The bums stagger by and accost you most of the time
The bums stagger by and accost you most of the time
On Friday, along with 34 other passengers, I set out for my last major bus tour of the season. It would also prove to be the most adventurous tour of the season.
Our destination was Sioux Narrows with stops in Falcon Lake, Rushing River Provincial Park and Rat Portage along the way.
As I approached the waiting bus, I groaned upon spotting our tour guide for the day. I had been with her on tours on two prior occasions and both times, her inexperience and/or ill-preparedness had hampered the tour. Unfortunately, this time would be no exception. For reasons that will become evident as you read on, I will not name her publicly.
I was not surprised in the least to hear that she had never done a tour to Sioux Narrows before. Equally unsurprisingly, I would discover quickly that she had made little effort to find out about our various destinations. Instead, she would rely upon her passengers to do her job for her. Sitting in the front seat, I would do more to point the way than she would.
Upon our departure from Winnipeg, I was encouraged to hear when she had asked our driver to point out when we were near the GWWD railway crossing and the Aqueduct so that she could read a spiel about it. That slightly encouraging feeling faded once she and the driver became engrossed in an hour-long conversation as we headed east. It was I who interrupted and pointed out the approaching Aqueduct, enabling her to deliver her material at the right time.
Eschewing the large lot nearby, our driver parked in front of the Falcon Lake Meat and Grocery store and squarely in front of a “No Parking” sign.
Later in the day, he would park in front of another “No Parking” sign at Rushing River.
Needless to say, I was quite taken aback at his brazen contempt of parking regulations. I was doubly appalled that he would be so open about it with a customer.
I would also later reflect upon the interesting stories that he had told during his conversation with the tour guide about his year in China teaching English. What impressed him greatly was how much respect his Chinese students showed him as a teacher.
Perhaps it might serve him well to show the same level of respect for those regulations that he flaunted with such apparent pride.
As with the tour guide, I will not name him publicly either.
I didn’t have much to see in Falcon Lake, but I did take a stroll around.
A nearby trail.
Is it “Cottonwood” or “Cotton Wood”?
Shops in the area.
After our half-hour break, we headed east towards the SPRM/Ontario border. As we passed the weigh station, I looked to my left and spotted our driver writing while driving.
Sadly, this would become a repeat occurrence on our return.
Crossing the frontier into Ontario. I made sure to take this shot before Greasy Greg decides to take a page out of Nikita Khrushchev’s playbook and build a wall.
Upon nearing Rat Portage, we took the bypass to the north.
East of Rat Portage, we turned south on King’s Highway 71 and headed for Sioux Narrows.
A short time later, we arrived in Sioux Narrows. Or, as the sign says, “SIOUX NARROWS.” I know that at least one reader will appreciate that.
Just on the other side of the Sioux Narrows Bridge was our lunch stop at Big John’s Mine Shaft Tavern. No, I’m not making that up.
I am still wondering what would ever possess a tour company that caters mainly to elderly ladies to book a lunch at Big John’s Mine Shaft Tavern.
Inside, I took my place with three others and surveyed my surroundings. It’s about what I would have expected for a hunting lodge in the middle of bush country.
The view behind my seat.
There are those who will eat anything that is put in front of them. I am not one of those people. For the record, that is cream of broccoli and cauliflower soup.
I used the time to get some shots around the Sioux Narrows Bridge.
More shots of Big John’s:
After the others had devoured their meal, we boarded the bus for a one-block ride south. Naturally, our tour guide had no idea where the gift shop that was on her itinerary was. Once again, it was left to me to point it out.
Later in the day, it would gall me to see a couple of passengers giving her a tip. If they had been sitting near the front, they might have given that tip to me, since I had done more to earn it than she did.
Instead of gathering more items for a future garage sale, I used the opportunity to walk around the town.
The Lazy Loon restaurant. It couldn’t have been any worse than what we had.
Gill’s Trading Post.
You had to know that this was coming. The only King’s Highway marker in town was not going to go unphotographed.
The Northern Lights of Sioux Narrows, where the bus was parked.
In short order, we were headed back north towards our next destination, Rushing River.
Passing by Old Woman Lake.
As we passed Andy Lake, I remembered a former colleague, Lloyd Klassen, who had passed away last year.
I know that he would have been astounded to learn that this was my 746th shot of the trip this far. He might have shot back with a quip like, “How many more shots of highways can you get?”
Approaching Tower Lake.
We soon arrived at Rushing River Provincial Park for what would become the day’s biggest story.
Prior to our arrival, our tour guide announced that we were limited to only 20 minutes due to limitations imposed by the Province of Ontario.
The Province of Ontario will let you stay as long as you want as long as you pay for the privilege, something that the tour company was apparently unwilling to do. She explained that she did have to go in and pay, but that they could get a refund if they left within 20 minutes.
