Day 19 – Medicine Hat to Gull Lake

Day 19 – Medicine Hat to Gull Lake. After two days of cycling 100 miles-+ per day, I decided as I fell asleep last night to take it easier today and stop earlier in the day. But then I woke up, heard the wind blowing in strongly from the west, and thought “nah…lets do one more century!”

  • Today’s Distance (miles/km): 108 / 173
  • Time in saddle: 7h 16
  • Max/min temp (°c): 36°/14°
  • Climb/descend (feet) : 1,898 / 1,636
  • Calories used: 5,405
  • Cafe time: 2h 07

Today saw the end of my first map and the start of my second…

I took quite a while to get properly moving today. First it was emailing etc, then I stopped at a huge retail park to shop for food. As I approached the turn-off, I saw this deer in front of the sign looking for all the world like it was making a shopping decision – “Sobeys first, or a quick root beer? Decisions, de-cisions…whassat???”


All morning I kept thinking about a funny event that happened at the campground last night. The evenings are long and sunny at the moment as we approach the longest day of the year, and the site was full of kids making the most of it, playing hide-and-seek  in a big group all over the place with shouts from mums and dads from time to time. I was in the washroom brushing my teeth, when a little lad of about 3 or 4 came in, walked up to me and announced with a big smile (verbatim): “I’n hidin in hidin seek!”. “Are you?” I replied. “OK”. So he looked around the room, completely empty except for one large toilet cubicle, and wisely chose it to hide in, closing the door without locking it. I carried on brushing my teeth and could hear all the other kids outside looking for hiding places. “I’n goin to the toilet!” the lad suddenly announced. “OK!” I replied, laughing. A few moments later in came a couple more lads the same age, who both went straight to the cubicle to hide, laughing and shouting. “SSSSSSHhhh!” one of them said. Then a couple more arrived, until I think the whole gang was in there. I heard a dad outside shout “5 more minutes guys!”, followed by the sound of the toilet flushing and an outbreak of uproarious laughter from all the kids. I packed up my stuff and left, telling the dad that I thought they’d be on their way out shortly.

After an hour or so of cycling I crossed the border into my third Province so far, Saskatchewan. The only noticeable change at first was that the hard shoulder started to drop in quality, gradually at first, then progressively deteriorating until by the end of the day it felt like concrete slabs joined together with rubble. I was riding through an area called Cypress Hills, which extends a long was south beneath my route, and a bit north. They are beautiful, gentle, rolling hills, grass covered and mostly deserted. 


Grass grows right up to the edge of the shoulder, where countless ground squirrels or gophers (not sure which) make their living, running in and out of burrows set a little further back. They always run in and out the same way, making clear paths through the grass, which must be a big help for the hungry eagles that circle the skies looking for lunch or a second breakfast. Of course the gophers are hungry too, which leads to some disturbing behaviour: the highway is littered with dead gophers hit by cars (and maybe bikes, though I’ve managed to dodge them so far), and this morning I saw a live one drag a dead one off the road, through the grass, and into its burrough. I don’t think it was for sentimental reasons.

I met a fellow long distant cyclist on the road this morning, Hans, who is a 73-year-old German living in Reno, Nevada. He was an extraordinary man, a very tall chap, cycling along on a cheap supermarket bike, all his possessions wrapped in one plastic bag on the back. I asked how he started out on a bike, and he told me that his mother, in Eastern Prussia in 1944, put him on the back of a bicycle as a baby and set off to escape the advancing Russians, of whom they were all terrified. His family settled in Munich after the war, but he had lived all over North America since, Labrador, Newfoundland, Quebec, Alaska, and now Nevada, always cycling and also kayaking great distances when his job allowed (he was a masseur/therapist with the Canadian Air Force for many years). He said he had cycled around the world several times, always on his own. His wife waited patiently back home, wherever that was.

(You’d better get used my emulsion-face – I’ve more or less stopped trying to wipe it away. I need all the protection I can get!)


I was surprised, given all this, that he was suffering very badly with saddle sores and didn’t seem too sure what to do about it. I’d noticed he was riding very awkwardly, stopping often to take the weight off. I told him I had some cream that would help heal it, and he seemed suddenly very interested in me and my bike’s contents. We stopped, and as I dug out the pot I noticed that he had an awful saddle with a big gel cover, the worst possible combination for long distances (the close-fit to your backside creates lots of small bits of friction. Harder surfaces are much more forgiving, oddly). I told him this, which surprised him no end, then he took advantage of my offering with great interest. I’d been cycling alongside him for several miles, but felt I needed to push on a bit to make Gull Lake, so we said our goodbyes, promising to look out for each other. He had absolutely no plan whatsoever, no map, no idea of where he’d stop next. He was crossing Canada too but seemed amused by my questions about his route or intentions. We discovered we had something in common however – for some reason I asked him who his hero was, and he thought for a long moment, then said “Ernst (sic) Shackleton”. Any of my family will be able to guess just how happy that made me. I shouted out “Shackleton!!”, and we shook hands across the handlebars, both smiling like idiots. I may have to ask this question more often.

At a service station stop I discovered a milkshake machine that took your frozen cupfull and turned it into cycling manna from heaven. I would have stayed drinking these all day if I had time:


The small lakes by the road are a feature here, very pretty and pulsating with bird life. They often look haunted, since there are trees standing in the water that have died. I’m not sure what sequence of events causes this, perhaps temporary flooding, but it can look pretty strange.


I had several more cow-encounters, where the whole herd stop what they’re doing to come and check out this freak of nature with a long flagpole-tail. This lot were up for a race as I left, trundling alongside me for a few hundred feet.


