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Trip Report Mainly Manitoba -- views from the Back of Beyond.

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In August, my ourdoor-loving DH came up with the crazy idea to visit Flin Flon in the far northern reaches of Manitoba just to "see what it looks like". Since most of our trips have been beyond fun, and we're off on a different type of trip to Italy in April, I went along....on the back of our motorcycle. This is the story of a jaunt that elicits few responses in the Fodor's search box, and is certainly beyond the usual tourist paths. However, since it was so hard to find information on this area, I thought I'd help someone else if they ever get the same "tickle"...

We tend to travel quickly and planned on camping in Provincial Parks along the way, but the weather just didn't cooperate. A few dark afternoons forced us to bail and dump our camping plans which made it even harder to justify wasting precious space carrying a tent and sleeping bags. Unfortunately, our nights were spent in comfy beds without the tang of a crackling campfire or the quiet buzz of mosquitoes. Sigh. Here's our final path of over 2,400 miles:

Lake of the Woods (BIL cabin)-- 1 night
Lac Du Bonnet (Glenn Howard Inn)-- 1 night
Ashern (Interlake Motel)-- 1 night
The Pas (Kikiwak Inn) -- 1 night
Swan River (Westwood Inn)-- 1 night
Dauphine (Canway Inn)1 night
Morden -- (Super 8) 1 night
Kenora -- (Will never stay again Inn) 1 night
Lake of the Woods (BIL cabin) -- 1 night

Is anyone interested?

--Annie

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    I'm not interested in the motels you stayed at. For that you should post reviews on tripadvisor. But a well written report on what you saw, what you did, what you learned, yes, I would be interested in reading that.

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    Hi Ron,

    There really isn't a lot of choice for hotels in this area and not much to write about on that front. I'll just continue with our story on a daily basis and if anyone thinks it's too boring, don't hesitate to tell me. This was really a beautiful area and we did a fairly unusual trip...for us at least. Here goes:

    DAY ONE-- GREAT BEETS, TODDLER TROUBLES & SACRED TURTLES.

    After a fantastic Friday ride to Lake of the Woods, we spent a delightful evening with the in-laws at their rustic cabin on the lake. We left for Lac du Bonnet via Kenora and Whiteshell Provincial Park early the next morning. It was a beautiful summer day. The motor roared and the wind kept us cool. A quick stop at Sioux Falls, and we arrived in Kenora just in time for lunch -- definitely worth the detour from HWY 1. Nestled on the north side of Lake of the Woods, Kenora is a beautiful town.

    We were fortunate enough to pull into town just after a summer parade while the town was still buzzing. What fun! Floats were being pulled around, people were dressed crazily and everyone seemed to be carrying a drink. Hmmmm....that must have been some parade. We lunched at the Cornerstone restaurant and this is when I discovered my new favorite salad: roasted beets and walnuts with a smattering of goat cheese. Yummmm. Just heavenly!

    Back on the bike and off to Whiteshell. We were planning on an afternoon of lolling around the water and then a bit of hiking. Unfortunately, the park was a zoo whenever we got even remotely close to a lake or any of the cute mini-falls. The roads were packed with families, many with little children, all carrying towels, coolers and floaties. While this is totally understandable on a hot Saturday, it’s a little dangerous trying to navigate with a loaded motorcycle. After a few near misses with the toddler population, we gave up on lolling around and headed for a hiking trail.

    The one site we were told not to miss were the Bannock Point Petroforms. They were amazing (and very quiet). On this hot afternoon, we were the only ones wandering around the area. A small hike through the woods led to an area of bedrock filled with ancient figures of turtles, snakes, and other things laid out along the rocks. All around were pieces of cloth or other offerings tied to branches. In the middle of one area there was a clearly defined campfire with evidence of a recent ceremony. To be honest, even though we were the only ones there, it felt a little like walking around St. Peter’s while mass was being given. While the petroforms aren’t upright, we were reminded of the dolmens and menhirs throughout the countryside in Ireland and that air of ancient spirituality.