At that moment, I heard a flock of birds flying overhead. They were all singing, “cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap.”
Ah, but it gets better.
It should come as no shock to any reader at this point to learn that the tour guide had absolutely no idea where within the park we should go. When going inside to pay, they gave her a map, but she instead rolled it up and used it to swat flies. Maps are for sissies.
We came to a fork in the road. I told them to go left. They went right.
Ten minutes later, the driver was earning himself a gold medal in the Bus Driver Olympics trying to extricate us from a narrow one-way trail surrounded by small campsites. One camper had to move her pickup truck to allow us to turn around and, despite my criticisms of his distracted driving, our driver did yeoman work in getting us out of this mess. One false move and we would have been crashing down a hill.
It was only after we had come to the end of this winding trail did it dawn on the tour guide to unroll her map and look at it.
After returning to the main area of the park, having burned up so much time with this senseless maneuvering caused by an ill-prepared and indolent tour guide, she announced that we had only ten minutes in the park.
We had come all the way from the degenerate capital of the SPRM for ten minutes in the park.
Yes, I feel cheated.
I managed to get a couple of pictures and not much else.
Soon, we were back on the road headed for Rat Portage.
We parked near the harbor and I took the opportunity to go and get some shots of Husky the Muskie.
Engraving your name on Husky’s tail is apparently a rite of passage in Rat Portage.
A view of the harborfront from Husky’s perch.
Winkler Harborfront Park? I thought that we were in Ontario, not in the SPRM. For those of you who are not aware, Winkler is a city in the southern part of the SPRM.
Before getting back on the bus, I went to the washroom. Druggies welcome, obviously.
After our half-hour stop, we were rolling west back into the SPRM.
My heart sank after re-crossing the frontier.
After another brief stop in Falcon Lake, we were back on the road. En route to Winnipeg, our driver told us one of his favorite jokes. I’ve heard it before, but it was more appropriate than even he may have realized, given his penchant for note taking while driving on this day.
To summarize, a bus driver and a preacher meet St. Peter after going to Heaven. St. Peter gives the bus driver a palatial mansion on a mountain top, then gives the preacher a small house at the bottom of a hill with smelly sheep nearby. Puzzled at the apparent injustice, the preacher humbly asked St. Peter why the bus driver had received such a nicer home. St. Peter answered that the preacher, though a faithful servant, had put people to sleep during his services. The bus driver, meanwhile, had made people pray.
Normally, our arrival in Winnipeg would wind up the adventure peacefully. Not so in this case. Our tour guide had announced that there was an additional drop-off point at Donwood West, near Polo Park, the same place where they had made a pickup that morning.
This news triggered a backlash from the peanut gallery. Cranky old ladies started yelling, “That’s a crock” and other assorted verbal barbs.
The fact that they were making an additional stop to let people off was not the problem, rather it was that the office had not let passengers know about it in advance. There were people from Charleswood who had travelled across town to avoid having to wait downtown due to safety concerns and would have loved to have been able to be picked up near Polo Park instead.
In this case, the tour guide was completely blameless as this was undoubtedly a matter for the office. Nonetheless, instead of being apologetic and promising to raise the issue with her boss, she shot back with an angry, “That’s just the way it is.”
There was a right way and a wrong way to handle this situation. She chose the latter.
In many respects, it was a fitting way to end the day. The high standard of customer service that I have come to expect from this tour company was not met on this day. Not by a long shot.
Though I was cheated out of some valuable time at Rushing River, I did enjoy the experience. I always like seeing Northwestern Ontario and I got plenty of pictures to show for the day. I wanted an adventure and I got one.
For the second time in a week
In the middle of the summer heat
A couple of guys took a leak on the street
In front of the house, they each unzipped their fly
And watched the yellow stream go by
In broad daylight, they stood and watered their tire
With a liquid that would corrode a wire
They drove away leaving nothing but a puddle
As a memento of their brief little huddle
Such pigs we have in our fair city
It really is such a pity
I was accosted by a bum looking for a buck forty
He wanted me to give him a free cup of coffee
I ignored him and turned away
But he was persistent on this day
He approached again and said “Excuse me”
“Get lost,” I yelled forcefully
Mortally offended, he turned to find others to hound
A sucker he eventually found
Later he came swinging through the restaurant
A complete meal this time he might want
We pay enough taxes to keep his belly full
On our heart strings he didn’t need to pull
Winnipeg is full of weird characters. Most inhabit the core area, but one can find them all over the city.
Take, for example, one such character that I passed by this morning. Pedalling north on McPhillips past Murray Avenue, I spotted someone walking south along the shoulder.
I was immediately on guard. There are very few homes in this area and though being out there on foot does not in itself qualify as weird, it is most unusual.
