Western Manitoba (June 28 – July 2)

I can’t believe how strong those winds were, the day I tried to run from Winnipeg to Portage la Prairie. To be fair, it’s the only time I ever had anything to complain about regarding the weather in Manitoba, but it was quite a sight to see. There were a lot of red-winged blackbirds by the side of the highway, attempting to fly parallel to me as I went west, but for all their flapping they’d remain completely stationary as I inched forward. The noise of the wind whistling by my ears was probably as much a psychological stressor as the fact that I was barely moving forward. Wind is something I’ve always had trouble with, to be honest – not just in running, where it seriously affects my morale, but strong wind can put me in a bad mood even just walking around a city. So it was an interesting day, really facing the worst kind of wind head-on and having to deal with it. It’s a shame I didn’t make it to Portage, because Henri & Megan’s friend Jackie was willing to put me up for the night, but roadside camping ended up being fine.

A fruity oasis on the road from Winnipeg to Portage.

But because I had stopped 30 km short of Portage that night, my next day of running – which should have been an easy 36 km to MacGregor – ended up being a fairly long day. Fortunately, the weather was fine, so I got there with time to spare. I filled up on food at a little cafe-type thing by the golf course and made friends with the only employee, Michaela, who was super friendly. I was eating outside on a terrace kind of thing, and I could hear her singing to herself inside – so cute. She told me that MacGregor’s annual fair/rodeo was happening the next day, and I thought: “Finally some interesting local event is coinciding with my arrival in a town,” and decided I’d stick around for at least a couple hours the next morning. It made sense with the friendly vibes I was getting from this town, that they would have a non-commercial town campground, in this case run by the Lions Club, and only asking for $8. As I was setting up my camp and the sun was going down, by chance I met a guy named David going for a walk with family & friends, and we talked for a while. This is a pretty small town, so while I didn’t know it at the time, I’d see more of them!

The next morning, I checked out the annual Lions Club pancake breakfast which was happening outside in the already-sweltering heat and sun. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming that it really felt like a different planet from Ontario! I took in the pretty foreign (to me) spectacle of the town rodeo, which was a pretty quiet, all-local affair… so interesting to see little kids in the bleachers alongside old men, watching so intently, understanding what was going on in a way I definitely couldn’t. I watched for a while, but it was awfully hot and I was starting to feel like a tourist, so I got out of there and headed over to the library to catch up on some internet stuff. On my way, I ran into David and his friend John again, and we talked for a while. Then I ran into David at the library yet again, where he was checking out “The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat,” and the librarian exhibited some sort of charming “Well, I never!” reaction to such an unlikely title. He asked me if I’d like to come over and have lunch with his family, and I was happy to accept.

So when I pictured lunch with the family, I had no idea what a big group we would be! At first I thought perhaps all nine kids were David’s and Tammy’s, but soon realized about half (give or take, obviously) were John’s, since their family was visiting. What an incredibly kind and easygoing bunch they all were, and so much young energy in the room from all the kids – all just totally great people. Coming out of Ontario, where a meal might be a can of condensed milk eaten alone at a picnic table, it was great to have a meal with a real family (well, two of them), all around the table. We got to talking about singing, and it turned out that was a pretty normal family activity, so after they all pulled out a round, I decided to teach one of my own. I was impressed at how quickly they managed to pick it up and, eventually, manage doing it in four parts. Harmony singing isn’t something that most groups of people sitting around a table eating could manage to do if their lives depended on it! Anyway, after weeks of singing to myself on the road or at my campsite, it was nice to sing with and for others, and I was glad to be able to share something with people who were giving me so much. When I left, it was already getting rather late for me to start my run (2:30 pm or so), but I was leaving with an awesome bag full of food and some new friends.

Group photo with the Kruse & Wagner clans in MacGregor, MB. Guy in the red t-shirt is a runner and wanted to go with me for a ways, but I think his parents weren’t wild about him running on the highway!

