Linday’s Trans Canada Trail Adventure – Episode 1: “Return of the Swamp People”
DAY ZERO -Tuesday, July 2, 2013
As the reader may well know, Lindsay is currently underway on his latest adventure to cross the Manitoba section of the Trans Canada Trail from the Saskatchewan to Ontario borders by bicycle in a more or less continuous fashion stopping for food and rest only as needed (editor’s note on July 7: Follow the last couple of days of Lindsay’s adventure by checking out his Spot tracker here). It is purely a self-motivated adventure and few if any individuals other than us endurance-type, adventure geeks would find ourselves curious enough to follow something such as this. It’s unknown whether or not a rider has ever completed this feat before so to say the least, it’s one more pioneering adventure that has come to be associated with the legendary Lindsay Gauld. It’s also unclear as to the amount of time required for a mere mortal to complete an endeavour of this magnitude (estimated to be in excess of 1000 km in length) but Lindsay has stated he thinks a goal of 5 to 8 days should be reasonable depending on the weather and trail conditions. Unfortunately for Lindsay, the original plans were for him to ride the trail with his friend and fellow Iditarod Trail competitor, the great Charlie Farrow from Duluth, Minnesota but circumstances did not allow for Charlie to attend this year, so this will be truly a solo adventure. If you were to ask, Lindsay would likely tell you it’ll be nothing more than a long, multi-day ride and not a “race” but if you know him, very few if any of the things he does do not involve competition of some kind, so hopefully he has a safe and enjoyable “race for one” over the next week or so. As his guide, Lindsay is using the best resource he could find and that is a somewhat dated print copy of the Trans Canada Trail route published by Canadian Geographic magazine circa 2005, so hopefully it’s still accurate. I wonder if he asked the CAA if they have a TripTik for this?
Those who have travelled with Lindsay before also know it’s unusual for him to be without his faithful manservant, Andy Lockery (aka the Good Doctor or simply, the GD), and as he was unavailable for this one, I was pressed into service as a substitute “manservant in training”. It was a request that I welcomed and once my resume was submitted, reviewed and background references cleared, was given the green light to attend. Let the record show that the duties of a manservant are not for the faint of heart and can involve a variety of tasks including but not limited to chauffeur, golf partner, dining companion and long distance driving conversationalist to name just a few, and in my rookie attempt I was highly motivated to do my best at all of them. The manservant also takes it upon himself to provide sage advice, analysis and opinion on any topic at any time of the day whether it is called for or not, and the master of this skill is none other than the Good Doctor Lockery. I knew full well I couldn’t provide this service at the GD’s level now or in the future, so I didn’t worry about that task as I knew full well he would return soon to pick up the slack I would no doubt be leaving behind. The GD and I are great friends and co-workers, but he possesses certain skills that many of us aspire to but few attain. One manservant skill I was able to provide though, was that of companion rider for the first part of the adventure and was looking quite forward to that job – I too like to ride a bike, and while I don’t or haven’t ever ridden to the level of Lindsay, still think I have a bit of experience but wasn’t sure about riding for more than about an hour or two with him on this one, especially given a strange trail a long way from everything and with sketchy cell phone service. Anyway, it sounded like fun and would be a great bit of supplemental training for me so hey, what’s the worst that could happen?
Day Zero began for the two of us after a well-deserved rest following the “Where’s the Beach” event on the Canada Day weekend, and we departed in the late morning of Tuesday, July 2nd and our destination was Roblin, Manitoba the closest town to the start of the TC Trail. My job for the next two days was a simple one; drive with Lindsay to Roblin, play golf, ride part way with him along the trail, drive his van back to Winnipeg and report to his wonderful wife Lynne (who is going to heaven for all she’s endured by the way) that all is going well. The drive from Winnipeg to Roblin consumes the better part of four hours along the Yellowhead Route and north along Highway 83 passing through the beautiful Parkland region of western Manitoba and if you’ve never been there before, one is reminded that this part of the province is far from flat. Personally, it had been quite awhile since I travelled this route and remembered how scenic this part of our great province really is. Once in Roblin, a brief tour around town and some casual converstion with the motel staff reminded us that while very beautiful and progressive on many fronts, it is another example of the classic farming community that is unfortunately following the same trend in that it’s population is aging and few if any of the current generation of children are interested in carrying the torch for the family farm. The economy of Roblin is for the most part, agriculture-based but tries it’s best to be diverse but the new economic lifeblood comes from resource extractions such as logging, mining and pockets of oil-based exploration – in my books, pretty tough on the land and always controversial, but I can understand the need to do what it takes to pay the bills and keep the lights on. While my observations and opinions are far from profound, I like small towns and hope they can carry on forever, provide it’s citizens with a safe and happy place to live and hold their place as important food-producing centers on the domestic scene and throughout the world. Who knows, maybe this interest in the Trans Canada Trail thing might encourage a few new people and entrepreneurs to come up there and see what it’s all about? But I digress; Day Zero in Roblin concluded with a delicious dinner at a home-style restaurant in town followed by an enthusiastic round of golf using an electric cart to help maintain the aerobic capacity.
