The Prairie provinces are wrongly accused of being boring by some. Many people—cocooned inside of a vehicle with air conditioning, stereos, movies for the children and other gadgets—miss the beauty of this region. The sight of and the sweet smell of the bright yellow canola fields and the odour of fresh-cut and drying hay in the summer’s sun is so relaxing. Seeing farmers on their tractors always elicited a wave from me thanking them for their efforts, and they always waved back.
Paradise for the outdoorsman
For Bruce and I, the trip northeast to Cold Lake, Alberta, and onto inter-provincial Highway 55—aptly named the Northern Woods and Water Route—was exciting. We travelled east through Pierceland, Meadow Lake and Green Lake in Saskatchewan and then into northern Manitoba. We shook most of the traffic, at times owning the road.
Unfortunately, we had to take the bad with the good. Road construction and motorcycles are often at odds. A section of Highway 55 was completely torn up, necessitating a pilot vehicle, one-lane traffic and non-compacted gravel, which created both-feet-down chaos for these two motorcyclists for several kilometres. Then, a huge sigh of relief when we saw the sign that said “end of construction.”
We were in a wilderness littered with lakes—surprisingly, with a road passing through it. The sweet smell of the earth’s moisture from the high water table seemed everywhere. It was paradise to the outdoorsman. There were plenty of activities one could do here, such as fishing, hunting, camping, boating, perhaps even motorcycling, to name a few. The dragonflies that were unfortunate enough to meet the windshield of our ride seemed as large as hummingbirds and they were abundant and stuck like glue.
Stopping for the night
We were heading northeast to the Saskatchewan Highway 106 when we decided to stop and set up the tent for the night prior to riding to Flin Flon, Manitoba. If possible, it’s a good idea to fuel up at the end of your day because tenting will see you up early for a fresh start.
One such fuel stop surprised us; it was a small hub of activity and an obvious stopping-off point for fuel, bait, supplies and the like. There were many vehicles with fishing boats in tow and several of those anglers approached us to inquire about our adventure. It was heartwarming to watch Bruce. I always stepped back and let him tell our story.
The mosquitoes and blackflies owned that night, holding us hostage in our tent until 4:30 the next morning.
It seemed like a good idea at the time
The next day, as we approached Flin Flon, Manitoba, which is a border city between Saskatchewan and Manitoba, it was like some sort of transition. The lakes and forest landscape turned into heavy rock and mining at the flick of a switch. Flin Flon is known for its copper and zinc mining.
We headed into a vast wilderness with large bodies of water, such as Lake Winnipegosis, Lake Manitoba and Lake Winnipeg. I knew amenities would be sparse but we were ready. We carried extra gas, a cooler full of ice, fresh submarine sandwiches, water and all the camping gear. Fuel stops were sparse and we didn't let one pass. I wrongly assumed there would be camping sites readily available but there weren't. We had the gear but we were hesitant to set up camp just anywhere because we were concerned for our safety, due to local wildlife. But we were 1,000 kilometres into a 32º C long day, the bike was running on fumes and we had had enough.
We stopped on the side of the road and I scouted out a potential spot in the wilderness to pitch our tent. Thankfully, a long-haul trucker stopped to check on us. He was from the area and strongly recommended against tenting, noting that the area was being overrun with bears.
Onward we went, and entered a secondary roadway to find gas near by. Unfortunately, the nearest motel was another 150 kilometres away in Gypsumville. It was to be our first and last 1,150-kilometre day!
On the road again
Once we were back on a main road and in touch with civilization, the scenery changed back to more prairie-like. Near Gimli, I noted that sweet smell of canola once more and acres of wheat fields. Some may recall the news of many years ago when Gimli made the front pages with a story about the Gimli glider. A large passenger jet ran out of fuel and the crew landed successfully on an abandoned runway near Gimli. The story is searchable and worth a read.
We navigated north of Winnipeg traffic and chose to head to Ontario through Falcon Lake and West Hawk Lake. The latter part of this ride was a delightful trip through a narrow, twisty back road made for motorcycles.
Onward to the eastern provinces
Stay tuned for the vastness of what seemed like an eternity to pass through Ontario and Quebec. You will learn of the camaraderie between touring bikers and Bruce's part in that. You will also hear of a tragedy involving a motorcycle west of Kenora, Ontario.
Wayne Hamm’s cross-Canada journey was supported by Riverside Honda and Ski-Doo in St. Albert, Alberta.