Day 30 Provost AB to Biggar SK
A train, carrying Slocan Lumber, passing a grain elevator in a small Saskatchewan town
Today was my first day in Saskatchewan. Its high point was a cinnamon roll a-la-mode. Its low point was having to ride though 10 miles of construction with 'loose rocks.' This was my fastest day on this tour with an average speed over 16 mph. It was also the first day that something was thrown near me from a pickup truck. I covered about 115 miles in about seven hours of hard riding. I'm in Biggar, whose motto is 'New York is biggest, but Biggar is Biggar.'
My first Saskatoon distance - 275 km - on AB 13
The day was cloudy, fairly cool, and muggy. I didn't see the sun at all today, but, I did have good winds from the west at 10 to 15 mph pretty much all day. Breakfast this morning was a disappointment: service so bad I didn't leave a tip and food that might have come from McDs. I got out of Provost about 9 AM and, stopping to pick up a Saskatchewan map and a snack just across the border, was in Unity, fifty miles down the road, for lunch at 12:15.
Riding was fast and easy, except for some hills, in Alberta. When I crossed the border into Saskatchewan, the road deteriorated, but the hills got smaller too. The road still had a shoulder, but that shoulder was rough and, in places, un-rideable. I rode mostly in the lane and got on the shoulder only when vehicles passed. That was a pretty good arrangement because there wasn't much traffic. Just after I entered this province, a jerk in a dusty pickup truck threw a cup of ice, with a lid, onto the road as he passed me. The lid took an interesting spin and actually passed in front of me rolling on the pavement. I guess his timing was a statement, but there was obviously no intent to hit me. A strange thing to happen in Saskatchewan!
Heading east on SK 14
A very narrow shoulder
Another strange thing was that the shoulder became very narrow about ten miles into SK, and it would widen for each curve. There were large, double semi, grain trucks on the road as well as large cattle trucks and the narrow shoulder caused me some scary moments when big trucks coming in opposite directions passed me. The worst was a double semi grain truck that passed me at 60 mph, without moving over in the lane, while I rode a 6" wide shoulder at 20 mph. That was a bit tense. Then there were the three cattle trucks that almost blew my shirt over my head, but at least they moved over enough so that I didn't have to deal with having almost no room for wobbles. The driver of the grain truck could have slowed down just a little bit to let me reach the next corner with a decent shoulder. Instead he passed me about 100 feet before the shoulder widened. Most truck drivers were very courteous, and quite unlike that jerk.
A field of green grain with red storage bins
Fields of yellow Canola on either side of the road
Unity with grain truck, dust, and grain elevator
I rode into Unity after passing some road construction and found a dusty - mostly because of the way they patch the roads - agricultural town. Saskatchewan feels very different from Alberta. Much poorer, as evidenced by the poor quality of the roads, and much more of a farming province, as evidenced by the large number of grain elevators and grain trucks. This province looks, and feels, a lot like Kansas. In Unity I saw lots of agri-business and little in the way of services for tourists. I stopped at a restaurant in an old train station near the east end of town. Lunch was good and the folks were friendly.
After Unity, it was 20 miles to Wilkie, and then about 45 miles to Biggar. I decided to stop for desert in Wilkie and to use the supplies I was carrying for a stop between Wilkie and Biggar. I stopped at Sally's restaurant which, along with a gas station and cheap - 29.95! - motel, sits on the corner where SK 14 turns south. As I was walking in, I visited with a fellow who had just driven up. Once inside, I spotted pie al-la-mode on the wall menu and, with great anticipation, ordered raisin pie al-la-mode. The waitress, who I think was Sally, said they were all out of pie, but, sensing my disappointment, she offered me a cinnamon bun with ice-cream on the side. She didn't even charge me for the ice-cream. It was fun and a good dessert! I went over to the fellow who I had talked to ask what crop all the grin trucks were coming for. It turned out that he was an insect specialist who lived in Saskatoon who was doing research near Wilkie and that he didn't know what the grain trucks were for. He had ordered lunch, so we visited while I had my large cinnamon roll with ice-cream on side and he at his roast beef. He warned me about the construction 20 miles down the road ro Biggar. He said his windshield has been cracked by a rock coming through there this morning!
Grain Truck - that is just the front half - passing me south of Wilkie
Big elevators behind wheat(?) and Canola fields south of Wilkie
Riding south was slower than riding west had been, but the road actually had a, mostly rideable, shoulder. After ten miles or so, SK 14 turned southeast and I was able to get back up to almost my 20 mph going west pace. I was passed by several RVs and more trucks. The road rejoined the railroad tracks as it turned southeast, so I was also passed by several trains. One train, going east, passed me twice because it had to wait on a siding for another train to pass going west. It passed me for the second time in Landis, a small town 20 miles southeast of Wilkie. I took its picture passing in front of the Landis grain elevator. Note that this train was not carrying grain, but a mixture of other products, including several cars with Slocan Valley lumber. I was in Slocan two weeks ago. The trains going west were container car trains, oil car trains, and grain car trains.
I stopped for a snack and a rest in the weeds adjacent to a canola field- pretty wildflowers - just south of Landis, then rode on towards Biggar which was 23 miles down the road. Shortly there after, I came upon the construction. It went on for ten miles and meant riding with lots of loose rock on the road as well as dust and, at one point, near zero visibility.
Train with oil cars, road, and sweeper with dust cloud obscuring the road
I rode in fear of the rocks thrown up by passing vehicles and of the lowered visibility caused by the dust. Then I reached a road sweeper sweeping the rocks and dirt the repair crew were depositing on new patches. The visibility was so bad for the ext hundred yards that I worried about running off of the road and about being run into from behind. In the worst of the rocks on the road section, some idiot passed me accelerating so hard that his front wheels were throwing rocks in all direction. Shortly after that, with nothing having hit me other than a lot of dust - it got into my Ortleib panniers! - I made it to the end of the construction. The flagman there probably wondered why I gave him a dirty look!
After the dust, my camera needed to be cleaned before I could take any more pictures. I rode on the remaining ten or fifiteen miles to Biggar without incident. There are two motels in town and I'm staying at the nicer one. It is ten dollars cheaper, and quite a bit nicer, than the motel in Provost. Supper, at the motel's restaurant, was excellent and it was nice to listen to the locals. I still don't know what the grain cars are for, but I did learn a good bit about goin's on hearabouts. Nice folks!