Monday, May 14, 2012

Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Everywhere Else In Between

Canadians are known around the world for being friendly and accommodating and the last few days we’ve seen where that reputation was born.

Brad with Kelly from United Cycle &
Stanley Cup replica that lives outside the shop
We left the outskirts of Edmonton with the intention of riding hard to get to North Battleford Saskatchewan but a strong headwind changed our plans for us. We ended up in a town called Maidstone. The small town has only about 1000 residents and as we rolled into the only hotel/bar in town, the Flyers game was on and before long we had a few locals chiming in on their thoughts on the series.

Words of encouragement from former NHL'er and Sens Alumni Shaun Van Allen here 

Leaving the outskirts of Edmonton we knew we had the prairies in front of us with not much else but livestock and the odd small town to break the monotony of the long road and open fields that lay ahead. Highway 16 between Edmonton and the Battlefords is a far cry from the familiar 401 with its rest stops spaced every hundred kilometers or so and millions of people living within spitting distance of the road. Our intention was to ride hard over the flat terrain and make it to North Battleford for the night.

As we set out on the road however, a hard cross wind and head wind changed our plans for us. Dad was battling hard through the wind a few hours in when I tried to find a place for us to go to the bathroom and grab a sandwich. I rolled into Mannsville and after a few circles around the tiny town I was cursing and frustrated, as there seemed to be nothing around. Finally I walked into the grocery store. The woman at the cash noticed the RV I just parked and asked where I was headed. I filled her in on what we were doing and without batting an eyelash she asked, “Well can I give you twenty bucks for your cause?” I gladly accepted and walked out thinking maybe these tiny towns aren’t so bad.

Erik reaches Manitoba!
As the grueling day went on ad nothing seemed to go right (i.e. missing dad on the road and rode for an additional 30km needlessly), the unrelenting wind did not sympathize with our struggles. We rallied in Lloydminster (an interesting town that straddles the border between Alberta and Saskatchewan, also where Scott Hartnell is from –“Go Flyers”) and decided to ride to Maidstone, SK, catch the end of the Flyers game and tuck in for the night as that seemed to be the only town with a hotel from there to the Battlefords.

All things Saskatchewan! 
Another 60km and one flat tire later, we arrived in Maidstone and were somewhat skeptical of what the night would hold for us. The bar downstairs doubled as the front desk for the hotel and the sign on the front door said, “Please remove all muddy and oily boots” and the “curtain” in our room was a Saskatchewan Rough Riders flag with a Pilsner beer logo on the other side. We dropped our stuff and decided to grab a bite to eat downstairs. Though we were a little apprehensive at first, small town courtesy surprised us again. Everyone in the bar was friendly, the food was awesome (I never thought I’d have amazing Spicy Korean BBQ Pork in the prairies!) and aside from the outcome of the Flyers game, our night was actually really awesome.

Brad & Erik visit the North Battleford BGC
Maidstone to North Battleford was a quick day with a more favorable wind. The Boys and Girls Club gave us a warm reception and we had a great road hockey game in the warm afternoon sun. The clubhouse was an old building built in the 1900’s. They have plans for a new clubhouse built on the same site but they need to raise a lot of money in the next few months in order to break ground on the new structure. I can’t stress enough how important this is to the kids and how much of an impact this club makes on the community in North Battleford. This is a perfect example of why we’re doing what we’re doing. Please donate to the North Battleford club or the club in your community as every club, whether they are building a new clubhouse or not is in desperate need of more resources to continue to make an impact on the lives of kids across Canada.

Brad takes the stage at a Saskatoon
Challenge Party!
From North Battleford we headed to Saskatoon for a busy day with an interview for CTV, a visit to the Saskatoon BGC and a Challenge Party at night. The Saskatoon BGC is in a pretty rough party of town but the kids were just fantastic. It really goes to show that when given the opportunity, kids can really set themselves on a great path for the future. In the evening it was unbelievable to see so much support from the Visalus community as we shared our challenge with them. Company leader, Jason O’Toole, truly went above and beyond and personally donated $5000 to our ride.

Regina was the next stop on our Prairie tour. We visited our fourth BGC in as many days and the kids really had us running! In the evening I met up with an old friend from university and told him all about our ride and we caught up over a few beers. It was nice seeing a familiar face in a place I’ve never been before. From Regina we had a long ride out of town across a border and another time zone for our longest ride yet.

The Prairies so far have shown us that even though the terrain is flat, the days can still be harder than the mountains. We’ve learned that no matter how small or rough around the edges a town may be, the people are genuine and friendly, eager to make you feel at home and lend a hand. We’ve seen a side of Canada often skipped by the rest of the country on their way to the mountains out west or the big cities in Ontario. People may not think much of Saskatchewan and their crazy Rough Rider fans but we’ve truly enjoyed this part of our journey and I won’t hesitate to come out to the Prairies in the future.

Erik (Team Marsh Co-Pilot)

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