I had gotten used to bugs at this point, or so I thought. At the end of a day of riding bugs would be in my teeth, down my shirt and sports bra, in the corners of my eyes, and speckled across my top like a windshield. Coming down a mountain pass I had a fly get stuck in my ear. To the distress of the fly and myself, it couldn’t escape because of the force of the wind pushing it back, and I didn’t dare take my hands of the bars at such speeds to get rid of it. So the fly buzzed madly in my ear for at least five minutes until I could slow down and help it on its way. In another instance I took a drink of my water bottle to discover that I had inadvertently squeezed an earwig who was living in the recessed cap into my mouth. Bugs are something you just get used to.
When things like this would happen I’d go through a checklist conversation with myself.
Freaking out me: AHHHH I’M FREAKING OUT.
Rational me: What’s wrong?
Freaking out me: There is a BUG in my EAR/MOUTH/FOOD/EYES/WATER BOTTLE.
Rational me: Are you hurt?
Freaking out me: No.
Rational me: Okay. Are you in danger?
Freaking out me: …. no.
Rational me: Okay. Are you uncomfortable?
Freaking out me: Well no duh.
Rational me: So what are you going to do about it?
I had this conversation with myself countless times along the journey. Most of the time the conversations ended with me either telling myself to be comfortable with the uncomfortable or make small adjustments to make myself less uncomfortable. But no matter what, there are going to be moments of discomfort on a trip like this.
It wasn’t until Saskatchewan that I started to understand that I’d actually been very fortunate in my encounters with bugs thus far. In Saskatchewan I started cycling on the Trans Canada Highway which begins to cut across some swamp land. Because of this I saw a lot of really cool looking birds, but it also was a breading ground for some pretty nasty bugs including horseflies.
It only took one horsefly bite for me to take the threat seriously. The pain of the bite took me so by surprise that I let out a Hollywood worthy woman cry (think Star Wars Episode II when Padme gets her back clawed by the space cat monster in the death arena.) and I nearly lost my balance on my bike. It had bitten through my cycling jersey on my back shoulder blade. I was so rattled by the experience that evading horseflies because my new obsession. They trumped every other fear I had about the road. All my other worries seemed hypothetical. Big transport trucks? People texting and driving? These were potential threats. Horseflies were certain.
I began hoping that the huge transport trucks that I dreaded would drive by so that their gusts would knock the horseflies off course. These fiendish creatures were the size of jelly beans and they struck hardest in the heat of the afternoon. Once the sun got behind me I could keep track of them because they cast a shadow on the pavement in front of me. Horseflies will chase you for kilometres, and they are impossible to outrun. One night I spent my precious phone battery and data trying to outsmart the horseflies instead of contacting my loved ones. My biggest advantage over them is that I am able to learn about them and outsmart them, I told myself. My research wasn’t encouraging. I learned that they could fly up to 145 km/hour -the fastest insect on the planet – so out running them wasn’t an option. What I did learn was that they favour swampy areas for breeding grounds, that the females are the nasty ones that bite, and that I might be bothered by them less by wearing light colour clothing that they have difficulty detecting and by avoiding the hottest part of the day.
Alberta had given me a false sense of how long it takes to cycle the prairies. I assumed that because I got through Alberta so quickly, Saskatchewan would be the same. It wasn’t. It took 6 days, which might not seem like much, but Saskatchewan was a different kind of challenge. The stretches between towns seemed endless and barren. Towns on the map ended up hardly being towns at all (see above photograph of Parkbeg, SK). While BC challenged my fitness, the prairies challenged my mind. The flatness that I had been looking forward to became a curse of boredom. There would be days where I got off my bike after 6 hours of riding and feel like I hadn’t noticed anything.
I don’t want to make it seem like I hated Saskatchewan. I loved the feeling of endless sky. The smell of canola is so embedded in my mind that every time I smell it now, I smile. The sunrises and sunsets were boundless. The people were absolutely lovely. I don’t have any photos of Moose Jaw, but it was one of the coolest little cities I’ve ever been to. It’s like this oasis of urban in a desert of farmland. In my opinion, Moose Jaw is one of the most underrated cities in Canada and can fly completely under the radar (a quality that attracted gangsters like Al Capone for bootlegging operations). If you take this route I recommend visiting the Tunnels of Moose Jaw where you can visit the tunnels under the city that were once used to smuggle booze, but have since been turned into a tourist attraction.
Additional notes about Saskatchewan:
- religious influence becomes more prominent with road side signs with biblical references and restaurant decor.
- free camping so easy – every small town seems to have an outdoor pool and a ball diamond. Pay for a swim, use the showers, and then camp behind the dugout.
- if you’re not into free camping, almost every small town has a municipal campground that charges approximately $10.
- the sun is absolutely scorching – my bike computer read 42 C one day
- pick up a free map at the tourist information centre to avoid draining your phone battery to navigate
Next up, Manitoba.