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ConnecTour Chronicles: A pool party on the Prairies

This is part 12 in our series ConnecTour Chronicles
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The thermometer read 39C, so it didn’t take us long to take up a friendly Chinook, Alta. offer to use the backyard pool.

Troy Media publisher Doug Firby and Travel editor Lisa Monforton are part of a group of Canadians who call themselves ConnecTour. Starting in May in British Columbia and ending in October in Newfoundland, they hope to make an 8,000-km bicycle journey across the country, discovering how the COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped our lives and our sense of community. Watch for their reports on Troy Media. More information on the cycling tour is available at ConnecTour.ca. To help them meet their goal, click here.

Canada’s Prairies have plenty of big sky and sprawling fields of wheat and canola as far as the eye can see.

What they don’t have much of is water and shade.

This week’s record-setting heat wave has been potentially dangerous for the ConnecTour bicyclists on a trip across the country.

On Tuesday, we struck out from Hanna, Alta. by 6:30 a.m., trying to beat the intense midday sun. The first two hours were golden and we set a lively pace, but by late morning the merciless sun was taking its toll. No amount of hydration seemed to be adequate for the environment we were bravely soldiering through.

We had travelled roughly 80 km by the time we arrived in the little hamlet of Chinook, Alta. – a once-thriving town that now has 11 households – and we took shelter beside the community hall. Allison and I were the first to arrive and we found a municipal water supply that would dispense 55 gallons of water for one loonie. That deal was too good to resist and we refilled our bottles with the cool gift of life.

As the others arrived, we found the shady side of the community hall and laid out lunch. A couple of us, suffering from physical and heat exhaustion, laid down and passed out for a few minutes of respite. It turns out that grabbing a nap was a fortuitous move.

Doug Firby and Hank Gunderson

As we were preparing to remount our bicycles for another 30-km ride to the next town, we were approached by a Jeep Liberty. Out hopped Hank Gunderson with a bag of ice in one hand and a dozen bottles of water in the other.

“Are you folks all right?” he asked as he approached. “You scared me there.”

He said he had seen a couple of us laying on the ground and feared the worst – that some of us had experienced heat stroke. He was coming to see what he could do.

Such unexpected generosity is what makes this ride so exceptional.

We took Hank’s water with thanks but he wasn’t satisfied. He insisted we stop by his house so we could cool off under the garden hose before we continued our ride.

That’s when neighbour Rick Brown stepped in. You’re not really planning to head back out into this heat, he asked. “I’ve got a great campsite back here.” It turns out he also had a backyard pool, and was more than happy to share a few drinks and burgers over the barbecue.

We looked at the thermometer above the pool. It read 39C. It didn’t take us long to decide our ride for the day was done.

On a long-distance ride, it’s always possible to get caught in the ‘need-to’ agenda. We need to be in Kindersley, Sask. by Thursday. We need to stay on the schedule.

But common sense tells you that you need to listen to your bodies and not push them beyond safe limits. We took Rick up on his generous offer and pitched our tent under some shady trees for the night. There, we learned about his career in the military, what brought him to Chinook – a hamlet that’s a long way from anywhere – and how people who live in small towns learn that every neighbour is their friend.

When it’s -40C and the power goes out – as it often does here – neighbours make sure you have a warm place to stay until it comes back on. And that can be a long time.

When strangers show up and they look like they’re overheated, you welcome them into your home. It’s what caring people do.

Canada Day is upon us. Somehow, I feel what we’ve experienced here says so much more about Canada than some ceremony on Parliament Hill. I’m falling in love with this country all over again.

Veteran political commentator Doug Firby is president of Troy Media Digital Solutions and publisher of Troy Media. For interview requests, click here.


The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the authors’ alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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