I pressed on to Gull Lake, and a great campsite in the middle of this tiny town. As I rode in I had the very welcome sight of Nahir, Caitlin and Mark, the three cyclists from yesterday, who were just setting up tents themselves. We shouted hellos and I pitched my tent next to theirs. After a quick trip to the liquor store to get some ice-cold beers (they had already made this vital trip) we all cooked, ate, drank beers and wine, chatted about our various experiences and plans, and just had a lovely evening. They have all quit their jobs to make this trip, Mark (another Geologist!) from an outward bounds store, Naheer & Caitlin from their charitable jobs working with Autistic kids, some of whom were over 200lbs and required a lot of handling. It sounded like they wanted to return to it after reaching Newfoundland (they plan to buy a van and drive home!). Mark is only doing a shorter part of the trip but has no intention of returning to his job! 
LtoR: Mark, Caitlin, Naheer

And today there’s a special musical link, from the inexhaustible FOTB Ben Dawson – the most charming thing you could ever waste a few minutes listening to:

Let’s fill the world with this music. 

14 thoughts on “Day 19 – Medicine Hat to Gull Lake

  1. Remarkable three days Ben, a real feat. Hope the x-Canada cyclist we met in Banff (Matthew Pike) gets in touch – a very interesting guy.
    Thanks to you and Percy F we will all go to bed discussing the merits of the Greeks’ claim on the Elgin Marbles. Sorry, Melina…
    Keep up your excellent progress and great blog posts.
    Cheers, S.

    Like

    1. Hey Ben! Met up with Stewart and Gill in Banff and they told me all about your x-country adventure. I hope to meet up with you and thanks for the blog posts, they make my planning much easier. I’m a couple of days behind you but hope to meet soon.

      Cheers,

      Matthew

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Really enjoying your daily blog Ben – a highlight in this busy end of term period! Lovely to be transported even for a few minutes to where you are (and where I’d like to be: on the go on a bicycle). You’re making amazing progress! Gives me hope for the London 100 Prudential Ride on 30th July for which I have so far had NO TIME to train. Too hot right now anyway, best excuse ever. And then there’s the report writing…anyway, thanks for brightening up the daily grind back here! Enjoy every minute!! Love Steffi.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Steffi – great to know that you’re enjoying the blog. I did that Ride London a coupl of years ago. Well done for getting a place. Although of course there are hills, it’ was a surprisingly fast, downhill route. Don’t know if it’s changed since. Hope it’s not so hot! Hot here too. I’m off south in the morning before following a route east parallel to the trans-Canada. Into the unknown! Love to You, and all at RSSKL Bxx

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  3. Another fascinating blog; the 73 year old is waiting to be in a short story, maybe somehow involving the haunted lake.

    I love the connections you make with passing wildlife. Have been looking up ground squirrels because I thought they were herbivores but oh no, they’re very good at clearing up carcasses of close relatives. Apparently they’re friendly, but don’t make a buddy of one, they’re not good at recognising personal space.They might colonise your panniers.And they bite.

    This morning I heard Bernard Cribbins singing Right said Fred, could be a candidate for Stuck Song.Im sure it’s on YouTube but I don’t know how to do all that linking stuff.

    Also do you remember the chant on long walks –

    We’re nearly there we’re nearly there
    We’re nearly nearly there
    We’re nearly there we’re nearly there
    We’re nearly nearly THERE

    But it cd drive you mad

    Mileage seems phenomenal.Hope management lets you have a rest day soon
    Love and thoughts

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bernard cribbins! Hadn’t thought of him – there’s “Digging a Hole” too, just as infuriating! Btw, I do remember that chant, but you need to add one more “nearly”, making three in a row. It’s more annoying that way so I’m pretty sure that’s right. Love the ground squirrel stuff too, thanks mum. Hope you’re enjoying the hot June in the U.K. Bxx

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  4. Hi dear Ben…
    Peter Campbell-Kelly here, writing from the CBSO coach to an Aldeburgh Festival rehearsal… Petruchka today with the scintillating Mirga – electrifying concert last night- She really is an astonishing phenomenon!

    Sorry I’m a latecomer to your fascinating blog… sounds like you’re having a truly extraordinary time!!
    You’re amazing!!
    Looking forward to hearing the rest of the story.

    (How did you get on with the Kerouac?!)

    All best,
    You’re a hero!!
    Peter 👍🏻

    Liked by 1 person

  5. You are meeting some amazing people on your journey Ben. Hans sounds like a real character and I’m sure will benefit from your advice about saddles. Congrats on the fantastic progress obviously having the long stretches of prairie land has inspired you to ride like the wind! I have a song that might fit your mood, “Take it Easy” by the Eagles. Have a great rest day! Ol xx

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Dear Ben
    Your journeys are of course putting our drive back from Aldeburgh to Brum slightly in the shade. In the hope of replacing your musical ear worms with poetry ones, here are our creative efforts on the theme of, well, you!
    (Poetic licence may have been taken)
    Lots of love and may you stay free of saddle sores.
    Bryony, Peter C-K, Robbie and Helen xxx

    There once was a fiddler called Ben
    Who couldn’t face more Mahler Ten.
    He built a fine bike
    Said, “What’s not to like?”
    And rode off to Saskatchewen

    Ben’s burning a shed load of calories
    He’s keeping those waiters in salaries
    Wolfing pancakes and cream
    He’ll speed like a dream
    Let’s hope he has no nasty allergies

    That Ben, he is Oh such a groover.
    His ride started on the isle of Vancouver
    He’s asking for dosh
    For the poor from the posh
    But He sure does some shocking Manoeuvres.

    Liked by 1 person

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