Sunday 15th February – Thursday 19th February
Once we’d got ready and packed up, we went in to the restaurant and Elaine cooked us up a good breakfast. We’d just finished that up when Elaine’s husband Lorne came over. ‘I hear you’re on an adventure!’ he then proceeded to sit down, and wrote a list out of all the places that we’d pass on the number 2 on our way to Winnipeg, and pointed out which ones would be open for food and fuel. This was particularly thoughtful and helpful, as being a Sunday everywhere in Canada tends to be closed.
We eventually left around 2pm, and soon discovered that the fuel station was closed, of course. Luckily we had enough in our cans to get to Souris, around 20 miles away, and happily went on our way. I say happily as it was only -12C, which considering the recent temperatures we’d been riding in, was decidedly warm.
The roads were fairly clear, with odd patches of snow here and there, and we soon made it to Souris, where we fuelled up, checked our oil, and got chatting to a couple of guys on snowmobiles. It was quite amusing being out on the bikes when snowmobiles were out; they were making the most of the fresh snow, while we were doing our best to avoid it.
It was great being a bit warmer too, firstly because my nipples didn’t hurt from the cold, and secondly because I knew that we could get some decent miles under our belts. We even had the pleasure of a tailwind for a while, until we turned south on to the number 10 and it turned in to an unrelenting sidewind; needless to say that I was more than pleased when we turned east back on to the 2 and I got my tailwind back.
Ed’s bike still wasn’t running properly, so I ended up riding in front of him so he could use my slipstream. It’s not the safest thing to do I know, but the roads were empty and straight, and it did gain him an extra 10mph; it all adds up after all. It was great to be going at a decent speed, watching the scenery and sides of the roads zip pass, something I felt we hadn’t experienced in a while and secretly longed for. We needed to refuel and were both feeling a bit chilly, so we stopped in Glenboro for a hot chocolate; instant calories and physical heat. Being on the right side of -15C and only having 45 miles to go meant we could get away with just a hot chocolate, instead of a full blown hot meal to warm us up.
It started to snow as we went to leave around 5.45pm, destined for the town of St Claude. We kept the pace up and were eating up the miles, compared to what we were used to at least. The light soon started to drop but it didn’t matter, the roads were clear and there was hardly any traffic, and more importantly for us we knew at this rate we’d be there in no time. The snow got heavier but it wasn’t bad enough to affect visibility, and we rolled in to St Claude shortly before 7pm.
My body was OK but my toes were pretty cold, and I eagerly made my way in to the restaurant, where we demolished a basket of wings and a poutine pizza; look it up, it’s ridiculous. We were going to camp but I was feeling lazy, I don’t know why but I was. It might have been the half tonne of fat and calories I’d just eaten, but I couldn’t be sure. With hindsight I should have camped to help burn some of it off, but I find that once you’ve talked yourself out of camping it’s near on impossible to talk yourself back in to it; believe me, I’ve tried.
We woke to a lot of engine noise around 9am, and I soon discovered, as I went to get some tea, that it was the culmination of nine snowmobiles arriving outside, all revving their engines, apparently unable to pull away without bouncing off the rev limiter. I’m not sure if it’s completely necessary to rev them so much to pull away, and wondered if it was just a man thing, as opposed to a machine thing, but even Ed was a little confused. I think they must have been equally confused about our little bikes, as we fuelled them up in the snow alongside them, being blasted by the wind.
Of course the wind wasn’t a tailwind, and instead took the form of a fairly hefty sidewind, battering away at us for most of the journey to Winnipeg. At one point there was a dead straight line across the road, where the snow started drifting across it, and Ed’s bike cut through it like a knife through butter. It was really cool to watch, and several times I stopped to film it and take photos.
Because it was so flat and so dry, the snow blew straight across the road and on over the land, never accumulating on the road. The only exception to this was when a truck had pulled over to one side, and mounds of snow had piled up against its wheels, demonstrating just how much was actually being shifted.