As I got closer, I noticed the individual crossing the two northbound lanes to the median. After a few steps along the median, he crossed back to the shoulder.
Back and forth he went like clockwork.
I slowed down and waited until he had crossed to the median before passing him. As I sped by, I noticed that he was bundled up like it was the second of January instead of the second of June. Carrying a beach ball, he turned and flashed an artificially cheery grin at me and said, “Hi.”
I didn’t stop to exchange social pleasantries. I put my bike in high gear and kept going.
I can only guess what he was doing there and what his intoxicant of choice was.
Welcome to Winnipeg!
Clunis began by giving a detailed history of his background. Born in Jamaica, he immigrated to Canada at the age of 11. It was a fascinating tale, but he would refer to the “poor boy in Jamaica” story time and again during the evening as if he was trying to use it for political gain. See Murray, Glen for further reference.
His agenda soon became clear within minutes of taking the microphone.
“Crime prevention through social development” was his motto.
The rest of the evening sounded like a paid political announcement from the New Democratic Party of Manitoba.
According to Clunis, Winnipeg isn’t crime-ridden, there are just “pockets” of problem areas. For someone who had just finished stressing the importance of hiring someone from the community, he sounded every bit like an outsider with that ridiculous comment.
We then heard an endless number of stories about impoverished youth and “underserviced families.”
After blowing off one gentleman who was asking about an increased police presence because of a child predator in the area, Clunis touched on the problems with Aboriginal youth. Intimating that their woes are our fault, he suggested engaging them in conversation as they pass by as if that will magically make crime disappear.
The hour-long session came to an end without the words “law enforcement” being used once.
There are those who chortle at my assertion that Winnipeg remains devoid of a law enforcement agency. Those are the people who have not yet heard from our new Chief of Police.
Though Clunis expressly distanced himself from the label when speaking, the “hug a thug” moniker fits him perfectly. It’s a philosophy that sounds great in a boardroom to social workers and bureaucrats, but it isn’t working in the real world.
Devon Clunis truly wants to turn the WPS into a social services agency.
Sadly, he’s well on his way.
The amount of junk that I see on the side of Manitoba highways never ceases to amaze me. I have often been tempted to start a Web site called mbroadjunk.com and document the wide variety of trash strewn along our roads.
Vultures and other creatures have obviously been feasting on the abandoned carcasses. Little remains besides feathers. The Dugald Road Smorgasbord is now closed.
Another day in the Socialist People’s Republic of Manitoba. Where people take so much pride in their province.
Last weekend, a friend and I set out on what would be an epic road and cycling trip to Minneapolis.
With both of our bikes loaded up in the back, we set out on Thursday morning down PTH 75 to the border. It is a path so familiar that I can almost picture it in my sleep, yet I always manage to spot something new along the route.
I also noticed that there was a new wind farm south of the junction of PTH 14. It looked similar in size to the wind farm off PTH 23 near St. Leon.
Regrettably, one of the things that hadn’t changed was the low-lying bridge over the Morris River that floods like clockwork each spring and forces the closure of the highway. Fortunately, it was still open for us, but it still amazes me that the government has not replaced it. They have replaced numerous bridges over the Floodway, yet what is unquestionably the Achilles heel of the Manitoba highway system has received no attention whatsoever.
In reality, however, I shouldn’t be surprised. The NDP government has shown that its priorities lie elsewhere. Like building that $200-million saloon in Fort Garry and lining Mark Chipman’s pocket, for instance.
Before crossing the border, we stopped at the Emerson Duty Free store to use Manitoba’s favorite bathroom. Just as we stepped inside, this sign jumped out at me:
This is the exact sign that I got a picture of several years ago and it still hasn’t been corrected. Perhaps they’re leaving it as a conversation piece. More likely, however, they don’t care enough to change it.
I can only shake my head.
While waiting in the line at U.S. Customs, I noticed the following sign:
After a short wait, we were on our way south on I-29. Interestingly, it was the first time that I had passed through one of the car lanes since the new building went up at the Pembina Port of Entry many years ago. Each of my recent crossings has been through the bus lane on the east side.
For those of you old enough to remember, there used to be a small, box-like building with pale green tiles on the sides that used to stand at that location. Facing the incoming traffic was a stone engraved with the name of President John F. Kennedy. Today, the stone facing the bus lane is engraved with the name of William Jefferson Clinton, the husband of the sitting President at that time.
At my request, we stopped at the Alexander Henry rest area near Exit 180.
Welcome to the Red River Valley.
We stopped at West Acres in Fargo for lunch and I picked up a sub at the Subway in the food court. After passing through the line, I am convinced that it is a condition of employment that each “sandwich artist” must have at least three rings in each ear and at least one in their lip.
After a lengthy break, at my suggestion, we proceeded east along US 10 through downtown Fargo.
