Friday, July 18, 2008

Part II, Day 9: 080705

We left Bird Hill this morning and proceeded as planned, skirting around Winnipeg on highway 101 (a ring road), then North on highway 6. This highway approaches within a kilometre of the shore of Lake Manitoba near the Southern end of that great lake, but sadly I saw no boat launch signs (so beloved of Matt and myself in the USA) until a bit farther North at Lundar, where highway 6 is about 18 kilometres from the lake. A bit of a drive and a bit of getting a bit stuck in a bit of a campground later, and we stood at the barren, sandy, windswept shore of Lake Manitoba.

The widely-advertised but imprecisely-signed boat ramp leading to Lake Manitoba. I hope the fishing is good, because there is nothing like amphipod / beetle / snail habitat here. There are no plants growing in the water, and the shore is basically a straight line of short beach and slightly-muddy water.

We shook hands with the two people remaining in the RV, and proceeded North. We stopped at a roadside pond near Eriksland, and collected a few beetles and snails. There were small fish in this pond, which we did not collect, and a surprising amount of vegetation considering the steep, near-vertical drop in depth at the edge of the shoreline.

The drive North after this was long and boring, even by the standards of the drives I’ve undertaken to date this summer. Central Manitoba is very flat, and covered by a thick forest of not particularly tall trees.

The view from the passenger seat of our van, driving North on Manitoba Highway 6. Visibility on-road was about 5 km in each direction, based on my estimates and the van’s odometer checked by monitoring visibility of the rare turns or obvious hill-crests along the route. At extreme distances, the blue sky at the horizon bleeds onto the road, allowing distant vehicles to drive on a little patch of sky.

Just as we reached the town of Grand Rapids, we passed through a heavy rainstorm. Grand Rapids is clearly marked on our maps, and signs further South suggest it is an important station in central Manitoba. However, we discovered that it is not so grand. We stayed at the only motel in town, which is actually composed of three distinct building complexes. We stayed in the Cabins, which are located a little less than 1 km to the North of the main building and the secondary rooms across the street. The Cabins have recently been connected to the quite-good wireless internet service of the motel, and are not too shabby at all. There are exactly 3 restaurants in town, two of which (“Pelican Landing” and the restaurant at the main building of the motel) were closed. We ate at the Esso station. Despite our low expectations of a restaurant not even worthy of its own name distinct from a gas station, in a town with very limited competition (even besides the 2 closed restaurants, the next nearest place to eat is halfway to Thompson, at a highway junction some 100 km to the North), the food was very good, and the service and prices were excellent. I think nearly every small town in North America has a Chinese-food restaurant; in Grand Rapids, that restaurant is at the Esso station. In fact, the Grand Rapids Esso Station might be my favourite restaurant of this summer, the service was that good.

After dinner, we decided we needed some more authentic-Manitoba experience, so we had a couple of drinks* at the bar. When we arrived, the only other patrons were some middle-aged women playing the Video Lottery Terminals (VLTs). The facilities were pretty basic, but they did have a pool table. Oddly, this is the second bar I’ve visited that displays a large Moosehead beer poster but does not serve that brand.

* I was driving, so I had exactly 1 bottle of beer, early in our 2-hour stay at the bar.

Tomorrow, assuming we survive the night (my companions are convinced the Cabins exist solely for the purpose of robbing and murdering travellers) we’ll eat breakfast at the Esso Station and proceed North to Thompson.

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