After three weeks of rest and relaxation, I’m back in the saddle, cutting through cold air on my way to my home province of Manitoba.
So far I’ve encountered 50 km headwinds, torrential rain and temperatures as cold as a meter maid. Plus, I think I picked the loneliest highway in Saskatchewan to make my departure from Regina. I’ve seen roads in the Yukon with more action than Highway 33.
But I would pick it again in a heartbeat, and there’s no denying that my heart is pumping a bit faster now that I’m back on the road. Despite the conditions, I’ve been grinning like a fool since my first pedal stroke and nothing from the sky is going to change that.
Only people can change my mood. After about 40 km on my first day, an old-timer, Hugh, swung his truck around and waved me over to the shoulder for a quick chat.
“Where ya comin’ from?”
“Alaska.” I say Alaska now because it’s easier than explaining Inuvik.
Hugh whistled and ran his arm across his forehead. “Think you can stand a pop?”
Grinning, he tossed a cold can of Fresca into my hands and asked where I grew up.
“Brandon?” he squinted. “Do you know a fella named Joe Rogers?”
I said I didn’t.
“Shit, I guess ya wouldn’t. We put him in the ground five years ago. He was even older than me.”
I watched his leathery neck wiggle when he spoke and hesitated to even guess what a Joe Rogers might look like. I pictured a turkey with a cane and came back to reality only as Hugh explained his mission for the day.
“I’m out sightin’ a gun for a friend, you see. So if you hear some shootin’ out there in the bush, don’t worry. I ain’t firin’ at you.”
With that, Hugh waved and made a beeline for a grove of leafless trees where matters of the gun were best administered. The truth is I probably know more about three-headed monkeys than I do about weapons, so I finished my drink and got myself back on the road.
Summer had sucked itself out of the sky, and from that point onward, grey clouds and gawking cows were my only company. As evening set in I found myself approaching a whole lot of nothing. A comfortable sleeping arrangement seemed as likely as a glimmer of sunshine.
I prepared myself for a night in the mud, somewhere between rail lines and barbed wire, when a white truck pulled over and a guy with hair to match poked his head out the window.
“Need a place to stay tonight?”
I played it cool. “God yes!”
“Tell you what. See that gate just down the road? Well you don’t want to go there. What you want to do is head on past that gate until you see a wagon. Turn down that road, oh, say maybe a quarter mile, and you’ll come to a ranch. You just park your tent in the yard and tell my wife what’s up.”
I made it to the ranch in no time and quickly put up my tent before the rain set in. When I woke the next morning, Keith, the white-haired rancher, had a cup of coffee and toast with homemade jam waiting for me. I ate wide-eyed as he and his riders sat around the table discussing the fate of condemned cattle (cat food) and best practices for removing calcium deposits from bull penises.
Having nothing to offer on either topic, I politely asked if I could stay on at the ranch until the rain stopped beating against the kitchen window. Keith agreed and offered me a shower and an afternoon seat on the couch opposite the television.
The downpour lasted two solid days, and though I did treat myself to a shower, I turned down the TV in favor of some dusty books hiding in boxes in the basement. Without them I would have gone mad staring at the walls of my tent.
Still, I steadily grew more impatient until finally, this morning, I was ready to sling my bike over my shoulder and walk down the highway.
I quickly broke camp, ate a pot of extra-sugary oatmeal, thanked Keith, agreed to a chat over toast and coffee, thanked Keith again and hit the road with enough layers of clothing to make my mother proud.
It ain’t pretty, but hey, neither is October.