Thursday 12th February – Saturday 14th February
It was a mission getting out of the tent. It was so cold, and the wind so bitter, that just the thought of standing outside without my bike gear and fat suit on made me shiver. I could either jump out of the tent and get dressed extremely quickly, or struggle in the tent porch, that was full of our stuff and too low to stand up in. I opted for the latter. I hope that decision demonstrates just how cold it was.
Once dressed, I set about packing up while Ed experimented with the eggs we’d bought the night before. You see random questions tend to pop up in our conversations, like what happens to eggs when they freeze and thaw, and can you build an igloo out of bubbles. First he tried to shell them with his hands, but had to resort to using the axe (any excuse). Then he tried to boil one, which kind of worked. Then he tried to fry one, which was absolute chaos. The verdict? Yes, eggs freeze. Boiling works, sort of. We don’t recommend eggs as travel food.
By this time I was getting hungry and irritable, and funnily enough didn’t fancy half axed and partly boiled eggs, so we dragged the bikes out of the snow and headed back to the bar.
There we warmed up, ate, and I chatted to my Mum and Dad on Skype as it was my Dad’s birthday; the wonders of technology. While I was doing that, Ed went out to address my recent loss of compression, which was luckily down to my valve clearances. After all of this, it was around 4pm when we finally left town; we really are useless sometimes.
We’d hoped to get to Souris, around 130 miles away, but leaving so late meant that it probably wouldn’t be possible. While discussing our destination the girl at the fuel station advised that it would only take two hours, which was completely inaccurate given our mode of obviously slow transport, but I appreciated her blind optimism and thanked her for the information. You see Canadians tend to give distance in time, not in kilometres or miles, and they can usually do this safely as basically all of their vehicles can do the speed limit, and they don’t have to factor in any traffic. Try and do that in England, and the same journey could be anything from three hours up to six hours, depending on the time of day and how unlucky you were.
Normally we’d have said to stay another night and set off in the morning, but it was a beautifully clear day and good for a ride. We decided to take the number 13, also known as the Red Coat Trail, which appeared to have several towns along it to choose from. It was still very flat, but there were a few more clumps of trees and a few more bends than the day before. The road was very clear, no ice and barely any traffic, and there were noticeably more trees and bushes as we continued on our way to Manitoba.
The sky looked beautiful as the sun began to set; soft pastel shades, all colours of the rainbow. I love it when the sky does that, all the colours stacked on top of each other, with each one perfectly blending in to the next.
We’d both decided that we wouldn’t make it to Souris; It was dark, I was cold, and we were both hungry. The problem however was that the town we’d decided to stop in was basically closed. It was 8pm, there were no restaurants open, and the grocery store was closing up. We had a decision to make, and had two options; 1) continue to Souris in the dark, or 2) camp in Reston and eat our emergency food. Just as we were deciding, surprise option three turned up, in the form of Doug, a local farm owner. He was there collecting his son from hockey practice, and immediately offered us a place to stay. The problem however was that it was 20 miles away, in the wrong direction. After pondering what to do for a few moments, he said we could load the bikes on to his truck and he could take us there; it was a no-brainer. So before we knew it we were back at his farm in our very own ‘hunters house’, drinking cold beer while Doug cooked us dinner.
We got up around 9am, and Doug came and got us around 10am for breakfast. His wife Galena had cooked up a feast. Delicious crepes, mini apple and cinnamon pancakes, bacon, toast, and homemade muffins and cakes; we felt very spoilt. We chatted all morning about all sorts of things, they were very interesting people. Doug worked in Kazakhstan in the oil industry, four weeks on and four weeks off, and ran the farm in the summer. Galena was actually from Kazakhstan, but had lived in Canada for a while now, and looked after their two sons. We chatted for a while longer, and looked at possible routes for our next leg, however they suggested that the best idea would be to stay there and go in the morning. They really wanted us to stay another night, and as time was getting on and they were such good company, we gratefully obliged.
Wanting to utilise the time well, we headed off to the shed to inspect Ed’s bike. It’d been running like a dog for a while now, and as suspected the piston rings had burnt out.
Fortunately we had a spare set, so replaced them and directed our attention to his carb. He hadn’t been running with the correct jetting, so he decided to drill his current one out to make it larger.
All went fine until he had to put the carb back together, and the rubber gasket wouldn’t fit back in. After numerous attempts to get it back together without leaking, we resorted to using some blue glue, which held the gasket in place and formed a seal. Ed put it all back together, kicked it over, and it was all good. Mission complete… or so we thought.
