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Friday, 20 June 2014 00:00

Winded and weary in Winnipeg

DouglasWINNIPEG -- I’m so-o-o tired, my mind is on the blink! 

John Lennon could have been singing about me. Pretty much since I left Calgary eight days ago, I’ve been battling unceasing, unrelenting winds -- bashing me, beating me and, I’ll admit -- at least tonight -- getting the best of me. I can’t remember being this fatigued, drained, drowsy. 

 

That’s what makes the wind the most dangerous hazard I’ve encountered since I left home a month and 6,000 kilometers ago. 

Just keeping the Bike-a-Lounger -- my ‘01 BMW K1200 -- upright and aimed in the right direction requires heeling it into the cross-wind! Until the wind unexpectedly drops for just a moment and I’m forced to physically horse it back on line. My arms are killing me from the constant exertion. 

And it’s not just the wind -- gusting upwards of 70 kmh, according to Environment Canada. The buffeting gusts generated by the seemingly endless truck traffic, all the way from Fort MacLeod in eastern Alberta’s Crowsnest Pass, through Lethbridge and Medicine Hat, on to Maple Creek, Swift Current, Moose Jaw, Regina and Estevan in southern Saskatchewan, east to Brandon, Manitoba and all the way to Winnipeg, where I find myself curled up under the covers and sipping a hot whiskey to ward off the chill. That’s a lot of wind and a lot of trucks. 

truck
Those big-rig drivers must think I revere them as royalty, as I bow down into my windscreen every time I meet yet another King of the Road. 

Much as I respect these guys who deliver virtually everything to everywhere, Im actually cursing them for every jarring, bike-shuddering, teeth-chattering, neck-snapping pass! 

The wind also figures in another worrisome road hazard -- birds! Every time I pass a little slough, pond, dugout -- even Old Wives Lake, the largest body of water (and bloody bird sanctuary) I’ve seen since leaving the West Coast -- the quieter-than-most-bikes Beemer scares the ducks, Canada geese, gulls, redwing blackbirds, Baltimore Orioles and every other avian being into the air. 

“Duck! It’s a goose!” is no longer funny! 

My friend and sometime riding companion Darcy and I know well what can happen to a biker involved in a bird strike. We sometimes ride in a United Way charity ride organized by PCL unit Melloy in Nisku, AB. Each time, they have along someone who benefits from the United Way’s fundraising efforts. 

This is one of the scariest tales I’ve ever heard from a fellow motorcyclist! (Odd, but I couldn't find it in the Edmonton Journal archive!)

tire
The natural and man-made blasts of wind that smash into the bike like an invisible punch in the gut are, for the most part unavoidable. But surely they can do something about the tire treads that litter the roadsides -- and in one scary case just outside Regina, the roadway itself. 

I was behind a B-train, a semi-truck pulling two 16-meter-long trailers. that's nearly 120 feet of road hog!

I was well back, a good three car lengths, bearing in mind that if you can’t see the truck’s mirrors, the trucker can’t see you! Good thing, too, since just as the trailer cleared it, I spotted a retread lying directly in my path! 

Evasive doesn’t begin to describe my actions. Relying on a manoeuver I was taught in a safe cycling course years ago -- on a bike a quarter the size of the BMW -- I leaned hard left and forced the bike hard right and just barely missed the damn thing! 

Scared and shaking, I pulled over on the shoulder and taking a chance even on the largely deserted road, I walked back and ran into the road and lifted the death trap out of harm’s way. 

Those things weigh about 20 kilos and solid rubber!! Don’t want to think what might have happened if I’d hit it. 

In this case, I cursed the soul of the rat bastard who left it in his or her wake. I suppose there’s no way they could have known they just shed a tire, but that didn’t matter to me at the time! Still doesn’t!

Which brings me to another hazard, this one largely of my own making -- anger mixed with arrogance.

After leaving Regina on Monday, I headed southwest through Weyburn

T.C. Douglas
It’s the hometown of the man voted the Greatest Canadian, prairie preacher and populist politicianT.C. Douglas. Tommy, as he was known by all, believed that no one should have to die because they couldn’t afford basic health care. His efforts led to universal medicare system in Canada, a factor that until only receently, helped distinguish us fro m out neighbours to the south. (That and -our endings!)

I only stopped to snap a few pix and headed out without spending a nickel in what’s known as Canada's largest inland grain terminal. 

I’m not sure Tommy would be proud of this or this. I’m sorry, Weyburn, but sometimes you have to vote with your wallet and I chose not to support any business in your town. 

Coincidentally, Weyburn was also home to W.O. Mitchell, the author of the Canadian classic Who Has Seen the Wind?. Sorry, Bill, it’s a great read, but you can keep your effing wind!! 

But that’s not what got my dander up. My visit to Estevan had no other purpose than what I had long hoped would be a day of bass fishing in the Boundary Lake Reservoir that straddles the U.S. border. The warm water from SaskPower’s  electricity generating plants makes it possible for largemouth bass to survive the area’s bitter cold winters. 

The oil and gas boom in southern Saskatchewan has not only shredded the province's rural roads. It has also lured a sizeable portion of the working population from other less well paid employment. 

I don’t have a federal boater’s licence and was prepared to hire a guide and boat to take me out for a day of bass-harassing. But I couldn’t find a guide or even a tackle shop.

As it happened, I was probably saved a very wet and possibly dangerous experience. The warm and bright weather met up with an advancing cold front and I was treated to as ferocious a rainstorm as I’ve seen in a good long while. 

I watched it with a young fellow who was thrashing 1,000 or more clicks a day from his home in Cochrane, AB, to visit family and friends in the Parry Sound, ON, area. We sat for a while, even as the first fat raindrops pelted us, comparing his stripped-down 800cc Triumph Tiger adventure-touring bike and my much more luxuriously appointed BMW. 

Luckily, we had already checked into the “budget” motel that cost us $150 a night, since the demand for rooms from the oilfield workers -- not always affectionately referred to as “rig pigs”-- means hotel chains can charge a premium rate. 

My disappointment sharpened into frustration then anger as I tried first one, then a second, then a third gas station, where technical glitches -- on their end -- defied my attempts to pay-at-the-pump. “Same all over,” said one fellow at a commercial-accounts-only pump. “There’s just nobody left who knows anything about anything. They’ve all gone to the oil patch."

Fuming, I tore out of the last gravel-strewn station forecourt, nearly dumping the Beemer in the process. Things didn’t improve at the station in Bienfait (pronounced BeenFate in this part of the world) that only sold regular gas. The K1200 hates any fuel but high-octane premium. 

 
Hirsch Cemetery
 Heading east, bound for the Saskatchewan-Manitoba line, my fourth province and fourth time zone, I came upon a historic Jewish cemetery. What was a Jewish cemetery doing in the middle of nowhere? Well, this is what.

As I walked through the lovingly restored stones and markers in the well-tended -- and sheltered -- plot, I calmed down and resolved not to let the petty disappointments of the moment cloud my judgement. Serenity, peace and patience!

stoneToo soon to join the Hirsch Colonists just yet.I was nearly on fumes by the time I got to Carlyle, SK, more than 100 kilometers to the north and east. If I’d run out of gas in this isolated part of the gret Canadian plains, it would have been my own damn fault.

 
And that will have to do for now. The warm Irish whiskey has worked its magic and I’m too pooped to pontificate further. Good nght all.

 

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Last modified on Thursday, 26 June 2014 14:07

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