Ed waved me to ride next to him, and kept looking down at my bike. I of course thought that this was because something was wrong with it, and subsequently got very confused. I rode alongside him, then dropped back, only for him to suddenly disappear. ‘Where the hell did he go?!’ Turned out he’d been trying to get me in to a position to block the sidewind, but of course I didn’t know this. He’d touched his rear brake to slow down and it’d locked up, instantly throwing him and his bike to the ground. Luckily he was OK, and just hurt his shoulder a little, which isn’t surprising after being slammed on to bare tarmac. All of our other ‘offs’ had been in snow or on ice, which always meant a soft comfy landing or a gentle slide.
I’d stayed surprisingly warm seeing as I’d only had one piece of left over pizza for breakfast, but after stopping for fuel and freezing my fingers off, we headed to a nearby diner for a top up. After warming up we got on to the perimeter highway, headed north, which unfortunately meant riding in to the wind. Commence operation: ‘Painfully slow’. We really couldn’t go very fast at all, and ended up riding on the shoulder as it was safer. I glanced in to my mirror, as I regularly do, and suddenly saw a police car with it’s lights on. ‘Here we go!’ I thought. We pulled over and got off the bikes, and the officer got out of his car and came over to us. ‘Err, what are you doing?’ He asked, in a surprisingly confused and curious tone. I’d initially thought that he was going to tell us off about riding on the shoulder, but he was just wanted to know what we were doing riding motorcycles in February. After explaining about the trip, and the officer looking none the wiser, I asked him if it was OK to ride on the shoulder, to which he simply replied ‘Yeah, no problem’, and let us get on our way. I think he was quite baffled and confused by the concept of riding a motorcycle in winter, as most people are, and was still processing what he’d seen as he let us continue up the shoulder.
It was such a relief when we finally turned east again, and the headwind turned back in to a sidewind; suddenly a sidewind didn’t seem that bad. It meant that we could go a bit faster, and soon we turned off the highway on to the approach road to Rob’s house. Snow had drifted in to big piles, and I very quickly discovered that it was easier to ride through them at speed. The problem with this however, is that if it does go wrong and there’s ice underneath, it goes wrong at speed. It was hard to commit to such an undertaking, and I ended up riding slowly through them, part of me annoyed with my lack of recklessness, and the other part extremely thankful for it. At least this meant that we got there in one piece though, and soon we were sat down with a well deserved cold beer, chatting away to Rob, his son Jason, and his work friend Pavlo; yet another enjoyable evening.
The next few days were spent getting the bikes back in to shape, in Rob’s very welcomed heated garage.
Due to all the roads being bare and free of ice, our off-road studded tyres had taken a battering. The knobblies on the rear were basically non existent, as were the studs that used to be in them.
The front tyres weren’t in bad shape however, still clinging on to the studs for dear life, so we just decided to replace the rear ones.
We toyed with the idea of putting more studs in, having had another bag of them with us, but we decided against it in the end; they’d be gone in a matter of days. Unfortunately the new tyres were an absolute bastard to put on, and Ed subsequently managed to put a hole in the tube. Luckily we found a store in Winnipeg that had a spare, and soon the tyres were on and we were on to the next task: Windscreens.
We hadn’t had windscreens at all on the trip, and I’d had several comments and messages from people wondering why we didn’t have them, especially when Ed had one on his Nordkapp Arctic trip. We’d thought about it, and meant to get some, but we just never got round to it. You know what it’s like, there’s always something else to do. Rob however had an old snowmobile screen lying around, and it got Ed thinking. Next thing I knew my bike had a windscreen, it was brilliant. Although once I’d put my newly purchased flowers in to my basket, it looked suspiciously like a greenhouse. Someone actually suggested that I could grow tomatoes in it.
Next it was ninety’s turn, and after rummaging around in the shed, Ed found a spare temporary panel for a tractor cab and a couple of metal struts. After around half an hour he’d created a masterpiece, it was unbelievably shit-tastic. Scrapheap challenge eat your heart.
