Friday, May 30
Ponton Junction, MB to Gillam, MB
284 miles, sunny , temps in the upper 50’s to low 70’s
Less than an hour’s ride north of Ponton Junction we stopped for gas and decided to have coffee at the Ice Cream Parlor. A half dozen locals were having a late breakfast and were eager to chat with us and suggest places to see along the way.
Every so often we decided to explore the trails that led off the main road. This one led down to a lake. The amount of trash strewn around the site indicated it received frequent use, probably by local fishermen.
The road was one of the main attractions of this ride. Dan and I are expecting to ride poorly maintained, small mountain roads in South America so we wanted to get more experience riding gravel roads on this trip, and Route 280 from Thompson to Gillam provided just that — it is 188 miles of gravel. The first half, up to Split Lake, consisted of a wide and well maintained roadbed that had been freshly graveled and graded with a mix that was several inches thick. The roadbed itself appeared to be just a more firmly packed mixture of gravel and sand. So, we learned to relax our grip on the handlebars and not tense up when the bikes moved around under us. We never had contact with a firm, clean road surface on this section, but over time we got used to it.
We stopped for a break at Split Lake, a native settlement about half the way to Gillam. Local residents pointed out the remnants of an ice road on this patch of ice floating in the lake. The ice road is used in the winter to service settlements across the lake.
North of Split Lake the road was qualitatively different — narrower and less well maintained, with many sections of wet, spongy roadbed. It reminded me a lot of the gravel roads where I grew up in Iowa that would develop soft, muddy areas during the spring thaw where the roadbed was not well drained. This road had a lot of truck traffic which left wide ruts several inches deep.
As we got closer to Gillam the road got smaller with two main tracks down the middle. Most of it was hard pack, however, with occasional soft sections, and we were able to ride 40+ mph.
You can get a better feel for the riding experience from this video. It was a great ride – the challenge of the road in beautiful northern Manitoba on a bright sunny day with magnificent high clouds!