    Back on the bike and off to Lac du Bonnet, which is a fairly small community laid out along the lake. We checked in at the Glenn Howard Inn -- nothing special, definitely not sparkling clean -- and went to town for dinner. When eating without research or recommendation, we look for the crowd and we found one at Casey’s. When we sat down we immediately received three chances to win a raffle and I won a hat. Too bad our bike was so packed there wasn’t room for anything extra…if only we’d known then that we wouldn’t need the tent or the sleeping bags. Great dinner, better wine, a lovely walk along the lake and back to the room to rest up for another day in the North.

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    anniemackie, thanks so much for beginning a post about an exotic part of our country. we often tend to think exotic is only used for places like india, thailand, non all inclusive mexico, morocco etc.

    based on the way most of us live the north of any province is exotic because it's so different from our 49th ( or below like me in victoria) hugging country.

    i drove x country from here to toronto 4 summers ago, something most people i know have never done. everyone here said well after you leave the mountains the prairies will be BORING. pardon me i live surrounded by mountains. well the prairies are neither flat nor treeless and they have a wonderful 4th dimension we hardly ever experience out here called big sky and major weather , a 4th dimension. that was a wow.

    and yes we stopped in Wawa, just to see the giant goose. no one else has seen ( or in most cases heard ) of the giant goose!

    lucky you to experience Flin Flon; i'd go just for the name. but i always say you can take me anywhere in the world and i can be entertained for at least 24 hours. and that probably includes 24 hrs in a refrigerator carton!

    i can't wait to hear about Flin Flon even though i too am off to italy this spring

    cheers
    AndrewDavid

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    Hi Andrew -- I was pretty convinced that the name was DH's main reason for heading 700 miles north in the middle of a beautiful summer. And yes, the area definitely has an underappreciated beauty.

    Mr. Male -- no picture, but that's another story...

    DAY TWO -- EASTERN BEACHES, GIMLI VIKINGS & RUNNING FROM THE STORMS.

    The great thing about traveling on a bike is being in the elements; lots of fresh air, animals and plants are much more visible, and you feel like you are part of the land. The bad thing about taking a motorcycle tour is all of the above, and a few more, perhaps most of all the 5 inch seat in the back. No, I don’t have one of those cushy easy chairs, we are riding rough and this is rough country. And after my wild night winning a free cap, I’m a bit tired.

    The morning began with bright blue skies and warm breezes as we headed towards the eastern shore of Lake Winnipeg. The only nigglings of possible trouble were the dark clouds on the horizon….in exactly the direction we were headed, Victoria Beach. As we buzzed up HWY 11 it started to drizzle. Not a problem, we stopped in at the Good Thyme Café, had a great breakfast of corned beef hash and dug out the rain gear. Up to Victoria Beach, raining harder, down to Grand Beach, still raining, maybe we need to stop for an espresso. We found a very cute café/gift shop just out of Grand Beach with so many things I’d like to buy, but still the same story, no room on the bike. Good news though, the western shore has sun!

    Back on the bike and whipping through the marshland around the bottom of the lake and up to Winnipeg Beach. Bright sunny day, hurray! This town reminds us of the eastern coast of the U.S. Lovely boardwalk along the lake, many families enjoying the beautiful lakeside park and cute shops with lots of restaurants. DH visited last winter on his snowmobile and talked about how everything was shut down then. In fact, they were forced to sleep in a bar because it was the only place open. What a difference a season makes!

    Quick lunch after lazing around the park and off to Gimli. Another cute town, but filled with…Vikings??? Yep, everyone had on Viking hats and a big band was playing in the park. It looked like lots of fun, but it’s starting to drizzle. Perhaps we should head up to Hecla Island and set up camp before it gets too wet. A few miles north, we stop on a public fishing dock to reassess our situation. Along the horizon we can tell that it is really black and ugly at Hecla. Nope, not going there, so we pull out our wine and have a token toast while sitting on the shores of Winnie.

    Plans change like the wind. We rush over along HWY 68 through beautiful high prairie country and up HWY 6 to the small town of Ashern. It is 4:00 and plenty of sun for more riding, but we’re a little tired. Maybe just a little farther and then we’ll stop. A couple at the gas station tells us emphatically to stop now, don’t go any farther. What?? No motel for hundreds of miles. Hundreds? Ok, we’ll stop.

    We checked into the Interlake Motel: small room, clean, central location, and that’s about it. Dinner at the chicken restaurant and quite a long walk around town --- we hit every street -- and a gander at the biggest concrete spruce goose we’ve ever seen, before heading inside to watch the Olympics closing ceremony. Not exactly the same ambiance as Hecla Island, but at least Flin Flon is much closer.