Lindsay and I are not good golfers but we like the game. We don’t play it enough and would say we both have about the same mix of skills and abilities, but mostly have about the same attention span for it and our golf-related ADD usually kicks in after about six holes or so and it certainly was that night as our games went from bad to worse. We laughed a lot about our inconsistencies, analyzed our golf swings to the the n’th degree and tried to blame everything on the conditions but couldn’t simply because the course in question is so nice and very well-kept! Once our show of bad golf was over, we took some time to re-hydrate in the clubhouse courtesy of a few refreshing beverages and then it was back to the Harvest Moon motel and last minute preparations for Day One on the trail tomorrow. As a side note, may I reccommend the Harvest Moon if you are ever in Roblin? – very tidy, modern and reasonable rates (pet-friendly too!).
DAY ONE – Wednesday, July 3, 2013
Following breakfast and the requisite last minute equipment reviews, we headed out to the official TC trailhead which is about forty minutes drive north of Roblin on Highway 83. I did the driving and we talked about a variety of trip-related things and was encouraged as Lindsay reviewed the operating manual for his new GPS unit and realized he had just put back in the burned out batteries to make it go – hoo yah, a man after my own heart and technology level! Now let it be known that GPS faux pas could happen to anyone but it certainly would be in character for someone such as myself as I’m pretty much a Luddite when it comes to all things electronic and I know Lindsay has his moments too! Both of us rely on good friend and Patron Saint of Electronic Gadgetry, Vern Nelson to help us and he always comes through – thanks for always helping out Vern, and I hope we continue to make you laugh but not too hard. As we arrive at the trailhead and prepare to depart, the first section looks just like any other trail might, but let’s just say the rest of it was pretty wet and I mean very wet (as in mostly under water). More to come on this in a moment. According to the trail guide, the first 9 or so kilometers were said to follow the forested trail and then emerge at Highway 83, cross over and then proceed along a section of hard-packed gravel. Sounded just fine by my standards and we agreed that I’d ride along until we reach the highway section, part ways and then ride myself back to the van along the highway and head back to Winnipeg and there you have it, Bob’s your uncle. Well, let’s just say it took a lot longer than we thought.
In terms of equipment appropriate for this kind of adventure it’s anyone’s guess at to what would work best as the entire TC Trail route is described as a combination of surfaces including forest trail, gravel road, single track, paved highway and everything in between. Lindsay had chosen to go with his winter fatbike but equipped with a set of 29’r wheels and a full complement of frame and handlebar bags to carry the requisite amount of gear for both comfort and safety. While his fully loaded bike would be many pounds lighter than what it would normally be during a winter adventure, it still was pretty heavy. On the other hand, I was travelling light considering I was only performing in the manservant capacity this morning, so could be a minimalist. I did choose to go with my winter fatbike with it’s oversize tires and little if any, frame bags and on-bike cargo. I like this bike a lot and have logged many miles on it this year so for me it was my weapon of choice. There were sections where the fatbike seemed to be just the ticket, but it would have been a bad choice for many of the other sections so in my opinion, think the 29’r would be the most versatile way to go, and that was the Lindsay plan as well. Oh yeah, it’s about now Lindsay has realized he’s forgotten his helmet. “Back at the motel?” I inquire, “No, back in my garage at home” is the reply. A large groan and moment of panic ensues but luckily as manservant in training, the solution is clear at least in my mind, in that I must surrender my own helmet for the greater good of the event, and so I did. I’ve always had the highest regard for the domestiques who perform selflessly in cycling events such as the Tour so this was my chance to be a “demi-domestique” if nothing else. Luckily I have a pretty small melon (not much going on in there) and it did fit Lindsay pretty well so there was a happy ending to the problem before there even was a beginning. Let the record show that at least my helmet will now cover a good part of the Trans Canada Trail even though I won’t be!
