After finally leaving Winnipeg on 11th July I was to be leaving friends but I was shortly to be making more new friends. I was heading towards the small town of Russell in western Manitoba. Not many people will have heard of the town and I was one of those people save for a happy coincidence. Back in Guernsey I volunteer as a gardener at the Victorian Walled Kitchen Garden at Saumarez Park, when I told them that I was going to be riding across Canada one of the other volunteers said he had a nephew that was living in Manitoba and passed on his contact details to me. Well, several months after that conversation and I was on my way to meet Richard & Myrtle.
On the way to Russell, I passed through Portage la Prairie which is where the Assiniboine River overflow diversion starts. I crossed the diversion channel on Highway 1 and was amazed that the water level was so high it was touching the bottom of the bridge. I could see why people were so worried about it, especially as that area of Manitoba is so flat that any breach of flood defences would cause flooding over a huge area. It would be on a scale that would make the floods in the UK look like a small puddle!
Further along the way to Russell, I thought I’d better have a go at riding on gravel again. In Manitoba it’s super easy to find gravel roads. Because all the roads are laid out in a grid pattern in 1 mile squares, I simply checked the road each mile to see if it was gravel and that my GPS showed it connecting to the next road over. I was a bit hesitant to begin with but as I was traveling along a straight road it wasn’t long until I got my gravel legs back again. For people that are nervous about riding on gravel, it really isn’t that difficult. The only secret you need to matter is relaxing and let the bike find its way. With deep gravel the bike will move about a bit, if you tense up and fight the bike you’ll end up lying in the dirt.
My route to Russell took me through the town of Minnedosa, which is close to the Riding Mountain National Park. The river that flows south from the mountain (well, as close as Manitoba gets to a mountain) pass through the town. This river was pretty much over its banks as well and was flooding a small park which had an old diesel train engine on display.
When I arrived in Russell I was met at a gas station by Richard who led me to their house. I didn’t realise before I got there that not only was it Myrtle and Richard and there two sons but they also had their niece visiting then from Scotland… and their dog had just had puppies. By the time I was added to the mix it was a full house! Still, they made space for me to stay a couple of night and made me feel very welcome. That evening Richard said he’d call a couple of friends, that were also adventure bike riders, to come over for a beer. Jokingly I said “oh, is one of them Bernhard?” This surprised Richard a bit as it was Bernhard. I wasn’t so surprised as the guys in Winnipeg had mentioned him to me as someone who may have had space for me to stay if Myrtle & Richard didn’t have space. We had a great evening and Bernhard offered to take me out for a ride on some local trails on a trails bike the next day. I was wanting to get back on the TCAT but the offer was too good to refuse, so I decided to stay in Russell an extra night.
Saturday morning Bernhard came to collect me so we could go and pickup the bike I’d be using. It hadn’t been used in quite a few years and wouldn’t immediately start but after a quick strip down and clean off the carburetor it fired up and ran perfectly. Whilst loading the bike into the back of the truck, Bernhard nearly caught the end of his finger in the brake disc as we ruled the bike forward. Luckily we stopped moving the bike just in time for him to get his hand out of the way. After a break for lunch and to shelter from an epic prairie storm (and I mean epic as in the storm front was 300 miles wide!) we set about loading Bernhard’s bike in the back of his truck to go hit some trails. Having not learnt his lesson that morning, he put his finger in his brake disc again, only this time he wasn’t so quick getting it out! Needless to say the trail riding was off the cards for the rest of the day and instead I was left in a house with 6 children whilst Bernhard was taken to hospital by his wife. I realise that it was a pop pretty extreme situation but I can’t imagine anyone in the UK leaving a stranger alone in their home with their children… or maybe that was the last thing on their mind with the end of Bernhard’s finger hanging off.
The next day was the World Cup final. Although I had planned on hitting the road in the morning, I was persuaded to stay another night and sick around to watch the match and, more importantly, drink beer! Before the match, Richard took me to see the site of historic grain elevators, the local ski hill and some of the flooding in the area. There is a nearby dam on the Assiniboine River, the water was so high that the flow over the spillway was five or six feet deep. The power of the water was so intense you could feel the sound vibrations in your chest and the ground was shaking! Oh, and someone won the World Cup, yay!
Monday, 14th July, I had to get moving, irrespective of whether or not I had a hangover for the night before. Having lost so much time waiting for the bike to be repaired and hanging out with wonderful Richard, Myrtle & family, I had to hit the highway and make a dash across Manitoba and most of Saskatchewan. I would have I Ike’s to have continued from where I crashed but I wouldn’t have been very popular if I wasn’t in Calgary to meet Ingrid when she arrived at the airport. My destination was the tiny town of Kyle which is right in the middle of nowhere. I wish I could recommend it but the only thing going for it was that the hotel was only $29CAD, although the price reflected the fact that it was only used by contractors working on the local oil wells and only had one shared toilet and shower. Still, it was a roof over my head and on the route of the TCAT for me to get back on the trails next morning.