We are 140 miles into the Prairies. Here is some advice we received from well-wishers regarding this region:
“Honestly, I can’t think of anything worse [than cycling across]. Driving Saskatchewan was so unbelievably dull – it really is just straight flat road with nothing interesting in sight. I started to think I could see buildings in the distance. Turns out they were just wisps of clouds.”
“Cycling across Canada could be very very boring! By the time you reach Winnipeg [near the end of the Prairies] you’ll be pining for gradients and bends”
“Yeah to be honest, skip the prairies. You’ll get the enjoyment of seeing what they look like from the train without spending about 3 weeks cycling across flat land.”
“Once you’ve seen a few miles you’ve seen it all”
On Sunday we will get a train from Saskatoon to Winnipeg, allowing us to skip a few hundred miles of the Prairies.
It turns out the advice was accurate, especially the last bit. Fields upon fields upon fields are dissected by long, perfectly straight roads.
It’s beautiful, but a much more rustic and unpolished type of beauty than the mountains we’ve ridden through previously. A beauty with lower replay value, in that it doesn’t really vary from mile to mile (or even day to day).
Neither of us are too attached to the idea of “riding across” the whole of Canada, so skipping some miles by train in favour of having more time for the exciting miles later on isn’t a problem. Even despite being told “that’s cheating!” by one person we spoke to on the way.
It’s wonderful how much advice people give freely when we speak to them. We’re grateful for it all, but deciding which bits to heed and which to ignore is one of the practicalities of the road I enjoy most.
We were advised to avoid Calgary. “There is no cycle infrastructure into the city, just highways”. While painfully true, our time in Calgary was uniformly excellent, so we were glad to ignore this advice.
We were advised to avoid drinking water in the Prairies. Our first bottle refills in the Prairies tasted strongly like eggs, to the point of being undrinkable (both because of the flavour and because of genuine concerns for our well-being). We decided to follow this advice after initially forgetting it.
We were advised to avoid tunnels if we didn’t have lights. After putting our lights on in the first tunnel and finding basically the same levels of light inside as outside, we ignored this advice. Our temporary riding buddy Patrick went beyond the advice, avoiding tunnels altogether in favour of walking his bike over the treacherous mud tracks outside.
We were advised not to camp down the 5km dirt track. Advice immediately followed: we instead camped in the $20 mountain lodge with the hot tub, the terrace overlooking the mountains, and the kind and hospitable staff (if you’re reading this, hello and thanks again!).
We were advised to take Highway 550 after Bassano instead of carrying on along the 1, because this would trim about 20 miles off our ride to Dinosaur Provincial Park. I was very excited by this prospect, although it turns out Kristian knew about this route already. This type of advice is always more than welcome though: locals’ knowledge of roads and areas and shortcuts saves time and often leads to more scenic, less busy riding.
We were continuously advised to go to Edmonton instead of Calgary, mainly because the route follows the Icefields Parkway which is among the most beautiful roads in the world, but also because the train links are better. Despite my previous point about locals’ road knowledge, we ignored this advice because fun times were promised (and provided!) in Calgary.
Ignoring this advice guarantees me another trip to Canada in the future to cycle the Icefields Parkway.