“The best layer schemes of mice and men gang aft ‘a glay and leave us nought but grief and pain for promised joy.” ~Robbie Burns
I set off from Neepawa at 10am, trundling my beloved fatbike over a wet but very ridable Trans Canada Trail (TCT) that angled northwest following the trace of a long vanished rail line. Grey clouds gathered and rain poured, but my spirits were high as I settled into the saddle and let the adventure unfold before me. Aside from riding about 100km volunteering at the Spruce Woods 100miler in May, this was to be the most time my mukluk and I had ever spent together. I was eager to see how I’d fare on a multi day ride as I really hope to do The Arrowhead in 2015.
I was rolling on Nate tires, utilizing various bike bags by Revelate Designs as well as a big OR Dry bag strapped my rear rack. I was super impressed by the durably of all my bike bags; despite three days of rain everything remained dry. Revelate Designs is excellent kit. Well worth the ridiculous price.
The Nates were a poor tire choice I think. Rolling resistance was pretty high over the grassy trail that made up a good 60% of my route. (But I was riding a fatbike so wadda ya expect…….a 29er tire set is in my sights for next year!) All in all this was a great “gut check” for Arrowhead and Actif Epica.
I made good time on the TCT stopping to snap a few photos along the way. I carried plenty of food in my handle bar bag and wore a two litre hydration pack. My energy level remained high as my fat tires carried me through the remnants of once thriving prairie towns; Clanwilliam, Sandy Lake, Erickson, and Elphinstone. Under the gloomy sky and dark clouds, these towns looked like something out of“The Walking Dead” or McCarthy’s “The Road.” Apart from an old man rummaging through a recycling bin when I rolled though Elphinstone, these towns appeared devoid of human life and habitation.
The TCT was at it’s best through Sandy Lake and at it’s worst past Elphinstone. I was hesitant to deviate from the trail as many of the gravel roads on my map were little more than muddy ditches, so deciding to play it safe I stuck to the TCT and as the sun set I pushed out the remaining kilometres to Rossburn.
Arriving in Rossburn well after dark I sought out a good spot to camp in a grove of pine, behind the Alliance Church. I pitched my tent, powdered my wet feet, got into dry clothes and prepared dinner. Raman Noodles and freeze dried something or other. It had been a long day, about 13 hours on the bike, and the rain showed no signs of stopping.
My alarm went at 6am the next day and I brewed up a nice hot cup of yerba mate and ate left over raman and “freeze dried whatever” for breakfast. The rain had stopped and grateful for the repite I quickly tore down my camp and was on the road by 7am.
Heading north to Riding Mtn, the Dave Van Ronk song “Green Green Rocky Road” playing endlessly in my head. I peddled through puddles over stones in the cool morning air feeling good. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ngFUyhuF31U
Riding Mountain National Park lay before me; a dark misty island rising out of the rolling green prairie, the skeletons of long abandoned homesteads like shipwrecks dashed upon a rocky shore.
I was elated to finally make the park boundary and upon reaching Deep Lake I took a long hard look at the map and decided I’d take the Tilson Creek Trail to link up to the Central Back Country Trail.
Tilson Creek was fun and fast at times but some sections where under a fair bit of water, and it was hard to get a rhythm going; at the bottom of ever hill was a ditch full of water and debris. I took it easy here, cognizant of the fact that I was alone, and an injury would be a shitty way to end this trip. I stopped to photograph some boreal fauna and before long I found my self at the Central Backcountry Trail.
Here I expected a wicked smooth ride but after several bone jarring km I renamed the Central Back Country Trail the “Central Perineum Pounder. On an fully loaded aluminum hard tail Salsa it really sucked. Maybe things would have been better if I was fresh but it seemed every few seconds I would hit a hole hidden in the grass. To make matters worse I’d raised my bike seat to try and fix my knee problems but now both my achilles tendons felt achy; doubtless because my seat was too high.
This section was the low part of the trip for me, but I put my faithful fatbike into an easy gear, put my head down and peddled east through vast fields of wild flowers as red tailed hawks wheeled and screeched above my head.
Nearing Whitewater Lake the trail morphed into an old gravel road bed and by 4pm I was at the bison paddock where pondered my next decision. Do I ride through the bison paddock? I really didn’t want to detour as it would mean heading south past Onanole and I was hoping to get to Wasagaming before dark. So with some trepidation my tires clattered over the Texas gates and I entered the paddock.
After hours of chouda chafing trail, the Lake Audy Rd felt amazing and I pushed hard for Wasagaming and for a couple km I thought I was free and clear but as I rounded the corner there they were…an entire herd of bison spread out across the road.
