After reading all of the reports of the summer challenge #2, I wanted to partake in the challenge for 2015.  Once the route was revealed I was quite excited.  Starting in my backyard and going through the Killarney area where I was born, this route sounded great!  I was debating how to attempt the route and whether it would be solo or with a group.  Since non of the Country Cycle folk were up to the challenge, I had decided it would be a solo effort.  Then, talking with my sister Christina, it was decided that we would attempt this ride together.  Sweet!

Day 1 – Thursday July 2nd
After getting a ride to Morden and loading up our trusty bikes we set out.
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Maybe we should have seen the writing on the wall when after one mile, one of Christina’s bags fell off. With some creative lashing we were back in business. The first few miles of gravel were filled with chatting and excitement about the challenge in front of us.
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That all changed a few miles later when we started meeting gravel truck upon gravel truck. Everywhere we turned the roads were covered in a layer of freshly laid gravel. Arriving at the descent into the valley the roads were better, however, the effort had already taken its toll on Christina’s knee. We took a break at the bottom of the valley before beginning the long walk/ride up the west side.
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It certainly is a long way up! If you’ve never been to the Pembina Valley park before, one of my favourite parts is the grove of Scots Pines that lines the entrance road. I don’t know what they remind me of, but they are just so cool. Check point one had been reached!
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As if to congratulate us on this milestone, the west winds decided to pick up and tag along for the rest of the day. The ride to Snowflake was uneventful other than a few brief stops and a discussion over why the owner of the mobile home with the pallet stairs had so many trucks in the back 40. We’d been collecting quite a few confused waves from local farmers as we rode by, there were plenty more to come.
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After Snowflake the roads again turned to total crap in all directions. If it wasn’t fresh gravel it was fresh grading with dirt and grass all over the roads. We set our pace and tried to cover as much ground as we could.
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Half a mile up the road I noticed a truck had turned onto the road heading away from us. I thought nothing of it other than being thankful I didn’t have to eat the dust as it passed. Then a few moments later the truck came to an abrupt stop at the end of their neighbour’s driveway…BANG!…BANG!…Christina and I looked at each other with concern and confusion. “Gunshots?” I said. “Maybe they shot a cow?” Christina said. As we slowly approached the farm where the truck had stopped I surveyed the yard. No one seemed to be panicking, certainly no crime had been committed. Still there was a nervousness as we slowly rode on. Then we could see a man standing in the box of the truck holding a rifle as it started to drive away. Then there were brake lights! And then there were reverse lights! They were coming towards us, quickly. More looks of “well if this is it, then this is it” were exchanged. The trucked stopped and we were greeted with explanations from a father/daughter team of ferocious badgers that were attacking their truck as they drove by. They had killed 2/4 with one hiding on each side of the road in the ditches. “Don’t dawdle while you pass the yard” they said, “duh” I thought quietly in my head.  The daughter then screamed “he’s behind you dad!”, with his reply of “go go go!” they were off….again in reverse. We quickly carried on.
The remaining miles until we reached HWY #34 are a bit of a blur. Finally we made it to the highway crossing. 90 miles from home and 28 miles to go, we debated what we should do. Christina’s knee pain had decreased but was still quite intense and my wrists were killing me. Both of us were exhausted from slogging along. We decided to ride as long as we could and then we would stop for the night. Miles went by as I followed Craig/Scott’s tire tracks marking my way along what I can only describe as a rural bike lane. 2′ of freshly scraped gravel road between the ditch and the soft unforgiving road.  Somehow we made it to this gorgeous stretch of dirt lane, rolling twisting double track through the trees. The smooth surface was glorious and the wind had died down as the sun set. Those 7 miles until HWY #10 were the fastest of our trip. Our attitudes improved and thoughts that the worst might be over flooded our minds. Just when that thought had occurred, the two worst miles of gravel yet appeared as we crossed the highway. Total darkness other than our lights and not a hard surface in sight to offer any relief. With only four miles to go until sleep, we carried on.  Those four miles took forever and we thought we might never find Max Lake. Rounding a corner there was the lake, then a sign for the camp sites and then like an angel glowing in the night was our saving grace…a pay phone! (took a picture in the morning)
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Bug spray was applied over layers of salt and dust and camp was set up. The bugs were intense! We spent a few moments calling our spouses to explain the day and discuss what day #2 might look like. In the end we decided to sleep on it until the morning. After riding for 16 hours, lying down was awesome!  Sleep, however, did not come easy. I figure I only slept about 3 1/2 hours of between 1am (when we finally got to bed) and 6am.
Day 2 – Friday July 3rd
I woke up feeling dizzy and super weak.
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Christina stated cramming food and the worst electrolyte beverage into my system. Nothing was picking me up.  By 7am she too started feeling very weak, not to mention her knee was still aching from the previous day.
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After some discussion about whether we could continue on for another 200miles we decided it was in our best interest to again use the pay phone. 3 hours later my father in law was at our campsite helping us load up.  Max Lake would be a great place to canoe/kayak by the way.
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While we were both disappointed to have not finished, our day 1 adventure was a most epic 190km journey! We had both completed a course first century and lived to tell about it.  It became clear that we had made the right call once we arrived back in Winkler.  Christina’s knee had started to lock up and the following several days would be spent with her sitting immobilized on her couch.
A yummy welcome home meal.
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Not to be defeated, more adventures are planned for mid August.  Stay Tuned.