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Technical Difficulties, My Birthday, and Catastrophic Gear Failure: Elkhorn, MB to Kenora, ON (567km/1801m)

Ease, and predictability during the first half of my trip built up my confidence and momentum. These themes did not transfer over into the first few days of the second half, though.

Instead of the simple routine of packing, pedaling, and preparing camp, I was met with a logistical nightmare trying to find replacement wheels for cracked rims, and the front-rack eyelets of my bike tearing out of my fork. 

Both were unfortunate and difficult to deal with, but not impossible. My life has become simpler and I’ve grown calmer during my one-and-a-half months on the road. That has made issues that once would have seemed detrimental seem much more manageable. And, as usual, I was supported by helpful people and circumstances.

Day 37: Elkhorn, MB to Seton Provincial Park, MB (171km/286m)

Saturday 19 June 2021

Waking up on Saturday morning, I was sad to be leaving the luxury and familiarity of the home of a close family friend, but I was happy to be returning to the road. I’d grown accustomed to my new routine and attached to the independence I felt making decisions about how far I’d go, where I’d stop, and how long I’d stay. 

When my alarm went off at 8:00, Scott and Angela were already up preparing a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs to send me off with. I finished packing up a few remaining things in the guest room while they set the table.

By the time we finished eating and I was done packing it was 10:00. I pulled away from the house after a big thank you for Scott and Angela’s generosity in hosting me for the better part of the week. Angela made sure I had enough of her delicious banana chocolate chip muffins to fuel my trip all the way to Winnipeg. I was grateful.

Pulling off the country road and back onto the Trans Canada Highway, I turned west, the same way the wind was going. I was motivated by restlessness which stood awkwardly on the foundation of a successful first half of my tour. Pavement rushed under my wheels, past me, and out of sight as I rolled towards Winnipeg with the wind. I breathed a sigh of relief having returned to my simpler life: just me, the road, and my bike between us.

Later in the day, my legs began cramping and I grew tired. I decided that I would have to return to my original sleep schedule, going to bed between 9:00 and 10:00 pm and waking up at 7:00 am.

I remembered Scott saying Carberry would be the halfway point between Elkhorn and Winnipeg. That would be my objective before stopping for the night. As I approached the turnoff for the town I pulled out my phone to look at Google Maps and saw that there was a rest stop and a small provincial park a few kilometers ahead. I turned on street view and zoomed into the sign. No indication that camping was prohibited. I pushed on the extra kilometers and pulled off the highway to the little rest stop on my left.

Seeing people leave their garbage behind has always disappointed me. Why would they think that it’s acceptable to leave a mess of waste for someone they don’t know to clean up? I begrudgingly carried the garbage and diaper wipes that littered the spot I wanted to pitch my tent to the garbage can 20 meters away before setting up my camp for the evening.

My sleep was interrupted by traffic. I’d chosen a spot too close to the busy Highway. Earplugs were my less-effective-than-I’d-hoped weapon of defense.

Day 38: Seton Provincial Park, MB to Winnipeg, MB (162km/665m)

Sunday 20 June 2021

I woke up an hour later than I wanted to. Five days after crossing the Saskatchewan/Manitoba border my alarm clock still hadn’t gotten the memo about the change in time zone. Slightly frustrated by the late start, I packed up camp and returned to pedaling.

Unlike the day before, I apprehensively turned into a crosswind, leaving Seton Provincial Park. Only 30 kilometers into my day, I made my first stop for coffee. I’d hoped to make it further, but the destabilizing wind protested otherwise.

Earlier in my trip, a reader of the blog reached out to me saying my story inspired him to start Bikepacking, and that he had good cycling friends back in Winnipeg that would be able to host me. I’d gotten in touch with the new contact while I was in Elkhorn, and was invited to spend two nights there while I addressed the cracks in my rims which I had discovered in Kindersley. 

Seeing a city I’d never been to before, and meeting new people with similar interests excited me. I struggled to traverse the southerly wind but persisted to make it to Winnipeg at the agreed-upon time that evening.

