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2013 Peace 200km: Signs of Spring (?)
by E.W. (Wim) Kok

Considering the weather record for the winter of 2012/13 with record snowfalls before Christmas and more snow as we were ready to hit the road, I was concerned for the first brevet of the season. I checked two forecasts: Environment Canada and the Weather Network. They were very different: Environment Canada forecast: 60% POP, strong SW winds in the morning shifting to the north in the afternoon, while the Weather Network predicted no precipitation for Saturday and mainly westerly winds. The first forecast was quite favourable for the planned route, which would take us north, then east and north again to the runaround in Prespatou, from where the trek due south to Fort St. John. Question was how to time the arrival at the turn for the expected shift in wind direction. I looked at the Fort Nelson observation on Saturday morning to see if and when the switch had occurred there and then tried to figure out when the wind shift might happen. Was not sure what to expect or when.

The start time was set for 8 am. Erik Snucins and I were immediately greeted by a strong WSW breeze (34 kph; gust 48kph), which did help as we went NNW. It shifted to WSW (48 kph; gust 69) which became a bit of a challenge. While at the first control Shepherd’s Inn (Km 43 @ 09:55 am) the first part of a weather system crossed our path before we did. We were lucky as we observed the puddles on the MP 73 Road, a rolling and winding route to Mile 18 (Buick Creek). Forests on either side provide some protection from the wind, which at time had shifted north. After crossing the Blueberry River we arrived at the optional control: Buick Creek (Km 74 @ 11:26 am)

Other than the name of a car, the name Buick may not mean a lot to most people. There is however an interesting story attached to this place. Some may remember the story of “Mary of Mile 18” a children’s book written by Ann Blades in the 1970’s, when she taught at the one room school in Buick Creek. At that time the area was somewhat isolated and only accessible by gravel road. As one web site states: “Mary of Mile 18 caused a sensation when it was first published in 1971. The story of Mary who finds a wolf pup but is forbidden to keep it as a pet, until it proves its worth on the family farm, touched the hearts of readers in Canada and around the world. Newspapers vied to interview the first-time author, a young woman teaching in a tiny school house in a remote northern settlement.” ( One of the book reviews called it “[A] staple in Canadian libraries and a good read-aloud choice for American classes studying Canada.” Carolyn Phelan Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved. Another review noted that “Blades’ appreciation of the Canadian wilderness and those who eke out a living there is apparent in her richly colored and textured primitive watercolors…a breathtaking backdrop to the story.” –School Library Journal. ( Hope this does not contribute to any stereotyping. Meanwhile, the one-room school is no more; it was replaced quite a few years ago by a more modern building. And the roads are paved. Yet, the story prevails.

After a brief break in the lee of the school building we resumed the ride, cycling east over a roller coaster route then to turn north for a 22 km section to the turnaround. The winds were tail, helping us along. While the fields were still covered with snow, melt waters were collecting in ditches, rushing to the lowest possible places. The running sounds resembled babbling, gurgling and lapping, as if to tell a story to those who cared to listen. To the NW something was brewing and it was not pretty. For a brief moment I wondered if we could cycle around and escape the approaching atmospheric cauldron. Erik’s instrument panel showed temperatures up to +13C; strong winds and gusts persisting from the SW. We were definitely in the warm sector of a wave cyclone. We turned north, did not hold our breath as we needed all of it to continue. Then it hit, and it did so with vengeance. A vicious cold front crossed our path. There was nothing subtle about it. With very little physical resistance on the Alberta plateau to slow it down, the front hit like a ton of bricks. It felt like a giant steamroller speeding across the surface. Or did it sweep across? What happened? Let me try and describe it. First, the skies darkened, the horizon and any objects grew dim and then disappeared. It was coming. Then with the flick of a light switch, the wind abruptly changed direction from SW to N, not missing one beat in strength. Next, the temperature dropped like a bomb from +13 C to -1 C in less than five minutes. Finally, the snow began, which with the wind speed turned the expected snow fall into a horizontally driven white mass. It stung our faces, caked our bicycles and clothing. It was a blinding snow storm, with near blizzard conditions, except that is was not cold enough to qualify as such. Visibility was near zero. It lasted for almost thirty minutes, before the snow eased. The wind stayed north and the temperature below zero. Lucky for us, because of the strong winds the snow did not accumulate on the road, or leave any slush. By the way there was very little shelter, and homes were few and far between, so we battled on against the elements and made to the Control: Prespatou (Km115 @ 1:35pm). It was a classic example of a cold front passage. An exciting experience!

While in Prespatou I had this flashback from the early 1980s. I was doing fieldwork in the area and stopped in at a farmyard to discuss the status of an application for agriculture on Crown land. Initially no-one showed, except the farmer’s wife who was not familiar with the application at all. When her husband showed and she expressed surprise to him about not being told about the family farm affairs, he replied very tersely, ‘women belong in the kitchen!’ Wow, I was quite taken aback by (t)his frosty comment. I did the field assessment and discovered patches of discontinuous permafrost in some of the muskeg. Hmmm, wonder if there was a link between the two encounters? Needless to say, that the land in question was not suitable for agriculture.
We did not stay too long at the control; we wanted to take advantage of the wind. After all, a farmer makes hay when the sun shines and a randonneur moves when a tailwind blows. Cycling was now almost effortless on the flats and of course the downhill, uphill was a slightly different story, notwithstanding the help. Took two small breaks, one of which resulted in a chance encounter with someone who had participated in the Pacific Populaire at Riley Park back in the nineties. He had now moved north and expressed an interest in long distance cycling. I took the opportunity to do some shameless promotion of our sport. Just after six we made it back to the finish in Fort St. John (Km 207 @ 18:10). As I am ready to submit this story (Monday April 29), the ground is covered by another dump of 10+ cm snow. Today’s gift from Mother Nature, just when we thought that spring was near.

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May 1, 2013