Lake Audy around 4pm way behind schedule. My plan should have seen me at the Deep Lake Ranger Station at about that time. Among other reasons, a new overnight forecast of 5C compelled me to call the challenge and salvage what joy I could out of the trip. I headed back to Onanole where I snagged the last motel room.

I decided to head to Erickson the next day and link up with the TCT back to Neepawa which I found, with its alternating gravel and grass double track, was actually quite enjoyable.

The TCT from Erickson
The TCT from Erickson
The Cenotaph in Clanwilliam
The Cenotaph in Clanwilliam

20140830_120602

A field of Gluten!
A field of Gluten!

Though I didn’t complete the challenge, I still completed 287km and rode for three days; longer and further than I’ve ridden before! I learned more about bikepacking in terms of what works and what doesn’t, where my shortfalls are, both physically and in terms of gear and equipment, and I have a new respect for you guys who clearly rock this sport! I look forward to another attempt at this at some point, and to see what 2015 holds! I still have a long way to go…interpret that how you will!

The entire DNF route, but I did enjoy it and learn a lot
The entire DNF route, but I did enjoy it and learn a lot