We got up at 7am, as Galena was leaving early to take her son Thomas to hockey. I stared out of the window at the sea of white, and suddenly found myself missing the colour green.
And not just any old green, the bright green of grass. I really missed grass, green grass. It was a beautiful location though, and as we were up so early we were treated to a fantastic sunrise. Deep reds and purples bled in to the clouds and filled the sky, and I quickly grabbed my camera and went outside to capture the beauty.
I didn’t stay out there for long though, as it was around -29C and extremely windy. The cold soon saw me retreating back to their house, where I was greeted with yet another delicious breakfast prepared by Galena.
Galena had to leave, so we sat and had breakfast with Dougy, before heading back to our house to pack up and finish the bikes. It was 12pm when we went to leave, and with the bikes all fully loaded we went to kick them over, only to find that Ed’s bike wouldn’t start. He initially thought that it was due to the larger jet and the mixture not being right, but after playing around with it it still didn’t work.
We brought the bike back in to the shed, and Ed played around with it until it eventually started. There was a question though: Had it only started because it was now warm? I suggested that we leave it outside while we have some lunch, and upon returning we discovered that it wouldn’t start again. We took it back in, and Ed decided to take the carb apart. It was then that we discovered that the blue glue we’d used to stick the gasket down had dissolved in to small blobs and a paste, thus blocking up the main jet and plugging up the choke fuel pickup. That’s why it would work in the warm but have a flat spot, and not work in the cold. Ed cleared all the blue gunk out, struggled but succeeded to get the gasket in to place and the carb back together without leaking, then put it all back together. It worked, thankfully, although we didn’t have time to test it in the cold, and I think Ed had lost interest by that point anyway.
We eventually set off around 4.30pm. Doug had kindly arranged for his brother Rob to take us in when we got to Winnipeg, and although it was far too late to get anywhere near there, we were determined to get somewhere. We took a secondary road east, after riding down a gravel road, and soon found ourselves swearing at our bikes. They were running like a bag of sh*t. Ed’s needed adjusting and mine just appeared to be struggling with the constant gusts and headwind. It was hard work and we couldn’t go that fast, battling our way down the road.
And if that wasn’t bad enough, I was once again being subjected to brain freeze and frozen eyelashes. I started thinking that my helmet could be used as a particularly effective form of Chinese torture, it really was terrible. I ended up putting my coveralls collar up and cocking my head in the direction of the wind, to help stop it from blasting in, but the cold air still got in the front. I never had this problem with my Schuberth helmet in -20C, in fact apart from the visor icing up it was perfect.
It wasn’t long before I was pretty chilled, and I could feel the heat disappearing rapidly from my torso. It was like the heat was being sucked away from me, and being replaced with an icy chill. We later discovered that this wasn’t surprising, as with the temperature, the wind, and the headwind combined, we were essentially riding in -55C.
It was then that I realised that the actual temperature isn’t what matters, for us humans, it’s all about the wind chill factor. It hadn’t been the coldest day on paper, but for us it was the coldest riding day physically.
We rode past a frozen river, and sand bluffs covered in snow, and there were lots more trees than previous days. It was nice to have some different scenery to look at at least, even if it wasn’t that exciting. We stopped to refuel, and agreed that there was no way we could keep riding for much longer with the wind, it was carrying moisture and was particularly brutal. I wasn’t shivering but my body was cold, and it was obvious that riding in it wasn’t sustainable. Even Ed was cold, and that’s saying something.
The 345 soon ended, and we turned left to head north. We’d decided to ride to Hartney, which was the nearest town at around 6 miles away. Ed had been travelling in my slipstream as we headed east, but as soon as we headed north he was off, I couldn’t keep up with him. The wind blew snow directly across the road, showing exactly what we’d been riding in to.
I was particularly cold but really wanted to capture it, so pulled to one side to take some videos and photos. I took my mittens off, leaving my wool gloves on, and in literally less than a minute I couldn’t feel my little finger or ring finger on my right hand. It was scary how quickly it had happened, and a somewhat gentle reminder that nature rules and should be respected. Oh and of course I panicked, and didn’t move until I’d warmed them up on my heated grips, just enough so I could feel them again.
Luckily we soon arrived in Hartney as the light dropped, and found the Hartney Motor Inn, where we had some much needed food and watched some curling on TV with a friendly local couple. We unfortunately couldn’t afford a room, but just as we were discussing going to find somewhere to camp, the owner Elaine came over and very kindly offered us a room for the night. We couldn’t thank her enough, it was so kind and thoughtful of her, and just what we needed.