Ed’s March Across Canada – The Prairies

Welcome back Canadians (and other people on the internet). The last time I shared chaos with you, Rach and I were in the mountains, Banff National Park and finding Canadians awesomely friendly.

In this episode, we leave the mountains and hit the vast expanse of the Prairies.

We’d been hearing a lot about the Prairies before we got there. Word on the street was that they’re flat. Like, really flat. Our favourite quote was “You can watch your dog run away for 3 days,” which made Rach and I chuckle quite a bit. I mean, how flat can they be?

sheriffOh, that flat …..

It was ­-20C that day, which would already be pretty chilly, but when you throw in an 80 km/h bike powered wind chill, it can suck the heat from your body pretty fast (apologies for telling Canadians about cold weather ha ha, but it’s a novelty for us Brits). So we stopped for a quick photo and to warm up our fingers, and a friendly Sheriff called Brian decided to pull up behind us to say hello. 

DSCN0041I was wasn’t sure of the difference between an RCMP and a Sheriff, so I asked him. Brian’s reply was “Sheriffs are much better looking.” We chatted and joked for a short while before it was time for Brian to leave and carry on with his duties, but not before giving us our own honorary Alberta Sheriff’s Helper badges.

No sooner had Brian pulled away than a Red Bull delivery driver called Ryan (there’s a song there somewhere) pulled up to say hi and give us some free Red Bull!

The terrain had changed, but the hospitality of Canadians hadn’t. Woohoo! 🙂 Once we stashed away our badges and drinks we carried on east, in search of a hill.

IMG_9593
10 points if you can spot our tent

We didn’t find one, but we did find a valley, which was weird, considering that the Prairies are so flat. What this meant was that we had entered Drumheller.

I don't think that's a real one
I don’t think that’s a real one

Drumheller was a nice break from the impossibly long, level, straight roads and cold winds. It’s also an area world famous for its dinosaur fossils, so we decided to go to the dinosaur museum to see some real ones.

The Drumheller museum is really cool and we spent hours there. The size of dinosaurs can be mind blowing but I’m glad they went extinct because although my C90 can do many things, I don’t think it could outrun a T-Rex.

I should probably get back to motorbikes now, and I will in a second, but this is what overland motorcycle travel is all about – meeting new people and experiencing new things just as much as being sat on a bike. Of all my trips I have very few memories of nice corners or the view from my helmet, almost all of my memories are from when I was off the bike. Just like the dinosaur museum, the free Red Bull or our Sheriff’s Helpers badges.

Okay, okay, back to bikes.

IMG_9808We continued east, the temperature was a steady -­15C during the day, so riding was a bit tough but still perfectly doable. I spotted a photo opportunity, so I very precariously leant my bike against a sign post and climbed aboard. In five layers of clothing it’s difficult to be agile, so climbing is difficult, but it’s also difficult to injure yourself, so falling doesn’t hurt either …

At this point the roads were relatively clear, albeit with a layer of dry snow blowing constantly across them. While this doesn’t affect traction as we’re still riding on clear tarmac, it can affect  visibility in a few ways. The first way is whether you can see the road surface. We’ve been finding the road surfaces very good here and with few pot­holes in them, but there’s still something a bit disconcerting about being balanced on two wheels and just riding on a moving carpet of white that could be hiding anything underneath it.

passing
First shows the snow carpet effect, then passing a car, and … where did they go?

The second problem we face with poor visibility is other cars throwing up snow around us. Now this isn’t a problem when it comes to obscuring our vision. If we can’t see for a few seconds, it’s not the end of the world, we just have to ride where we remember the road was a moment ago. The problem for us on bikes is that we’re small enough to be completely hidden in the snow cloud. This is the same problem a car faces, except we don’t have seatbelts or crumple zones made of steel. 

IMG_9786Of course biking is all about balancing risk (enjoying your life vs chance of death). That’s why if we feel that visibility is too poor overall, or the snow clouds from cars are too large, then we don’t ride that day. It’s better to take longer to cross Canada than to die trying … plus we get to spend more time in Canada, so it’s win­-win.

One day, riding at ­-13C my carburetor decided it wanted to be a block of ice. I’m not sure why it did this as we’d ridden in colder and more humid conditions before, but little 90 has a mind of her own sometimes, so I can’t argue with her.

She still runs, but she's definitely cold
She still runs, but she’s definitely cold

Fortunately, she’s never broken down. She just goes slower when things break, but she never actually stops moving (and that’s why I love her).

So little 90 was running a bit lumpy, and just opening a carburetor in a howling snow filled wind probably wasn’t going to go well, so we decided to find a warm place to have a tinker with her. It was at that moment that we randomly bumped into a guy called Kevin, who, without us even asking, took us in for the night and put the bikes in his heated garage.

This act of kindness was the first in an awesome run of awesome acts of Canadian kindness. And rather than tell it in full story mode, I’ll use photos instead:

Kevin and his wife Cindy took us in to help fix C90 while we chatted, drank beer and shared stories of biking (they were both bikers too). In the morning the bike had thawed and after some minor adjustments to try and stop it happening again, we said our goodbyes and hit the road again. It's funny how fate works.
Kevin and his wife Cindy took us in to help fix C90 while we chatted, drank beer and shared stories of biking (they were both bikers too). In the morning the bike had thawed and after some minor adjustments to try and stop it happening again, we said our goodbyes and hit the road again. It’s funny how fate works.

