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Kinoosao


To tell you the truth, the plan was to drive to Churchill, Manitoba. The problem with this is that there is no road to Churchill, Manitoba. It just makes it that much more interesting. The goal was to drive as far north in Manitoba as I could.

Now, I do try to plan my trips, or tours, as I call them, so that I know where I am going and how I am going to get there. This adventure was going to be different. I narrowed it down to Manitoba and just headed north.

Seeing that I live in North Carolina, that was a sure bet. The rest I just let come as I got to it. Churchill was the plan, even if I had to drive along the railroad tracks. Hey, it was a dream more than a plan, what can I say?

I loaded up my 1984 BMW R80GS Paris-Dakar and took off on a cool Sunday morning and headed for the road I always begin or end my journeys – The Blue Ridge Parkway. It makes it real easy, you can go north or you can go south. I headed north.

For me, the real tour did not begin until I reached Canada. A short trip, to what I still refer to as my hometown, Pulaski, NY, to see my nephew receive his high school diploma was just a warm-up for the real thing. As I think back to my high school days, I draw the same conclusion. They were just a warm-up for the real adventure. Like then, I was ready to move on.

From northern New York, I traced the Great Lakes and enjoyed following my foot steps from journeys taken years previous. Lake Superior Provincial Park, with its Native American rock paintings was a must stop, as well as the statute for Terry Fox just outside Thunder Bay, Ontario. For those of you that need inspiration, read up on Terry Fox, a man with one leg that had a dream to run across the second largest country in the world. My dream to reach Churchill by motorcycle pales to his, but he inspires me to dream, the greatest gift anyone can give to another. I turned north. Well, to tell you the truth, it was west, north would come once I reached Manitoba. I didn’t have to wait long.

Manitoba is one of those long, skinny Canadian provinces that does not fit well in a road atlas. Check it out for yourself. I find it all quite interesting. I open the road atlas to the page for Manitoba and find it stuck together with Saskatchewan. They fit nicely together, but their tops are missing. My kind of places. I then look at the overall map of Canada and see that, yes, the red lines do continue on. My atlas shows a split at Thompson. That is where I will see how my dream pans out. First, I have to get at least that far north.

I reached the Manitoba border and stopped to ask for the best way to skirt Winnipeg. To be honest, I am not a big city person and choose to live up to my license plate motto; I seek out the BAK RDS. The kind lady at the Information Center planned my route well and I was ready to really begin my journey. Funny how tourist centers are set up along the Trans-Canada Highway, my exit north on route 44 was just a mile down the road. I am glad I stopped.

I needed to get to route 6 North which headed for Thompson. The countryside was wonderful, the road rough but empty, and I could not of asked for more. What I could of asked for was less wind, oh, and heat. I remember the wind the most. Manitoba is the North Dakota of Canada and the wide open plains really wreck havoc on small moving objects as they scream down the pavement. I was all over the place. That was before the tractor trailers blew by, then it become real interesting. One journal entry after one such episode reads …OK, back on the road again… that was fun. I’ll try not to mention the wind again.

My first night in Manitoba was spent in the small town of Ashern. There is a community campground right off the road that was very pleasant. Of course, the main attraction for me was the ESSO station/store/restaurant that was within walking distance from my tent. An earlier storm, that I had luckily missed, had knocked out the power (hot water) at the campground and I did my best to clean up while waiting for my meal. I love being on the road.

It took me the second day to figure out why the atlas cut off the top of Manitoba. You are pretty much alone up there. Nice road, low, but rolling hills, pine trees, and lakes. Many lakes. The major traffic, what little there was of it, was fishermen headed for one of the lakes, and, oh yeah, the occasional tractor trailer. Funny thing, I did not see other motorcycles. I just drove on.

I reached a point where the tall, skinny pine trees were just black twigs, the result of what must have been a huge forest fire. Made for a strange, war-like landscape out of a Mad-Max movie. It was in this setting that, while stopped for lunch (if trail-mix constitutes a lunch) that I noticed an oil leak. I am not a mechanic. I don’t even try to fool myself into thinking I have the slightest notion of what goes on below the gas cap. I do know that oil under the kickstand is a bad thing. I took another look around, then at my map, and finished lunch. Thompson was within reach, no problem.

