Trip Start Jul 12, 2013
16Trip End Oct 01, 2014
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- Every country has a prevailing wind direction.
-This is influenced/impacted upon further by a layer of exceptionally strong atmospheric winds known as the jet stream
-Both stretch across the North American continent from west to east
I'm riding from east to west. It is very windy. Sometimes brutally so.
Despite this general prevalence, I have had many conversations with cyclists, travelling in all directions, who have run in to seemingly incessant headwinds, sometimes we'd even experience it on the same day which is downright bizarre
A headwind, building throughout each morning, has accompanied most days since week one, and especially since reaching Manitoba, however the last few days riding into Regina have been some of the hardest, physically and psychologically of the journey so far.
Two full days of fighting for headway, pedalling in the lowest gears and even being blown backwards wears at the best of spirits. Add in as well the odd thunderstorm, driving hail, blast furnace temperatures.
Yesterday, after hour upon hour of this I will admit to having a complete child like temper tantrum, jumping off the bike, running into a field and raging and railing at the wind.
It made no difference to the weather, but helped me to feel better for a while and amused some passing motorists.
The weather has dominated this stage of the trip. Average daily distances have slowed, in part following a more relaxed pace, but also due to wind, thunderstorms and scorching heat and humidity producing temperatures up to 44 degrees. Cycling for hours on a road that shimmers into the horizon in one long, shadeless rippling ribbon of liquid asphalt. Seven days, 404 miles (650 km), every inch fought for
I have acquired a comrade in arms though. I met up with Ben another UK cyclist just as oblivious to the wind directions, in Winnipeg. He's following a similar route and we have cycled most of this stage together which has certainly made some of tough moments easier to cycle through.
It's also been a journey of small towns with big things, a 15 foot tall camel, looming on on the skyline at Glenboro turned out not to be a fevered hallucination but a sculpture commissioned by the town and named Sara.
After Winnipeg I opted to leave the main highway which bypasses the small towns and to head through farming country on Highways 2 and 48 and into my third province of Saskatchewan.
UK readers will smile when I say I cycled through Norfolk, Holland and Somerset in one afternoon.
Towns marked on the map can be welcome oases of shade, small cafes and convenience stores, they can be non-existent, boarded up buildings or just a town signs, pointing at empty fields. It's a lottery when planning eagerly anticipated rest stops, fantasies of shade and a cool drink can be cruelly thwarted when a town shown on the map just doesn't exist
The landscape is certainly flatter, the current favourite game is "guess the distance of that thing on the horizon", a building which looks nearby can be up to 7 miles away or more. Storms can also be seen approaching from huge distances and lightening is a regular, spectacular feature.
Fields of wheat, barley and canola (which smells like over-boiled cabbage), grass land and acres of sunflowers flow in unbroken seas.
The prairies are not pancake flat though, in fact all roads still seem to obstinately trickle uphill, which I am sure (and my legs are too) is not an optical illusion.
Farming dominates the landscape here and on an enormous scale. I was incredibly lucky to be offered an insight into how 3000 acres of crops are managed. Maria and her husband Miles generously offered Ben and I an evening ride in one if their giant combine harvesters as it finished a 12 hour stint. We spent a wonderful hour at sunset riding high up in the space-age cab of one of these 3 tonne, £250, 000 machines, marvelling at the size and speed of the grain harvest.
Another night was spent on family run cattle ranch
Farming in Manitoba and Saskatchewan is modern, thriving business. Whilst some communities are slowly fading away, others are diversifying and thriving. There has been an influx of Chinese citizens over recent years, buying and farming land and adding to the culture (most town retail consisting of fuel, farm machinery and Chinese restaurants).
Squatting also on the skyline are the hunched, vulture-like shapes of oil pumps, pecking ceaselessly at the soil. One farmer explained that ownership of most land in divided into two, surface rights and mineral rights.
Canada's land ownership laws are a contentious issue, especially for First Nation communities and farmers. Since 1763, following the British acquisition of eastern Canada over 80% of land is owned by the Crown and leased out to various agencies including farming rights.
Most farmers therefore have tenure for the surface land but the mineral rights for the soil beneath are retained by the government
Therefore, if oil is found the government will most likely sanction drilling on current farmland, based on holding the mineral rights. The oil companies do pay rental to farmers for the land space but the machinery can be awkwardly sited, with rigs constantly burning off toxic fumes, spewing great plumes of flame and smoke across the farm land.
My idea if sourcing water from crystal clear streams across the prairies has been quietly debunked. A combination of crop maintenance , oil extraction and mineral mining has taken it's toll rendering ground water undrinkable in many parts.
The prairies are beautiful, vast and wild and continuous. After a total distance of1855 miles (2985 km) so far a rest day in Regina is now more than welcome before heading into the wind once more.
For brightening the way along the road, thank you to Darlene, Rose Harvey and companions, Sean, Barb, Leyna and the all lovely occupants at Brandywood Ranch. To Mariann, Maria, Miles Tydus and Zeke thank you for such a wonderful and unique opportunity. The caravan crew at Maryfield, good luck with the triathlon! To Jean and to Gordon for the much appreciated creature comforts and Ben, for all the alphabet games.