So I gradually prepared to run on to Carberry and through the famous “Carberry hills” – mild, rolling hills with some nice scenery. In a way, I was glad to be leaving late, because I’d miss the hottest part of the day, but just as I was about to go, I met yet another new friend. “Excuse me! Um… what are you doing?” she said as I was definitively starting my walk to the highway, about to stop en-route to buy some gatorade. As I explained a bit of what it’s all about, Jillian told me she works for Shaklee Sports Nutrition and told me about what they do. Well, short story, they’ve got a team of 75 full-time scientific researchers perfecting hydration, recovery, energy solutions, etc. Apparently the osmolality (try saying that) of their electrolyte drink (“Performance”) is more conducive to keeping your blood-glucose levels up than anything else on the market, and was used by the cyclist in the cockpit of the MIT Daedalus on its record-setting flight. So Jillian just gave me a big tub of this, and a big tub of their recovery drink (“Physique”). I promised to keep in touch and tell her about my experience with both products. As I went on my way, I pointed out what a coincidence our meeting was, since I was literally on my way to buy gatorade when she said hello. “Maybe it wasn’t coincidence?” she said.

Skipping ahead a week, Jillian was on her way back from some sort of seminar/conference on sports nutrition in Calgary, and was going to pass me on the highway as I headed for Regina. She had asked me if I had a blender/shaker bottle, which makes it a lot easier to mix up a batch of the recovery stuff, and I said no, so she was actually planning to drop one off for me as we crossed paths! Wild. When she passed me about 15 km east of Regina, she honked and waved from across the divided highway before turning around (I couldn’t see her well, but I figured it must be her – sadly, the people who hoot and holler at me in greeting are almost never young ladies). She was excited about all the research she’d just been learning about in Calgary, and ended up giving me a roadside lesson in sports nutrition before passing on a shaker cup. Seriously, how lucky am I to meet people like this?

Jillian and me by the side of the Trans-Canada Highway, discussing the finer points of ideal carb-to-protein ratios for muscle recovery, the utopian demands of Dr. Fuhrman’s dietary prescriptions, etc.

But, back to my MacGregor-Carberry run. I got going very late (5 pm), but felt so strong and full of energy that I just ran all the way until I hit a picnic area that was a perfect stop for the night (though not actually all the way to Carberry). When I got up in the morning, it was Canada Day, and I was heading for Brandon through Canada’s heartland.

When I passed Carberry, I decided to not even go into town, because it was 4-5 km off the main road. I was very fortunate that the innkeepers at the only motel/restaurant along the highway were willing to let me fill my bottles there, because they weren’t even open for the holiday and it was, again, very hot and sunny out. I only made it to sprawling Brandon quite late in the afternoon, and it wasn’t very lively. I had thought, ok, the second-largest city in Manitoba – there’s got to be something interesting going on on Canada Day, and plenty of people outside having fun. I hung out in a public park for a while, but the families and groups of people there seemed very insular, very much doing their own thing rather than commingling. I think this atmosphere might have been due to the high immigrant population, actually, because I heard quite a few different languages (including a lot of Chinese) being spoken, which could explain a certain feeling of social islands rather than a more outgoing community. I began to feel a bit lonely as I walked through the deserted downtown streets around sunset. I guess that, running across Canada, I had been genuinely eager to celebrate the national holiday – a holiday that’s pretty much only mentioned as an afterthought in Montreal, but I thought would be this spectacular extravaganza out in the prairies. Of course, it probably was like that in a small town like MacGregor! My (ridiculous) hope was probably that somebody would ask me what I was doing, and when I said “running across Canada,” they’d be like, “Oh, hey! We’re celebrating that country today! Come eat BBQ and drink beer with us!” Not happening, sadly – at least not in Brandon.

As the sun started to go down, I walked out of town on the 1a and started looking for a place I might pitch my tent. The pickings were awfully slim! Just as it began to get truly dark, I passed a house near the road where I saw a fire going in the yard and some kids running around. I decided to take a leaf out of Alex the Polish cyclist’s book, to just be open and sociable and friendly, and ask politely if it might be ok to camp on their lawn. He had done this a number of times across the prairies, but I had always found some other solution when I was in a tight spot. It felt awkward at first (seriously, how do you introduce yourself?), but it was the right move, and I’m so glad I did. After all, a big part of this trip for me is just getting out of my shell… sometimes I have a default distrust or reticence towards other people, yet almost every time circumstances force me to get out there and talk with strangers, good things happen.

