675km Dauphin to Baudette
“Raindrops keep fallin’ on my head
And just like the guy whose feet are too big for his bed
Nothin’ seems to fit
Those raindrops are fallin’ on my head, they keep fallin’
So I just did me some talkin’ to the sun
And I said I didn’t like the way he got things done
Sleepin’ on the job
Those raindrops are fallin’ on my head, they keep fallin’
But there’s one thing I know
The blues they send to meet me won’t defeat me
It won’t be long till happiness steps up to greet me”
It’s 6am on Friday and rain is drumming away on our tent. At first we try denial. We roll over and simply hope it will go away. It rained two days ago as well and we weren’t impressed. An hour later and the rain is still coming down. The radio confirms our worst fears.
“Expect rain all day long,” says the weather forecaster. “And it’s been the worst summer on record here in Manitoba. That’s 8 straight months of below average temperatures,” he adds for good measure.
The morning radio show hosts chatter away about the good side of the unusually damp weather. There are fewer mosquitoes and libraries are busy like never before. Meanwhile, we discuss our options over granola and coffee. Being cooped up in a tent all day in a rustic campground is hardly attractive. We poke our noses outside. Maybe it’s not quite as bad as we thought – a little wet, but that’s what raincoats are for, right? We decide to make a go of it.
An hour down the road and the rain is still coming down but with 3 layers of clothing on we’re warm enough and trying our best to keep our spirits up. We tell silly jokes. We remember all the other days we cycled in the rain. And then we make up bad country music songs and sing them in our best twangy western accent. Happily we’re in the middle of nowhere and there’s no one around who has to suffer through our performance.
The wind decides to join in the fun and soon it’s too noisy to talk through the blustery gale. When we spot a convenience store we’re elated and we rush inside, dripping a small stream of water behind us. Heads turn. The next man in the door takes the attention off us by loudly asking, “Does anyone know how to turn off the tap out there?” Everyone is sick of the rain.
We fix our eyes on the coffee machine and then the fried chicken – not normally a meal we’d go for but anything will do if it lets us sit at the tables for an hour or so to dry out. As we wring the water out of our gloves, the owners chat to us between customers. They’ve owned this place for 20 years. “Well, actually, the bank still owns most of it,” they say. And apparently business isn’t too bad, being at the junction of two highways. “Just watch out when you cross that intersection,” they warn us. “Folks don’t always notice the stop sign.”
The rain doesn’t slow at all over lunch so when we finally venture outside again we’re soaked within minutes and by the time we reach Arborg – some 70km down the road from where we started that morning – we see a hotel and our dedication to budget living totally crumbles.
Well, Andrew holds out a little bit. “We just need to….” his voice trails off. “I mean, money. We need to be careful.” He’s looking at me. I am resolute. We are going in that hotel. We can’t camp with wet clothes and a wet tent and nowhere to dry out or eat or cook. “Let me just check it out,” I say. It’s $55 and clean – a bargain in Canada. By now, Andrew has totally come around. “Fine!” he says, more eager to get in the door than I am. Soon we are spread out on the bed, watching mediocre cable TV with the heater on full blast. Life is wonderful again.
The next few days pass by in a blur. A tailwind sweeps us into Gimli – home of Canada’s largest Icelandic community – and we aren’t going to stay but we do have a phone number of friends of friends who offered us a place for the night. Maybe we can just go for coffee. We call them and make plans to meet. It doesn’t take long for Sarah and Carry to win us over with their tales of touring in Britain in the 1980s and soon they’ve convinced us to stay. We enjoy a tour of the town and the Icelandic festival with them, a stellar Sunday morning breakfast and then we’re off again, determined to make a bit of time. It’s already August and winter is coming. We have many miles left to cover.
We fly through Birds Hill Provincial Park, where a man named Ed quizzes us all about bike touring and shares his dream to do a big trip too one day, and on to the hamlet of Landmark, where a bakery owner opens his shop just for us and sells us cinnamon rolls and cookies at half price. As we’re leaving, he slips a chicken pot pie into our hands. Free.
“How in the world are we going to cook it?” we ask each other as we ride through Steinbach and on to Zhoda, where we stop at a scrap yard to ask for water. “Oh that’s easy,” says the lady, giving us directions on how to cook a pie in a frying pan as she reaches for the garden hose. She’s right on the mark and that night we tuck into one of the best meals we’ve had on the road – perfectly browned chicken pot pie.
The winds are still on our back on Tuesday and our day is filled with more interesting encounters. There’s the couple we met in a rest area who tell us all about dehydrating food (they make all their own meals for long canoe trips) and hunting for grouse and then there’s Bailey, a fellow cyclist who caught up to us on one of his training rides and goes to Italy every year to stay in a hotel just for cyclists.
By that evening we’re across the border, once again in a hassle-free crossing where no one seems to care at all about all our bags or the fact that we haven’t showered in 3 days, and camping in Minnesota. As long as the winds keep blowing from the northwest we’re in good shape to make speedy progress.