Pedaling East

Sharon Hawley has finished her bicycle trip in Canada for this summer. She hopes to complete the adventure in another year. Please follow her winter adventure at

Route Map

Route Map

Monday, July 6, 2009

A Tour of Winnipeg

2724 St. Mary’s Cathedral on York Street, in view from my hotel window

Statue of the Hindu deity, Ganesha, in front of the East India Company restaurant on York Street

A classy-looking restaurant flung out over the Red River, attached to the side of the Esplanade Riel a footbridge.

Legislative Building for the Province of Manitoba

Government House, residence of the Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba, 1883 .

Government House, Legislative Building in background.

“Bears on Broadway” polar bear sculptures by Helen Toews, “Because we care.” Canadians are very conscious about the environment.

Louis Riel 1844-1885, leader of the Metis people of the Prairies, president of the nation of Red River, a Canadian folk hero. He is honored here with the Legislative Building in the background.

Elm trees. Dutch elm disease, which has destroyed most of the elms in the United States is still being actively resisted in Canada. Everyone is encouraged not to use elm firewood or to transport its lumber very far.

Assinboine River, looking upstream from the Osborne Bridge. Many of the great cities can say “A river runs through it." The Red river and the Assinboine run through Winnipeg.

Ukranian Canadians were imprisoned in Winnipeg during World War I, simply because of their race. Now, after the nationrepented, their leader is honored in front of the Legislative Building. The United States did not so honor the Japanese after their internment based or race during World War II.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Units of Measure

Canadians buy gasoline for about one dollar a liter. But they talk about fuel efficiency in miles-per-gallon. If you ask an old-timer for the distance to somewhere, he’s just as likely to give it in miles as in kilometers, sometimes adding with a smile, “I’m from the old school.” All the signs show distances in kilometers, save the occasional advertising sign that tries to seem old.

Farmers talk of wheat yields in bushels per acre—100 on average. When they get $1.60 per bushel, as it seems they will, they complain that fertilizer costs $100 per acre. Farmland sells for $50 to $100 per acre, an impossibly high price if buying it for wheat crops.

I entered the prairie at elevation 900 meters above sea level on June 11. Twenty-two days later I am near its edge at elevation 200 meters in the richest farmland the Canadian prairie offers. Many different crops grace the fields here, even corn, that commonest of grain, but the first I’ve seen of it in Canada. You can see in the picture that it will not be ready for the Fourth of July, like mine was in Tennessee, if I planned right and was lucky. Grain has built the lifestyle of this prairie, mostly wheat, mostly spring wheat. Grain has driven the economy for many years.

And the hub of Grain is Winnipeg. I felt sucked into the city on the only road you can take eastward through eastern Manitoba—the Trans-Canada Highway; and even it has a gravel shoulder. Imagine the I-10 Freeway having a gravel shoulder. I avoided it where possible by taking some frontage road or riding on the left side if that shoulder was paved. But mostly I trudged ahead, drawn to the edge of a prairie and a lifestyle.

I felt drawn out of normal life as the city closed in around me, into a place where the order of things has changed. It’s still my life and I recognize it, but people and places have changed. Big businesses live here—car dealerships, computer stores, office buildings—things that seem strangely foreign, even though I used to walk by them almost every day. Drivers honk at each other when annoyed, something you never hear in a small town; he could be your coffee-mate tomorrow morning. Their horns sound like people screaming at each other.

Refined young women flaunt their sophisticated nonchalance. I understand refinement as a point of view but have been away from it so long it irks my sensibilities. I feel like a shoot of spring wheat, insignificant in a field of millions, all just the same. In small towns, people stand taller than wheat shoots.

I will stay in Winnipeg until Tuesday when I fly home.

The ubiquitous raven lives in Winnipeg too

Thursday, July 2, 2009


Light rain met me at the motel door before sunrise in Neepawa. This is the day I would ride to the very doorstep of Winnipeg, stopping for the night in Portage La Prairie, leaving only an 80km day to the end of a long trek. The air was comfortably cool, the wind was nil, and no woman-eating insects came strafing.

Sunrise over Manitoba Plain refracted a rainbow against a drizzling cloud.

A sign of little consequence to the motoring public. Everyone I had asked about this road said it has a good paved shoulder all the way to Winnipeg.

Most of the gravel was compacted and smooth, causing only a 50% reduction in speed. But where the grader had recently worked it, the surface of round rocks was like a floor covered with marbles. See the track where I lost control and the bike where I got up, thankful not to be going fast.

It’s a kind of wilderness experience, riding on rock marbles. Intensely aware of potential soft places, ready to swerve at the first lean of a tire, the first sink of a wheel. I suppose it’s the kind of close watching that soldiers exercize when the enemy could be lurking anywhere. But right beside me, cars and trucks swish by on the smooth pavement, modern luxury traveling beside a jungle nomad.