Eventually, I approached Portage la Prairie and followed the ramps that led me through the city on a diversion from the Trans-Canada. I stopped again, for lunch, there. On my way out of town, the network of roads funneled me into construction lanes and across a narrow bridge. At the same time, trucks with wide loads crept past me slowly, but still not leaving enough room between the bottom corner of the mobile units they carried in my head. I was upset but knew that I was the alien in their territory—the highway.

Before reaching the Winnipeg city boundary, I pulled over one last time at a gas station, hoping to find some motivation in a tasty snack. As I made my way to the door, a man in an orange shirt flagged me down. His name was Rick. He was running from Victoria to Sault Ste Marie to raise money for the Make a Wish Foundation and Childhood Cancer Canada. We exchanged stories and he said that he’d seen other cycle tourists going in both directions and was looking forward to a few days to rest his legs in Winnipeg.

I admired the scenery winding through the city, Assiniboine Park, and along the Red River. I arrived at Brent’s at 9:00 and was greeted enthusiastically by his 13-year-old son, Oakley.

Inside their beautiful riverfront home, I met Stephanie, Brent’s wife, and was shown the guest bedroom where I could sleep. Their hospitality was a pleasant contrast to the long and arduous day I’d had.

Day 39: Solving My Cracked Wheel Dilemma in Winnipeg, MB

Monday 21 June 2021

I allowed myself to sleep in, before tackling what I had to do while I was in Winnipeg. After coffee and breakfast with my hosts, I sat down to journal, while I waited for the Live to Play Sports employees on the west coast to start their workday. Live to Play Sports is the distributor of Masi, the brand of my bike, here in Canada. I’d been in touch with Masi for a few weeks via email, and had reached out to Live to Play Sports as well, but wanted some more information about what they could and couldn’t do with the manufacturer warranty on my bike. Normally bikes have one year of warranty, but I was in a unique situation: Since I was on the road, I didn’t have the luxury of leaving my bike at a shop for more than three days or waiting a few weeks for warrantied parts to come in. I didn’t receive any clear information about whether the repairs or parts I needed would be covered but was told that the bike shop I wanted to go to was a distributor for them and would be able to handle it.

Around noon, I rode my bike to Alter Ego Sports. The mechanics there said there was a three-week lead time on repairs but that they’d be able to sneak me in given my situation. Later in the afternoon while I was trying to find a replacement for the bear spray I bought in Calgary, which I later found out had been a part of a recalled batch, I received a call from the shop. They recommended replacing the wheel but didn’t have an adequate alternative in stock. I took on the onus myself of calling around to other shops in the city to see who had wheels that could get me to Montreal.

In the evening Brent and I drove to Woodcock Cycles, where I bought a set of Mavic Allroad wheels, and then went back to Alter Ego to drop them off for the installation with the mechanic I’d spoken to earlier in the day. Working with two bike shops added some complexity to my situation, but Alter Ego had already agreed to fill out warranty information for Live to Play Sports.

The logistics were exhausting, but I was happy to have Brent’s help in getting from one shop to the other. We had dinner, and then I went to bed exhausted.

Day 40: Waiting for New Wheel Install in Winnipeg, MB

Tuesday 22 June 2021

I’d made an agreement with the mechanic at Alter Ego to come back to pick up the bike at the end of the day. Knowing that my bike was being taken care of allowed me to sleep in and wake up relaxed. After breakfast and coffee with Brent, Stephanie, and Oakley, I sat down to do some more journaling. I began thinking about my long-term goals and how my life would be different when I returned from my tour.

My birthday was nearing, and my dad and I had agreed that he’d send me money from Germany for a new camera. I was nervous about taking on a new project, with a steep learning curve, but arrived at the conclusion that learning to tell my stories through video would have benefits in other areas of my life like communication and public speaking. So, in the afternoon, Stephanie and I went to London Drugs to pick it up since it would be my last day in the city. I was successful and was leaving the store to meet Stephanie when I got a call from Alter Ego. They told me that everything was going together well except that there seemed to be a part missing from my new rear wheel. I was confused but we agreed that the mechanic I spoke to would call Woodcock, where I bought the wheels, to see if they could track down the missing part.