Thompson, Manitoba. Home of Crazy Pete’s, my first stop. It proved to be the right place to be. If you want it, need it, or even think you need it, Pete has it or can get it some how. Of course, the best things are free, and I found out everything I needed to know about the city, it’s history, the people, food, campgrounds, and then some. I also had the chance to look up under my engine and come to the conclusion that a little, tiny, oil leak was nothing a paper towel jammed up there couldn’t stop. Ignorance is bliss.

Crazy Pete also informed me that I was crazy if I thought I could reach Churchill on my motorcycle. He kindly informed me that this was neither Paris, nor Dakar, and that if I wanted to head as far north as I could, I should take the left fork in the road outside town and just keep on going. How can you not trust a man called crazy Pete. I headed left.

Well, not right away. First, I cleaned the bike, changed the oil (and promised to check it’s level often), went jogging, did my laundry, and had dinner at Popeye’s. Excellent.

The next morning, the left fork turned to gravel real sudden. I was 3,000 miles into my trip and felt like I was just starting all over again. The gravel took a little time to get used to but was not that bad. It was the sand that caused my heart to match my RPMs. I slowed down and just enjoyed the emptiness of both the landscape and the road. Well, the truth is, I had 100% of my concentration focused on the road, which made it seem empty all around me, which was far from the truth. I did enjoy the many stops at places like Rat Lake, to rest and take photographs. There are some names that you just have to stop for. Rat Lake was one of them.

Another interesting aspect of the road (391 on your maps), was it’s “Dust Control Areas” which, I found out, translates to “pavement” in English. A comic, yet appreciated, break in the days driving.

Leaf Rapids was my next stop. It is a small mining town with a large Community Center complex that places everything at your finger tips. It made it easy for me, in July, but all I could think of was how convenient, and necessary, it must be in February. I continued north.

I still had a few hours of daylight this far north, so I was in no hurry. Not too far out of town, I found a great campground next to, what else, a lake. Turns out, a family camps here every summer for two weeks, and I just happened to have timed it right. They invited me over and we enjoyed a great dinner and some welcomed conversation. Then came a nice cool summer shower, my version of dust control, and the return of the millions of bugs that really control your movement out in these parts. I headed for the tent.

Great night, cool, perfect for sleeping. I was up early, out recording the early morning light, when I noticed some dog tracks in the sand. Big, I thought, maybe a wolf. Great, but I needed to pack up and keep going. I had the tent broken down and was working on my gear, when I noticed what I thought was a dog over next to the trailer of my host. Big dog, was my first thought. Turned out my “dog”, or “wolf”, was really a black bear, a hungry bear, looking for food thirty yards from my tent. I did all that I could do, I reached for my camera.

The bear roamed from trailer to trailer (they knew something I didn’t) sniffing, then jumped up on the large, metal covered cooking grill/pit looking for food. I just stood there, with the wrong lens on my camera, taking a few pictures. I felt real brave and naked behind the little 50mm lens. Finally, the young bear stood up on its hind legs and began rocking one of the small trailers. We then both heard a voice that would scare anything, yell and scream and the poor bear ran off into the woods. More comic relief, Manitoba style. At that point, I didn’t care what direction I headed, I just wanted to do it quickly. I did.

The small village of Lynn Lake was the next stop. I pulled into the gas station/general store and filled up with gas, food and information. Yes, the road continues north, but the owner suggested a side trip to Fox Mine. No problem, I tend not to turn down suggestions when asking for them. A quick 45 km journey to … well, an old mine, was a great diversion. The road was paved, it wasn’t far, and I couldn’t make a wrong turn. The sign at the end of the road summed up the whole trip nicely … “Enter at own risk”. I laughed, turned around and returned to the gas station. I thanked them for the nice tip and looked forward to my next road. I was told to look for 394 North, only turn in town.

I found it. It was not paved. A slow, rough, 101 km gravel road that heads so far north in Manitoba that it actually ends a mile (not km) into Saskatchewan. That’s right, they do fit nicely together. I was not aware that my journey to the top of Manitoba would end short of the end of the road. The border sign caught me off guard. Ignorance is bliss.

