Tues 3rd February – Thursday 5th February
We finally left Michelle and Nevil’s house after about five failed attempts (Please note: if you invite us to stay, you might not be able to get rid of us) It really felt like we were starting a new chapter of our trip, as we finally headed east to tackle the long awaited Prairies.
It was pretty chilly, around -20C, and started snowing about twenty minutes in. This was around the same time that I discovered that my fantastic new snowmobile helmet was utter shite. While the heated visor was working, there was a massive hole under the chin with a pathetic flap of foam over it, and all the icy air was being channeled in and blasted directly in my face; not exactly the deliciously warm helmet I’d hoped for. I did my best to ride one handed while covering the hole with my other hand, but when we finally stopped for lunch I grabbed the Duck Tape and proceeded to plaster it all over the hole and all the vents; my cheeks are red enough as it is, I don’t need any help from frostbite.
My own cold related issues made me feel particularly sorry for some horses that we rode past in a field, with their backs covered with a dusting of snow. They were just getting on with it though, grazing on what little grass they could find.
We soon left the mountains and foothills behind, and the terrain became ridiculously flat. The clouds disappeared too, and gave way to a beautiful big blue sky. We’d been told by several people that there’s an age old saying about the Prairies ‘You can watch your dog run away for three days’, and at that point I knew exactly what they meant. Some people had also told us that it was boring because there was nothing, but I personally thought that it was the nothing that gave it something, it had its own magic.
It reminded me of the Outback in Oz, where you could stand on the spot and spin 360 degrees, with the same view all the way around. As with the Australian outback, the Canadian prairies reminded me that I was on a planet; an awe inspiring feeling.
We stopped to take a photo, and just as we were fiddling around with the camera a Sheriff drove past, immediately putting his lights on and pulling over. ‘Don’t worry’, he said, ‘You’re not in trouble, I just stopped for a chat!’ He was called Brian, and was just intrigued by what we were doing. We chatted for a while, and when asked by Ed what the difference was between RCMP’s and Sheriffs, Brian simply replied with a smile, ‘Well Sheriffs are nicer and more handsome’. And we had to agree with the former, as after leaving Brian turned around and came back again, to present us with our very our Sheriff’s Helper badges. He thought we’d appreciate it, which of course we did.
Moments after Brian had left, another guy called Ryan turned up in a Red Bull van. He’d driven past us when we were speaking to the Sheriff, and thought ‘They look like they could use a Red Bull or two!’ so he’d waited and driven back, just to say hello and give us a few cans.
We continued on, and as we approached our destination the sun set beautifully behind us; a delicious mix of red and orange, melting in to the clouds. And if that wasn’t enough natural magic, the moon began to rise in front of us, getting smaller and brighter as it rose to find it’s place in the black velvet sky above us; a truly magical experience.
The temperature dropped quite considerably as darkness fell, and the next thing we knew the flat plains had gone and we were winding down a valley, where we were promptly deposited in the town of Drumheller. What a place to find hidden among Prairie land, with huge domes of rock, undulating around the town. After some essential warming up in a restaurant, we found a camping spot in a wooden picnic hut just outside of town. I don’t think we were allowed to camp there but we didn’t think anyone would mind, it wasn’t exactly picnic season.
After putting up the tent, Ed put on a mini fireworks display for us, after secretly buying some in a store. It was rather amusing when he set one off and it came straight for him, forcing him to dive for cover in the snow; boys will be boys.
We knew it was getting colder as the moisture from my breath hit the hair around my face and instantly froze, creating wispy curls of icy hair, like spun sugar. The same happened to my eyelashes, as every breath had them coated in a glittery layer of ice, and the inside of our noses froze instantly as we breathed in.
The declining temperature soon got the better of us, and we retreated in to the tent. Luckily it was a bit warmer in there, as I’d wisely put some heat packs in my Baffin booties and one in my sleeping bag. It certainly helped with getting to sleep, as the warmth penetrated my body and I slowly drifted off.
I’d had a good night’s sleep and stayed fairly warm for most of the night, so I was rather surprised when we discovered that it had hit -28C; a new record for us. I have to say that waking up to ice all over your sleeping bag isn’t a great motivator for getting up, and I had to keep my nose covered to stop it hurting from the icy bite of the cold air.
We finally summoned up the courage to get up, and got out and dressed VERY quickly. There was a really cold bitter wind that went straight through my 99 cents crappy gloves, unsurprisingly, and the wispy bits of hair that were around my face froze instantly again, as the moisture from my breath hit them and the cold wind set them in their icy place.
We wanted to take some photos but soon discovered that all the camera batteries were dead. For those of you that don’t know, batteries don’t really like the cold, you can take your fully charged iPhone out in freezing cold temperatures and literally watch the bars drop down in minutes. I decided to warm my Canon one up in my pocket, but then dropped it in the snow when I took it out to put it back in to the camera; what a tit.
