Leaving the flat forests of Saskatchewan behind us, we crossed into the lake lands of northern Manitoba. The change in landscape along the road was rapid. One second, we were in the forests and the next we were suddenly riding across causeways that passed over several lakes reminding me more of Scandinavia than my home country of Canada. By the time we crossed the border, the sun was at its peak in the sky, the temperature had started to increase, and the warmth was a blessing that added to the positivity we were both feeling as Janel had completed her first real dirt road ride early that day in Saskatchewan. Things were looking up: the weather was looking good, Janel was riding well, and we were still on the adventure of a lifetime.
After an hour and a half, we made it to the Evergreen Lodge at Clearwater Lake, our destination for the evening. As it was early June, the lodge was empty and we had the place to ourselves. In the afternoon sunshine, we unloaded the bikes, pulled up some deck chairs and enjoyed the peace and quiet. It was at this point Janel looked at me and asked, “What do we have for dinner?” I examined our food cache and found we had a couple of granola bars and some nuts. “That isn’t going to cut it,” I thought to myself. Looking at my phone, I determined the closest food was a little burger shack about 10 minutes down the road around the lake. I jumped back on the bike and headed out, not realizing I was about to enter the land of dragons.
If you want to see our ride through Saskatchewan, visit us on YouTube.
Once I got back on the main road, I noticed the sky got very dark. I was a little surprised, as moments ago there wasn’t even a cloud in the sky. Suddenly something smacked into my helmet. Then a felt a few pinches in my arms and finally something hit me in the neck. Coughing, I slowed the bike to around 40 km/hr (25 mph) and realized the darkness that had engulfed me was insects. I took a look at my windshield and noticed several dragonflies clinging to life. I was riding though a swarm of dragonflies! A very uncommon site I am sure, but there is an explanation for it. Canada had a ridiculous amount of rain in 2022, which led to a larger than normal mosquito population. Mosquitos are food for dragonflies; therefore, the increase in mosquito population led to an increase in the number of dragonflies. Even with me going slowly, once I arrived at the burger shack, I still had to pull out a few dead dragonflies out of my headlight and my helmet vents. Manitoba is well known for having a high population of insects, but this was a bit outrageous.
The next morning with the dragonflies asleep, we rode into The Pas, a small town at about the midpoint of north/south in Manitoba. We pulled into the Miss The Pas Restaurant to grab a quick bite to eat before our long day south. As we walked into the busy establishment, the first thing that caught my eye was the lack of remaining wall space: every inch of the walls was covered in photographs and memorabilia from all over Canada. There were old photographs of Canada, Manitoba and Indigenous peoples; it was a like a walking through history as we were taken to our table by the window. While enjoying our breakfast, we checked the weather for the day, hoping for sun, but as they say, “Be careful what you wish for.” The temperature was going to reach 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit). I was excited for the sun, but this might be too much.
Our destination for the day was just outside of Riding Mountain National Park. Famous for a variety of wildlife, we hoped we would get to see, at the very least, a beaver as we rode through the park. Most of our ride south to Riding Mountain National Park was uneventful. We pulled into a local gas station where the owner denied having a washroom until after we bought some ice cream. I asked him about his stringent rule and he remarked, “We get so many people; we have to police it.” I still laugh to myself about this as he was literally located in the middle of nowhere. How many people could he honestly have visit him? Leaving the bathroom behind and our ice cream eaten, we rode further south. The heat had reached its peak for the day and I was soaked under my riding gear. All we had wanted for weeks was a nice riding day and now all we wanted was some cloud cover to cool things off. It is difficult to please some people.
