135km North Battleford to Warman
Under a darkening sky in the farming town of Radisson, we were just packing a bottle of wine into our bags and getting ready to make a run for the campground when a wiry man in his 70s rolled up and blocked our way with his own bicycle.
“Where are you guys travelling to?” he asked, his eyes scanning our bikes with unusually keen interest.
We didn’t really want to chat. Rain was coming. That much was painfully clear. But with no option for a polite escape, we answered his first question. We’d barely finished speaking when we were interrupted by a flood – not from the sky but rather a deluge of words, rushing out of our new friend’s mouth.
“The Olympics,” he began before moving on to how he had no stomach and used to be a world class runner and wasn’t supposed to drink tea but he did and how he worked as a pastor in Afghanistan and routinely used to eat breakfast with John Diefenbaker, Canada’s 13th prime minister, and how he’d been saved by God and still wore his wedding ring even though his wife divorced him because marriage is forever but she was a Ukrainian girl and and how he once worked as a teacher in the far north of Canada and how he lived here because the water was good and you couldn’t get good water everywhere in Canada and how sometimes there was hail and we’d better watch out because the hail around here could kill a man and wasn’t the route we took through Oregon great because he thought it was because he had a PhD in geography and on and on and on….
And through all of this, with barely a pause for breath, we were having our own stream-of-consciousness moment, simultaneously wondering how much of what he was saying had any truth in it and how it was that we attract people like this (it seems to happen a lot, especially in small towns) and wishing we could just get away but without really knowing how to do it.
We should have just gotten on our bikes and left, we said afterwards, but at the time we didn’t. We just stood there with stupid grins on our faces and said a million uh-huhs as the avalanche of words kept coming our way.
Maybe it was something about being polite and not interrupting that held us back or maybe it was that this man’s never-ending speech was mesmerizing in its own way. Almost hypnotic. But still, that sky was getting darker so when another local interjected and told us that the whole area was on tornado alert we almost hugged him in thanks for providing the distraction and excuse that we needed to make a run for it.
With a quick thanks for the warning we rushed off to the campground. A strong gust of wind brought driving rain just as we turned in the driveway and we sheltered in a small wooden structure for several minutes, watching two swallows dip and dive between their nest and the trees and the 3 baby birds that poked their heads up every time mama and papa came back with a moth for dinner. And as we watched this natural wonder, we thought of the tornado and just how inadequate our cover would be if a twister did happen to swoop down on us.
All along our route since leaving Edmonton, we’ve been constantly reminded of ‘Tornado Alley” – the nickname of this area – and how we should be ready to jump off our bikes and into a ditch at a moment’s notice if we see a funnel cloud coming our way. But this time the storm was all build-up and no climax as it slowly dissipated and allowed the sunshine to come back a few minutes later.
Now it was time to make our evening campfire, something we didn’t do at all for the first 2 years of this trip but which has recently become our new favourite thing so Andrew carefully arranged the wood just like he was taught in Boy Scouts and I got the paper and twigs to start the fire and soon we were baking our potatoes in it and dreaming of the banana boats we’d make for desert.
Life was good and tranquil and then Andrew spotted our friend across the field. He was jogging through the campground. “Don’t turn around,” said Andrew. “Just be quiet and hopefully he won’t see us,” but sure enough he was on our case and no more than 5 minutes later his workout was over and we were in yet another of those conversations without end, with no tornado warnings to rescue us this time. Our only escape was the tent but just diving into it in mid-sentence seemed rude so we smiled ’till our jaws ached and I was just about to ‘go to sleep’ and leave Andrew to fend for himself when something quite amazing happened.
A friend we hadn’t seen in 17 years and who we didn’t even know lived in this area rolled up to take us home for the night. How did she know we were here? People just know things in this part of the world, where word gets around, so soon our tent was put away, our bikes were in the back of a truck and we were being hauled away from our chatty visitor to a farm just outside town. We would sleep that night in the heated playhouse. Sleep only came, of course, after a good long chat and several home baked muffins and when it did come it was wonderful to sink into that air mattress and just relax in the silence of the night, after what had been a very noisy day.