Later in the evening, the mechanic at Alter Ego, and I spoke again. Nothing had been found. I decided to call Woodcock myself to stress the urgency of my situation. One sales clerk possibly being ‘on it’ would not be good enough. I had to get back on the road.

The sales staff at Woodcock told me that they’d reached out to Mavic, the manufacturer of the wheel, and gotten back to Alter Ego, needing the serial number of the wheels I’d purchased. When I got back on the phone with Alter Ego, I was happy to hear that the mechanic would reach out to Mavic himself to find out what part was missing.

Hours later I got a part number. Unfortunately, this was not enough for Woodcock to be able to scan their inventory to see if it had been misplaced. They asked me to bring the wheels back, along with the bike to see if they had a part that fit. Politely, I explained that the mechanic at Alter Ego was already midway through the warranty claim process.

I felt bad that Brent, unsuspectingly, got wrapped up in my logistical nightmare, but it was difficult to decline his offer to get a ride to pick the wheels up at Alter Ego, bring them back to Woodcock to have the part fit, and eventually back to Alter Ego to have them installed. He let me stay at the house another night as well.

Day 41: Tracking Down the Missing Part for My New Wheels in Winnipeg, MB

Wednesday 23 June 2021

To complicate matters, I noticed the night before that Alter Ego had given me the old rear wheel instead of the new one when we went to pick them up. I walked back to the shop in the morning to get the correct wheel, and Brent met me on the way back to drive to Woodcock. They had the right part—a small press fit spacer on the non-drive side of the rear hub. Embarrassed by the amount that Brent had helped me, I promised to leave that afternoon. Half an hour later I got a call that the bike was ready.

Scott, who I stayed with in Elkhorn, reached out saying he’d be spending the night in Winnipeg for work and had a hotel room where I could stay with him. I took him up on the offer, saying we could have a preemptive celebratory dinner for my birthday the following day.

After packing up my things at Brent’s, I thanked him and Oakley profusely for their hospitality and generosity and pedaled through the city to the hotel where I met Scott. We parked my bike in storage, drove to do some errands, and picked up Indian food for dinner on the way back to the hotel.

Day 42: Winnipeg, MB to Rennie, MB 🎉 (139km/261m)

Thursday 24 June 2021

We woke up to an alarm at 8:00, so Scott could get to his 9:00 meeting, and I could get on the road. He wished me a happy birthday.

Both of us packed up our belongings, went down to the lobby,  got coffee, and parted ways. It was nice to see him again so soon.

I followed the route Google Maps gave me out of the city and onto Highway 15—a less-busy alternative to the Trans-Canada slightly further north. Upon the recommendation of a few cyclists I’d met on my way out of the city, I pedaled east and stopped in Elma. I was told I would find a nice spot to camp 30 km up the road in Rennie.

Making a left turn on my way out of Alma and right onto Highway 44, the road grew narrower, more rugged, and less trafficked. On one bump, my panniers jumped as they always did, but I heard a loud pop and suddenly my front wheel jammed. The first thought was that one of my panniers had somehow come off the rail of my rack and gotten lodged in the wheel. I dragged my bike to the gravelly shoulder of the road to let the car behind me pass and inspected. The driver that initially swerved around me stopped and asked me if everything was okay. I said yes, partially out of confidence that I could fix it, but also out of embarrassment that something had gone wrong.

The upwards force that the bump in the road transferred to the weight in my front panniers had pulled the eyelets they were mounted to right out of my fork. I was disheartened, then upset. I had just dealt with a technical difficulty on my bike. Was that not enough? Not only that: I’d asked the mechanic who serviced my bike to assess whether the cracks I noticed on the fork were structural or cosmetic only 3 days earlier. He did not seem concerned. Clearly, he was wrong.

I collected it myself, and took out the repair kit I’d diligently prepared for situations like these. Duct tape or zap straps? I tried zap straps first but they slipped off. Duct tape next. It seemed to hold.

Rennie was only a few kilometers further. I pulled over at the rest stop, found a secluded spot, and set up camp for the evening.

