Wednesday, June 17, 2015
Michael announced last night that he would likely be out of the air for a couple of days because the area in which he is hardly has any cell phone reach or Wi-Fi signals. Then suddenly this evening, I received an email with his blog from yesterday. He writes that he succeeded after all to get an Internet connection. I am not sure how he managed to do that, all I know is that he was in the office of the mayor of Tompkins:
“What a night! First I couldn't get the air conditioning to work. It was 82°F. Eventually it worked fine but then I woke up in the night because it was too cold and I couldn't turn it off again. Despite all this, I still slept reasonably well.
Today is my brother Melvin's birthday which is another one of those moments where you really miss people. First I try to have a Skype call with Ellen which works fine. She and I agree about one thing: it’s all taking too long! I enjoy seeing each other again together with my youngest son. After a 45 minutes Skype call, I connect with my brother to wish him a Happy Birthday.
At 8:30 Sann comes in to have a shower. He slept very well at the campground. He met another cyclist there who is cycling from west to east. He bikes about 100 kilometers a day and every four days he takes a day of rest. Everybody has their own rhythm. Two things are clear to me by now: the first is that the way we are traveling acroos Canada from east to west is, on average, is a lot harder and the second is that I have too much weight on my bike. However, I realize it's not really about whether something is heavy or not it is about the experience.
When Sann is ready, we leave for breakfast at the A&W. The people there are clearly interested in us and there is a nice village atmosphere. Swift Current is actually a large village in which everybody seems to know everybody else and I like that. Soon people are asking where we are heading. They are somewhat surprised that we are biking toward the west and they seem impressed with that as well as my tribute to Terry Fox.
When we are about to leave a lady comes outside to ask what we are doing. I give her one of my cards. She promises to share it with others and not much later 10 ladies are waving goodbye to us.
We slowly bike out of the village while we are going uphill. Suddenly the wind turns and this time it is in our favour! We actually have the wind mostly in our back and a little to the side. The shoulders on the highway here are not in very good shape. There are a lot of small sharp stones and holes in the ashphalt as well as grooves in which our bike wheels could get stuck. Thankfully, a little later it improves again.
With the wind in our back we are almost flying down the road! Every now and then we face a bit of uphill road, but I have to say the hills in the landscape are beautiful it gives me a Wild West feeling.
Suddenly I hear a cyclist behind me. It appears to be a young race cyclist who is doing his training round from Swift Current. He is in his mid-20s and stops to have a chat with us. He is very impressed with my bike and the luggage. When I tell him that together it weighs about 75 kg he looks at me and says: “Man you are the first person I came across who is doing this. How do you get up the hills?” I give him one of my cards and a little later after he reaches the cross road he turns around and bikes back to Swift Current.
At around 12:30 in the afternoon we stop to take a break in a rest area. Unfortunately for me, nature is calling. The toilet facilities in the rest area are pretty filthy. However, I have to go and there are not many trees beside the road to offer me some cover to go outside. I use baby wipes to clean everything before I use the toilet. It is pretty disgusting but what can you do when nature calls. After having cleaned everything more than once including my hands we decide to have some lunch. Not a very appealing combination of events.
There is quite a cool breeze. The temperature is around 18°C and the wind is moderate around 4 Beaufort (approx. 20-25 km/hr). When we get back on our bikes the wind has turned slightly and is a little less to our advantage. All goes well though, and I hope that we will be able to reach the village of Piapot with its old saloon / hotel. The hamlet of Piapot is in the middle of the prairie with only a few houses. However, as I peer at the sky there are dark clouds and to the left of us the rain is visible. Thankfully, there are no thunderstorms yet.
Unfortunately, tornadoes develop here on a regular basis. Yes, you read that correctly! They can be pretty severe. This morning somebody at the A&W warned us that yesterday by Gull Lake there was a thunderstorm with wind speeds of up to a 120 km/h. Trucks were blown over and cars were damaged by hail. Obviously, weather like that could be pretty dangerous for us cycling in these wide open areas. I am constantly aware of the sky and the weather and I have already tried to figure out how to detect thunderstorms and tornadoes early on.
Just before the town of Tompkins it starts to rain; not very hard but still. We anticipate seeing Tompkins beyond the next hill, but to our surprise we only see more empty space. We have to bike for another 6 km before we see a sign that says “Tompkins 1 km”. We go over to a gas station to ask if the hotel in Tompkins, which was advertised along the road, is still open. The gas station attendant thinks it might be but she is happy to check for us by phone. We are warned that it is an old and very plain hotel but that it is clean.
We drink some coffee at the gas station and then head towards Tompkins. The hotel is indeed a 100-year-old building and it feels as if you're stepping back in time. It is just like an old saloon. It may not be old Piapot hotel, but it is pretty identical. The owner shows us the rooms before we decide to take them because they are old and quite basic. We think they are fine and we pay just $30 per night including food. Excellent! Even more so when you realize that you pay $25 to camp out in the rain...
We pick up our stuff and go to our rooms which each have a TV but no Wi-Fi. When I have a shower, I get hot water for about one minute and after that it is ice cold. Well, I guess it is basic just like we were told. Later it appears that all the hot water was used to do the dishes in the kitchen. The owner tells us that they recenlty bought this building which still needs extensive renovations. First they fixwed the flat roof and now they are waiting for government funding for heritage buildings to renovate the rest of it. Even though it is an old building, I still have the feeling of having walked onto the set of an old Western movie. I'm actually quite enjoying it!
When we go for dinner the owner offers me to use the Wi-Fi on her computer so I can send my blog. I know that I will not have acess to any Wi-Fi in the next couple of days, until we reach Medicine Hat.
When we come down for dinner there are all kinds of people in the dining room. We are being introduced to the owner and a friend of his who he hasn't seen for eight years. The man is truly interested in my tour and my goal. When he hears that I am doing this as a tribute to Terry Fox something unexpected happens. He asks if we have a place to stay when we get to Medicine Hat. “No”, I say. “Well, then I would be very honoured if you guys would come and stay at my house”, he offers.
Clinton, as this man is called appears to be a lawyer. He has several companies one of which is an oil company. He says that he lives in a modest house in Medicine Hat and as long as we don't mind sleeping in the kids’ rooms, we would be welcome. I am completely surprised.
We hear some more entertaining stories and continue our conversation while Sam and I eat a delicious hamburger. When Clinton leaves, we hear that he already payed for our meals. I only just get the chance to thank him. He sticks his head back inside and says: “I made so much money today, I feel guilty” and he disappears under loud sounds of laughter. It may seem exaggerated as I write this, but this man has a great sense of humor. We laugh a lot at his comments and expressions. “What a coincidence”, the owner says, “I had not seen him in eight years. His parents and my parents were thoroughbred breeders. And we've been friends since elementary school.”
Unfortunately, although the Wi-Fi seems to work, the owner has forgotten the password to her iPhone because her son set it up. So I still can't send my blog. So I send Han an email (in English) letting him know that I will not be able to send my blogs for the next couple of days. All in all it has been another special day.”
Han Schomakers, editor
Translation by Sytske van der Veen