By the time I got to Manitoba it was the end of July. The bugs were about the same as Saskatchewan, which is to say annoying at best and relentless at worst. The people were unbelievably kind – this was a theme across my whole journey, but it was especially true of Manitoba. In the first town I stopped in a man would not rest until I accepted his twenty dollar bill, insisting that “dinner was on him tonight!”
Across Canada people had shown me unbelievable kindness, but I think one of the moments that stuck with me most happened in Brandon, MB. I was downtown and a fellow cyclist started a conversation with me. While we were chatting I made some superficial observations that made me think that maybe this man was of low socio-economic status. He made a joke and asked if I wanted a Manitoba flag for the back of my bike. Knowing that he didn’t have one, I played along and said that if he gave me one I’d wear it with pride. We parted ways and I went into the library and sat by the window where I could keep an eye on my locked bike. I noticed the man return and started looking up and down the street before getting close to my bike. Oh no, I thought, this is the part where I watch myself get robbed. He turned around and saw me sitting in the window. A huge smile broke across his face, which I thought was a weird reaction for someone that had just been caught red handed. Then he held up a plastic bag and took out a Winnipeg Jets hat and pointed to me, then the hat, then me again. He motioned me to come outside. What I had mistaken for scoping out the bike had been an effort to find me and give the hat to me personally, and when he could see me anywhere he went up to my bike to tuck it under one of the bungee cords. I felt so humbled. He was so excited to give me the hat, you could tell that this man understood the joy of giving. This will be my favourite hat for the rest of my days.
By happy coincidence, friends from high school were at a family reunion in Portage la Prairie. They invited me to be an honourary family member for the day, and it was an honour indeed.
When planning this trip I understood that, in all likelihood, I would be spending my 25th birthday alone in the middle of nowhere Northern Ontario. I dreaded this, and wondered if it would be one of the loneliest days, not just of the trip, but of my life. But because of a couple difficult weather systems that had slowed my pace, I was in Winnipeg on my birthday. And by coincidence, a friend that I had met in Quebec a decade earlier was home in Winnipeg and invited me to stay with her and her family and take a rest day on my birthday. I was so relieved.
My friend and her husband spoiled me. We went to the Forks, and then to the Manitoba Museum where there was an exhibit about Terry Fox that I wanted to visit. My friend tipped off the news crew that was at the museum that I was on my own cross-Canada journey.
After the museum, sushi for dinner!
I felt so lucky to have shared this day with such good people. On the way home, I was overwhelmed with gratitude, thinking of how different this day could have been. When we arrived home, her family had a cards and cake and balloons waiting. My heart was overwhelmed. What was the most dreaded day of the trip was transformed into one of the most memorable birthdays of my life.
Refreshed, I got back on the road the next day, passing the longitudinal centre of Canada and on to Ontario.
Additional notes about Manitoba:
- the highway between Winnipeg and the Ontario border is really tough with only a few inches of pavement between the rumble strips and the gravel. Also, very few services and the one I stopped at didn’t have potable water at the gas station. Stock up and be ready to be self sufficient until Kenora.
- swampy ditches off the side of the highway makes for some gnarly bug habitat
- Friendly Manitoba – the licence plates don’t exaggerate
- free camping easy in small towns, similar situation to Saskatchewan