Where the Road Doesn’t Go

Published: December 30, 2000

Bob & Helen Sandall #5593

Bob and Helen SandallOn September 6, 2000, our 48th wedding anniversary, we left Manchester at 6:00 A.M. for what was to become a trip of nearly 6,000 miles before we returned. Our initial destination was Sioux Falls, S.D., the rendezvous site for the Polar Bear Safari 2000. We arrived there at noon on September 9th and met our caravan leaders, Chuck and Sandie Kiple who would lead the second section of the caravan.. This caravan has be-come so popular that it is necessary to run two sections of 25 units each. Norm and Clara Lammers lead the first section.

Since the caravan was not scheduled to leave until September 15th, we had plenty of time to tour the area. As part of the caravan activities while in Sioux Falls, we toured the Gateway (computer) company, a fantastic model railroad exhibit in the Fair Grounds, Business Aviation of Sioux Falls and the USGS EROS (Earth Resources Observation Systems) Data Center. (EROS Data Center holds one of the world’s largest collections of images of the earth’s land surface) Our tour of EROS was fascinating.

We left Sioux Falls on the 15th of September heading for Aberdeen, S.D. On the way we stopped in Mitchell, S.D. to visit the Corn Palace. Each year, thousands of bushels of corn, grain and grasses are used to decorate the Corn Palace. We arrived in Aberdeen at 2:15 and by 4 o’clock, we were off for a tour of a Hutterite colony. The Hutterites are a religious sect similar to, but not as strict as, the Amish or the Mennonites. They use electricity and modern farm equipment although they maintain a rather closed community with their own school system, church and communal distribution of the work of the colony. We were served a delicious meal prepared by the young women of the village after which we were entertained by their choir. Our time in Aberdeen was very busy – we visited the NOAA weather station, a wildlife refuge where we saw white pelicans, a tour of an ethanol plant for the men and a fashion show for the women sponsored by the women of the local Methodist Church.

On the 19th, we left with the parking crew at 7:30 A.M. for Rugby, N.D. which is the geographical center of the North American continent. We were parked overnight in a restaurant parking lot. Up to this point, the weather had been quite warm and humid with temperatures in the upper eighties and low nineties. However, things changed when we arrived in Rugby – it turned cold and very windy. So much for the shorts and T-shirts!!

We crossed the Canadian Border at the Peace Garden and continued North through Brandon, Mb. (site of the 1994 International Rally)on our way to Dauphin, Mb.. As we were driving through Riding Mountain National Park, we were temporarily delayed by a group of Indians who were picketing against the Canadian government. Although they were beating on their war drums, they caused us no problems. In Dauphin we were treated to supper at the Anglican Church where we were welcomed by Past International President and First lady, Lawrie and Betty Stephen. Lawrie and Betty are parishioners of this church. While in this town of 8,000, we experienced our first taste of frozen precipitation in the form of sleet and snow squalls which sent us scurrying to Wal-Mart for warm gloves and hats which we had forgotten to pack.

After thawing out our water hoses on the morning of September 23rd, we left for Swan River, a community of about 4,000. (after this experience, we learned not to leave our water hoses connected for the rest of the trip). While in Swan River we visited a museum of antique farm tractors and other farm equipment. Here we were treated to a delicious home-cooked meal prepared and served by the museum staff. The highlight of our stay in this town was a visit to a local sculptor where we purchased a stone carving of a mother polar bear with two cubs. After leaving Swan River, we headed North to a town named, The Pas where we had a nice camp-site on the Saskatchewan River. After a couple of days in The Pas, we traveled on to the town of Flin Flon which is named for Josiah Flintabbatey Flonitan, a character that appeared in a dime-novel found in the area by early prospectors. In the early stages of our trip, we had passed through the vast open plains of the mid-west but after leaving Swan River, we found ourselves riding through heavily forested land. As we approached Flin Flon, however, the beautiful forests abruptly changed to great expanses of rocky terrain. In some areas of Flin Flon, the water and sewer pipes are contained in wooden boxes since it is impossible to bury them. The major employer in Flin Flon is the Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting Company which mines copper, zinc, gold, silver and cadmium. While in this town, we were entertained by a group of Indians performing traditional dances and ceremonies. It was here, also, that we first saw the Northern Lights. Our most important drivers’ meeting was held at the Victoria Inn in Flin Flon where we were briefed about our upcoming stay in Churchill, Mb., the Polar Bear Capitol of the World.

