Sunday, July 28, 2013

On "Melon"-choly Hill

“ 'Up on Melancholy Hill is a plastic tree,
Are you here with me?”

I used to be teased and called "Melonhead" when I was a kid because my head is so round. Had I grown up in Saskatchewan, I could have taken that moniker much better. Out here, they don hollowed out watermelons on their heads with pride to show their spirit during the home games of their beloved Saskatchewan Roughriders. I'm far from a football fan, but these melonheads' support for their team is impressive — one of the rare publicly-owned professional sports teams.

I spent two days in Saskatoon for a few reasons. 1) I needed some rest; 2) the wind switched direction and I was not about to ride in 35 kph headwinds with 65 kph gusts; 3) I had work to do; 4) my bike needed a good cleaning and maintenance; and 4) Saskatoon is a great little city with so much energy.

I certainly got my rest, the University of Saskatchewan offers up its well-kept dorms for summer accommodations. For $47 a night I had a decent room to myself and included a fantastic all-you-can-eat breakfast of hot and cold cereals. The university campus is huge and sprawling, taking up almost one sixth of the city, and its grounds are impeccably well cared for.

The main buildings in uSask are all sandstone which look pretty in the  Prairie sunset

Saskatchewan Hall, the dorm I stayed in

The cafeteria had a great breakfast buffet

The first morning I mostly slept in and did some work inside as the wind howled outside. In the afternoon I went in search of a bike shop for some parts. I completely overhauled the drivetrain, changing my chain and really cleaning out the gears and derailleur — the bike runs better now than when I started. I also changed my brake pads and my rear tire, which have gotten so worn down from the ride through the Rockies. Great bike shops in Saskatoon, they have stock on hand for tires I usually have to special order in Ottawa. The Bike Doctor rocks.

There were a few events going on in town like the Dragon Boat Races and another water-based festival called River Lights. Saskatoon does a great job of animating itself, there's even a stage downtown where local garage bands can play on. I stopped by a free bike valet parking run by the local cycling advocacy group and had a nice talk with several of their members. They are doing a valiant job of promoting the local cycling scene, which despite the city's flatness can sometimes be a bit of an uphill battle. I bought one of their cool t-shirts.

I was impressed with the gentle-handed touches in presenting Saskatoon's heritage throughout its public spaces. Often they did not require lengthy explanations.

Tree grates had snippets of aboriginal traditions

I had a similar proposal to interpret the Ottawa River a few years ago but it never got anywhere 

This water play area is a great way for children to learn about their river and its watershed

On the third morning, the wind had turned favourable and it was time to leave. Saskatoon was starting to feel like home, and it was an effort to wrench myself from my digs. After chatting it up with a fellow Eastern Ontarian staying in the dorm, and searching in vain for spare inner tubes on a Sunday ( I'm kicking myself for forgetting to buy them yesterday), I actually did not leave the city until 2 pm. However, it took all of a few minutes being out in the open prairie to get back into the swing of things. While the Rockies can be like a blaring fanfare of mountains, the Prairies are all about rhythm. It is a place where time seems to slip by quietly, yet its repeated patterns remind you of the constant ticking of a clock.

One big mound of potash, one source of Saskatchewan's new wealth.

Made it 125 kms to Lanigan by the end of the day, found the nice campground there and pitched my tent in the golden light of the prairie sunset.

“ 'Round the world we'll go,
does anybody know
if we're looking out on the day
of another dream?”

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