Friday 6th February – Sunday 8th February
After accepting that our original plan of riding on gravel roads would be too slow, and that there would be less services and towns, we decided to pick up highway 9. We were pretty chilly by the time we got to the town of Hanna, and I had a particularly cold arm from the wind, so we stopped at Subway for a foot long of fat and calories to help keep us warm. It was there that we met Alfred, who after chatting to us briefly and ordering a sandwich, gave us $20 towards our travel fund on his way out. We couldn’t believe it, it was so kind of him.
It was a very overcast day, and due to a bastard of a head wind and Ed’s bike not running properly, we ended up doing about 20mph, never able to get out of 3rd gear. At one point the road was so long and straight and we were travelling so slowly, that I felt like we were little lemmings on a conveyor belt, ready to be dropped off the end when we finally got there. And I have to be honest, the speed we were doing was so soul destroying that it wouldn’t have been a bad way to go at that point.
Ed’s bike was so painfully slow that he decided to have have a look at it, and upon removing the air filter it fell apart in his hands. I think the technical term was, ‘It’s f*cked’. Not only had the rubber perished in the cold, the filter was full of crap and had iced up. On further inspection he also noticed that his carb had iced up too.
He decided to ride without an air filter to see if that made a difference, but it didn’t, so we stopped about 10 miles up the road and he fashioned one out of the old oil filter sock and zip ties.
Unable to make Ed’s bike go any faster, it was just a case of head down and get on with it. The sun was setting just as we got to Youngstown around 5.15pm, and looked beautiful against the white snow on the ground. It was only around -13C, but there was a really bitter wind and my hands got painfully cold as I tried to take some photos with my mittens off.
As darkness fell around us, we fuelled up, had a quick snack, then continued on our way to Oyen. What ensued was the most surreal night ride of my life. Due to all the ice particles in the air, all the car lights and town lights beamed up in vertical lines, popping up all over the place and moving gently across the flat plains. Then due to Ed slouching, the position of his backpack, and my LED light not working properly for half an hour, it looked like I was riding behind Yoda from Star Wars on some sort of hover bike. Most strange. Luckily my light started working again just as we rolled in to town, much to my relief, as the roads became an icy, rutted, mess.
It was dark and cold, which meant camping didn’t seem very appealing. The first motel we came to was $99 plus tax, no haggling, so we carried on until we spotted another one. Unfortunately it didn’t have an office, but there was a phone number, so we rode in to town in search of a phone to call them. It was there that we met Kevin. He didn’t have a phone as he’d only popped out to get some beer, but he did have a place for us to stay; his house. And not only did he have a place for us to stay, he also had a place for the bikes in his workshop, where we could lock them away and work on them in the morning. Perfect. We couldn’t believe our luck, it was so kind of Kevin to offer. So we followed him to the workshop, dropped the bikes off, then he gave us a lift back to his place where we met his lovely wife Cindy. She didn’t seem to mind that he’d picked up a couple of strays, and we spent a very enjoyable evening chatting about all sorts of topics and drinking beer.
Kevin had to go and look at a car in Calgary, but he also wanted to help us fix Ed’s bike, so after a 7am start and a very tasty home cooked breakfast, we made our way over to the workshop to commence operation ‘Fix Ed’s bike’. Kevin was brilliant, ferrying us between his two workshops for various tools and parts. He also found Ed an air filter he could have, so they set about making counter sunk bolts and various other bits and pieces to reposition the carb so it would fit.
We’ve always had front facing carbs, which hasn’t been a problem for me but has always caused Ed some issues, so moving it to the side behind the leg shield made sense.
While Ed was doing that, I paid some attention to my bike. It had dumped a little bit of oil on the floor, but nothing major, so I just did an oil change and my valve clearances, sheering a bolt off in the process. Luckily with Kevin’s tools and Ed’s expertise, we managed to drill out the sheered bolt and Kevin found me a new one. Cindy then came to see us off, and we thanked them before finally setting off around 1pm for Kindersley. Funny how things works out, I don’t think we could have stumbled across a better couple.
