DAY NINETEEN: TUESDAY, JUNE 30
Today would be an estimated 620 miles that would take us finally back across the border and a good way into North Dakota. As we became accustomed to at Best Western hotels, the morning breakfast was not much to write about…a simple hard boiled egg was my initial morning energy food before leaving.
The start of the day found the outside parking lot very thick with the haze of the northern forest fires. Much worse than yesterday, we would be riding in this smog for the first few hours of the day as we continued our trek eastward. There just wasn’t much to see this morning; the smoke covered the complete horizon, traffic was very light on this major highway, and there just is not much scenery.
One of the many grain elevators found all over Saskatchewan. Even a large structure just on the other side of the road was completely masked by smoke just a half mile away:
Another morning horizon shot:
We rode through the sleepy town of Moose Jaw (one of the coolest town names ever in my opinion) and turned south onto a small two lane highway, Saskatchewan 39. We stopped in the very small town of Rouleau where I inquired about any potential restaurant for a hot morning meal. The fuel clerk simply pointed down the road in a southerly direction and said, “Go that way about fifteen kilometers.” Outside as I was readying to get on the bike once more, I saw this sign:
Notice the painted-over sign and the tire tracks immediately behind it. Small town hooligans must have been at work. This probably became the town gossip for at least a week after it happened.
I led the way down the road until I saw a sign for Mary’s Place Restaurant in the town of Milestone. I followed the long gravel driveway to the eatery, parked the bike, and walked in. You would have thought the Hell’s Angels biker club had walked in the door unexpectedly. The dining area had approximately twenty older residents sitting around, drinking coffee and chatting. When we walked through the door, the entire place went quiet. Every pair of eyes followed us as we found a table to sit down and while we waited for the working waitress. The place still quiet, the older server walked up to us. Jeffrey immediately tried to strike up a conversation, as usual.
“Are you Mary?”
“No, why would I be?”, was the very curt answer.
“I thought because of the sign you might be.”
“You thought wrong. You eating or leaving since I’m not Mary?”
Jeffrey said he wasn’t eating and didn’t want anything at all. I thought she was going to smack him.
Me, I liked her immediately. When people are naturally sarcastic, you have to give it back to them in order to get their trust quickly. I simply put the smile on and told her if she said the food was any good, I was staying. If she said it wasn’t, I was going to stick around and order a second plate out of spite. That got me a smile, a quick cup of coffee, and great service. And the food was very good. And she got a great tip from me at as I was leaving.
It was the overall atmosphere inside that was odd. As I mentioned, you would have thought that we were bad core bikers that walked in. It was minutes before the ambient conversations arose back to their normal levels…but the entire time we were there most of the locals kept a stern eye on us. We had invaded their private little club I guess.
After breakfast, we would constantly be in and out of drizzly rain for hours to come.
One thing I need to mention about Saskatchewan…it’s a very large area of land that seems to just exist over 98% of it. You hear issues of overcrowding in places around the world but here lies millions of acres of just nothing. Many of the fields weren’t even planted and looked to have been deserted for years. What was the big thing here was energy development. Probably better described as energy mining and stripping. The “rocking donkeys” as they are sometimes called were everywhere:
And I mean everywhere. There were times that I would look around as I rode and see dozens in view, even through the thick smoke. I don’t recall any time that I scanned around me and could not immediately pick out a number of these small power operated oil wells.
Speaking of smoke, it started clearing up the further south our eastward travel took us on SK 39. Finally, we could breathe fresh air again as we rode.
I will forever remember Saskatchewan for two things…energy mining and skunks. Dead skunks were all over the roads having been hit by vehicles. When you weren’t smelling forest fire smoke, you were smelling rotting skunk glands.
The further we got away from Canada 1 and into very rural Saskatchewan, we found more and more planted fields:
We rode into the town of Estevan, fueled up, and turned the direction eastward. Even though we were very close to the border crossing into North Dakota right then, I led the way on highway 18…there was one more sign in Canada that was over an hour away I wanted a picture of before crossing permanently back into the United States:
On this one trip, I had ridden through British Columbia, Alberta, Yukon, Saskatchewan, and now Manitoba (which had the lousiest signage of all welcoming visitors). Once I saw the roads, I understood Manitoba’s lack of expenditures to welcome visitors…they spent no money on the traveler’s comfort in this part of the province. The roads were horrible…pavement completely chewed up, potholes galore, washboard that had been re-wash-boarded at a different angle, etc. We rode these roads for about twenty miles to the Antler border crossing…and they were the worst of the entire trip. Weaving non-stop back and forth to avoid road problems, I was really looking forward to getting back into the United States.
The US customs building was WAY out of place for the terrain. In the middle of nothing stood an extremely large multi-million dollar building protecting the USA from the evils that may come down this very beat up country road. We both pulled up into the garage area as ordered…and were required to dismount and open up all our bike’s cases and panniers for the very bored inspector. He finally relaxed a little and chatted with us for about ten minutes; there was just no other traffic to worry about. I was denied the opportunity to take a photo of what my tax dollars helped pay for; I was specifically told to put the camera away as I was pulling it out of the tank bag. No problem. Going back in the bag, sir.
On the USA side of the border, road construction was occurring and we eventually saw the pilot truck come back, turn around, and wait for us. We remounted and followed the pickup through the zone where asphalt repaving was happening. The rain had become steady and we continued into North Dakota riding the countryside with just the water from the clouds to keep us company.
We rode for many hours more, zigging and zagging through North Dakota. We ended up in a marshy area near ND-14 and the town of Upham where a few skittish red fox were seen crossing the road ahead. Unfortunately, without the ever present vehicle traffic, birds also would wait until last second to fly up out of the marsh and cross the path of traffic. Another bird strike. A few more scratches to the front fairing as a memento of the journey.
We eventually found our way to Grand Forks, North Dakota. We found out that there were two main areas of hotels in the city…off of US-2 where we came into the metropolis, and the US-81 Business exit off of I-29. After a few stops, we ended up at the Fairfield Inn off of Bus-81. Checking in was easy and we got our gear to our own rooms with no problems.
There is a large mall area just east of the hotel and we rode the bikes there to an Olive Garden for an easy, familiar dinner. Jeffrey talked non-stop about the need to get home before lunch time the next day so he could show off his dirty bike to a bunch of friends that worked by his home. No problem, we were close enough to make that work.
We agreed to leave by 7 AM the next morning for the very easy four-hour ride south to the Minneapolis area.
Tomorrow, my riding partner of three weeks ends the trip in the most unexpected way. I enjoy a three-hour ride over a period of eight hours. I meet back up with Rob and get an offer of potato salad.
Mileage: 620 miles
Areas traversed: Moose Jaw, Antler, Grand Forks