Sun 22nd February – Monday 23rd February
When I woke up on Sunday morning, I didn’t expect to be ticking two things off my ‘Things to do in Canada in Winter list’. After having quite the feast for breakfast with their friends and family, and casually mentioning in conversation that we’d missed our chance to do dog sledding in Canmore, we soon found ourselves out in the country, rounding up dogs to pull a sled.
Turns out that Dwight used to do dog mushing with his friend, who still runs the business, so he drove us out there to have a go. Unfortunately he couldn’t locate his friend, but he knew it wouldn’t be a problem taking us out. The one problem we did have however, was selecting the right dogs. When it comes to dog sledding, you have different dogs for different places in the team, dependant on their abilities, a bit like in football or rugby. Lead dogs are at the front, swing dogs are behind the lead, wheel dogs are right in front of the sled, and team dogs are in between the wheel dogs and swing dogs. It was basically pot luck if we got the right dogs, but it wasn’t the end of the world if we didn’t; it would just result in a little more chaos.
Dwight rounded up eight dogs, along with the help of Ed, and got them all in to their harnesses. They were a lively bunch, and I had to stand on the brake firmly to make sure they didn’t shoot off prematurely, so to speak.
Before I knew it we were off, with me sitting in the sack, and Ed and Dwight on the back. It wasn’t super fast, due to all the weight they were carrying, but it was still great fun and I loved it. I particularly enjoyed the downhill sections in the forest, especially if there was a corner at the end.
After the forest we went round a massive frozen lake, before returning back in to the bushes.
Ed jumped off to take a photo at one point, and it was amazing what a difference it made to the speed. It was fun going faster, but I don’t know if I’d ever be ready to go it alone.
Ed and I swapped places on the way back, and it was good to get a different perspective, having a completely different experience standing up as opposed to sitting down.
It was becoming apparent as time went on that we perhaps hadn’t won the dog lottery. The dog on the right nearest the sled constantly kept looking back at me, somewhat confused. Another one kept farting, which of course was when I was in the seated position. And when we came to a split where we had to turn left, they all stopped dead in complete confusion, with most ignoring Dwight’s command to turn left, either trying to go right or going no-where at all. This all added to the experience though, and kept us amused as we took the final stretch back to base.
The fun wasn’t over however, as we had to get the dogs out of their harnesses and back in to their kennels. Dwight made this look particularly easy, encouraging me to have a go myself. Let’s just say that it’s easier said than done, especially if you don’t have much experience with dogs, and the one you choose keeps jumping up and trying to lick your face.
After all that excitement and fresh air, we headed back to Kylie and Ernie’s house. Ed and Dwight decided to go to the hardware store to find some pipe to relocate my air filter, while I set about taking my bike apart ready for their return. It didn’t take too long, and with the help of a carb spinner and some flexible curved pipe, we spun my carb round and had the air filter pointing out sideways, protected behind the leg shield.
By the time we’d finished that it was time for dinner, and Kylie had cooked up yet another delicious meal. Their brother Corey and Dwight’s wife and daughter came over too, and it was great to spend some more time with them, they were a pleasure to be around.
After dinner, around 8pm, it was time to tick another thing off the list: Ice fishing. Corey had a hut on the frozen lake, and had very kindly offered us the use of it for the night. I think everyone thought we were mad turning down a bed in a warm house for a sleeping bag in a cold hut, but it was an opportunity that we didn’t want to miss. Dwight gave us a lift to the lake, where we met Corey, and they both helped us to get settled in.
The main mission was drilling the hole, and I was particularly pleased to discover that the ice was so thick that machine could only just get through it. Once the hole was drilled, they then showed us how to use the wood stove and the fishing rods, before giving us some bait and tips and leaving us to it.
It’s amazing how long you can stare at a hole, waiting for something to happen. We did this for quite some time, until we got bored and watched a film. After an hour and a half there were still no signs of any fish. On several occasions I thought my line had a nibble, but after finding that it never happened when it was in the holder, we came to the conclusion that I just had a shaky hand.
Just as we were about to give up, the unthinkable happened, we caught a fish. Well I say we, Ed actually caught it, but I like to think that my bait helped to lure it in. Ed slowly reeled it in, and we soon discovered that he needn’t have worried about the fish potentially being too big for the hole; it was rather small. It was still a fish though, and got just as much excitement out of me as a big one would have. Ahem. ‘It’s a fish! It’s a fish! We’ve got a fish!’ Ed then asked a very good question, ‘How do we kill it?’, ‘Erm, I don’t know’, I replied, ‘They didn’t tell us what to do if we caught one!’. By the time we’d decided what to do with it, it’d already frozen to death, so we left it outside on the ice.
At least catching a fish meant that we could finally go to bed. We were both happy with just the one catch, and seeing as we were both shattered and Corey was picking us up at 7am, bed seemed very appealing.