After about six hours, we made it to the park. Our bed and breakfast called Riding Mountain House was located on the opposite side of the park. This gave us the opportunity to enjoy the scenery in the late afternoon sun as it started to cool a bit. This decrease in temperature also brought out the wildlife as they started waking up and searching for food. Not long into the ride I spotted a black bear trotting along the treeline. He/she didn’t seem to have a care in the world as the bear took its time checking for snacks along the way. Both Janel and I were excited we got to see a black bear. Then we saw another and another, but it wasn’t until near the end of the drive that we saw a mother black bear and her three cubs playing near the treeline. We slowed right down (we did not stop as we didn’t want to disturb them) to watch the cubs jump on their mother’s back while she tried to find some peace from the little brats. The cubs brought smiles to our faces for the remainder of the ride.
Once we arrived at Riding Mountain House, I needed to do a bit of general maintenance on the bikes. I checked the tire pressure, lubed and cleaned the chains and gave the bikes a general check over. Everything looked great, well, on the bikes. The sky had turned an ominous black and then, just as I was finishing up, it cracked open and started pouring down rain. The hot day had now turned into a thunder shower. I ran back inside where Janel and I watched the storm from the enclosed balcony. It went on for hours with lightening flashing bright. We finally gave up and headed to bed.
The storm lasted into the follow morning, so we gave up on our hiking plans. Instead, we grabbed our rain jackets and walked into the small town of Wasagaming inside the national park. If you have ever been to Banff or Jasper, Alberta, you get the idea of what Wasagaming is like: a small town with an epic backdrop of a national park. Tourist families wandered the town in their Patagonia, Arcteryx and other weekend warrior gear. Janel and I stumbled onto a bakery, where we each purchased a cinnamon bun to enjoy for an early lunch. With our buns in hand, we walked down to Clear Lake to enjoy the buns (yes, it is a different lake from Clearwater Lake). The storm clouds raged aggressively in the sky over the lake and we sat back and enjoyed the show. Not really wanting to get soaked hiking, we just spent the day aimlessly wandering the town in between the downpours.
The following day the rain was still coming down hard. We were back to riding the bikes in the wet weather as we headed off to Winnipeg. Other than the rain, which wasn’t exactly pleasant, we had a rather uneventful ride. With the bikes unpacked we headed off to the spa. Wait, what!? Let me explain: with this journey across Canada, there had to be some give and take between Janel and I. She was willing to take some dirt highways I wanted to ride, but I had to let her enjoy some fancy relaxation, such as Thermëa by Nordik Spa-Nature. We spent a day at Thermëa located in Winnipeg, enjoying the baths, saunas and raspberry lemonades. Janel screamed when she went into the cold waterfall, which I laughed at for longer than I probably should have. The wind and rain had really zapped our energy, which made the spa was the perfect place for us to recoup and relax.
The evening before our next ride headed back north, we checked the weather and another scorcher of a day was expected. We geared up early in the morning to race out of Winnipeg before the temperature increased too much and we were stuck in traffic. Our destination for the day was Gimli, an Icelandic settlement about 90 kms (55 miles north of Winnipeg). In 1875, the government of Canada granted Icelandic settlers land along Lake Winnipeg. Gimli has a strong Icelandic heritage and had almost become a sovereign nation at one point. Now, it has the best cookies you have ever tasted. As was or normal routine, after dropping our gear of at our accommodations, we went searching for food. Walking into Sugar Me Cookie Boutique allowed me the sensation of knowing what Charlie felt like when he walked into the chocolate factory. Emotions of awe, wonder, amazement and excitement all hit me as I tried to decide which sandwich cookie I would pick. It was at this point I realized, “Hey, I am an adult, I can have as many cookies as I like!” Up to this point on the trip I had lost about 10 lbs.; that all was about to come to change. A lemon poppyseed cookie? I will take three. Oh, a traditional vinarterta cookie? Yeah, I have to give tradition a try. While we enjoyed an Icelandic statue, beautiful Lake Winnipeg beach and friendly conversations with the owner at Lakeview Mechanic, I am confident we devoured $40 worth of cookies in Gimli. Seriously, I got fat.