Day 43: Rennie, MB to Kenora, ON (95km/589m)

Friday 25 June 2021

I woke up several times throughout the night. If you ever want to experience an alarming mid-night wakeup, try being startled out of a deep sleep by a nearby train horn. I was so alarmed that I nearly hit the ceiling of my tent. 

In the morning, I packed up camp and alerted Jean-Paul of my progress. I’d reached out to him on WarmShowers during my stay in Winnipeg regarding spending a night or two at his place once I arrived in Kenora. That night, I’d be arriving. 

When I crawled out of my tent, I noticed a dent in my bike frame I hadn’t seen before. I was instantly reminded of the new wheels and the torn-out front rack eyelets and cast into a bad mood. My bike had been a big investment and it wasn’t living up to my expectations. 

At Cady Lake, I stopped to replenish my water and decided to jump in the water. They didn’t have coffee at the lodge, so I continued in search of a better spot to stop for lunch. I must not have toweled off sufficiently after my swim. When I stood up after lunch, it became very evident very quickly that my skin had chafed. It was the first time I’d experienced chafe on my trip, and it was, perhaps, the worst chafe I’ve ever had in my life. 30 kilometers lay between me and Jean-Paul’s place in Kenora. I decided to suck it up and push on. 

Jean-Paul’s house was a little further out of Kenora than I’d expected, but it was well worth the extra distance. The property is on the Winnipeg River and has beautiful views. Jean-Paul set up his guest room for me to stay in, and I enjoyed the surrounding scenery from the deck before eating dinner and retiring for the evening.

Day 44: Rest Day in Kenora, ON

Saturday 26 June 2021

I woke up at 8:00 on my rest day, hoping to work on my blog. My laptop was out of my battery, and the charger had decided to progress from working 50% of the time to working 0% of the time. 

The arrival of one of Jean-Paul’s friends for a pancake breakfast interrupted my disappointment. Afterward, I didn’t sit around long before calling into Kenora to see if they had a replacement. None of the stores did, so I did as much work from my phone as I could while Jean-Paul ran a few errands. I was, surprisingly, successful.

In the afternoon we went into town to shop for groceries. I restocked my snack supply which regularly consisted of granola bars, crackers, and trail mix—lots of trail mix.

When we arrived home, I did a little more work ordering spare parts that would temporarily solve my rack failure, while Jean-Paul prepared dinner. Before going to bed, I helped him finalize the bed he’d installed in the back of his pick-up truck and load a canoe onto his roof for a tip he was hoping to leave on in the coming days.

I treated myself to one more good night of sleep in the guest bedroom before departing for Thunder Bay.

Compared to the first week of the second half of my trip, the first half of my trip seemed too good to be true. I knew I’d have to deal with mechanical breakdowns and sore body parts, but I hadn’t expected so much to come at me at once.

I approached situations that would have previously been overwhelming, with a new calmness that ensued as a result of my simple lifestyle and newfound autonomy. Finally, I was being tested with difficulties, and I stood up and walked (or should I say “biked”) through them.

Gratitudes

I’d like to express my thanks, during the fifth stage of my trip, to

  • Scott and Angela Rookes for not only hosting me for four days in Elkhorn but also for the very generous $200 donation supporting my blog and bike tour,
  • Nancy and Mark Schneider who hosted me at their home in Calgary and extremely generously donated $250 to support my blog and bike tour,
  • Brent, Stephanie, and Oakly who kindly welcomed me into their home, hosted me, fed me, and helped me get my wheels replaced in Winnipeg,
  • Jean-Paul who hosted me in Kenora and donated $20 to support my blog and cycle tour,
  • and, of course, all my friends and family for their sustained support.

Statistics

  • Total Distance: 3357km
  • Total Elevation: 18216m
  • Wild Animals: Black Bear (×4), Brown Bear (×1), Deer Tick (×1), Elk (× many), BigHorn Sheep (× many), Coyote (× many), Bison (× many)
  • Warm Showers: 10

Additional Notes

  • Rick is the man who is running from Duncan to Sault Ste Marie to raise money for the Make a Wish Foundation and Children’s Cancer Canada. I met him riding into Winnipeg on June 20th. To donate to his causes, visit his website:
    https://www.fallorick.com/

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