We eventually managed to warm them up enough to get some shots, before packing up and making our way over to the dinosaur museum. Alberta, and Drumheller in particular, is well known for its dinosaur history and discoveries, so they’ve dedicated an entire museum to these spectacular creatures. We spent around three hours going round, and really enjoyed it. It’s incredible to think that those creatures roamed the earth all those years ago, unless of course you don’t believe in dinosaurs and think it’s all an elaborate hoax.
As we left the museum the sun was just setting, so we walked up to the viewpoint to get a better look around.
It was closed and covered in snow, but the lady on the front desk said it would probably be OK for us to go up there. It was then that I discovered another major problem with my insulated coverall, aka ‘The fat suit’; considerably reduced mobility. The stairs up to the view point were a mission to say the least, it was such slow going and I had to literally throw my legs up the steps. I was knackered by the time I got to the top. Not only did I look like I weighed 300 pounds, I now felt like I did too, but that didn’t stop me from going to a Chinese restaurant and attacking an all you can eat buffet. Although in my defence we did camp that night in -22C, so I needed the extra calories to stay warm. Yep, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.
It was only -11C when we woke up, so getting out of the tent wasn’t quite as hard as the day before; only laziness held us back, instead of laziness and the cold.
Before leaving town we went to see the great big dinosaur by the visitor centre, which involved yet more sodding stairs to get up to its mouth, but it was a novelty thing to do.
By the time we’d got to the top and were peering out over the town, the wind had picked up and it had started to snow. We were both hungry so decided to go and visit a place called The Last Chance Saloon, which someone had recommended to us. It was in a town called Wayne, which can be found after the 9th bridge along a road that has a total of 11 bridges in 4 miles, and has a whopping population of 33 people. It was a really cool place with lots of random memorabilia on the walls, and Paula who runs it was very friendly and welcoming. We chatted for a while before she went off and cooked us up a tasty lunch, which for me consisted of homemade meat pie, baked potato, and gravy; perfect comfort food for a cold winter’s day.
We left there late afternoon and went to check out the Hoodoo’s, some extremely old rock formations that everyone told us we should go and see. They looked massive on the postcards and photos that we’d seen, so we pulled in to the car park expecting to have to walk up somewhere to see them. As soon as we stopped we discovered a problem with photography; you can’t always get an idea of the scale. Expecting to see some massive towering formations, we were rather surprised and taken aback when we discovered that they were in fact very small.
Ed was particularly disappointed and unimpressed, I think his actual word when I asked him what he thought of them was ‘Meh’. Despite their miniature size I still rather liked them, they were quite cool as far as mini rock formations go.
Carrying on with the disappointments, we rode out of the badlands and up a hill, back out on to the plains. We stopped at a town called Dorothy, where we expected to be able to get some fuel, but we had no such luck. There was an old grain silo, a store which looked like it had been closed for decades, a few houses and a few old vehicles. Definitely no fuel.
The light started dropping, and it was then that we had to decide what to do. We could either ride back 22 miles to Drumheller and leave in the morning, or ride on to a place called Hanna, which was 46 miles away and included riding on a gravel road for 20 miles. I’d tried to ride on a gravel road earlier in the day, to take some photos, and it didn’t go well. It was uneven, icy, and snowy, and I was either particularly slow or all over the place. That was my performance riding in daylight, at night time would be even worse.
Despite knowing all that, I could tell that Ed didn’t want to go back to Drumheller, so I said ‘Sod it, let’s go to Hanna’. I was unsure about my decision, and about 10 miles in to the journey I couldn’t fight what my gut instinct was telling me and decided to stop and go back. I’ve learnt over the years to trust that instinct, so I didn’t feel too bad about making Ed turn around. It didn’t feel right and I wasn’t happy continuing. End of story. I was pleased we went back as my toes were pretty cold, and despite not liking riding in the dark, on icy, windy, roads, I was happy to be going back to Drumheller.
Not in the mood for camping, Ed rode straight to a motel near the cinema and went inside, only to find out that it was $120 for a room. We couldn’t afford it, so the girl on the desk said that she could do it $100. We still couldn’t stretch to that, so I said we’d go and look elsewhere. Just as we were about to pull away, the manager came rushing out and asked me what our budget was. I liked him already. ‘$60?’ I said, which was fair but actually over our budget, which isn’t hard seeing as we don’t actually have a budget for motel rooms and had already spent most of our budget that day on food. To our relief he agreed. I liked that he’d thought out of the box, some money is better than no money after all. Shame that more motel and hotel owners don’t think like that. So before we knew it we’d parked the bikes, dumped all our gear in the room, and were sat in the nice warm cinema having popcorn and chocolate covered raisins for dinner. Much better than riding down a dark slippery gravel road if you ask me. I know, where’s my sense of adventure?!