I planned to ride with Pete again this year, and at the last minute (like, I on my way out of town) the timing worked out that Dallas joined us too. That was great, and a great running change (a theme that would re-emerge through the ride). The three of us, along a fourth, Dave, had ridden together last year and jived really nicely.
I had an idea that starting late on Friday would set us up nicely for a 36 hour finish time, assuming minimal sleep. We headed out from Neepawa in the late afternoon, pushing west on the Trans Canada Trail (which was initially just fantastic but degraded into a wade through thigh-high weeds later into the night). And oh the bugs. And skunks. We missed the bar closing in Rossburn by 15 minutes. That was a bit of a bummer. I wouldn’t say I was counting on hot food/a cold beer, but it would have been nice, and I was at least anticipating it. Running change, right? We had a few hours of cold, clammy sleep swatting mosquitoes inside of a bivy sack (no sleeping bag) in the churchyard.
Woke up, fueled up at a convenience store, and rolled north into Riding Mountain National Park, passing Graham and Mark asleep off the road somewhere.
In the park, the nonchalant (or perhaps cavalier?) attitude that I (and perhaps others in my party) had taken to planning our route became clear. On some well-intentioned advice from the well-mustached park ranger (out riding his horse, because, you know, he’s a park ranger — and he could have been wearing a roughrider hat like Roosevelt, but that could just be my remembrance of him) we headed down a trail of his suggestion. This trail turned out to be not the worst-possible advice (we saw that option later – the Tillson Lake trail is to be avoided on a bike if you value your sanity), but the route we took was pretty challenging. When he heard later about the baby-bum smooth fields of daisies that some of our co-challengers rode through instead, our choice seemed pretty rotten. But actually now as I write this, 4-months later, I’m kind of glad we took the tough route we did. It was certainly… memorable.
Hours later, once we sweated and swatted a while, drank some mangy lake slough water and then got rolling on some more-travelled trails, we met up with Hal and Dan at Whitewater Lake, a former POW camp site. That was a nice boost of energy. From there we continue to blunder down the bumpiest trail choices that seemed to be available, eventually ending up at the south verge of the park and, finally, some smoother and faster gravel roads.. I was feeling pretty good, pretty strong, pretty in control even though I’d been riding for 21 of the last 24 hours, some of it in 30-degree heat. That’s when I just about rode into a bear, hitting the brakes with maybe 15 metres to spare. Lesson: when your riding buddy yells “BEAR!” and you are first in line you should look up and maybe take some action.
The march east to Clear Lake was a bit of a drag. Wide roads, long steady grades. Kind of all the same. We were all tired and I think looking for the shortest route to food and a cold drink in Wasagaming. Of course it’s situations like that where you do your best thinking, right?
Our first attempt to jump from the township roads outside the park to trails inside the park was through some kind of children’s camp. This ended in a retreat when the trail we were on turned into a river. I’m not sure how this happened exactly, but it went from dry to muddly to damp to a bit of overflow to a full on, 2-foot deep river. Although the map had us believe that we might only have to deal with about 800 meters of trail/river, we decided that there were too many vagaries in the map and beat it back past the kids out to the highway and took a second crack at it on a different road. This got us on a trail, but that trail became, just after the point of no-return (of course) a total circus of logs and garbage and holes that wanted to break our ankles. Oh, and we had to ride through more summer camps. I think we covered about 5 kilometres in about an hour and a half. No joke.
And then, finally, improbably, amazingly (now almost 30 hours in, running on 3 hours of sleep) we rolled into the warm welcome of Wasagaming and immediately sought out the first restaurant that had a free table. It should be said this was a nice restaurant. Nice enough that they didn’t send us packing for stinking the place up and falling asleep part way through eating a ridiculous amount of food. [We recommend the Wigwam.] The good vibes got even vibier when Mark and Graham rolled in, having spotted our bikes outside. They were having a very different ride – different route, (not all that) different pace, and (very) different headspace. We were like wasted trash, having bushwacked most of the day. They were… well, I think they were both wearing collared shirts. That pretty much says it all.
