It had been a grueling 8 days and 540 km’s pedalled since my last shower under a relentless Saskatchewan July sun between Regina Saskatchewan and border town Empress Alberta. While there may have been clouds in the distance, they were definitely keeping their distance from me.
Leaving Swift Currant, I headed northwest on secondary Country Highway #32. Until I got on this particular highway, I don’t think I ever really appreciated the vastness and flatness of Saskatchewan that people talked about. And I should know as I had trucked across Saskatchewan dozens of times in a past career.
Entering the small village of Empress Alberta (pop 135) I was very beat, grimy and sun burnt and if I recall, just a little bit out of it. All I knew was that I wanted a shower at any cost.
I couldn’t make sense of the camping instructions posted at Empress Campground. Like I said I was a bit out of it. I was directed to a red brick building 200 meters further down the road.
I don’t know how one describes That’s Empressive. It’s an art gallery, a fairly fancy gift shop that also sells groceries (inside a huge old bank vault) and has a traditional home kitchen smack dap in the middle of the store to make whatever their customers wanted to eat. Not really what I was expecting in the middle of nowhere Badlands Canada.
With a look of dazed and confused on my face I was asked how they could help. I said I was inquiring about a camping spot. The son whose name was Ted came around the corner and took one look at me and said “you’re biking across Canada!” I can’t even imagine the look of confusion on my face responding with a yes in disbelief.
“Yeah, I can see it in your eyes. You have that stare……..I know it doesn’t look like it (Ted was a very big guy) but I have biked across Canada one and half times myself” remarked a very confident Ted.
Without missing a beat, he instructed me to set up my tent in their backyard (for free) and that the shower was upstairs. And then without missing her own beat, Ted’s mom Pat Donaldson (who turned out to be a fairly famous Native Canadian artist) yelled “and supper is at 6pm and grab whatever you want to drink out of the (store) cooler.
In disbelief I asked him the next day again — How did you know? He just shrugged his shoulders. “You had the stare.”