Wildlife came to join me whenever I stopped to rest. They even liked to ride along with me, darting about my face and legs. Since my speed was reduced by the gravel, they could keep up and seemed to enjoy a traveling feast.

This is the richest farmland in Manitoba. See how much taller the wheat is here than in previous pictures I posted. See how green everything is.

Gravel-riding lasted all day, and the mosquitoes mostly gave up after I put on a dose of deet. But the wind was mild, the rain was not heavy, and all the cars stayed off of my gravel shoulder.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


The Yellowhead Highway (Canada 16) has been a friendly path since I joined it at Yorkton. Its wide paved shoulder has provided plenty of safety and easy riding. On Sunday, traffic was light, although it doesn’t need to be light for pleasant riding. As long as I have my cherished shoulder, riding is unmolested. I assumed it would last all the way to Winnipeg.

I rented a room in Russell, and in the early morning of departure, entered again my private shoulder, my exclusive lane on this major highway, a place on the earth to which I acquired a prescriptive right and on which nobody else rides. I have seen no long-distance cyclists in many days, none since the German back on the Icefields Parkway in British Colombia.

Then the unthinkable happened. My rightful property was confiscated. My paved shoulder turned to gravel. I was deprived of what I had come to expect as a cycling visitor to Canada. At first it didn’t matter very much, before traffic really began. I rode in the driving lane, stopping or veering onto the gravel only when cars came in both directions at the same time. But as the day brightened and traffic increased, I was excluded from the pavement and sentenced like a criminal to the loose gravel shoulder.

I decided to inquire at Foxwarren, which boasts a café and hotel on the internet. But on arriving, I learned that neither exist. I came to the intersection with Highway 83 where the gravel became so loose that riding was impossible. I could walk some unknown distance to where a good shoulder resumed, or I could turn south on 83 and lengthen the ride by going to a road that would continue east. At least I would be away from the heavy traffic. The choice was not pleasant, but it was easy. I went south.

At the town of Birtle, I found an open café and went in. The strangely dressed stranger raised hardly a glance—nobody cared that a cyclist had joined their little circle. When I finished a lonesome breakfast and came out to the bike, the wind had started, and not from the west as forecast—wind pressed into my face from the east.

I rode toward to Shoal Lake, pedaling as slowly as reasonably possible. Wind pressure is lowered with lower riding speed, and to go slow saves energy. Occasionally, the wind would decrease, and I could up-shift to increase speed for a few minutes or seconds before the blast took me back to a cowering velocity.

I came finally to Strathclair, very tired and hoping for a room. The internet shows a hotel, and this time it existed. Otherwise, I would have camped in some field, protected only slightly from wind and mosquitoes.

The Strathclair Hotel was not bad. I carried everything upstairs, above the bar, which they call the beverage room in this part of Canada. My room had a bed and a sink. There was a shower across the creaky-floor hall. I went down to the bar for a beer and a sandwich, and could hardly stay awake to learn that crops are dry, that unless rain comes soon, a lot of money will not be made. Then I lay down on the bed for a few minutes and did not wake up until daybreak. I looked out the window and saw no wind. Surely, I thought this will be a wind-free day.

The dawn mist formed in tendrils, undulating along the prairie in layers, leaving spaces between them—delicate fabrics that melted in the rising sun. Such lacework does not form in even the slightest wind. The lakes still fluttered with birds, the air full of their conversation, the deer never far from view.

But it was not to be. When I began this trip I could not have ridden today. The second day of continual pushing into headwind would have stopped me. Even when I tried to rest beside the road today, I became food to be landed on and consumed by mosquitoes. But over the past six weeks on the road, my body has become tuned for this, and now the trip is almost over. At the start, I would have been in trouble, but now it seems that whatever comes is what I deal with—whatever. I am fortunate to have no physical pains or ailments.

This flower traps small insects in its bowl, scented to smell like me. I thanked it for its kind help along the road.

The wheat is much taller here than it was back west. Still they say it needs rain soon ar the harvest will be scant

I came to Neepawa and took a motel. Tomorrow is Canada’s biggest holiday, July 1. Everything will be closed. I went to the store and stocked up, planning to stay right here until it’s over. I look forward to a relaxing room with lots of internet and no wind.

Wind is Taoist
it makes me like water that bends around rocks
it’s a man who never lets up
where you make do and take the luls

Friday, June 26, 2009


Back in Saskatoon I booked the last low-cost seat on an Air Canada flight to LAX. Since then my face has been set for Winnipeg and the 820 kilometers of sparsely populated prairie between. I planned no forced march, but gave plenty of days for rest and unforeseen difficulties.

