Chapter 8: Saskatchewan

The land of golden fields and blue skies… and headwind. Lots and lots of headwind.

Saskatchewan was the first of our last three provinces, and I felt motivated to cycle strongly to make the most of the relatively short time we had left on our bikes. We’d had a fantastic rest in Manitoba and after seeing Paul and having a little taste of home, I was beginning to get excited about finishing and getting back to family and friends in Scotland.

People say that in Saskatchewan you can see your dog (or wife) run away for three days, and after hearing this joke only a few hundred times, we were expecting Saskatchewan to be pretty flat. Imagine then our surprise when in our first 5km of the province we found a massive valley. We enjoyed the downhill rush, but the uphill slog was a bit of a rude awakening. Especially when we reached the top and Kirsty spotted my back tyre was a bit low. On further inspection the tyre had been pierced with a piece of glass, so 12km in to our first day back on the bikes I was at the side of the road trying to patch up the rear tyre and tube. Super fun.

We set off again and were happy to not see any more valleys, mostly enjoying a flat cycle in the famous prairies. There were corn fields as far as we could see, and even though we were on a busy road it felt like we were out on country roads. We pulled in to a gas station 30km further along the road for a cool drink, only to find my rear tyre was completely flat again. Turns out the glue on the patch had melted with the heat of the day and the road. Reluctant to put a brand new tube in to a damaged tyre, we didn’t have much choice but to hitch hike to the nearest town and try to buy a new tyre. We borrowed a marker pen from a man in a caravan, got some cardboard from the gas station, and stood by the side of the road with a homemade sign. About half an hour later we were in the car with Marlo and Teri, local farmers who were more than happy to take us to Yorkton. The bike shop were super helpful and fitted me with a new tyre, and even gave me a new quick release axle when it transpired I’d left the original on the side of the road 50km East…

We were pretty tired after a long first day back on the bikes, especially as there had been an hour’s time change which we hadn’t expected. We cycled a few kilometers out of Yorkton to look for a camp spot and ended up on a farm, starting the theme that would continue through the rest of the province. Eddie and April were very welcoming and allowed us to camp safely on their land, and their 7 month old puppy Roxy took it upon herself to be our guard dog for the night. Would have been great if she hadn’t kept sticking her head in to my tent during the night and chewed through Kirsty’s guy rope…

The next day was when the headwind started. It’s said that no matter what direction you are cycling in the prairies, the wind is always against you. It didn’t start out too badly but gradually got worse and worse and was exhausting. We had been aiming to do about 80km and reach Foam Lake but by 4pm we literally had no energy left. We decided to call it a day and ended up camping happily on another farmer’s field, both asleep before 8pm. We vowed to set off earlier the next day, hoping to “beat” the wind and make more progress towards Saskatoon – our half way point through Saskatchewan.

Unfortunately, the wind also decided to get up early and by the time we’d cycled the 20km to Foam Lake we were already feeling disheartened. We met a french couple, Oceana and David who were cycling in the same direction as part of their 2 year cycle around the world. They too were struggling and was nice to get reassurance that we weren’t just soft! We powered on over the next couple of days, stopping every 15-20km at the communities along the way to break up the journey in to bitesize chunks. More than in any other province, we got so many toots and waves from passing cars, and this definitely lifted our spirits as we peddled on. We surprised ourselves a couple of times by getting further than expected and we couldn’t really tell if the wind was getting lighter or we were just getting more determined.

After two 95km ish days we made it to our warmshowers host, Hamilton, in Saskatoon. We were both exhausted, but it was so nice to arrive a day earlier than we expected and enjoy eating and sharing stories of adventure. Hamilton cooked us a delicious Israeli meal that he’d picked up on his travels, and we slept well indoors after a few nights in the tents. Saskatoon itself is a nice city, I bought a foldaway tyre to keep as a spare and we enjoyed a long lunch. We both gave the bikes a well needed clean before sharing another meal with Hamilton. Saskatoon has a strong Ukrainian heritage so Hamilton made us perogies, a boiled bread dough filled with Saskatoon berries… delicious!

We set off again feeling refreshed and motivated, this time with Edmonton in our sights…just a small 530km away. Leaving the city was pretty terrifying as there was no way to avoid really big, busy roads…but we made it and arriving on the long, open highway felt amazing. We even had a tailwind!! We just flew along and the cycle felt like no effort at all compared to the road leading towards Saskatoon. We were able to have conversation, and suprised ourselves again by doing 110km in 5 hours of cycling.

Sadly the headwind was back the following day and we had 35km to cycle from our camping spot before we get water and coffee. It was the first time we’d had to cycle so far and reminded us on the importance to carry extra water through slightly less populated areas. Coffee tasted amazing and we ended up hiding in Tim Horton’s for almost two hours before building up the motivation to cycle on. As the wind was strong, we decided to allow ourselves to have a short day and headed for a village another 35km away which google told us had a church. We’d met some cyclists along the way who told us they often camped in church gardens, and although we hadn’t done it so far, we decided it would be a good option for the night.

We arrived at the said church in the quiet village, and it had lots of grass perfect for pitching our tents. We knocked on the door and found it locked, when a voice across the road asked if we needed any help. When we explained to Marilyn that we were looking for somewhere to pitch our tents for the night, she first invited us to pitch them in her garden, then invited us to join her for dinner, and finally invited us to actually sleep inside. It was amazing how quickly she invited us in to her home, acting purely on kindness and we were blown away. We had a lovely evening with her, her husband and their friends, and slept soundly in a soft, comfy bed. We even had a shower!

We left the following day with warm hearts and even the wind wasn’t too bad to begin with. It soon picked up though and was blowing in our faces once again. We were aiming for Lloyminster, the border town between Saskatchewan and Alberta. At 100km away, Maidstone at 50km seemed like a good place to stop for lunch. Marilyn had sent us away with some fresh veges so I planned to eat that for lunch and Kirsty headed to the gas station to pick something up…but the universe at other ideas again.

A motorcyclist called us over asking where we were from, where we were going… the usual questions. He said he and his friend were biking to Alaska and had passed us on the highway. Impressed with what we were doing, he invited us to join them for lunch…his treat. As we sat down, Quan’s friend Greig was talking to a man at the next table who mentioned he’d seen us on the road the day before as well. He soon left for the road and we enjoyed a hilarious lunch with Quan and Greig hearing stories of their 30 year long friendship. After we’d eaten, the waitress came over to tell us that the man we’d spoken to as we sat down had paid for all our lunches before he left, simply with the message “pay it forward”. We were all blown away, and Kirsty and I cycled away slightly in disbelief at the last hour. Selfless random acts of kindness rarely happen, and I vowed (not for the first time) to pay back all this kindness and more as we travel on and after I get home.

We didn’t quite make it to Lloydminster, but camped 15km short…staying in Saskatchewan for our last night. Although the province for us had been mostly spend on the highway and we hadn’t got to really explore and experience it like we had done other provinces. It was still enjoyable and I’d found the endless fields, farmland and sunny skies really beautiful. We’d had a taste of what it would be like to stick to the trans-Canada highway for the whole journey, and although it’s not the type of cycling I would want to do for 4 months, it wasn’t totally awful and did allow us to average 90-100km a day and get ever closer to the Rocky Mountains. The prairies certainly weren’t as awful as so many people had warned.

Now, Alberta, let’s see what you have to say.

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