That was certainly the case when I met these folks, Alannah and Jeff and their friends and family. They let me camp on their lawn, and I joined them in roasting hot dogs over the fire, answering questions and telling my stories. The loneliness I’d felt earlier that day melted away as we watched the big fireworks in downtown Brandon (from about 10 km away), and then the little ones that Andy set off in their own yard. When those were finished, Alannah got out a Chinese lantern, and we lit it up and watched it slowly rise and float away southwest, all speculating where it would go, and imagining the reactions of other people who saw it float by. I felt excitement, but also a kind of sadness, as if I was watching this singular moment occur, rise up and float away, receding into memory where it could no longer be seen and experienced.

The next morning, they treated me to a fabulous breakfast of eggs and bacon, and sent me on my way with food and water. To my delight, Andy decided to run with me for as long as he could manage when I left. He may have only jogged with me for a couple of minutes, but you know what? Nobody else has done that since Montreal!

Myself with Alannah & Jeff’s kids, just prior to setting out for Virden.

Andy pushing his limits on the TCH like a true champ.

It was going to be another one of those days where all sorts of people would help me along the way to Virden. I had a nice bundle of food with me at the start, but only an hour or so later, once I’d gotten back on the #1 proper, a van pulled over and out stepped Walter Kruse, the father of David from MacGregor, looking like Santa Clause with his big beard as he called out, “You must be Mr. Edmund Milly!” and gave me cinnamon buns and more water. He and his wife were taking a daytrip to visit MacGregor, and they actually passed me and stopped to give me food (a huge piece of watermelon) and water again on their way back that evening, just before I hit Virden! At midday, I stopped for some food at an old-fashioned fast food stop in Oak Lake, and befriended a quartet of bikers (not cyclists) after I butted in wanting to know where it was they were talking about that had high levels of arsenic in the town water (Virden, unfortunately). A guy named Landon volunteered to show me a good spot to camp in Virden if I gave him a call when I got into town – I did, and he showed up with his pickup truck and gave me the full tour of town, before setting me up inconspicuously in Victoria Park (where I almost certainly wasn’t allowed to camp, but it was fine) and leaving me with a couple home-grilled steaks!

I went to sleep feeling that Manitoba had been very kind to me that day, and at a time when for some reason I needed it. That sense of isolation I’d felt in Brandon had stuck just a little bit, or maybe it was that I’d hardly talked with C at all in the past few weeks, and she’d stopped returning calls/texts. That wasn’t too out of the ordinary, but I’d just had this queasy feeling in my stomach that maybe something was wrong, and I was feeling a little blue. I may have a solitary nature, I guess, but after she’d come to see me in Ottawa and introduced me to the people in her life I had really felt a sense of closeness and was missing her.

Manitoba gave me all it had to give, in ten days of perfect sunshine. I had every reason to just be living in the present moment, but I started to experience a certain lapse in my attitude. The next day I’d cross into Saskatchewan, and despite the prairies just going on and on, everything would change.

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~ by edmundmilly on July 10, 2012.

4 Responses to “Western Manitoba (June 28 – July 2)”

  1. I am ever so glad you are finding Friendly Manitoba living up to its Slogan…with your natural charm…its a magnet methings
    Regards…>Bill from Sturgeon Falls

  2. Keep going Edmund! I follow your saga with so much excitement every time you post something. And even got you followers where I work! You’re a badass!

  3. This is Mary Lou Connolly. Happy to hear that you are doing so well. We like to hear from you all the time! I’m happy to have Katie visiting this week. I like her taking me for walks.

    And this is mom. We are about to read FORTUNATELY which I brought with me! Cod we call u tonite from terry’s’?

  4. Hey bud! Read about your journey in the Gull Lake Paper, and with interest I checked out your Blog. Thanks for posting your musings & experiences for us who are ‘wanders” of heart. Keep us posted. = 0)

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