Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Racing the Weather, Navigating Trail Closures : Regina to Lumsden

Last night we had a wonderful treat - we got to meet Heather and her lovely family for a coffee at Tim Horton's.  Heather has been following our trek since the beginning, and it turns out we had a lot of things in common.  We really enjoyed learning about the National and Provincial parks in Saskatchewan, and hearing about the hiking experiences of others, both in Canada and in Europe.  We were super surprised and touched at a generous gift of two Saskatchewan Roughriders hats too!  Now we can show some local spirit!

The energy we got from meeting with Heather was much needed.  While we still have about two months of hiking in front of us there is little denying that the seasons are again changing.  The nights are cooler, the fields are cut and yellowed, and the birds have begun to either gather for the long cold season or migrate south.  While the arrival of the fall brings about a new sort of beauty to Canada and its landscapes it also reminds us that time is passing by quickly out here and that it is time to get going.

We had been a little apprehensive about the walk out of Regina today based on our inspection of the satellite imagery around the trail, a video of Erlen's bike ride through this section which showed difficulties he encountered, a 'trail closed' notice on the Saw-Whet Trail portion of the Trans Canada Trail website, and a weather forecast that predicted 40 mm of rain.  The outlook felt pretty bleak to us, and unfortunately our attempt at hiking today was equally dispiriting.

The trail app indicated we should leave Regina on Armour Rd heading west, which is what we did, although there wasn't a single trail marker to be found.  We made the transition from paved road, to gravel road lined with utility poles, to gravel road in the middle of harvested golden fields of grain, all the while being passed by a steady stream of pick up trucks on their way to work.  Part way down the road we passed a road grader which was leaving a deep layer of soft sand and gravel in its wake.  A little farther along the first in a convoy of double-long trucks hauling gravel passed us, but luckily we had left early enough to avoid the majority of the trucks.  There were signs posted along the length of the road listing the regulations for trucks hauling loads of various sizes, and we were left wondering why once again our "trail" followed a concession frequently used by large trucks.


It was an overcast morning, but although it was unpleasantly humid, it wasn't raining, which we were immensely grateful for.  As we turned to head north we watched a rain cloud pass to the east of us, darkening the sky behind us, and encouraging us to quicken our steps.  At the turn we got our first glimpse of the treed Qu'Appelle Valley since leaving Fort Qu'Appelle.  It stretched out before us, not as deep or wide as the section between Hyde and Fort Qu'Appelle, but beautiful all the same.

We headed north on a gravel concession until it turned into a dirt road, which made us extra glad it wasn't raining.  This did nothing to boost our confidence, especially given the complete lack of signs, but we followed the road between flat fields of harvested grain and un-harvested fields of canola which had dried to a light brown and which were absolutely hopping with grasshoppers.  As we walked they scattered like popcorn, and when we stopped we could hear a loud and continuous dry rustling and popping as they jumped through the canola.

At this point, out of nowhere a golden retriever appeared across a field, and began following us.  We tried to dissuade him by telling him to go home, but he just looked at us and kept trotting along.  At first we thought maybe he was allowed to freely roam over his owners farm, and he would turn back when we reached the boundary.  No such luck.  That dog followed us for the next 10 km, adding a great deal of extra stress to our next debacle.

At the end of the dirt road the app suggested we should turn west, make our way across a field to join the Wascana hiking trail system.  At the turn west we encountered a bank of 'Private Property,' 'No Hunting,' 'No Trespassing,' and 'Trespassers Will be Prosecuted' signs.  We decided these warnings likely applied to the land on either side of the road, and not to the road itself, and continued on.  The entire length of the laneway was posted with warnings.  When we got to a complex of buildings with a row of grain silos there was an extra large sign telling us we were being monitored by video surveillance and electronically identified, and that the police were being notified of our presence.

From this vantage point we could see the Wascana Trails winding through the valley below us.  We could see the turquoise metal footbridges down there that was meant to take us across the meandering river, and we could see the trailhead with several cars parked at it on the road running along the west side of the valley. 

The problem we faced was that we couldn't find a way to join the Wascana Trail system.  There was not one, not two, but three barbed wire fences separating us from the trails down below.  We tried three different routes around, and opened two gates, slicing ourselves – Sean received a 5-6 inch cut down his arm - on the wire in the process, but in every single case the final gate was wrapped multiple times with thick wire that would require pliers to remove, and with extra strands of barbed wire, making it impossible to pass without cutters.  Clearly, despite what the trail App indicated, we were not on the Trans Canada Trail, and a huge amount of effort had recently been expended to prevent anyone from accessing the Wascana Trails from the east side.  It was time for Plan B.

We backtracked nearly 10 km to the road we'd been on 2 hours previously, and used it to cross the river.   When we reached the western edge of the Wascana Trails the people that we met simply commented that “everyone knows that the trail can only be accessed from this side.  It has been like that for years now”.  Sigh.