Since we were on the water detail for the move to Thompson, we left with the early workers on the morning of October 1st. Leaving behind the rocky terrain of Flin Flon., we once again found ourselves travelling through thick forests of evergreens and tamaracks. By this time of the year, the tamaracks had turned a brilliant yellow. When we arrived in Thompson, we realized we had driven as far as the paved roads go in northern Manitoba. To go beyond this point, it will be necessary to go by train to Churchill, our ultimate goal in search of the “great white bear”. After setting up in the campground we once again made our way to, what else, Wal-Mart to purchase anti-freeze with which to winterize our trailer. The trailer would remain in Thompson for several days while we were in Churchill and we had been told that sometimes the temperatures here went well below freezing. We spent the evening packing and re-packing our duffle bags and back-packs. We had been told to travel light as it would be necessary to carry our luggage with us while in Churchill.

FINALLY – THE BIG DAY HAS ARRIVED – October 2nd. The train was to leave at 6:30 P.M.. While waiting outside our trailers for our transportation to the train, it began to snow – how fitting!! Everyone was in a holiday mood. As we boarded the train, we were given our sleeping assignments – some of the group went by coach while the rest of us were in sleeping cars. Helen and I each had a roomette, which while quite small, was more than adequate and very comfortable.

We arrived in Churchill at 8:30 A.M. on October 3rd and went to the Tundra Inn by bus. Helen and I spent the day walking around the town in freezing temperatures and driving snow (it was coming horizontally) . Just like any other tourist, we visited several gift shops, a museum and the town complex that houses the town offices, the schools, a curling rink, a swimming pool, a restaurant and many other facilities. It is a practice in this town not to lock any doors so that if someone is on the street and a polar bear appears, that person can quickly find a safe haven.. To top off our first day here at 58 degrees, 30 minutes North Latitude, we ate in a unique restaurant that was decorated with items that had washed ashore. The menu even had Roast Caribou which was great.

The next morning, October 4th, we boarded our Tundra Buggy where we rocked and rolled over the tundra all day without any bear sightings until late afternoon. This bear was not sociable so we couldn’t get very close but we had a good view of him through our binoculars. At 6 o’clock we headed for the Tundra Lodge right on the shores of Hudson Bay. The Tundra Lodge is made up of several trailers – two bunk houses, a lounge car, and a dining car. We picked out the bunks we would occupy for the night – really not very private but by now, we were one big happy family. Before supper we were treated to a wine party – the combination of the wine and having seen a bear, made for a super party. Since the generator went off at 10 P.M., we all retired early.

Fortunately, Helen and I had elected to take a second Tundra Buggy tour the next day and we were rewarded with an up close and personal encounter with a polar bear not more than thirty yards away. This bear was sociable and stayed close for at least two hours. After all this excitement, we headed back to town to board the train for our trip back to Thompson.

We spent the nights of October 6th and 7th in Thompson and had the thrill of seeing the Northern Lights in a dazzling display. When we left Thompson, we took the quick route to Winnipeg stopping for one night in the small town of Grand Rapids. Arriving in Winnipeg with all its traffic was quite a shock after so many days travelling in the wilderness when we would often go for an hour or more without seeing another car. To our great surprise, the roads we traveled in Manitoba were in excellent condition – smooth surface and wide shoulders. Although the service stations were few and far between, we knew in advance where they were so there never was any problem in that regard.

Our final banquet was held on October 10th at a very nice restaurant in Bird’s Hill Provincial Park on the outskirts of Winnipeg. We said goodbye to our new friends and were homeward bound the next morning, arriving in Manchester on October 15th.

The Manitoba Provincial license plate uses the slogan, “Friendly Manitoba” and we can attest to the fact this is true. We never met anyone who was other than friendly.

This is a unique caravan – it has a lot to offer and we highly recommend it.

– Bob & Helen