To celebrate my driving as far north as I could in Manitoba, I reached for the last of my candy fireballs that one of my sixth grade students gave me at the end of the school year and recorded, on film, my promise to him. I told him when he gave me the candy for my trip that I would save the last piece for the “Top of Manitoba”. I did. Little did I know that it would also mark the “Top of Saskatchewan” for me. Sort of. I still had a mile to go.

The fireball lasted to the end of the road. Kinoosao is a small (very small) Cree fishing village that sits at the edge of Reindeer Lake. The town was empty, literally. It was a Sunday afternoon a day before Canada celebrates it’s “Fourth of July”. They just do it three days earlier than the Americans. I planned to be this far north during the holiday, but was hoping that the only store/gas station in town would still be open. Even the public phone was dead. Interesting.

I drove around the village of maybe twenty buildings and finally saw a young Cree girl playing in her yard. I pulled in and she ran off. I kept going. I followed the road (path really) through some pine trees once I saw a sign for a fishing lodge. As I rounded a curve in the woods to get to the group of cabins that made up the lodge, the largest mud puddle I have ever seen stopped me cold. I saw the lake, which meant the end of the road, and just laughed as I waded through the puddle. I had made it.

Eagle Lodge, owned and operated by Floyd Olsen, a Cree native, is made up of six or seven log cabins and a boat dock. Rustic, yet very comfortable, the place was a great place to spend Dominion Day weekend while in Canada.

As I pulled into “camp”, rain clouds loomed overhead. Floyd was the first to greet me and made me feel right at home. His first words were, “Nice to see someone pull up on a bike, you are the first one who ever has”. I joked and mentioned that the mud puddle guarding his entrance probably had something to do with that. We got along great right from the start. In fact, within my first five minutes, it was decided that since it was about to rain again (I missed the first mud puddle forming rain storm), and that there was no official tent sites anyway, I would stay in a cabin that had just been vacated that morning. My timing was perfect.

Dominion Day proved to be my blessing. Floyd and his brothers were taking off for the weekend and heading across Reindeer Lake to the annual Cree Fishing Derby farther north in Brochet. Two retired gentlemen from Iowa, Jack and Jim, would run the place while they were gone. Jack had been coming up for years and knew the family well. Floyd’s father had run the place up until his death four years earlier and Jack was glad to help Floyd out.

There was a total of five people at the lodge once Floyd and the crew took off. Jack could handle it. There was a father, his son and wife, all from Thompson, Jack, Jim, and me. The family was out fishing most of the time, so that really made things quiet around the grounds. I loved it. The cabin was mine, free, for the weekend, Jack and Jim had enough food for twenty people, and the lake was full of fish. I settled in and marveled at the wonderful people I had the luck to run into. That is why I drive to the places I do.

The next two days were unreal. The first morning I got up, went down to the lake for some photographs and noticed a flash underwater. I reached for one of Jack’s fishing rods, made one cast, and hooked onto a 25″ Northern Pike. Beginner’s luck. Fish catch on real fast, I soon went back to photography.

All this before 7am, nice. It just kept getting better. The family from Thompson left that morning, and in doing so, left me more food. Eggs, homemade bread, butter, and sausages, everything but the main course, which at Eagle Lodge, meant trout – Lake Trout. Jack made sure I didn’t go hungry. We went out on his boat and I caught three “lunchers”, beautiful trout that were much larger than the trout I catch in the North Carolina mountain creeks and streams. They might call them “lunchers”, but to me, they were dinner. That is, once Jim cleaned them and Jack cooked them. I mentioned I was no mechanic, well, you can add fish cleaner and cook to that list. I believe they taste better that way.

The trip back to Lynn Lake seemed like a blur. After two days of nothing but relaxing, the 51 miles of empty gravel road seemed like an Interstate. It took me over four hours to drive in, two hours and forty minutes to drive out. I felt good.

The rest of the return trip was the same, a blur. My planned tour to Churchill was a bust, but my poor planning and wild dreaming did pay off. Kinoosao (which means fish in Cree) was everything I could of asked for.

Once back in Thompson, I thanked Crazy Pete for his advise. I was feeling brave at the time and brought up my dream of reaching Churchill, Pete just shook his head. I have to admit, I was glad to have taken the left fork in the road.

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