Mountains are my siren song for adventure, but there is something about the big prairie skies of
Saskatchewan that feel like home. They also make me sing that Chicks song “Wide Open Spaces” at the top of my lungs while my kids yell at me to please stop with the country music.
When I was 14, I left my rural Alberta roots behind to go to a private school in Caronport, Saskatchewan, trading one not so great small-town influence for a healthier one a province away. I spent four years living in a dorm with my friends and going home only on holidays. I was the worst player on our soccer team, but it was where I first figured out that running wasn’t punishment, it was freedom. I distinctly remember the moment I looked down at my legs, somewhere on a flat gravel road without a soul in sight, and thought how good it felt to just run. The prairies were where I figured out so much about who I am, and although a lot of that feels unfamiliar to me now, those were formative years. So when we rolled Van-nessa across the border I knew we were in for the kind of subtle beauty only prairie kids seem to understand.
Our stop in Saskatoon was more practical then touristy, Costco, fuel, laptop chargers with 12Volt adapters (cause it never occurred to me I would need that) and a couple hours at a Starbucks with the Wifi I needed to finish a paper for school. So far, no one else was impressed with this province.
There was some excitement however as we made the first turn out of Costco and our newly purchased Shepherds Pie came flying out the fridge and splayed upside down across the floor. Side note: RV fridges come with locks. We know this now.
By early evening we pulled into Buffalo Pound Provincial park where we were treated to a stunning sunset and an onslaught of ticks that left us all a little rattled until we learned the chances of them giving us Lyme disease was pretty slim. Lucky for me, the park has several km of perfectly flowy single track with surprising amounts of elevation up and down the valley, so I snuck out early for a run and came
back pretty happy, and of course covered in ticks. Erm….gross.
And then things got flat and desolate.
Wide open spaces.
My family indulged my walk down memory lane with a detour to Caronport to wander around, peaking into the windows of the pottery studio that looks exactly as I left it 22 years ago, and wondering why everything suddenly seemed so much smaller then I remembered it. I totally pulled that old person stunt of sharing memories that no one else cares about but that you must tell because they are bursting out of you. The tolerated me only because we bought ice cream before heading back on the road through Moose Jaw where Kirk ran a stop sign and had to slam on the breaks, testing Vannessa to her limits and sending Katie sprawling. She’s a beast that can stop on a dime, its just not very pretty when she does.
Shepherds Pie remained in the fridge that time. Thank you for asking.
More stories of my youth as we went through Moose Jaw and Regina to see the beautiful Legislature Grounds and Wascana Lake.
Back onto Highway 16 where southeastern Saskatchewan stretched out forever in front of us with only some wind turbines and lonely trees to interrupt.
Then two lonely figures appeared on the horizon. The ultra running community is pretty small, so I think it’s safe to call Dave a friend, but really he’s an ultra running icon and one of the reasons I decided to run Sinister 7 100 miler in 2019. My first time going to Sinister in 2015, I watched Dave Proctor finish the 100-miler setting a course record and crushing a beer right after. I was shocked that anyone could do that, much less that anyone could look so calm while doing so. That was when I decided I wanted to do that too.
This summer, Dave is going for the record for the fastest time running across Canada. He runs 107km a day and plans to finish in 67 days. I knew that he would be somewhere in Saskatchewan and that there was a chance we would cross paths, but we definitely didn’t plan for this encounter. As soon as I saw him and his pacer Mike, I threw my run clothes on and begged Kirk to turn around to drop me off to run
with them for a bit. I hopped out on the side of the highway and ran to meet them, trying to keep my fan-girl gushing to a minimum. He shared some stories of the road with me as semi’s roared past uncomfortably close. Thankfully the shoulders there were wide, but he said there were places out east where the shoulders were brutal to run on, and likely caused him to have a broken pinky toe. I know you should never meet your heros, but hanging out with Dave was anything but disappointing. His humility
and strength are inspiring. Still calm like the first time I saw him race, but now with a sort of wisdom you can only find 50 days into a 67 day long run. We came up to Vannessa within 4km and he paused for a quick picture with the kids on the side of the road, before continuing on for his last few kms for the day.
My kids are pretty used to hearing stories of crazy ultrarunners (including ANOTHER friend of mine, also named Dave who got the record for running a half marathon with 70 t-shirts on!) so I’m not sure they understand the significance of that encounter. Maybe one day it will sink in.
We were treated to another perfect prairie sunset as we posed in front of the welcome to Saskatchewan sign where we got to experience the “Land of the Living Skies” in all its glory. Then we continued on the flattest back country roads you have every seen, taking the scenic route into Manitoba as the sky grew dark behind us.