Lake Winnipegosis to Devil's Lake, MB
|The endless, silent forests of Northern Manitoba|
8-3-01 One of the common questions people ask me about the trip is "What was the most difficult section of your trip?" My response? Manitoba. I have very few pictures of Manitoba, as my focus in those few days was to remain alive and make it to the city of Winnipeg. Sound extreme? It was.
I had looked forward to the section of the trip between Lake Winnipeg and Winnipegosis with great enthusiasm. The area is mostly uninhabited with vast stretches of forest dotted with lakes and rivers ranging from the size of little ponds to lakes so large the curvature of the earth is more prominent than the land on the other side. What could possibly be more beautiful?!
Pumping along past the top of lake Winnipegosis I met up with the heat wave of the summer. It was so hot that I could barely move without fear of over heating. Any grade in the hill would cause me to have to stop and wait for my body to cool down before beginning again, only to stop again in a kilometer and wait again. The temperature soared far over 100F and it became imperative that I find water in which I could reduce my body temperature. The map showed a large lake not too far ahead and I watched eagerly for a road that would lead me to the water. The lake shimmered invitingly along the horizon and soon a gravel road with a sign for the lake appeared. I followed the road down towards the lake, concerned that it was going downhill and I would have to drag my bike back up the gravel, possibly losing the benefits of taking a cooling swim. But I had gone too far and I continued on towards the lake. The gravel stopped and I laid my bike down, grabbed my swimming clothes and headed down a little path to the lake. The path ended at a peer that stretched out into a long stretch of deep mud. Twenty or thirty feet out pelicans swam back and forth along the mud shore, watching me slap at the flies that were biting my legs and arms. I looked far along the lake and saw that there was no way to the water without crossing the mud. I thrust a stick into the mud to test its depth and thickness. The stick went far into the mud, but was difficult to pull back out. Discouraged, I went back to my bike and started the process of dragging my bike up the large gravel road.
Slowly I pulled my bike up the road, stopping to cool down and slap bugs every ten to twenty feet. By the time I was on the road again I was covered in bug bites of varying types and was feeling quite sick from their venom. Only a few kilometers down the road was a sign for another lake that was about the same size as the last one. I peered through the glaring sun at the shimmering lake, looking just as large and inviting as the previous one. The road to the second lake was less steep than the first one. I stared down the road, skeptical of what it might offer. I convinced myself that if I didn't try to reach the lake I wouldn't be able to reduce my body temperature... and what would I do then? I couldn't set up my tent to escape the bugs as it was too hot to be inside. I couldn't walk my bike up every slight grade I hit as I was starting to become very dizzy from the bug bites. I couldn't continue along the road because the tar paper and wind required exertion that raised my body temperature. I decided that if there were any steep sections on the way down to the lake I would turn back and not continue. I hesitantly let my bike roll down the little trail, the wild rose bushes scratching my legs as I passed by. At the end, I followed the tracks of a car that looked to have driven down near the water's edge. But the path became thinner and thinner through the reeds, and eventually gave way to a rotten peer that allowed me to walk out to where the water was slightly less than an inch deep, with countless feet of loose mud below. I stood and watched the water, hoping that perhaps through looking I would find a way to reach it. The stinging sensations on my legs brought me back to reality.
Back on the road I saw some water running along the side of the road, barely deep enough to wet my shirt. Though my shirt was dry in ten minutes, those ten minutes allowed me to bike easily to a red colored stream flowing under the road and falling down a steep incline into a small pool. Chanting that the red color this far from any human settlements could only be due to the tannins from the conifers in the area, I dunked myself in the shallow pool, lips pressed tightly together despite my reasoning. Soon, I continued biking, finding stream after stream until the relief of sunset allowed me to put up a tent to escape the bugs.
8-4-01 I woke the next morning with the screen of my tent pressed upon my face. The wind was so strong that the rain fly had pulled my tent, with me and all of my gear against the nearest tree. Sitting up, I watched hungry people at the rest stop trying to order food from the little stand that represented the only source of food within a couple hundred miles. Customers ran from their cars to the food stand, ordered their food while walking in quick circles to keep away from the bugs that were swarming behind any object that blocked the wind. They are told their total and they slapped their money on the little shelf. The stand owner quickly tilted out the screen to take in the money, slammed it shut, slapping the bugs that flew in spite the quick motions. For five minutes the customers walked in circles or hid in their cars. When the food appeared on the little shelf, the customers would grab it and race back to the cars to eat. I was not lucky enough to have a car in which to hide and the bugs are biting through the two layers of clothing I was wearing despite the rising temperatures. I had hit my limit of headwind, bugs, heat and bad roads and desperately wanted a ride to Winnipeg. I tried to make conversation with some of the people waiting for their food, but the bugs were too extreme for anyone to be friendly. I finally gave up on trying to get someone to offer me a ride and turned to directly asking. This was met with much more coldness. I went back to my prostrate tent, laid down on my sleeping pad, sweating and thinking. I have to get out of here. I walked through each step in my head and prepared myself for the intensity of the bugs through my layers of clothing in the sweltering heat. Finally I bit through the tasks and left the rest stop covered in bugs and tears. Balancing carefully to remove several layers of clothing while maintaining my speed to escape the bugs I dove into my inner self. Had I really reached my limit? I certainly did not want to be biking so slowly into the fierce wind, seemingly holding me in this god-forsaken place properly named "Devil's lake." But I also had no intention of ending my trip. It seems that even limits have layers.
Soon after I left the rest stop, rain started to fall, drops large and soothing. The bugs left and the temperature fell. I was so happy for the rain I didn't even care about the lightening flashing around me. I was amazed at the emotional extremes I could encounter in only a few hours. Just before sunset, the rain stopped, my clothes dried out and I was able to set up camp and cook dinner before diving into my tent to escape the next storm. I sat in my thankfully upright tent and watched a blood red sunset fill a quarter of the sky through large rain drops while eating my dinner. As the red faded to orange, the rain stopped, and through the approaching night came the sound of a lone wolf, a sound more chilling than the rain drop still falling from the trees. I held onto my pan, now empty of food and wiped clean and wished with all of my might that the howl remain unanswered. It wasn't. I was amazed at myself. I know enough about wolves to understand that they only howl when they are lonely, and that the chance of being attacked by one is extremely low, especially unprovoked; yet while I had always wanted to hear one in the wild, now that I had, I didn't want to hear it again, at least not right away. Covered in goose bumps I buried the clean dinner pan in a pile of dirty laundry and lay down for the night. It had been a day of extremes, and I fell asleep with a song that had been in my head the past few days in the heat and bugs - "you don't always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you just might find, ... you get what you need!"