Continuing on we figured at least we'd head north on the "right" concession, even though the Saw-Whet Trail, which was the next trail section, was also listed as broken.  The reason for this closure seems to be that the trail no longer connects to the highway at the other end.  It was apparently time for Plan C.  Incredibly frustrated and having walked nearly 30 km and gotten almost nowhere, we used Google maps to get walking directions to Lumsden, which was still nearly 20 km away.  Even then we ran into road construction and more forced reroutes.  Our luck never improved...

It was an uninspiring afternoon of walking to Lumsden on concessions that were mostly not part of the Trans Canada Trail as far as we know.  Then inexplicably - miles and kilometers away from the TCT we found and passed a Trans Canada Trail sign – 3 concessions away from where the trail is actually mapped to be - on the highway north of Wascana Trails, and again when we were above Deer Valley, which made us wonder if there was actually a signed route somewhere through this region, just not where the app indicated, and so we'd missed it.

Eventually the highway brought us back to the Qu'Appelle Valley, although it was a much more gentle entrance than our first visit to the valley in Hyde. We followed the gravel road west, passing large ranches and glass-fronted homes with views of the folded hills along the valley walls.  Eventually the gravel road turned to a paved highway that descended a steep hill on the side of the Qu'Appelle Valley, and we found ourselves entering the charming little community of Lumsden.  From the wood carvings, wild and exuberant flower gardens, and brightly coloured little homes it was evident immediately that this was a community full of creative people, who include writers and artists.

We made our way down the main street, with its small shops, family restaurants, and upscale shops, making a stop at Jane Dough's.  This was a fantastic little bakery with enormous scones, cookies, and baked goods to dream about.  We each had a giant cranberry scone, which did wonders to restore our moral.  The friendly lady in the bakery asked us if we'd walked in to town from the east or the west, which again made us think perhaps that the Trans Canada Trail was marked somewhere not noted on the TCT app and online map. 

This impression was strengthened when we passed the large Lions Park, crossed the Qu'Appelle River, and arrived at the RiverPark Campground.  There we found a TCT pavilion with a map of the trail, along with a beautiful section of trail in the campground, which was complete with benches and abundant signage.  This map showed the trail going down into Deer Valley and to Regina along a very different route.  When we later looked at photos of the trail maps we'd seen in Regina, they showed yet a third route.  We decided to simply let it go and stop trying to make it make sense, but since we face similar looking challenges tomorrow and the following day, we are still feeling pretty discouraged.

The campground is a beautiful green space with a number of large baseball diamonds at the center.  There is a splash pad, a meeting hall, a set of impeccably clean washrooms with wonderfully warm showers, and even laundry! We set up our tent under some trees only a few feet from the Trans Canada Trail, which wound along only a few meters from the Qu'Appelle River.  Luckily, we got the tent set up just a few minutes before it began to rain.  Although this day was beset by challenges, we still had much to be grateful for – we were set up, dry, and had warm scones from the local bakery!

We sat in the tent, listening to the sound of rain on the tarp, and writing the blog.  Although the farmers have been praying for rain for months, it is now mostly too late to benefit this year's harvest. They need to harvest what little has managed to grow, and now it is too wet to bring in.

Since the rain showed no signs of abating, we decided to head back into town for dinner.  We stopped at the Lumsden Valley Family Restaurant, and sat in the wonderful dry warmth of a family restaurant, enjoying a delicious vegetarian pizza.  Conversation with the locals turned to the weather, with discussions of how hot and windy the summer had been, and how the rain was now too late.  As we made our way back along the path atop the raised dyke that borders the river to control flooding we realized once again how difficult life on the prairies is.  When we went to sleep, it was still raining quite hard.

In the end the rain continued throughout the night, soaking the tent and much of its contents.  It was still raining hard at 9 am, so we decided to stay another night in the campground.  It was a cool, very damp day, and we spent most of it in the tent, leaving only to walk downtown for a lovely breakfast of hot coffee and scones at Jane Dough's, and for a small dinner at the Lumsden Hotel in the evening.  The rest of the day we spent huddled in the tent, trying to stay warm – clearly the seasons are in the midst of changing once again.

During our stay we met a very large Franklin's Ground Squirrel on the side of the Trans Canada Trail, who we enjoyed watching as he meticulously selected dandelion leaves and ate them using both paws. 


Later on, as we were watching the many small of baby Mallards and Teals in the river beside our tent, we spotted a mother beaver and her baby.  The large beaver hauled the baby up on the bank by its neck, both of them looking like nearly spherical balls.  The two of them spent quite a long time grooming each other and oiling each other's fur.  Instead of having a lodge, they seemed to live in large holes in the sandy river bank, and as dusk fell a third grey beaver came out and called the youngest one inside.

As we were returning from doing our laundry, enjoying the dry, warm, clean smelling pile of clothes, we spotted a Great Horned Owl flying across the parking lot in the darkness.  We watched as it hunted silently above the river, returning again and again to the trees lining the shore.  What an amazing day for wildlife viewing!

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