It had been at least three decades since I had last been through downtown Fargo. At left in the shot above is the train station where my mother had once come from Winnipeg, back in the day when the train ran from Winnipeg to Fargo.
The plate on the back reads, “WHITE EARTH OJIBWE”, “INDIAN NATION.” Yes, these plates are legal.
Again, the lake was covered in snow, but if you’ve never been out this way, it is quite a scenic area. Nearby is Grand Casino Mille Lacs for those of you inclined to throw your money away. There’s a hotel where you can stay as well.
It would be my seventh stay at this hotel and it would again be a good experience. I recognized many of the staff from past visits and I was thrilled to be there in good health. When I was there around this time last year, I had a fever and was badly sick.
I am not a cancer survivor, but many of you are no doubt aware of my connection to the late Carli Ward, the subject of my second book. Carli passed away from cancer at the age of 25 and I always make this trek in her honor.
The slogan on this poignant memorial could just as easily apply to Carli.
What did we do with our bikes? We just wheeled them in and stood them up on the racks provided beside the doors.
We passed Lake Hiawatha, where I stopped for another stunning shot of the Minneapolis skyline.
We followed the Minnehaha Parkway and ended up at Minnehaha Falls. I had last been there in November 2009 and would have liked to have seen it again, but, unfortunately, they were in the middle of kicking off a marathon. The best course of action was to get out of Dodge, so to speak, and we followed the trail south to Fort Snelling State Park.
The park is nestled along the junction of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers and provides some scenic views of both. The trails in the park were not as well maintained, but we were away from the crowds enjoying scenery that was no less interesting.
On our way back, we stopped for a shot on the Minnehaha Parkway. It snakes its way through a residential neighborhood along Minnehaha Creek and connects to Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun.
Crowds were bordering on oppressive on the trails, but again, there were no close calls or collisions. These friendly Minnesotans know how to get along. A gathering of cyclists and pedestrians of less than half the size would fill the emergency room of every hospital in Winnipeg.
From there, I continued north back to the familiar confines of Lake Calhoun. Badly in need of some sustenance, I went looking for a Subway and finally found one tucked away in the Calhoun Village strip mall north of Lake Street. I could have used a lunch break much earlier, but the disadvantage of following residential trails is that there are few restaurants in sight of the trail. There are times that it seems like there is a Subway on every street corner, but, in reality, there isn’t.
We continued north and headed for Duluth, located on the southwest tip of Lake Superior.
At my request, we took the exit to cross the first of two bridges over St. Louis Bay and into neighboring Wisconsin.
This is a mid-span shot on the Bong Bridge:
The scenery when crossing the bridge is breathtaking. When you reach the other side, however, the city of Superior leaves much to be desired.
Rows of dilapidated homes line the streets of the run-down community. It looks like a place where time has stood still for the past couple of decades.
We headed back for Duluth via the Blatnick Bridge.
This is the confluence of US 53, I-535 and WIS 35. 5-3-5-3-5-3-5. Note to highway planners: There are other digits besides “3” and “5”.
We crossed back into Minnesota and made our way to Canal Park and the waterfront area.
Looking at the skyline, the homes on the hill facing the waterfront are laid out like a Newfoundland fishing village. Hordes of seagulls were circling over our head. Duluth seemed equal parts Gimli, Kenora and St. John’s. Strangely, I would find myself missing Duluth more than the Twin Cities once we left. I only wish that we had more time there, but I knew that we had a long journey still ahead of us.
I found it quite an interesting place and I was glad that we took the time to see it.
There was a guestbook and I added the entry, “Curtis Walker, Winnipeg, SPRM.” If you’re reading this from the Visitor Center and scratching your head wondering where the SPRM is, you can look up at the title of my blog and figure it out.
After a couple of brief photo stops, we headed west on US 2 for what would be another scenic drive.
We stopped for a bathroom break in Grand Rapids, where I picked up another shot of a misspelled sign while waiting to relieve myself.
It’s “Chisago”, not “Cisago.”
Yes, there is such a place. Those of you who remember listening to the late George Kell on Detroit Tigers’ television broadcasts might recall how Kell would always refer to the Tigers opponent not by their proper name, but by the generic “Ball Club” moniker. It was the “Toronto Ball Club” and the “Oakland Ball Club.” The Yankees, however, were special. They were simply the “Yankees.”
I couldn’t help but notice this particular sign:
I didn’t take advantage of that deal on “Hienz” Ketchup. I did, however, pick up two bottles of Spicy Hot V-8 juice, something that is unavailable north of the border. This $5 purchase was the only thing I had to declare at the border.
It was a tremendous experience, but it was bittersweet as it may very well have been my last visit to the Twin Cities. Those who know me know why and I’ll leave it at that.