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    I work Wpg Beach area (office in Gimli) and I think that Wpg. Beach is an ideal resort area - great beach, boardwalk, cafes & a new campground, not as busy as Gimli and close proximity for those city dwellers who want to escape for a weekend or longer. Our favorite place for a burger & fries is Salty's, on hwy. 9 heading north out of WB. And yes, in winter you would never know it's the same place, sometimes not a soul on the streets. I got a chuckle out of your comment re: hats in Gimli. Normally no one (well, almost no one) wears hats there, so I'm guessing that you hit Gimli during the Icelandic Festival. Sounds like you had a great trip. Looking forward to reading the rest of your report!

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    Dear Luv -- I may have been exaggerating, not “everyone” was wearing hats, but there were plenty of Vikings around. Normally I can go years without seeing even one.
    Mr. Male -- Yes, the latitude is certainly part of the “lure” too.

    DAY THREE -- “I WANT MY TEDDY!” & GAS OUT AT TIM HORTON’S .

    Just before leaving Ashern, DH did some reconnaissance with a couple of bikers who just returned from Thompson. Our decision to stop at 4:00 last night was validated with the “Yeah, man, you’d be crazy to drive that road in the dark.” Hmmm, looking at the map it looks pretty straight, but then I heard they were talking about moose. Gosh, wouldn’t that be fun?

    Another beautiful blue day, a bit chilly, but nothing to worry about and no clouds on any horizon. Off down HWY 6 and turn at HWY 60, how hard is that?

    A word about HWY 6, it is pretty straight, in fact I can’t even remember any decent curves. It sort of reminded me of Nevada, just replace the pine trees with cactus. Of course, they were interspersed with birch now and then, but it was that same feeling of “Wow, this is pretty remote”. After an hour of passing very few buildings and then another of passing absolutely none, not even a road crossing the HWY, remote seemed to be an understatement. But, it was certainly beautiful. This area between the two big lakes is a bit swampy and fairly level, not much chance for sweeping vistas over blue water.

    Somewhere in all that remoteness, I realized that my left foot was getting hot. Very hot. We stopped along the shoulder (a 12” strip of gravel) to see what was wrong. DH stuck a screwdriver up underneath the bike and several little black chunks FELL OUT. While DH was poking around I was trying to breathe (and surreptitiously check the cell phone - yep, no service). So what if we hadn’t seen a car in ages, it was the middle of the day, we could get rescued, but then who could repair a bike in this area? We are hundreds of miles from the closest bike shop, who even tows that far, what are we going to do, I WANT MY TEDDY! Yes, I was in panic mode. DH got back up and said “No problem, it’s only the rear brake, we don’t use it that much. Let’s go on.” So, I got on.

    We made another stop at Devil’s Lake where I discovered that rest stops in this area lack running water, although there is a lake close by, and then another long haul to the junction and more gas. My gosh, there are people in this country, all apparently at the gas station. We filled up and since it was long after lunch, skipped breakfast and went right to teatime mode. It seemed as if this place was a gold mine with all the traffic, but then as we were leaving, we realized no one was moving. A big sign said “NO GAS NOW”. Being as we don’t live in California, this isn’t a sign we’re used to seeing. Thank heaven’s we filled up before eating.

    Now we are on HWY 60 and heading towards The Paw. The country is beginning to change. A few more curves, the hills are a little higher, but those sweeping vistas are still missing. Another stop to cool down that pesky brake that we don’t need and then we are at the junction of HWY 10. It’s only an hour or two after getting gas and still no houses, or roads, or views over the big lake. Lots of green, though. Turn right go another fair distance and there’s The Pas, an actual community in this wilderness. What a long day. We’re still far from Flin Flon and when DH mentions that he thinks he’ll look for a parts shop, I know we need to stop. Tomorrow we’ll be in Flin Flon. Maybe

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    Hi Andrew -- no parts shop, but it looked like we could set one up in the parking lot while DH worked on the brake.

    This is way too long...I will be less wordy on future posts. Am enjoying a beautiful lake view and autumn leaves this weekend.