The first couple of kilometers were relaxed as we began to find our legs and while there were numerous bugs and other insect pests around us, it was nothing close to the number and severity of horseflies encountered in Stead at the “Where’s the Beach” race last weekend. At that race, i was one of the volunteers hiding in a bug tent for five hours and I still can’t believe how many bites I received in there never mind how it must have been for the riders out on course! They do have a type of biting fly called the “bullfly” (horse, bull, what’s the difference?) out Roblin way and these bugs can be pretty annoying while riding, so be advised if you ever plan to visit this part of the trail in the future. Our first sign of “trouble” on the trail came about 3 km in when a significant amount of deadfall was blocking our forward progress. Undeterred, Lindsay led the way stepping over and going under an assortment of the said deadfall and I did my best to follow all the while lifting and dragging our bikes along. At this point I think the common man would have admitted defeat, turned around and headed for home but remember you’re travelling with Lindsay Gauld and he’s a man on a mission and a manservant (even in training) must follow, so I did.
The blockages became worse but we did our best to keep moving in a forward direction but resigned ourselves to trying an “alternate” route if we were ever going to get through. It should be noted that some of the deadfall was natural in origin but a large amount of it could be attributed to the logging efforts in the area. In my opinion, I hope they find a better way to keep this part of the trail clear through other means as there’s no way human power alone could maintain a clear trail for future users. Our detour kept us going more or less in the right direction but now we began to enter the “Swamp of Death” and neadless to say, we got wet really fast. I was the first to go down and take a full body dip as I couldn’t clip out in time to avoid falling and earned my first of many scrapes, cuts and bruises from the underwater logs and stinging nettles. It was shaping up to be a rather warm day and while I don’t mind a swim to cool down, I wasn’t quite ready for the full-body swamp dip I just received. Once your wet, you might as just live with it, so I did.
We continued on through the “shallow” swampy areas and there were times when we could actually get back on our bikes and ride through some of it and here’s where the fat tires of my snowbike held a bit of an advantage. As we got into the deeper areas where we were waist deep or higher, we had no choice but to lift our bikes to shoulder level or above as we went. Remember that I’m lifting and dragging an unloaded bike weighing in at about thirty pounds while Lindsay’s doing the same with a bike and cargo weighing about twice mine, so it’s hard to compare our efforts. At one point and as a result of his heavy bike, Lindsay did take a great slow-motion dive as he stepped into a rather deep section and his bike helped take him down – there are times that he’s human too! The swamp thing continued for what seemed like a very long time and we were now in some really and I mean really tall grass (taller than both of us). Lindsay was a bit ahead of me by now and there were times when he became invisible as the grass would fill in behind us as we moved through it. Eventually we were able to ride again and made our way through the remants of the “trail” as we finally saw the highway crossing ahead. We both took a break, had a laugh about how silly that section was and both agreed how it’s better to get something like that over with early in the adventure although there is no doubt a lot more of that kind of trail condition ahead. It should be noted this 9 km section took us both about two hours to cover so if you ever plan to try this and are worried about your average speed, don’t bother!
In retrospect, I think if the idea of through-hiking/riding the TC appeals to you as it does athletes such as Lindsay, be advised that sections like this can break one’s spirit very quickly and remember that I was only with him for about two hours of what will likely be a five plus day adventure. Don’t get me wrong, we all need and thrive on challenge and that’s the only way one can expect to become better at the things that motivate them so continue to challenge yourself regardless of your age or perceived skill level. To many, the swampy and deadfall sections just described would be considered impassible and downright dangerous and I wouldn’t want to think of what might have happened if one of us had sprained an ankle, impaled on a branch when we fell or if Lindsay had thrown out his shoulder as has happened in the past, and I don’t know how either of us might have been evacuated if we needed to be and that is a fact. Throw in fatigue, animal encounters and darkness and you have a whole other set of issues to contend with. Please remember your limits and for the most part, stay within them and be sure to remind yourself once and awhile that there is often a fine line between challenge and foolishness, so make the right choice. Lindsay Gauld is an exceptional individual and has a world of experience in events and activities such as this, so it is wise to only compare yourself to yourself and no one else. That being said, I’ll bet those who live the adventure mantra wouldn’t want to have it any other way so to those individuals, I take my hat off (or helmet if I still had one) to your spirit and may I catch just a little bit of it every time I am around you and those like you!
Lastly, may I encourage all those who are so interested, to follow Lindsay’s trip via his Spot tracker device as it is presented on the shop website (and if you’re not sure how to do that, call Vern Nelson cuz he know’s everything). And, if you get the chance to ride along with him at some point like I did, be sure to do so as the company would be more than welcome and he’s bound to have a lot to talk about!
Manservant in Training