The following day, the sugar hangover was in full effect. I dragged my cookie stuffed body onto the bike with the support of Janel as we prepared for our final destination in Manitoba, West Hawk Lake. Riding through central Manitoba, there wasn’t a lot to look at once we got away from the massive Lake Winnipeg (I wouldn’t fault anyone for mistaking it as an ocean). As we headed more easterly, we started to ride on the Canadian Shield. Large rock faces hugged the roads, the forests became more wild and rugged, and traffic continued to disperse on the more remote roads. We pulled into a nice grassy rest stop that was surrounded by the low rock outcroppings of the shield to grab a drink of water. While we enjoyed the view of the hills, two BMW motorcycles pulled up next to us. We got chatting and it turned out one them was a fellow BMW MOA member. We exchanged stories about the 2022 Rally, our different bikes and our cross-Canada trip. It was like running into a family member you had never met before. That is the great part of being part of the MOA, we never know when we will meet another member and trade some stories, even on a backroad in southeastern Manitoba.
We arrived at West Lake and while I unpacked the bikes, Janel found a cat to entertain herself with. While we were playing with cats and emptying the panniers, the bugs came out. I realized as I sprinted in to our cottage at Tall Pines Lodge, this was not the year to explore the forests of Manitoba. People often joke about the bugs in Manitoba, but really, they aren’t that bad—normally. This year with all the rain, they were just completely out of hand. It rained on us in sheets as we rode the bikes—when it wasn’t raining, the bugs were savage. Sometimes, you just can’t win!
Things to see and do and places to stay in Manitoba
Clearwater Lake gets its name from the fact the water is so clear you can see the bottom at 11 metres, and it is a beautiful spot known for fishing and boating. If you go, it is worth staying at the Evergreen Lodge. The cabins are great and the owner is extremely accommodating. They are located right on the lake with spectacular views. Rates start at $120/night ($90 USD) for a cabin.
Riding Mountain National Park is home to a diverse number of animals and plants. Most importantly, black bears thrive in the area. We chose our accommodation here based on how close Riding Mountain House was to the park, a ten-minute walk. The owner was very kind and let us do some laundry, had a great breakfast waiting for us and also let us take advantage of the hot tub. Just a fantastic couple of stormy days. Rates are $149/night (110 USD).
Winnipeg is a large city for Canada with over 750,000 people. There is so much to see and do so you have to pick what you are interested in. Below are a couple suggestions.
The Manitoba Museum has a great history of Manitoba exhibit, along with an Inuit art exhibit. The work is beautiful and we had the place to ourselves.
Admission: $15 ($11 USD)
Thermëa by Nordik Spa-Nature is the place to visit if you want some rest and relaxation. Grab a drink and just take a break from all that hard riding. Make sure you speak to the operators who will explain the traditional way of moving from pool to pool to really embrace the different culture. Admission: $79/day ($60 USD)
Inn at the Forks was the best option for us. The lovely, quiet hotel is right near a lot of the tourist action, and it has patrolled, covered parking for the bikes. There are lots of restaurants nearby and the hotel restaurant made some great food. Rates: $300/night ($220 USD)
Obviously, you need to visit Sugar Me Cookie Boutique. While you enjoy your cookie, wander along Lake Winnipeg and visit the Viking statue. Gimli is a tourist town, so there are lots of places to eat and enjoy your time. We stayed in the most central place we could, Inn on Centre and were not disappointed. With parking for the bikes and a shaded wrap around deck, we enjoyed our time lazing around the bed and breakfast. Rates start at $130/night ($95 USD).
West Hawk Lake is beautiful and the drive along the Canadian Shield is fantastic; however, to me West Hawk Lake is Tall Pines Resort. The owners have really turned this into a paradise of relaxation for adults. It’s the perfect spot to curl up and read a book, enjoy the jacuzzi, or just walk around the property enjoying the sounds of the wildlife in the area (on years where the bugs are not out in full force). Rates Start at $170/night ($125 USD).