I’m stuck in the middle of Saskatchewan. Paul and I read the weather forecast, hoping that it would be wrong. Unfortunately, it was bang on this morning. We were going to have headwinds the entire day. Not just a little breeze, more of a 20 kph baseline and blasts up to 50 kph. The kinds of wind that will exfoliate your face. Who needs Skoah when you have prairie wind? I thought he had left in the early, early morning like he prefers to do. He must have been equally disappointed and didn’t start until after 7 am. He came to find me to wish me well for the day’s work. I didn’t have a fantastic sleep with giggling neighbours and unpredictable train whistles going off at all hours of the morning. I gathered my things. I seem to have the whole packing and unpacking routine down to an art. I decided to take some neighbourhood back roads and the North Service Road before reconnecting to the highway. I had a quick snack at Tim Hortons before motivating myself to get rolling.
I tried to take a positive approach, which worked well for the first 40 km. I ignored the bike computer and watched the scenery pass by (slowly). At that point, there was a strong southern crosswind and a more minor eastern wind. It was slow going but manageable. There weren’t many stops after Swift Current until I reached Herbert. It was small and charming in that small-town Saskatchewan way.
I didn’t want fast food so I searched for a proper place to eat a meal in Herbert. I discovered the Highway Inn. I know, that sounds like I would get 3-day-old muffins and fruit salad full of cantaloupe. The reviews, however, were positive. I decided to pass by and found that they had both East Indian cuisine and Canadian breakfast. If you know me, I would never turn down Indian food. Never. I wandered away to make some touristy shots and then returned to spice up my life. I had a little panic moment when I realized that my cards and money were missing. After backtracking to my photo scenes, I found that they had been blown away when I unzipped the case to pull out my phone. Money and cards restored, it was curry time.
The owner, chef, and waiter (same person) welcomed me in. I wish I had gotten his name. He was very curious about the bike ride. He proudly showed off the CBC list of must-eat places in Saskatchewan. He made the list! I also found the Star Cafe in Maple Creek on the same list. So some of my food choices aren’t so bad after all… He rehydrated me with my usual chocolate milk and constant refills of ice water. I opted for the butter chicken special. When the enormous tray of food arrived, it reminded me of the platters of food we would get in Nepal. Massive helpings of naan, rice, a velvety curry along with some bonuses that I hadn’t expected like a chickpea curry, somosas, and a green salad. I was really satisfied with the meal. It was one of the rare times that I couldn’t eat all of the rice and naan.
Initially I was the only patron, but a stream of local eaters slowly trickled through. The most interesting of them all was Ann, a retired nurse living on a farm about 10 km down the road. You know, the one with the trees that cross on the horizon. Isn’t it clear? She proudly told me that she still runs and rides her bike to town on occasion. She seemed genuinely interested in my bike ride and my future as a paediatrician. She left me with a few simple words that carried a lot of meaning. She told me to “enjoy” which reminded me that it’s not all about covering ground and fighting headwinds. When we parted ways, she said, “have a nice life”. She said this expression a few times. We had a few goodbyes before it was final. It reminded me that I get to meet all of these interesting people for a few seconds or a few minutes. I will probably never see them again. There’s something sad about that, but I hope that both of us take something away from the encounter. I would have snapped her photo, but I didn’t think she would stand for it.
The rest of the trip was more of a direct path against the headwinds. Some stretches were worse than others, as expected with bends or changes in trajectory. I entered an area with massive salt lakes. I first came across Reed Lake on a particularly bad stretch of wind. I wish I could have enjoyed it more, but the wind was so strong that there were wakes forming on the lake water! The ducks appeared concerned. I trudged along and stopped for breaks and photo ops. The salt formations were especially striking. Pedal, more wind. Pedal, more wind.
I made the last stretch to Chaplin and stopped at the well maintained Nature Centre. Sipping a chilled root beer, I learned about the local ecology and mineral industry. It was a good way to rest the legs after a hard day of leg work. As I was leaving, I heard someone calling my name. Now, I’m certain that Paul and Nola are stalking me. They decided to call it a day in Chaplin and pulled into the Nature Centre to scope it out. No point in fighting wind for hours and hours. We shared a campsite at one of the… less maintained…um…rustic, yeah rustic…campsites that I’ve been to. As a break from riding, they drove me around town. The entire tour took about 3 minutes since there are a total of 8 roads here. We grabbed some groceries and spent most of the afternoon and evening talking and eating. We’ve only known each other for 2 days, but have a lot of shared experience. Nola graciously made a delicious pesto chicken pasta dish for dinner. We knew we would part ways in the morning. They’re heading south to North Dakota. I stubbornly plan to do a portion of Manitoba. I’m so fortunate to have met Paul and Nola. We shared our info so they can continue to stalk me – and vice versa now! They helped make the Prairies and even those goddamn headwinds fun. I’m glad to be stuck here with them.
Start time: 08:02
Finish time: 14:54
Riding time: 4 hours, 39 minutes
Distance: 92.31 km
Total distance: 1743.22 km
Elevation gain: 443 meters
Total elevation: 12479 meters
Average speed: 19.9 km per hour
Maximum wind gust speed: 56 km per hour