Biking Across Canada Day 25—Oak Lake to Portage la Prairie: Sun Dogs and the Portage of the Prairies

Wheat Kings will always be my favourite campfire sing-along song (Cat Steven’s Trouble would be my second if I could ever convince someone to play it). Listening to Wheat Kings today while riding across Manitoba brought tears to my eyes. I guess I’m still not over Gord’s death.

My wife and I joke that campgrounds are usually placed on land that no one wants because they’re right next to:

  1. a highway
  2. a railway
  3. both

Oak Lake’s campground was firmly in 3 territory, but it’s hard to complain—seeing those locomotives close up in the middle of the night was thrilling, even if it did disrupt my sleep. They’re surprisingly hard to photograph.

My attempt to take a picture of a nighttime train did not work.

I got up before dawn because of timezone change confusion, but was treated to the sight of sun dogs (parhelia) shortly afterwards.

I somehow missed my exit for Brandon, but that was serendipitous as the next exit followed the Assiniboine River valley—longer but far more scenic than the direct 1A. I stopped for coffee at a cafe that hid a skin clinic inside. I suspect the dermatologist running the place wanted better coffee than the neighbourhood offered so opened his own coffee shop rather than waiting for the block to gentrify itself.

The river valley. Beats a busy highway.
Brandon’s railyard

I could tell the prairies were slowly changing over to Canadian Shield today, as I encountered hills and deciduous forests today.

I wasn’t sure where I was going to stay tonight, but had been laying the groundwork over the past two days to possibly reach Portage la Prairie, which for reasons I cannot explain some part of me wants to see. Today the winds were favourable, so mid-afternoon I splurged and booked an AirBNB that would be a good base to explore from. I was zooming down the highway, easily sustaining speeds over 30 kph, leaving behind those troubles between Saskatoon and Regina. It felt so good, like anything was possible, and I let my heartrate race a little once I knew I’d make it. I arrived at 5pm exactly. Easiest 185 km ever.

Where I’m staying tonight. Built in 1913.

My host, Beverly, made me a bowl of (yummy!) homemade Mennonite zumma borscht along with cheese and cookies, and also gave me some bread and toppings to make toast for breakfast. I already had a comfy bed, room to dry out my sleeping bag and tent, and good wifi to do a video call with my kids, so this was icing on the cake.

After dinner and FaceTime I went for a walk around the downtown area.

The provincial building was a nice contrast to the small prairie houses nearby.
A graveyard without bodies

It was nice to see the Via Rail station from outside of the train, even though it looks abandoned. Even nicer was discovering the historic CPR station across the tracks, now operating as an interpretive site. Via, you should arrange to use that place instead, especially considering how infrequent your service is these days.

There were some nice historic buildings, including the courthouse and city hall to see, though the charm and symmetry of city hall’s facade has been wrecked by garish strands of red Christmas lights and a bizarrely-bolted-on digital clock. They need to hire a better lighting designer, and find a better way to tell time.

The courthouse
City hall (& sign)

The high heat and humidity brought about thunderstorm conditions, so I headed back to my room. Walking along Crescent Lake I spotted a double rainbow. Combined with the rainbow paint on the pathway it made for the elusive triple rainbow.

Today’s Distance: 185 km

Cumulative Distance: 2823 km

John Kyle @JohnKyle