It was a very cold night, but thankfully I’d decided to sleep in my insulated suit. This made sleeping more comfortable as far as being warm in the night goes, and the morning easier as far as getting up goes. It had hit -34C, and unfortunately due to there being no insulation in the roof, any heat that had been produced by the wood burner was gone shortly after it went out, which was shortly after we’d fallen asleep.
It was a beautiful morning, with the sun gently rising over a sea of white. We don’t often get to see sunrises, so I really relished that one. There’s a certain calm at that time of the morning, and part of me missed it. Ed however wasn’t amused with the early morning wake up call, but at least all we had to do was drag our stuff to Corey’s truck and get a lift to a warm house; it could be worse.
Soon back at the house, we had some breakfast before packing our stuff up. Dwight then popped over in his lunch break, and kindly prepared and cooked the fish for us. Despite there not being much of it, it was absolutely delicious, leaving me wishing that we’d caught a bigger one. Dwight soon had to get back to work, driving the school bus, so we said our last goodbye and he went on his way.
Kylie popped back on her lunch break too, and said that if we needed to stay another night then it was no problem at all, which was very much appreciated. Kylie was wonderful, as was Ernie, and them and their family had looked after us so well, and made us feel so at home. They’d also helped us have a true Canadian winter experience, which neither of us would ever forget.
And we weren’t the only one’s that they looked after, as Ernie and Kylie had a daughter, called Ayla. Ayla was eight years old, but had been born severely disabled. She had been born with a small brain, and small organs, which despite being in proportion with her small body, caused her multiple health problems. If I’m completely honest it broke my heart to watch them with her, with Ayla unable to talk and tell them that she loved them, but I had nothing but complete admiration and respect for Kylie and Ernie. I couldn’t even begin to imagine how hard it must be for them, living day to day, but they did the best they could for Ayla, giving her the best life that she could possibly have. And not only did they take care of Ayla, but they also took care of their friends and family around them, and random strangers that they met in a restaurant. I think that says a lot.
We wanted to have a ride on the frozen lake and get some footage, and a guy called Chris from the Dryden Observer had been in touch about an interview, so we decided to kill two birds with one stone and meet him on the lake.
Fortunately an ice road had been created, crossing the lake, so getting on to it wasn’t a problem. We soon spotted Chris, next to where some people were doing ice-kiting, and had an enjoyable interview chatting in his car, before riding down the road so he could take some photos.
After Chris had left, we rode back to where they were ice-kiting to get some footage. It was fun watching them flying along on their boards, before flying up in to the air and coming gracefully back down. I loved the fact that there was so much to do in the winter in Canada; Snowmobiling, snowboarding, downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and ice kiting to name but a few.
We continued on down the ice road admiring the various fishing huts that people had put up. There were shabby looking garden sheds, glorified garden sheds, brilliantly painted garden sheds, and the odd caravan thrown in for good measure. It was most certainly a popular activity, although we’d heard that it was more about watching sports and drinking beer than about fishing.
Returning to my bike after taking some photos, I noticed that my oil leak was back. Obviously pushing the seal back in and hoping for the best hadn’t been enough.
I made a mental note to take another look at it when we found a garage, and proceeded to spend the next five minutes practising how to power slide. It was great fun, and the perfect surface to practice on. I’m not sure that Ed was as impressed as I was with my new found skill, probably because it feels more impressive than it looks. Like when you go over a jump and feel like you got serious air, only to find out that you were only off the ground by about two inches.
As soon as we rode off the lake, Ed noticed that there was something wrong; he had a flat rear tyre. And he wasn’t the only one with something wrong, as I discovered that my bike wouldn’t go over 15mph without dying. We limped to a local garage, where they kindly let Ed change the tube over. Unfortunately it couldn’t be patched up, as the valve had been torn out, so this left us with a problem; no spare tube.
Fortunately for us Dwight drove past in the school bus, and spotting me and my bike outside, he stopped to see if he could help. After several phone calls he located a tube, and half an hour later the guy called Leo hand delivered it to us, kindly donating it to the cause for free.
Time was getting after all this, and with my bike unable to go over 15mph, we decided to take Kylie up on her kind offer and stay another night. We went back to her house, and after some investigating, discovered that the curved pipe we’d used on the air filter was too narrow, and wasn’t letting enough air in. Ed was busy indoors as I took it all apart, and needing help to reposition it, I left the carb and fuel pipe hanging while I investigated my oil leak. I soon discovered that the seal had popped back out again, and that this was due to the breather pipe being blocked with ice; it was causing too much pressure in the crank case and was popping the seal out. At least it was an easy fix though, and after carefully clearing the ice out with a screwdriver, I was back in action, ready to tackle whatever tomorrow had to throw at me.