Night ride into Winnipeg
8-6-01 Many women have approached me and commented on how brave I am for doing this trip. Some have commented that they were once unafraid of the forest, but with so many people asking them if they were scared have over time developed a fear. Others when asked what there is to be afraid of could only come up with "bears" or "bad people at night." I find these fears interesting, as they seem to be perpetuated through a system of storytelling and a general misunderstanding of statistics rather than being founded in actuality. I usually answered these questions with the statement that it doesn't take bravery, but instead patience and persistence. There have been only a few times on this trip when I have been truly scared. The ride into Winnipeg was one of these exceptions. I had called ahead to the traveler's hostel to make sure there would be a bed for me that night if I made it in. The woman on the other end said the place was filling up fast and it would be smart for me to make a reservation. I gave her my credit card number and set my mind to making the distance into Winnipeg before dark.
The map showed that I had a long way yet to go, but all of the road signs said it would be a 100 km day. This was my average distance per day and so I wasn't too worried about making it in time. However, as the sun was nearing the horizon, I still couldn't see this vast city in the center of the ancient Aggassi lake bed. I was pumping the pedals as fast and as hard as I could physically move, trying to make it to where the city lights would start before the grayness surrounding me turned to blackness. I wondered when the moon would rise and how dark it really would get. I was wearing my yellow glasses to protect my eyes from the ever increasing number of bugs that were filling the evening air, safe from the day-time predators.
The night continued to thicken and I tried over and over to reach the hostel staff to cancel my reservation for the night. Marie, the woman on staff that night, had already said she would wait up until I arrived, and she knew there was a chance it could be very late. Part of me decided that this was my chance to see how it was to bike by moonlight, the time many people I had met had assumed I traveled, as the heat of the day was too obviously too great for biking. But the moon didn't rise. I turned on my little blinking red light so the cars behind me could see that I was on the road. The shoulder was wide and I was moving very fast. I thought to myself, "as long as the road remains like this, night biking should be fun. Then the shoulder disappeared. I felt tricked. It would make sense that the closer I was to the largest city in the province, the wider the shoulder would be, and yet it had disappeared.
The white line became my only safety zone. On one side the holiday traffic zipped by, often honking their horns as they passed. On the other side was a steep drop off into dangerous, deep, loose gravel. The night soon became so dark that the white line was only visible if I didn't look directly at it. Then the road narrowed and I lost my white line. Suddenly I was coasting through a directionless bug-filled void, my mouth closed to avoid breathing in the nasty little critters. I couldn't see! I slammed on my brakes and walked to where the gravel began, worried about being on the wrong side of the road. For a minute I walked my bike, unsure what to do, giving in to the blanket of bugs and blackness. Occasionally two large cones of light reflecting off millions of bugs would approach, the brights shining into my face, becoming the only light that was visible in any direction. I was blind. I now understand why deer freeze in headlights! The next moment if I moved could be off a cliff of gravel for all I knew. I started feeling very sorry for deer. These poor animals with four legs to worry about and no concept of the organization of traffic on a road. I pushed my bike along what I hoped was the right side of the road, still straddling the bike, hoping not to let my trailer make my bike fall as I slapped the most painful of the biting bugs. My patience and persistence were being tested but I had no choice but to make it through. I saw the faint outline of a sign on the side of the road and waited for a car to light it up so I could see how far I was from the city whose lights I had yet to see reflected on the night sky. In bright cheery colors the sign read "Welcome to Winnipeg!"
The moon rose soon thereafter, and I made it to the main highway with a huge shoulder, traveling a total of 159.44 km when the day was completed at 1:00 am (60 km farther than I had planned on traveling that day). Apparently when the city was being planned, one government official knew that it was built on the bottom of an ancient lake-bed and so extended the city limits far beyond the actual city. This outer border was then used to dig a moat around the city to hold flood waters, saving the city from disaster. The government official was not respected for this decision, especially since the moat provided mosquitoes with a breeding ground so immense that mosquitoes are found indoors as well as outdoors in Winnipeg. However, soon thereafter, one of many great floods in the area caused the fields and land surrounding the city to fill with enough water to reflect the shape of the original giant lake to planes flying overhead. The city was saved from disaster by the moat, and the official's foresight was proven wise.