Days 4 & 5 – The North

The ride into the North was the highlight of the trip.  There is such vastness.  You can ride for hours without seeing another vehicle, person, or indeed anything other than wilderness.  It made me feel small.

I decided to head north from Winnipeg after staying with Phil for a night (thanks for the friendly Manitoba hospitality buddy).  I thought I would try to get all the way to Flin Flon, which is probably about a 10 hour ride if you go directly.  However, I dawdled in Riding Mountain National Park.  The park lived up to its name, providing fun gravel roads that meandered through boreal forest and muskeg swamp with impressive views of the surrounding prairie below.

By the time I got to Swan River (with it’s giant swan guarding the entrance to the town), it was already after 9 PM.  I might have stopped for the night, but it was still light!  The northern sunset lasts longer than a prairie good-bye.  A couple of hours later, I was alone in the northern twilight on a deserted road twisting through the muskeg along the swampy shore of Lake Winnipegosis.  Even though it was after 11 PM, the western sky was still aglow.  I felt as if I had ridden onto some other planet, where the only sources of illumination were the lingering twighlight reflecting off the lake, the full moon rising above the trees, and my lone headlight shining on a cracked deserted road constructed by a long lost civilization.

The temperature was dropping quickly as night fell, and yet again I found myself yearning for my electric vest.  It felt like winter.  The illusion was reinforced by the sensation that I was riding through a snowstorm as my headlight reflected off of thick clouds of insects.  It became increasingly difficult to see as my visor accumulated smashed bugs.  When I almost went wide on a corner because of poor visibility, I considered stopping to clean my helmet.  But that would mean taking off my helmet and exposing my naked head to the bloodthirsty swarms.  I decided to press on.  All thoughts of camping in the northern wild vanished instantaneously, and instead I became fixated on making it to The Pas, where Phil had told me there was a “really nice hotel”.  What can I say?  Just because I crossed the frigid Bolivian altiplano and the oven-hot Nubian desert in Sudan does not mean that I would choose to be uncomfortable just on principle.

Unfortunately I ended up having to expose myself to the ravenous clouds of attacking bugs.  I ran out of gas about 20 km short of The Pas.  Luckily I had strapped a Jerry can full of gas to the back of my bike before leaving Winnipeg.  I had almost run out of gas several times on the well-travelled TransCanada highway, and I knew that the concentration of gas stations would only decrease the further I got off the beaten track.  It doesn’t help that the few gas stations that do exist often close at 6 PM.  In the time it took me to refuel my bike, the insects had found their way through every seam and were even inside my helmet, which is the only reason I took it off for the above shot.

When I finally arrived at the Kikiwak Inn in the Opaskwayak Cree Nation near The Pas well after midnight, I was delighted to discover that it was the best value in Canada.  The suites were luxurious and bigger than most people’s condos in downtown Toronto, and it was ridiculously cheap.  Definitely a better option than being bug food.

The next day I rode past the 54th parallel and beyond into Flin Flon, Manitoba.  I have been intrigued with Flin Flon ever since I discovered that it is named after a fictional character from a book that a prospector found in the woods.  I was amused to find a giant statue of the town’s namesake, Fintabetty Flonatin.  It is amazing that some town council actually agreed to pay for Flintabetty’s resurrection.

An oversized statue of Flintabetty Flonatin greets visitors to Flin Flon, Manitoba.

I continued west along beautiful hard packed gravel roads acoss Northern Saskatchewan.  The DRZ loved these roads, and it felt good to raise a cloud of dust along the straightaways with the throttle pinned.

The North is dual sport heaven – empty roads, beautiful scenery, and absurdly long days.  The Yukon’s Dempster highway has definitely moved up on my list of future rides.

Route 165, Northern Saskatchewan.


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