Day 5
June 9th, 2004
Winnipeg, Manitoba

The morning started off hectic as I fought my way out of the urban sprawl of Winnipeg. The outer loop of the city is not to be confused with the strung out, frenzied by passes of large American cities.  The 101 loop is a semi controlled 4 lane highway that ably serves the basic purpose of keeping you away from downtown traffic.  In that regard it works.

West of Winnipeg, Route 16, otherwise known as the Yellowhead, merges with Trans Canada 1.  I found my place in the west bound traffic and settled in to conqueror phase 2 of the tour.  It was my preconception this would be the most "difficult" phase of the trip.  But, calling any day on a long ride, while being comforted by feelings of freedom both on the road and at home, as "difficult," would be a misnomer.  I should say it might not be as much fun as the other stages.

The long run across the Canadian Prairies was about to begin. I was ready.  My goal for the day is Saskatoon.  The city is generally regarded as the halfway point of Winnipeg and western Canada.  I knew the scenery would be drab, and the only leaning I was going to get in would be in rest room lines, but that didn’t bother me.
The morning was cool and cloudy, and I had a sweatshirt under the Roadcrafter.

It did not take long to reach Portage la Prairie, where the Yellowhead breaks away from Trans Canada 1.  I rode through the city and found my route.

After escaping Portage, the sun broke out. Thankfully, the wind which can be tough out here, was virtually nonexistent. The 13 was running smooth as ever, but I was still struggling with the touring load. I was distressed I haven’t accommodated the load yet on the 13. It was still bothering me. I was at a loss as to why; I guessed I packed more, for some reason. I vowed to reevaluate what I take before the next trip.

Just like on the open roads of America, keeping the 13 near the speed limit on the Yellowhead was hard, but I did the best I could.

I saw "Happy Rock," near a town called Gladstone.  A small sign at the bottom said not to climb on the rock.  I bet there were many violations, because it just looked to tempting for a 9 year old boy.
​"Happy Rock"
Morning was almost over so I took a break at a gas/truck stop in Gladstone.  I pulled a Mountain Dew out of the cooler and grabbed a bag of chips and took a seat at the end of row of tables.  The store was full of truck drivers and a couple quizzed me about my trip.  I answered the usual questions about where I’ve been and where I’m going.  When I asked about construction, a driver responded, "none, good road all the way to Saskatoon," string music for a far away Long Rider.

Before I left, I used the ATM and punched out 30 Canadian.  I primarily use my debit card when on trips, the cash I carry is used for Mountain Dews, or small places that don't take cards, but it's been a long time since I stumbled on one of them.  I only carry the minimum Canadian because I don't want to get caught holding any when I cross the border.  Not that it won't spend, but clerks in the U.S. don't like the hassle of converting the exchange.  Besides, I learned long ago its better to let my bank sort the exchange rate, they've been pretty stingy with it in the past.

When I left the truck stop I was surprised when I saw a sign noting Saskatoon was over 500 klics away.  Further than I thought.

I was riding west enjoying my mind games and soaking in the scenery, when I saw a scarecrow in a wagon, with a sign painted on the side, "Have a nice day."  I guessed some farmer realized the wayfarers on the Yellowhead sometimes needed a diversion from infinite gazing at the far away horizon.  A great gesture, and it caused me to smile.
​This roadside greeting brightened my day.
A black van was zipping along 15 over the speed limit.  I fell in behind and we ran together for 30 miles or so.  I never question a sacrificial speeder.  If he’s willing, I’ll sure follow.  I stick to the advice I give others, never be the fastest guy out there.

Not many crops were planted on the shores of the Yellowhead.  I don't know why because the land looked fertile, perhaps it was the wrong time of year, or just not worth the trouble because of the short growing season.  After all, I was several hundred miles north of North Dakota, a state that I always associate with cold blizzards and gale winds.

With the miles passing slowly I left the highway in Russell, and leisurely motored through the business district, looking for a place to eat.  I went past a few stores and a laundromat, but failed to see any cafes.  The little town seemed dusty and unorganized, but the people were friendly enough.  Almost everyone waved at me.

Finally, I found Donna's Truck Stop and went inside.  Big rigs were parked outside, several with their motors idling.   Their rrrrr rrrr chugging sounds seemed extra loud after wearing ear plugs all morning.  I could feel their vibrations as I unsaddled the 13 and removed my equipment.  The parking lot was a light colored dirt, covered in rocks. I had to be cautious maneuvering the 13 in, sort of like a carrier landing, only I didn't have anyone to wave me off if I went one-sided.  I left my gloves on the dash, but carried my helmet inside.

I told myself I've got to trim my load down, the bike is a bear to keep upright in such conditions.

When I walked in the chatter of truck drivers echoed off the tile floor.  I could tell these jokers were long haul extraordinaire.  They didn't even look up when I came in and sat down.  They see all kinds of things on the road everyday, to them I was just another Long Rider.

A tall waitress took my order for a burger and fries.  I like hamburgers, and in unknown cafes, a usually safe bet.  It's hard to mess up a hamburger.  After giving my order a truck driver glanced over his coffee cup, "you're a long way from home.  "Yeah, I am, on my way to Jasper, then California."  

The lady at the cash register heard my reply, and blurted out, "I'm going to California oneday."  To which I responded matter of factly, "really."  "Yeah, just as soon as I figure out what to with my husband."   That amused the room full of truck drivers, they all chuckled approvingly.