It was too cold and snowy to take them out for a test ride, but I kept my fingers crossed that they’d last and do the job, even though they were held on by zip ties. Which by the way snap in freezing temperatures.
Next up was my oil leak, which upon investigation I discovered was the symptom of my gear shaft seal popping out. There must have been a build up of pressure in the crank case at some point, so I cleaned it up and popped it back in, hopeful that it was a one off and wouldn’t happen again.
And while I was doing that, Ed was playing around with the jetting in his carb. He’d found a bike store in Winnipeg and purchased several different sized jets, hopeful that one might solve the issue of his ever slowing bike.
Oh and Ed also updated his high-tech control panel, with the broken horse thermometer being replaced with a cock…
All of this was done in the daytime, while the evenings were spent with Rob and Jason, chatting about all sorts and getting very well looked after indeed.
We had our own room, with an extremely comfortable bed, however one night we decided to give it up in favour of our tent. I must have been mad giving up a warm comfortable bed, but there was reason behind it. It was going to be the coldest night we’d had so far, and we wanted to test our bodies and our gear. That was one of the main reasons for crossing Canada in the winter, we wanted to test ourselves and our bodies, to know our limits. It had, however, been a particularly mild winter as far as Canadian winters go, which frustrated Ed. It was the same when he went up to Nordkapp, it was supposed to be around -40C but it hovered around -25C. I partially shared his frustration, but also saw it as perhaps a blessing in disguise. We were learning what worked and what didn’t, without, what I believe, putting ourselves in extreme danger. -40C is very different to -25C, especially for prolonged periods of time and with the wind chill factor. It did however still leave quite a few questions unanswered, like will my bike start and run in -40C? How long can I ride in it before I’m too cold? Is the comfort rating of my sleeping bag (-42C) accurate?
Ed went out and set up the tent up, while I lay in the bed for five minutes to remind myself what I was missing. We had dinner with Rob and Jason, and chatted for a few hours, before heading out to the yard, much to their bemusement.
It hit -32.9C that night, the coldest we’d had so far. I had heat packs in my booties so my feet were warm, but I still woke up a few times, slightly chilled. I wasn’t so cold that I couldn’t get to sleep, but I wasn’t warm and snuggly either. That was interesting on my part, as I was fully clothed, hat, gloves, the lot. We had however eaten at 8pm and not gone to bed until just before 12am, so any heat produced by our food being digested wouldn’t have been captured in our sleeping bags. That being said though, I still don’t think that my sleeping bag’s comfort rating of -42C is accurate for me. Ed however feels that it’s accurate for him. It’s like when we were in Tok and it was -9C. I was fully clothed, in my three season sleeping bag with a comfort rating of -12C, and I was absolutely freezing. Ed on the other hand was in exactly the same sleeping bag, had hardly any clothes on, and was fine. Everyone is different, and this needs to be remembered when choosing winter gear and reading reviews. Sleeping bag ratings are only an indication, not to be taken as gospel.
More questions had come from winter camping. Would I be warmer in my sleeping bag with or without clothes on? By wearing clothes and layers, warm air is trapped between them, helping to keep me warm. But does wearing clothes prevent body heat from escaping and circulating in my sleeping bag to warm other areas up? For example: My torso is producing heat but my legs are cold. Does wearing clothing prevent the heat from my torso getting out and warming the rest of my sleeping bag up, and subsequently my legs? It’s a double edged sword though, as if it is warmer in the entire sleeping bag if you don’t wear clothes, you then have to make sure that there aren’t any gaps round your neck for that precious heat to escape. As if it escapes, you don’t have any clothes or layers on to help retain any heat close to your body. Interesting.
You may now be wondering why I didn’t perform any experiments to find out the answers myself. Well the answer to that is it’s bloody freezing in -30C, and there’s no way I was going to be taking any of my clothes off.