    --Annie

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    Am back from leaf peeping, tried to be shorter. Here's more
    -- Annie

    DAY THREE CON’T -- CLIFF CRACKS (AND OTHERS).

    We stopped at TI just inside The Pas, and discovered that the weather for the next few days looked even less promising. This is a pretty town with a long bridge over the Saskatchewan River. We checked into the Kikiwak Inn on the reservation and booked the swankiest room ever.

    Up to Clearwater Lake Provincial Park for a short hike along the lake on the “caves” trail. Finally, a lake where we could actually see water! BTW, the caves turned out to be deep cracks in the cliffs along the shore. Back in town we had a long, adventurous hunt for wine. I left DH on the bike and ran into a likely looking place only to find a very happy Happy Hour in full swing with a bit of nudity on the side. Yikes! On down the road we find The Good Thyme Restaurant (not related to the café earlier in the week) and had a delicious dinner.

    DAY FOUR -- FINALLY FLIN FLON…AND BACK.

    Most people don’t pack long johns for an August vacation -- today I was glad I found room for the Cuddl Duds. The morning was cold and we still had an hour and a half of outdoor riding before reaching Flin Flon. Brrrrr!

    Just about 45 minutes into our ride, the topography changed. More rock, more hills, more lake vistas and signs of civilization. This area resembled the Sioux Narrows region of Lake of the Woods. It held an air of remote and unattainable beauty, with a hint of winter in the air. Did I say it was cold???

    Black clouds on the horizon, the wind is picking up, and we make our way around a huge ridge of bedrock, past a mine and into the main section of Flin Flon. This town is built on the rim of an ancient volcano, which means there aren’t a lot of basements and I notice a few wooden sidewalks. We ride in search of hot (and I want HOT) coffee and finally ask where there is a café. Only one open, and it’s back through town by the Canadian Tire store. BTW, in our hunt we happened to wheel through a part of Saskatchewan since the town is built on the border and straddles both provinces. Cool!

    We find hot coffee and an extremely bleak forecast for two days of heavy pelting rain. What to do? Another coffee with a filling breakfast and a decision to leave. What? We just got here! The rain is expected to reach the area by 2:00, if we rush, we can beat it by going south. What???? South to Swan River…no rain there. So, four days to reach Flin Flon and we spend two hours in town? Sheeesh. But then, for some reason in my goose bump addled brain South morphed into Florida and I thought sand, beaches, WARM sunshine, and said, “O.K.” . Goodbye Flin Flon, hello Florida!

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    Well, lots of times, it's the journey not the destination that counts. Sounds like your trip was going great. Hope you didn't shed those longjohns too soon before hitting 'Florida', lol.

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    Dear Luv, after many years of travels with my dear DH, I am fortunate to say that every destination has become a story about the journey. Life is grand!

    DAY FOUR CON'T -- “MIGRATING” TO SWAN RIVER

    The clouds were gathering and the temperature was declining as we sadly left Flin Flon. I'm sure we will be back someday to visit this beautiful area. But for now, we are at the mercy of Mother Nature and trying to avoid the worst of her wrath.

    With a quick stop at the 54th parallel sign to snap some pictures, we made our way back through The Pas and passed the junction where we turned on to HWY 10. A short while later, we needed a break. We pulled off into a makeshift rest area full of garbage, fish bones, and broken, rotting reeds. A small trail led to our first view of the northern arm of Lake Winnepegosis. It was amazing to think that we were doing almost a complete circle around this huge lake and that these were our first steps on it’s shore. And, in fact this was also our first glimpse of more than a distant flash of blue water.

    Back on the bike and a long, long, long, ride to Swan River. Now we are getting to farming country and the population is growing. Swan River looked busy and it was. In fact, it was so busy that we couldn’t find a room at the first two places we looked. We ended up at the very nondescript Westwood Inn, a place we would never had chosen if we’d had a choice. It had the air of a renovated 70’s office building that hadn’t been maintained since the day it was finished. But at least it was semi-clean. Definitely not eating here tonight.

    The weather was grey, but dry, and we did indeed outrun the storm. We decided to stretch our legs around the small downtown area, and then took a gander at a huge concrete swans outside the TI. Dinner was forgettable and bed was calling. A long day of hard decisions, determined riding, and a bit of disappointment called for a glass of wine back in the room. Perhaps tomorrow will feel like Florida.

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