October 23, 2007 GMT
Across the prairie

West to The Rocky Mountains

Leaving Timmins I returned to the main highway and headed west once more in fine weather. Stopping first at Vermillion then Lake Nippingon on Lake Superior

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Sunset from a prairie motel

I eventually left the mountains and hills behind when I entered Manitoba east of Winnipeg. I skirted the city and finally called into a motel in Portage la Prairie where I decided to stay over the weekend. Michael and Kim made me most welcome and we had very interesting conversations. Michael has travelled the world as an employee of a cruise line and had visited Europe many times.

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Michael and Kim

During the afternoon I walked around the town with itís man made lake to get a better feel for a Canadian prairie town. The lake had a very pleasant footpath walk around it and is a favourite with the locals.

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Lake Portage la Prairie
The other thing I find regretful is the need to sling wires everywhere, but when the ground is frozen and covered in feet of snow every winter, it would be silly to bury them as we do in Britain.

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Town Hall, Portage la Prairie

Michael spends quality time with his son Aaron on a Sunday afternoon, while Kim remains to tend the motel, and he invited me to join them for a tour of Winnipeg. I jumped at the opportunity and the three of us set out to see the sites that tourists donít usually get to see. First we went to the rich area and saw the multimillion dollar houses of the rich before seeing the opposite end of the housing in some of the poorer areas, the places where the taxis will not go. I was very disappointed to see that many of the poor were First Nation peoples and could not see why they would give up their free land and housing on their reservations for the grime of the city. I know which location I would choose, and it would not be the city. After a chilli-dog at their favourite street venue, we returned to Portage la Prairie. Michael suggested that a good way to get into the Rockies would be through Saskatoon and Edmonton along Highway 16.

The following morning I set of in gusty conditions across this prairie road. Riding in gusty condition is a pig, but somehow I avoided the thunderstorms that were roaming across this flat landscape. The towns in this part of Canada are usually off to one side of the main highway and reached by a service road, most of which were gravel. Gusty winds and gravel, not good, still I only needed one fuel stop and found a town that the highway went through without the gravel service road. Now I am quite interested in agriculture, having worked in the industry for many years, but even for me the scenery lost itís appeal after two days riding.
Entering Saskatoon I was faced with diversions and soon got hopelessly lost. I had just decided to travel on when I caught sight of the blue and red logo of the Motel 6 that I had been searching for. I found to my dismay that my main credit card failed and paid cash, deciding on a 3 day stay so that I could find out why. The next day I took a taxi into the main shopping area and made my way to the main bank that dealt with my card. There they confirmed that the card was not allowing any credit, so I changed some of the US dollars I had on me for Canadian dollars. After a walk around the classy shops in the mall and the downtown area, I returned to the motel and purchased a couple of phone cards. During the evening I checked my emails, and lo and behold an email from the credit card company trying to contact me. Next morning I got through to them and it seems that all my bills for medical expenses and motorcycle repairs had been presented at the same time!! I guessed that those concerned had waited until the end of the month before presenting them. A swift call to my son and some fund transfers would fix the problem.
After consulting my map, I decided that I could swing south of Edmonton and then west so avoiding the city. After reaching the Alberta borderline in fine weather, I was pleased to see the scenery start to change and get hilly, also I began to see the odd nodding donkey pumping oil from the ground. The farms also began to change with livestock beginning to take precedence. This was the start of cowboy country. As I headed for my days destination, Drayton Valley, the fir trees slowly began to once more become apparent.

The next day dawned with clear skies and it wasnít too long before I got my first view of the distant mountains as I headed for Jasper. I cannot help it, but mountains make my heart beat faster, and this wall of mountains stretched both north and south across my route. I had intended to stay in Jasper, but it looked too expensive for me, and after a snack break I headed south looking for a campsite, my first since Nova Scotia! This late in the season many of the smaller sites are closed, and before I knew it I was at the junction I needed to take towards Red Deer where I had an offer of accommodation. Pulling in for fuel, I decided that the motel here, whatever the price, was in such a beautiful location, that I would stay here regardless. I was right, it was more expensive than average, and the food was also a couple of dollars more than elsewhere, but everything was well worth the extra few dollars.
With my back to the mountains I came out of the mountains along one of the most beautiful roads I have travelled with turquoise lakes outlined by the dark green tree line against the white rock faces. I only wished that I had a working camera with me, as by now all were either lost, broken or uncharged.
Red Deer was a shock, all that traffic and those junctions, I had not imagined it as being so big. I had an address but no idea where it was. Eventually I bought a map and with incredible luck met my host Stephen as he got out of his car outside his house, while I vainly asked those locals on the street if they knew where the address was. Even those a hundred yards down the street didnít know, but seeing me make my way hesitantly down the street he waved and called to me and there I was in an oasis of calm and normality. Oh joy!

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Sitting with a beer in Stephens garden.

Posted by Derek Fairless at October 23, 2007 06:31 PM GMT
 

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