 

When we stopped at a Subway in Hanna, Alberta for a cheap bite to eat, another customer there called Alfred, asked us a few question about the trip before giving us $20 to pay for our lunch!
When we stopped at a Subway in Hanna, Alberta for a cheap bite to eat, another customer there called Alfred, asked us a few question about the trip before giving us $20 to pay for our lunch!

 

We stopped in a Chinese restaurant in Rosetown, Saskatchewan for some lunch. As normal a crowd had gathered around the bikes outside the window. When we went to pay, someone had secretly paid for our bill without telling us.
We stopped in a Chinese restaurant in Rosetown, Saskatchewan for some lunch. As normal a crowd had gathered around the bikes outside the window. When we went to pay, someone had secretly paid for our bill without telling us.

 

We stopped in a restaurant in Kindersley, Saskatchewan for a bite to eat and to warm up (it was -17C during the day so we were in need of some calories). We started chatting to a lovely woman called Janet who after a while said, “You seem like nice kids, so I’m going to take a leap of faith and offer you a bed for the night, to save you camping or the cost of a hotel room.”

Janet (left) and some of her family that thought it was out of character for her to pick us some strays off the street
Janet (left) and some of her family that thought it was out of character for her to pick up some strays off the street

The rest of her family were as surprised as we were, and Janet seemed to get a little kick out of doing something a little ‘risky’. She said she’d never done something like this before, but she felt like going with her gut instinct.

Of course, we know the world is actually a really nice place (especially Canada), but Rach and I got a little buzz from making the world a little better that day. I like to think that every time we show someone how good people actually are, it counteracts at least one doom-and-gloom news story. 

We continued our ride across the Prairies with our level of fondness for Canada at an all time high. We camped wherever possible, but we’ve been finding winter camping in Canada very difficult.

It’s not because of the cold or the snow, because we’ve got proper arctic camping equipment. It’s because Canadians keep seeing us putting up our tent and then dragging us into their homes. No matter how much we say we enjoy winter camping, they won’t hear of it, they just drag us into the warm. 

When riding, we found out that ­-15C was the point when it becomes properly cold to ride in. Any little air gap in your helmet causes ice to form on the exposed part. We had to put Duct Tape over the closed vents to stop even the smallest of drafts. But even this wasn’t enough to stop it completely. 

50 mph wind chill anyone?
50 mph wind chill anyone?

As we arrived at Winnipeg our time in the Prairies was drawing to close. We thought they would be really boring, but it turned out to be quite the opposite; there’s a certain magic about riding through a land so flat. Because you can see for miles and miles, you get a real chance to absorb your surroundings and also get a real sense that you are just a tiny speck on a massive planet.

There are also no sharp corners to catch you out, and no surprise traffic to pull out in front of you, so you can let your mind wander and pay attention to the little pieces of scenery that take five minutes to pass you.

Rach and I both really enjoyed our ride across the flat lands. But once again, we enjoyed the people we met as much as the landscape. We’d now travelled through four provinces of Canada and loved every one of them. Unfortunately though, we have to keep moving if we want to get to the East Coast before spring hits, so we need to keep doing the miles and limit our time in each awesome place.

So there we are, our experience of the Prairies; awesome
So there we are, our experience of the Prairies; awesome

Still for every awesome place we leave, we find a new one. And in theory we’ve now seen 50% of them.


Next time:

Ontario and rocks and trees and HILLS!!!!

Finally, hills!
Finally, hills!

GALLERY

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11 thoughts on “Ed’s March Across Canada – The Prairies”

  1. Met you two yesterday at Mickey D’s on HWY 7 just northeast of Toronto. People think I’m insane for riding a Tomos moped 6 minutes to work during the winter, I got nothin’ on you guys. Will be checking on your progress. Good luck and safe rides!

  2. Ed, I love your approach to life. You and Rachel would be very welcome to stay at my place in Sutton, Quebec. Clean bed, cold beer, secure garage etc. Best of luck to you.

  3. You may camp in my backyard when you come to southern Ontario, that way you don’t have to feel bad about having Artic gear and not being able to use it! Its -23 tonight….. Cambridge Ontario

  4. They’re coming over for ribs tonight at my place in Thunder Bay. Wish they were able to stay longer – we want to give them the best welcome ever – including a trip to the Madhouse – yet it looks like they will be heading east along the north shore tomorrow. 🙁

      1. They are staying at a friend’s place and went sight-seeing and shopping in the morning – and ended up getting their fill of Finnish pancakes at Kangas Sauna instead (even though I suggested the Hoito….because….well….it’s the HOITO!). It was a real treat to learn more about them and their adventures. I hope they enjoyed the grilled ribs and conversation last night. They had to leave a bit early because they have been working on one of their bikes (intake manifold leak) and needed to put everything back together. Their plan is to leave today and begin their trek along the scenic north shore of Lake Superior. The weather looks much more favourable over the next few days than it has in a month – so I think their plan to take advantage of that window is a good one.

        1. seems like the wealther is finally breaking here, we might actually hit seasonal temps in the next few days so that is certainly a good thing for them

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