Shit. I waited a good half hour hoping the herd would migrate somewhere else but they stayed put. I had three options: cycle into the herd whooping like a Blackfoot warrior to stampede the herd, (insane, because I didn’t have a bow and arrows with me) bushwhack around the herd, (the bush was really wet) or turn around and detour south around Onanole. I chose to detour south.
My hopes of reaching Wasagaming before dark looked out of reach and I put my head down and cranked hard to make up the time wasted waiting around for the bison to not move. Rounding a corner I looked up to see a black bear a few metres ahead of me on the road. I swerved around the bear while un-holstering my bear spray as the equally terrified bear spun around in circles woofing like a dog before plunging into the bushes to my left. Adrenaline pumping I speed away, glancing behind me to see the bear emerge from the bush and stand on the road trying to figure out what just about hit him.
After my meet and greet with large dangerous beasts, I was eager to call it a day and headed south out of the park on the Lake Audy Rd then east on a gravel road skirting the south shore of Clear Lake. I found the Lake Shore Trail at dusk and rode the narrow winding trail in the dark dismounting at the isthmus where the trail narrows, looking forward to the swim across where I found yet another bear! The bear had his back to the water with really nowhere to go so yielded the trail I beat a hasty retreat, yelling loudly and biding Mr. Bear a Good Night.
Pizza and beer at Wasagaming were out of the question but I decided to push on in the hopes of snagging a hotel room. The rain had intensified and my left knee and achilles were pretty sore.This was a low point on the trip for me, but the dream of a hot shower and a soft bed was a strong motivating force and after detouring south I linked up with Hw 10 and was in Wasagaming around 10pm. I got hotel room (Praise Fatbiking Jesus!!!) and revealed in the euphoric bliss that only a hot shower after a long wet cold day can elicit.
I treated myself to a 9am wakeup time and rolled out of bed a bit worse for wear. My achilles were pretty inflamed and my left knee was a wee bit swollen. But this was the last day and I figured it would be an easy one…how wrong I was!
Breakfast at the bustling whitehorse cafe was incredible and I saddled up quite late around 11am and headed out of town. I had was planning to stop at the Park HQ to find a map of Reeves Ravine but due to my late departure from Wasagaming I decided to push on and I figured I’d find it easy enough. Whoops! Taking Hw 19 east I kept an eye out for the Reeves Ravine Trail head but never saw it. A long awesome decent began and before I know it I was at the Rangers Station at the East Gate. I wandered inside and asked about the elusive Reeves Ravine Trail. The Warden offered to give me a ride back up the hill to it but I declined as the OM rules state the ride must done under your own power. I really didn’t fancy riding back up the hill with my knee the way it was. So with a heavy heart I turned my fatbike south and headed home. I had failed.
I reached Kelwood and stopped in at the Legion for pizza and hot coffee. I took a look at the map and decided the most direct route back to Neepawa was Mile 84W and with spirits buoyed by hot food I headed south expecting a pleasant 40km. A rainfall warning was in effect for the area and I was eager to end this adventure.
Alas. Mile 84W turned into a quagmire and despite low pressure 4” tires, there is some terrain where even fatbikes dare not tread. Foolishly I rode until my chain and rear cogs were hopelessly caked in sticky black muck. Soon I was forced to carry my bike and grateful for all the portage training and ruck running I’d done this summer I threw my mukluk on my back, put my head down, switched off my brain and began to walk.
Vast golden fields of rain sodden grain bowed their heads against the the deluge. I counted my paces, stopping every 500m for a break to ease a mud caked bike off my aching shoulders. 84W stretched off into the distance; an endless muddy morass slicing through green and yellow fields running into a slate grey sky with no end in sight.
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud.
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest.
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori.
2014 marks the 100th year Anniversary of The Great War and I know that if I’d been around back then I totally would have joined up. Instead of carrying my fatbike though a muddy field I would have died in one. Things can always be worse.
This was a low point on the trip for me, but eventually I found a ditch deep enough to wash my bike in. I stood waist deep in muddy water washing the muck off my bike and with a knife blade I cleaned the thick clay out of my gears. And eventually 84W because somewhat ridable and linking up once again with the TCT I rode it back into Neepawa. My trip began as it ended, by a set of stairs leading down to the Whitemud River.
I went pretty low tech on this trip and didn’t bring a GPS or bike computer so I’m not sure exactly how far I rode. I reckon my average speed was probably somewhere around 12km/h and total time on bike was around 32 hours.
Despite failing my mission I still had a great time. My Operacion Muerto attempt was an adventure that I will fondly remember with a shiver and a wry smile in the years to come.
Many thanks to Hal Loewen, Dallas Sigurdur and any other other sadists who dreamt up this wonderful excuse to ride a bike really really far though a province that I’m ever so glad to call home.