It looked like a pleasant day for a ride, with a mix of sun and cloud, but as we turned on to the highway we were greeted by the bastard of the headwind again, brutally knocking our speed down to around 23mph. Stuck in 3rd gear again, we eventually crossed the border in to Saskatchewan, where the number 9 became the number 7, and when we thought that the headwind couldn’t get any worse, it promptly did. It was such a mission riding in it, it felt like it was taking ages. I don’t mind riding slow, I wouldn’t be riding a little bike if I did, but this was ridiculous. It’s pretty soul destroying when you see the sides of the road go by so slowly, you don’t feel like you’re making any progress; and when you’re cold and hungry, you want to be making progress.
The last 10 miles of the ride was long, I was really cold and couldn’t wait to get in the warm. The worst thing was I could see the town in the distance, but it didn’t seem to be getting any closer; it was so damn flat. As soon as we arrive in Kindersley we darted in to the first restaurant we saw and ordered a hot chocolate and some food. I pretty much inhaled it, it really hit the spot. Just as we got up to leave to find somewhere to camp, the lady next to us started chatting to us, and after about 5 minutes of talking to us she said, ‘I’m going to take a leap of faith, I’m going to offer you a bed for the night’. Her name was Janet and we gratefully took her up on the offer. She gave us directions of where to go, and we arranged to meet her in an hour as she was having dinner with her Daughter Adair and Son-in-law Craig. So an hour or so later we were all sat in her house having a lovely time, talking about our trip and life for them on their farm. We really appreciated Janet taking that leap of faith, she lived on her own as her husband sadly died from cancer in October, so it was quite a big deal taking strangers in to her home. She was sensible though, she got Adair and Craig to come over for the evening to make sure we weren’t complete nutters.
Janet made us a tasty breakfast, and we spent all morning chatting to her. It was a pleasure to spend time with her, and as it was her birthday the following day, we gave her our printed copy of our Northern Lights photo, you know the one with Ed naked in it, and some English galaxy chocolate and Lindt eggs we had with us. I don’t know if she liked Ed’s arse or the chocolate more. And she wasn’t the only one to receive presents; as we went to leave she gave us a pair or merino wool socks each and $50 towards lunch. It was so kind and thoughtful of her, I really needed a pair of socks and we always need hot food.
We set off around 2pm, with overcast skies and the temperature hovering around -15C. About 2 hours later we arrived in Rosetown, both pretty cold. Being a Sunday the only place we could find open was the Chinese, so we went inside and got some hot food down us.
Lots of people stopped to look at the bikes and take photos, and one couple came in to have a chat, before disappearing off outside. The waitress then came over to clear our table and told us that our food had been taken care of, it turned out the couple who came in to chat to us had secretly paid for our meal. We sat there slightly shocked and in disbelief, but incredibly thankful for their random act of kindness.
Despite having hot food and being inside for an hour, we still felt chilled. I freaked out a bit when I looked in the mirror and saw that my lips were a bit grey, but I calmed down once I realised it was just the lighting. I’d only been riding with a vest top and base layer under my jacket and coverall, so I decided to put my fleece on as well for some extra warmth. Luckily by the time we’d fuelled up and had a chocolate bar, we were both nice and warm again.
We dropped south from Rosetown on the number 4, then took the number 15 east, headed for Outlook. It was VERY straight, I think there were only about 5 bends in total.
The light dropped quickly and soon we were riding in the dark, but it wasn’t an issue as the road was bone dry and fairly quiet. As soon as we got in to Outlook though the road changed, it was icy and snowy and we had to ride with our feet down as stabilisers. You see I thought I’d just got used to the wobbling that you get from riding studded off-road tyres on road, but what had actually happened is that where all the roads had been so dry and bare, all of our studs and knobblies on the back had worn down, thus resulting in smooth riding on road and no traction on ice. Luckily we still had studs left on the front though, so at worst you just ended up power-sliding briefly down the road.
We rode through town and pulled in to a petrol station, where when stopped and leant over, my bike decided to dump a load of oil on the ground. ‘Well that isn’t good’ I thought. It was pouring out, but we couldn’t work out where from. Luckily it stopped, and in true Ed March and Rachel Lasham style, and because the wind was absolutely freezing, we decided we’d look at it in the morning, which basically means we’ll forget all about it until it does it again. And with that laziness continued, we grabbed some sandwiches from the garage and found a room for the night.