I enter boldly-named Prawda, Manitoba, (50km into today’s ride). Despite the obvious luxuries – two gas stations with concessions – I do not find what I need so I cycle on. The sun is high and hot, and I am alone and parched. My water long gone, no cell service and no way to connect with the group, I stop to canvas an Ontario information centre but the building was vacant, except for a store selling Anishnawbe crafts. I see that they have it – lots – but the store is closed. I step back into the heat and continued on. This has become critical; I’ve been too long without it. A sign glinted from behind a tree – it would have been easy to miss, but I saw it. Just 3km away; I quicken my pace. Upon arrival I survey the room and, through salt ridged lips, I query weakly: “wifi?” Yes! The holy password restores life, confirmed by familiar dings and hums. Anticlimactically, I slump, yielding to dehydration, and silently take stock of new priorities.
This is uncomfortably close to reality, as phone and wifi links in this area are both rare and crappy. A telecommunications desert.
Today is the Saturday of a long weekend, and RV options don’t exist. While we ride, Darlene is busy doing her daily reservation magic. Mike and Jim take the recumbent bikes, and I return to my road bike.
At this point I must register a rant with the Manitoba Transportation Ministry: a little bit before Prawda, the shoulder pavement suddenly ends. The Ministry either does not know that cyclists use this highway, or does not care, as there was no notice and no options. I understand that budget limitations require concessions, but that doesn’t explain the absence of notice or even warning spray paint. We all launch off the pavement at speed into the hole and land in the loose gravel. Now what? Since the Ministry doesn’t acknowledge the missing pavement, they certainly give no indication of helpful information, like how long this condition will last [16 km] or options [none]. It is irresponsible and dangerous.
As we approach the border with Ontario, the landscape rapidly adjusts from it’s prairie state to something more familiar: evergreen forests return, as do lakes, low hills and exposed granite. By the time we get to the border, we are in our Group of Seven landscape and suitably prepared for Ontario. Our travel today ends at 125km to go North to Redditt, and our home for the night at Silver Birch Camps. There we find the friendliest family who operate an impressive lodge. We talk for hours about life in the North, hockey, beer, blueberries and all things Canadian. We also learn that the next 90 km beyond Kenora are a highway shoulder horror show. This is where we decide to cash in some of our banked extraneous km in exchange for passage to safe shoulders. We plan to drive to Vermilion Bay tomorrow and start from there.