A man was seated at a table of 5, and had a voice that was simply annoying, and he wouldn't shut up.  Before I could finish eating he had run off every man at his table, a few leaving plates half full.  When the last guy left, he got up and found a table of 3 near the back.  He must've been a regular caused he seemed to know everyone.
I hurriedly finished eating, leaving my pleasant waitress a 3 dollar tip, American.  Standing at the check out, the cashier said, "back on the road huh?"  "Yeah baby, I'm outta here before that joker finds me." 

Across the street from Donna's was a nearby Esso station.  I was on 3 bars but decided to top off, so went over.
Russell is the kind of town you find on the Yellowhead.  Each one had a place like Donna's catering to the trucks that use Highway 16 to bring goods and connect Western and Eastern Canada.  I noticed French influence is a lot less prominent on the western prairies.  If Quebec secedes one day, I doubt if the good folks of Russell would give it a passing thought.

Each town also had a good car wash.  Many of the streets and roads out here were dirt.  Dusty cars and trucks were easy to find, and the washes always seemed to have someone inside spraying away.

The Yellowhead is a good road for 100mph cruising.  Long and straight, making it easy to pass slower cars.  I didn't see one LEO between Portage and Saskatoon on this day.

After lunch, the sun warmed things up and I removed the sweatshirt and rode with the screen a little further down.  The miles grew more tedious, because there were no route changes to look forward to.  Route changes are a easy way to mark progress.  If you change routes 3 times in 60 miles it makes you feel like you covered 300, but it was just the Yellowhead and me.

When I came to an interesting town, I'd filter off the Yellowhead and look around.  I took the picture below in a town I failed to get the name off.  I found the statue a few blocks away from the highway.  The tree lined streets were quiet, and the houses looked lived in, and warm.  I thought I'd be able to zoom in on the pic and get the town name off the monument for future reference, but I was on the wrong side.  I do know the memorial is for WWI vets.
​A quiet town along the Yellowhead Highway
I played lots of games while riding the Yellowhead.  One of my favorite was the kilometer to mile conversion.  The Canucks have a easy way to do it, but I didn't know it, so made up my own.  I'd see a sign- Yorkton 215 kilometers, look down at my speedo and guess how many miles it would be.  I'd note the mileage on my trip meter, and most of the time I was pretty darned close.  Another game was "how long can ya hold ya breath," a favorite pastime when I was boy in Catholic school attending mass.  It came in especially handy when Mass was in Latin, and nobody knew what was going on, least of all a 9 year old.  What I would do is spot a landmark like a utility pole or clusp of trees, and see if I could hold my breath to it.   I was good at this, because so many years of miles and motorcycles have made me good at speed and distance judgment.

But mostly, I spent the time on the long open road in therapy.  Dreaming of things I'd like to do, or thinking about stuff I haven't thought about since the last trip.  There were times I was so lost in thought I'd look around and realize I just covered 50 kilometers and couldn't tell you a thing about it.  Many have asked how it is I ride such long, lonely stretches without music, and I can only say music removes me from those inner feelings. 

Some say they need music to go to those sanctums, whatever works, I'm just not one of them.  I can't conjure them up if I'm humming to a tune.  It's not that I don't like music, just the opposite, but I ride my motorcycles for other reasons.  The only time I'm bored is when I am riding an interstate, and if I found myself often on those things, I'd RUN to the store for audio equipment.
​I passed the quiet landscape of the prairie lost in thought
I rode on to Lanigan where I took a fancy water break, and made a few phone calls.  I tried to stay longer, but a man smoking a cigarette was trying to speak to me so I did the only thing I could do to escape-leave.

The hills and towns became more frequent as I neared Saskatoon in the later afternoon.  I let the gas tank get dangerously low and the reserve bar was flashing.  The 13 also has a computer that displays miles to empty when the reserve goes into action.  When I entered the city it was reading 23 miles or so to empty.

In Saskatoon, I was promptly met by a snarling traffic jam.  A commuter in a car next to me made a few comments, but I was unable to understand him with earplugs in place.  

I was crawling through the traffic and noticed miles to empty was at 17.  Even at idle, the fuel injected 13 was consuming.  I lost one mile for every 5 minutes or so of idle.  I was nearing the middle of town and could see the motels, but the traffic jam was not moving.  I had a real fear I was about to run OUT of gas any moment, so I dove off in the parking lot of the Riviera Motel as soon as I was able with miles to empty showing 8. 

I checked in with the 1300 showing 522 miles for the day, the last 100 was the best. 

When the check in process was completed, I unloaded to my ground floor room and debugged the windscreen.  I finished my notes and took a shower.  I wasn't hungry so skipped supper, but I did walk to a gas mart and buy a newspaper, popcorn and a coke.  I needed to catch up on the news, especially the upcoming Reagan funeral.
I also wanted to get bed early, so curled up with the sun shining.  This far north, this time of year, the days are very long, it wasn't getting dark to well after 10, so I could not use the sun as a clock for bedtime.  It felt odd laying in bed trying to drift off to sleep with sun only at dusk.

Sleep was not far off when my son rang my phone, we spoke, and a few minutes later I settled back down to get some rest, ending a rewarding day.  I'm looking forward to arriving in Jasper and hooking up with VJ.