I avoided the Trans Canada Highway, diverting southerly through the farmland and small towns, ending in Watrous on the first day since making that decision. The next day I swam in the murky waters of Manitou Lake, which most of you thought looks more like cesspool water than the golden healing dip that has lured visitors since the Indians ruled these lands. Having soaked in the healing fluid, I proceeded southeasterly on another fine day, and the wind was not from the east.

The glacier that made Manitou Lake left many others for my pedaling enjoyment along the way. Waterfowl rose all around me from the marshes as I approached them on roads that see hardly a car. Lakes and ponds dot this part of the prairie, and sounds of the birds who live there or visit there ring in the air. Their calls mix in a kind of harmony, older then instruments. Some birds are curious about the strange new thing entering their territory. They fly circles about my path. Others won’t let me get within photo distance.

Where the earth rises above the wetland, farmers have planted traditional crops of wheat and newer ideas like lentils and canola.

Winter wheat, which you can see headed out in the picture, was planted after last year’s harvest and before the ground froze. It came up a little last fall, then lay dormant under snow in hard frozen ground. At the first sign of spring it started growing again. Spring wheat was planted this spring and it still looks like grass, just a few inches tall.

Canola looks like a weed, but its oil is good for cooking. Canadian cooks don’t care much about its healthy qualities, they use other oils, but canola brings a good price and provides a diversified crop in this cold north farmland.

Lentil plants are tiny and will produce seeds for lentil soup.

I came to Nokomis, the first place with a bed for rent, and checked into the Nokomis Hotel. I unloaded the bike and carried everything up the stairs to my room over the bar. I’m getting used to these old hotel/bars with their bathrooms down the hall. I settled in, took a shower, and went down for a beer. I sat at a long dining room table where half a dozen old-timers were chatting over beers or coffees. They looked at me with suspicion. Canadian small-town people are not curious like their counterparts in the US. When riding across America, I had only to pull up on a bike and the questions came. Here, I have to initiate conversation or read my book alone. I was feeling lonely in Nokomis, without internet, in an old hotel on a gravel road called “Main Street.” Then in walked a farmer in coveralls.

“Been spraying,” he said to nobody in particular.
“Wheat?” I asked.
“I saw a lot of it as I rode the bicycle from the west,” I ventured.
“Don’t ride tomorrow,” he said pouring a cup of coffee from the pot on the bar.
Taken aback, I didn’t how to respond. Of course I asked why.
“We get the shortwave from ‘Environment Weather’ on our tractors.”
“I saw the TV report—nothing unusual there,” I said.
“Don’t believe the TV.”
I waited, worried, hoping he’d explain.
“Wind from the southeast at 40 tomorrow, gusting to 60,” he said in a casual, but understanding voice.
“That’s the worst possible condition for riding,” I said.
“Thought you’d like to know.”

I checked the TV again and discovered that the forecast had changed, and what the farmer had told me was no joke. The smart choice was clear. I had budgeted a few extra days. I should not ride tomorrow, but wait in Nokomis, hoping for change.

But I was lonely, and did not want another day of loneliness. The next known bed was 130km away. After some soul-searching, I called the Ituna Hotel and made a reservation. They didn’t even take a credit card number; most of these old hotels don’t.

I hoped to beat some of the wind by starting early, and to defeat the rest of it by shear determination. At 3:30am the alarm sounded, and by four, I was on the road in first light. Wind was calm, and I made good time to Raymore, where with 87km to go, it seemed the forecast might be wrong. They are often wrong. In the calm morning, birds called and rose from the lakes and marshes when I came too close. A few deer crossed the road, a fox, but no cars.
A barricade presented itself across Highway 15, telling me that construction demands I go on another road and gave me an arrow. The detour went to off somewhere to a vanishing point in the wrong direction. I decided to ignore it and rode around the barricade. It turned out that some construction was ongoing, but today, nobody was working, and I rode through unhampered.

Then Highway 15 turned to gravel, and my speed reduced for its marble-like rocks. But after a few kilometers, all there was to hinder my riding was wind.

When the wind began today, it was gentle from the southeast. I pedaled into it with easy downshifting. When the wind strengthened, it pushed on my face like a hand saying, You can do it but it’s going to be hard. When the wind blew strong from the southeast, and after it had blown hard for an hour, I came upon the Muskowekwan Restaurant with the realization that I could not make the remaining 40km to Ituna. I asked about rooms and learned that in Leross, just ten kilometers further, there is a bar and also a motel.

Oh, another thing, I had been harassed by huge flies whenever I had stopped. They look like houseflies, but are much bigger. And they sting. At least in the restaurant I was free from them and enjoyed a meal before pushing on.

I came to Leross and turned into its dirt street, looking for the motel. I heard a voice behind me say, “You thirsty?” I turned back to a man holding a door open to the bar.

