Canada: Meandering in Manitoba
You don't always need a Paris-Dakar race-rally replica with a jacked-up saddle, a monster fuel tank, and knobby tires to ride in exotic places. Equipped with a normal street bike and a healthy sense of adventure, you can leave the pressures of daily living behind and easily escape into the rare beauty that is Canada's remote northern wilderness.
On Monday, July 18, 2005, I stepped downstairs to my home office with a steaming mug of coffee in hand and turned on my computer. Each morning, I always link to an online motorcycle forum to catch up on the latest motorcycle news; and on this day, my eyes locked onto the subject line "We've Lost Another Good One" from a site disclosing the devastating news of Christian Neuhauser's fatal crash. I immediately clicked the link to the Winston-Salem Journal report and sat there dumbfounded, staring at the computer monitor, reading and re-reading the account of this tragic event. I was numbed by the news, having talked with Christian only two weeks earlier.
We never met although we had connected through e-mail and two short phone conversations. During our last call Christian asked me to take on a Canadian tour assignment for RoadRUNNER, saying, "I want you to do a tour of northern Manitoba, from Winnipeg up to Flin Flon. Do you know where Flin Flon is?" My mind raced. Flin Flon? Flin Flon? ... Oh, yeah - a mining town! In the middle of NOWHERE!! - Crazy Europeans! Does he even realize that it's more than 1300 kilometers (800 miles plus) just to get from my home in Edmonton, Alberta, to the start of this tour in Winnipeg? I dismissed his idea as another example of European naiveté about North American geography - the great distances one often has to travel between places here as compared to the much shorter transit times between most European destinations.
Then he told me about a RoadRUNNER subscriber he had met who was buying a stack of motorcycle magazines. The subscriber, a Harley rider, complained about how difficult it was for him to ride some of the tours featured in RoadRUNNER because they were so "twisty." He pleaded with the publisher to run more stories for the cruiser crowd.
I accepted Christian's assignment while suppressing a healthy dose of skepticism. Here I was, an avowed sport-touring rider heading for the flatlands of Manitoba; but once my BMW crossed into Manitoba, locking onto the route he had asked me to follow, I began to understand his thinking. Christian clearly knew what readers want, and he worked hard to invest these pages with new, thoughtfully conceived riding experiences like this cruiser-friendly tour of Manitoba. He was a special person who lived to share his passion about motorcycles, motorcycling and travel. This tour is dedicated to the memory of Christian Neuhauser, a man I never met, but someone I feel that I came to know by riding roads he dreamed of.
Europeans first ventured here in 1612, sailing on Hudson Bay to find the Northwest Passage. Later, the northern wilderness was opened up by corporate interests who competed ferociously for the precious furs that were in great demand in Europe. In 1773, a party from New France that had been exploring river transportation routes established several outposts at what is now Winnipeg. Aboriginal and Metis (people of European and aboriginal ancestry) predominated on the prairie until Scottish settlers arrived in 1811. After confederation in 1870, English and French settlers arrived, with Germans, Icelanders, Russian Mennonites, and Ukrainians following.
An area of 250,956 square miles, Manitoba is almost the size of Texas, but with a population of only 1.1 million people. The southernmost part of the province is farmland, but as you travel north, you enter the Precambrian Shield. Half of the province's total area is classified as forestland, and despite being a prairie province, the north brims with lakes, making commercial and recreational freshwater fisheries an important part of the economy. The northernmost parts of the province are tundra and permafrost.