Watching Prairie Thunderstorms–Some Dump On You, Some Don’t

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Wet Tent, Saskatchewan

July 14, ‘80

Hello journal. Tonight you’re talking to one tired desperado. At lunch, I met a man who told me Calgary was 256 miles due west, a two day ride. Those miles have just caught up with me. I stopped a bit early when I found this secluded campsite. I’m in a gully on the other side of the railroad tracks that separates me from the highway. It looks like Saskatchewan is going to create some problems come tent time. It’s flatter, less trees, and more farms.

Bicycling wasn’t as good today. The sun did its job, ninety-two degrees worth. When the clouds rolled in, I was beginning to cook. I was lucky. With the clouds, came the storms. Bicycling on the prairie you get to watch the thunderstorms roll in. Some dump rain on you, some don’t. Wondering when it’s your turn causes considerable anxiety. Right now there is a black cloud coming in over my shoulder. We’ll see how that turns out. If it rains, I’m just going to close my eyes hard, and roll over. I’m only a page away from turning the lights out anyway.

Morning rain is the best; you’re fresh and can enjoy it. There’s a good chance you will dry out before the day is through. But evening rain is nothing short of melancholy because you have nothing to look forward too except—wet, cold, and tired. No tenth gear today, instead there was a headwind, and a shitty highway that varied between cracked asphalt to cinder surface. Aside from the intense heat that sapped my morning energy, and the thunderstorms that upped my anxiety level, the day wasn’t too bad. I made good miles. Also, just before I found this campsite, I stopped at a Dairy Queen and bought a fish dinner and had a Dilly Bar desert.

Here are a couple of thoughts that I want to journalize before I forget: While biking, I sing a lot, especially in the mountains. More than once I have lost my voice. By singing, I get to express the emotion that builds, as the beautiful scenery intensifies around me. I know lots of melodies, but few words. I just make the words up as I go. Nobody hears anyway. (I’m back. I had to zip up the tent. It’s raining.) Words don’t really matter; it’s the singing that matters. When I’m not singing, I tend to think about home–my apartment, guitar, stereo, color TV, cold beer, and my cat, Heather, sitting on my lap as we watch a good movie together. My paintbrushes are always handy if I get bored. (I hope my tent stays up. I should have done a better job putting it up.) I hate to admit it, but on a couple of occasions, I actually thought about a quick train ride home. Like maybe right now, if one was only near.

July 15

I’m finally getting it together. I guess Saskatchewan has free tent camping. All you have to do is ask for the “tent spot.” I found that out at my last stop. I also asked if that was the case in Alberta, and I was told “no.” There you had to pay. Anyway, I’m presently a happy camper, eating peanuts, bread, cheese, eggs, and beer. What a life! I have even figured the beer out. You go into a hotel and order a beer and then get two more to go. Up until now I thought all alcohol had to be bought at the retail brewery. I’m enjoying my second Pilsner and if the rain holds back, I’ll be able to finish it.

I awoke to the same rain that poured on me all night long. I biked for the first six hours in the rain, and then it was just cloudy, with a few scattered showers. The temperature was hot, in the high eighties, so the rain was warm—the best kind. According to the local residents this was the first rain in six weeks. I bet if the farmers new what I could do for them, I would be kidnapped. On the radio, the weatherman told me that tomorrow it’s supposed to be sunny. That’s about right; I did ninety-five miles today, and tomorrow I’ll reach Saskatoon. It’s only my bicycling that attracts the rain! Actually, the rain gives me something to write about. What I hate though, is crawling into my tent with wet clothes on. That hasn’t happened much on this trip—knock on wood. Tomorrow I’ll have a roof over my head and a real bed to sleep in, but best of all; I’ll be calling up Jean to see if she’s up for that promised beer. I’m excited about that.

No Plumbing, Days Of Rain 240/yr, No Mortgage Payments-Priceless

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

July 18, ‘80

I cleaned up my bike as soon as I arrived In Saskatoon (gasoline the running gear,
apply new oil, check for loose screws, etc.), and then I went to the laundry mat. On the phone, Jean said, “Sure, I’ll buy you a beer.” When I went to her restaurant and drank my first beer, she agreed to go to a movie with me. After a few more beers, I left and went back to the YMCA, which was substituting for the youth hostel. After that, I bought tickets for the
8:30 p.m. showing of The Empire Strikes Back, and met Jean at the theater. We had a half-hour to kill, so we went for a walk.

We got along pretty well, but Jean didn’t like the movie. She wasn’t into Star Wars. Afterwards, we went for a beer, and at the first hotel last call had already come and gone, but at the second one we got served. In Saskatchewan there was no set time for “last call.”

I already knew Jean to be, from our conversation back on the train, pretty damn independent. She was twenty-six years old, had just quite a good government job (she said temporary jobs gave her more freedom), and was in the process of selling her house in Prince Albert (a relationship gone bad I guess. She didn’t want to talk about it). She had also made up her mind to join her wilderness girlfriends who were homesteading on the Pacific coast. “You never had to worry about mortgage payments,” she said, “Of course, there wasn’t any plumbing and you had to expect 240 days of rain a year, but you got use to it.” I always considered myself a nature lover, but a Paul Bunyan I’m not. I asked her if the girls ever got lonely living like that and she said, “Oh, there’s men, but they come and go, and that’s fine.” I wanted to walk her home after the bar, but she wouldn’t have any of that, so we hugged and I said “goodbye.” She hollered back at me that she would write.

The next day, when I finally headed out of town around 11 a.m., I had a brisk northwesterly wind at my back. Under lots of sunshine, I had put 120 miles behind me before day’s end. I would have put even more, but I had a flat tire. I ended up camping behind a garage next to a garbage dump because at the campground that I stopped at they wanted $4. to set up my tent. Needless to say I was up early, around 5 a.m. I was hoping for another good weather day, and I was not disappointed. I put another 120 miles behind me.

Right now I’m sitting at a picnic table at a free campsite. When I stopped to fill my canteen last night, I asked the guy at the gas station if he knew where I could set up my tent, and he told me about this place. When I rolled in, I was shocked. The place was large, and very scenic. There were fire grates, piles of precut firewood, and the grounds were green and well kept. Best of all, there was a bathhouse with free hot showers. I had carried with me a couple of beers, so I was set for a great evening.

I’m presently finishing up in my journal, and eating my morning pancakes under a rising sun. What a treat!

July 19

Yesterday I thought the day was going to turn into a scorcher, but it wasn’t all that bad. Bicycling was good. Although the wind at my back had kind of petered out, it was still another long distance day.

Right now, I’m sitting in an empty grain storage shed, watching it rain cats and dogs. There’s only one leak in the roof. I was originally trying to hide behind some trees, out of sight of the highway, when I stumbled upon this place. I am lucky to be here. Goodnight! I’m tired.

July 20

A poem attempt that failed.


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