We all agreed (a) that finishing the ride that night wasn’t in the cards (still over 120km left, including a bunch of singletrack and it was after 10 p.m. at this point) and (b) sleeping on the ground was to be avoided, if possible. I think between the five of us we had like 3 sleeping bags and 2 sleeping pads. Anyway, we decided to hunt a hotel room at 10 p.m. on a mid-August Saturday night in one of the most popular beach towns around. What were the odds? 100%, apparently, if you’re willing to be flexible. Some kind hotel owner offered us some kind of spare room for the night. It was just great. Hot shower, no bugs and warmer than the ground. We had a full night’s sleep, which was probably a good thing.
Sunday’s ride was okay. I’ve ridden the road east out of Riding Mountain before – it’s pretty rad. Because we had slept, we actually enjoyed it. We added in the Reeve’s Ravine trail, which was at least as challenging as it was fun just because of where I was at physically, and then eventually turned south towards Neepawa. A whole lot of dirt roads in that country.
When we got back to Neepawa, they took pity on us at the municipal swimming pool and let us use the showers.
Total time = 47.5 hours
Ride time = 30.5 hours
Good times = all of it
Heading out of Neepawa.
Pete and Dallas.
Deep Lake Ranger Station Checkpoint.
Whitewater Lake Checkpoint.
<Long lull of apparently not taking photos… see other reports…>
Reeve’s Ravine. It’ll put that crazy look in your eyes, apparently.
Kelwood, MB. Lovely place.
What worked for me:
- Salsa Fargo. Such a great all purpose bike. Woodchipper bars work really well for me.
- SP Dynamo hub. Nice having lots of light power with no worries about batteries.
- Ensure. When it was so damn hot that I didn’t have an appetite, at least I could get some liquid calories in.
- Riding as a group. Good for safety, good for morale, good for conversations.
- Packing polypro base layer to sleep in. I hate sleeping when I’m really dirty; with a thin base layer on I didn’t feel so gross and was able to get the most out of a short nap.
- Starting in the evening – kind of jived with my internal clock or whatever.
- ‘Sports food’. I packed some ‘real food’ – ham sandwiches, fruit, PB&J – and I ate it first (it was heaviest) and then really wished I had more of it. For me, bars and gels get gross really quickly. Like almost instantly. GORP bars are maybe the exception, for a while, anyways.
- Going without any glasses. I hate sunglasses, but between the dust, bugs and UV, my eyes got pretty fried. Won’t do that again.
- Not packing a sleeping bag. I got pretty cold in just a bivy sack. So much for being a tough guy.
- Using a pannier. The fact that it was a single pannier didn’t help (weight moves kind of funnily) but it also just doesn’t carry as nicely as soft bags, rattling and lurching a bit as the rack flexes. Never really noticed this before (but then I don’t think I’ve used a pannier on such bumpy trails for so long before).
- Riding gravel quickly in the dark. Turkey Trail Road and the area around Vista stand out as being pretty great. The road to the East Gate of RMNP, too.
- The Trans Canada Trail from Neepawa to Elphinstone. Some really sweet sections in there – great route, good trail condition.
- Running into others doing the challenge. We bumped into Hal and Dan at Whitewater Lake, and then Mark and Graham ran into us in Wasagaming. The odds of this happening, given an ‘event area’ that is roughly 20,000 square kilometres (though admittedly, we were using some vaguely similar routes within that area) seem pretty slight. Cool that it happened.
- Nice people who run small town grocery stores. Of particular note: the nice lady in Erikson with the old dog behind the counter and the friendly lady in Kelwood. On this ride especially, where I saw very few people and interacted with even fewer, it’s amazing the positive energy I got from a friendly chat with a stranger. And you know nobody is running those store to get rich. The next big ride I do where I rely on small town grocery stores, I’m bringing thank you cards. Seriously.