Thursday, June 18, 2015
"Last night when I was in bed I could still hear the music downstairs. Eventhough this place is old and run down, there's still character and when I hear the sounds of “Hotel California” by The Eagles and “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd I am really enjoying it! It still feels like I am in some cowboy movie and I'm sleeping above the saloon.
"I wake up at 7 AM and I've slept really well. When the train passes the whole building shakes slightly and right away I feel that Western atmosphere again.
When Sann and I go downstairs the owner is already there and lets us in. He makes coffee for us and we have some conversation. A little later the lady owner makes breakfast for us with fruit and a boiled egg with toast, cheese etc. Normally the hotel does not serve breakfast but they're making an exception for us and it’s on the house! Wonderful! Sadly, the owner tells us that her mother’s funeral was only a few days ago. Her mother had always wanted to go to Holland but she never made it. She once gave her parents airline tickets for a trip to Holland, but her father was afraid to fly and so he returned the tickets. Her mother died of cancer. “And now you're here”, she says.
I understand what she means. I already had a feeling that I was here for a reason. Since we have broached the subject, I feel it’s acceptable to share my feelings about her mother. Cautiously I ask if she resembles her mother. She nods. “I believe that your mother would think it wonderful that you are running this hotel but she might also be telling you to take care of yourself and to take time for your grandchildren”. I notice a glimmer in her eyes as she nods and says: “That’s right, and you know, that is what I was thinking about last night. You are not here for nothing.” That is nice to know!
After this interesting conversation we head to the library where there is an Internet connection. The lady there is very friendly but doesn't understand why the Internet connection is secure, let alone that she knows the password. She suggests we might try at the Townhall next door. Before we go she tells us that her father fought in the Second World War in Holland. Unfortunately, he did not live to be very old. She shows us a picture of him which recently appeared in a Canadian newspaper. Apparently quite a few Canadians from the area around Tompkins fought in The Netherlands. After her stories and my expressions of gratitude we go next door.
At the Townhall we are received well and a minute later I am writing an email from the mayor’s office. Fantastic! When we try to check the weather we see that there are thunderstorms in the forecast. We’ll have to watch out!
With all emails sent, we return to check out of the hotel and stock up on drinks for our trip at the gas station. Here we meet young lady of around 25 who is biking from Vancouver to Newfoundland. We have a short exchange and she asks if we have any advice for her. I suggest that her black clothing is too dark to be properly visable and that she needs a mirror to be able to see the traffic. Apparently this was not the advice she was expecting because her reaction is little strange. Most of the cyclists we meet seem a little weird. They seem to be loners and not very social.
We leave the village and unfortunately have a strong side wind which not is great, but we have to get through it. After about two hours of cycling it starts to rain. We already had been aware of the threat of rain, but since there is no where to find shelter we have no choice but to keep going. We put on our raincoats. Sann has a yellow boat worker’s suit which makes me chuckle. After an hour it is dry again. When we arrive in Maple Creek we stop at a gas station/restaurant for a drink and some food. We sit here for about an hour to relax and to dry off. It is getting pretty windy outside, but we continue on to find the border with Alberta where, according to this morning's cyclist, we can find a good place to sleep. We expect the wind is to shift again tomorrow and from Walsh, a village on the border, it is only 60 km to Medicine Hat.
As we keep cycling, we experience first hand how changeable the weather can be on the prairies.To one side the sun is shining brightly and to the other side the sky is dark and it’s clearly raining or hailing. The differences in temperature in the storms are enormous. During the rainstorm it was 12°C and a little later in the sunshine it was almost 30°C.
I'm starting to get worried because the gray sky is getting darker and darker. I can't really determine if it is moving away with the direction of the wind or if a higher level airflow pushes it toward us. Sann laughs at my contemplation and doesn't take it too seriously. I try to make clear to him that we really have to be on alert here. It doesn't take long or the first lightning bolt shoots through the sky. Sann starts to curse and now he's not so happy anymore. According to my calculations the border with Alberta should be within 5 km so we decide to keep cycling because the thunderstorm still seems fairly distant. This appears to be a mistake. The weather is changing fast; this is going to be interesting. Here and there lightning hits the ground and even though it seems far away the sound is wild. Sann is not feeling so happy anymore and neither am I.
At the first house we see, the gate has been chained and the next house is about 2 km further down. We keep on biking until we realize that we have to do something. We park our bikes, get into a ditch and quickly try to put up a tent but it is too late!
The wind suddenly becomes stormy and it starts to hail. Not just hail, hail stones the size of big marbles that are very painful. I have just enough time to put my tent tarp over me for protection. The hail hits my hands and is very painful and Sann, whom I can hardly see anymore, continues to put up his tent to find cover from the hail. It is not wise thing to do; it’s an instinctive reaction to the circumstances, so what you do. I'm a scared that this is going to have a bad ending, such a violent storm. Sann manages to put up his tent in between the hailstorms. It is very painful to sit the way I am so I move to find refuge in his tent. There we are shivering from the cold. We cannot sit against the tent deck because of the hailstones. There is quite a bit of water coming into the tent. It is no fun. I am wondering if my bike and luggage are going to be damaged. After about 20 minutes, in my estimation, it is dry and within minutes the sun is shining again. I urge Sann that we continue on because I just don't trust the weather and I want to spend the night safely.
We continue biking but the border with Alberta seems to be further away than I expected. When we finally arrive in the village of Walsh, my first priority is to find shelter for the night. Sann thinks I am exaggerating when I suggest that the dark sky in the distance looks like another really bad storm. When we inquire in the village we get permision to camp under the overhanging roof of the Alberta Visitors Information Centre. They are indeed expecting a storm and, oh yes, there is a tornado warning in the area. Suddenly Sann seems convinced.
As we bike to the Information Centre I see two funnel clouds coming down from the sky. They are tornadoes. Most tornadoes in Canada are category 1-3 and they are rarely deadly. Nevertheless, I am really worried now and act as quickly as I can. I scramble to pitch my tent which seems to take forever. Finally it’s up and the rain pours down. The thunder claps and rumbles through sky. Thankfully we don't see any more funnel clouds and I was unable to take any pictures of the ones I did see because my instincts told me to run!
Interestingly enough, this system seem to change course and passes us. Thank goodness and I am hapy that we are safe for the night. We cook some noodles, some macaroni and rice and have a good meal which we deserved. We even access to Wi-Fi at the Information Centre. Tops!
There are a few more things I am certain of now: Thunderstorms on the Prairie are very scary and the threat of tornadoes and then actually seeing them make me very nervous.
Tomorrow we are expected to have a very strong 55 km/hr headwind on our way to Medicine Hat..."
Han Schomakers, editor
Translation by Sytske van der Veen