“I’m looking for the motel,” I said.
“This is it.” I looked and saw only a sign for the Bar T Saloon.
“Just roll your bike in here and I’ll fix you up.” The man was sloppily dressed, long beard, red hardhat, and spoke with a slur.

I was too tired to go much further. I had ridden 99km, most of it into the wind. Camping would mean putting up those terrible flies, probably mosquitoes too. I figured I could at least go inside the bar and then decide. As I passed close to the man, a strong alcohol smell increased my suspicion. It turned out that he runs the bar and five or six rooms attached. I could rent one very cheaply and probably be the only tenant tonight. I decided to risk it and to blockade the door of my room with a chair. I paid him and went to bed without dinner.

I left the Bar T Saloon at four in the morning without a weather forecast, with only a look at the sky and a feel for the wind. I had another hundred kilometers to make Yorkton, a large town that would have regular motels. If only the wind would stay favorable.

The wind did not stop me today. It blew from west or north, having none of that terrible southeast direction. And so in Yorkton, in a good motel, I give you this report.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Little Manitou Lake, looks just like the many other lakes I’ve seen dotting the plain since Saskatoon. But its murky waters are three times saltier than the ocean and denser than the Dead Sea. The lake has long been known for its healing properties. Even by the Indians called it “lake of the healing waters.” Even I can float without paddling in its yellow odiferous water. But I did so not believing in the power of these waters to remove obstacles to health.

I headed north from Watrous to the tiny, rather ramshackle resort town of Manitou Beach on the lake’s south shore to relax and bathe in the heated indoor pool supplied with lake water. It was a treat to myself for having come this far and having decided that Winnipeg will be my final destination. Neither of these acts deserve a reward, but a half-day of luxury was irresistible.

It seems an icefield came here from the north and proceeded to melt about twelve thousand years ago. It left pockets and piles on the otherwise level land, like an ancient sand-and-gravel operation. The pockets became lakes, and most of them have mingled their waters with the stream water and groundwater, acting like good lakes should. But Matitou Lake did not mingle. It refused both input from streams and groundwater. It hoarded all the water that came to it from the sky. Over the long time since the ice melted, it has selfishly received and has given only as required by evaporation. But it did not give up the minerals that came with the rain. So, minute as their quantities might be, it has added them all together for twelve thousand years to produce a saline brine in which humans like me come to soak. And I did soak in its yellow, smelly water, and feel better for it.

Can you interpret this sign at the yellow-water pool?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Remover of Obstacles

I took a day off in Saskatoon, and it rained almost the whole day. Those farmers back in Delsie, the ones complaining about the draught, wondering about the biker woman who held up a pea plant in their midst and kept asking city-folk questions—I wonder if they’re in the same café asking what sort of goddess came among them and how she left on that loaded bicycle just before the needed rains fell. Is she, like Ganesha, a remover of obstacles to their harvest?

Meanwhile, as I rode away from Saskatoon this morning, the clouds still hung heavy over the prairie. I stopped in another café, this time in Clavet, where another cadre of old-temers surveyed the results of yesterday’s storm—35mm in Saskatoon, enough to set the peas in high gear. And it rained widespread in Saskatchewan, enough to get all the crops excited.

I rode on the wide paved shoulder of the Yellowhead Highway, a fine biking lane that could lead me safely all the way to Winnipeg. But traffic was heavy, and I wanted to get away from transportation and into the farming country. I wanted to become, for a few days, a part of the Prairie Casino, where bets are placed on huge tracts of land, bets that rain will water the crops, that hail will not trample them, and that the price will hold.

So after Calvet, I turned south onto a narrow paved road headed for Bradwell and enjoyed its quietude. I would follow such roads all the way to Yorktown, I thought, sleeping several nights in small villages along the way. But after Bradwell the pavement stopped and I swerved in loose gravel. A grader came along smoothing the road, (you can see its windrow of newly moved gravel in the photo) taking advantage of the recent rain, which had softened the surface. But the rain had also left muddy places, which I had to maneuver around. It seemed an obstacle removed from the farmers’ path to a good harvest had became an obstacle to my progress.

I came to the village of Allen, where a more major road joins, and where I was certain the pavement would return. But gravel continued another 24km to Young. Something about a long straight gravel road, narrowing to a vanishing point far away on the prairie, often sinks my spirit, as if saying there is no end unless you make one. But after two hours it did end, and I joined a good paved road leading to Watrous, where I write this. It is pouring rain outside, and the No-Vacancy sign has turned on at the motel.

I am leaning toward flying home from Winnipeg around July 9 and deferring the second half of Canada to another year. I am five days behind schedule, and it seems I will not get there by winter. But that is mostly an excuse. Really, I am getting tired and feel homesick. I am part loner and part lover, and maybe the lover is winning out.