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The Road to Ste Agathe
Bill Hoar Cenal Section
The ride out to the Bison Classic Motorcycle Rally for me has been a long time coming and long overdue. It’s 2023 and the joint AMCM (Antique Motorcycle Club of Manitoba) and CVMG Keystone Section bring this rally to its twenty third year. There have been various locations and formats over the years, but the Bison Rally is still going strong. Friendly, knowledgeable folks serving tasty food and plausible stories makes for a good rally in my books. Many of their members have ventured west to take in similar activities, including the Ponoka Vintage Rally, and so feeling a bit guilty I thought it was time.
The idea really took hold last winter when my dearly departed friend, Del West, was snooping through my barn and came across a 1978 KZ1000 LTD touring edition complete with Vetter fairing, lowers, hard cases and top box. He instantly fell in love with it, offered to buy it, or at least ridicule me into saving its soul. I hated it, it was all black, sprawled where three bikes could be stored and came as part of a package with other more desirable rides. The featured marque at Bison this year was Kawasaki, setting the wheels in motion to pilot this Kawasaki to Manitoba in June of 2023.
Mileage showed 60K and appeared accurate. After the usual routine, the bike started up albeit with a screwdriver to the solenoid. New rubber was ordered and while the big KZ called out for more attention it would have to wait. The bike kicked over fine to start and with some creative wiring an active starter button made the kicker redundant, thus making the 3000km round trip at least probable.
Sadly, with Del’s passing, he would only be coming in spirit. I have ridden older bikes further; common sense pleading that I should not make the trek alone. Besides, hotel rooms are affordable when splitting room costs thus making carrying a tent a poor second choice.
Brad Langford was a willing candidate within the Central Alberta Section. He is an iron butt rider, has a 1988 Cavalcade and was easily persuaded by promises of silky-smooth roads across the prairies, five-star accommodations and of course memories of a great rally. Lee Stronach was persuaded to join us on his 2016 BMW GS1200. Lee was busy and couldn’t commit to coming or for how long but credit to him, showed up at the scheduled 8am departure time from Ponoka.
My only conditions were one of leaving Wednesday and arriving before the start of the Rally on Friday and that we explore the Qu’ Appelle Valley in southeastern Saskatchewan. Brad liked the thought, sorted out a potential ‘dry weather road’ opportunity for the two touring bikes and made it to Davidson SK. that first night. All bikes were running fine; Lee found us a great Chinese restaurant and looked for rum. I however found a voracious appetite for fuel from the big block Kawi. Sure, 170km on the first leg from the 11-litre tank was promising if not passible (both Brad and I carried four litre containers) but it was steadily downhill from there. Depending on head winds and fuel quality I was achieving as little as 100km from a tank. I was beginning to understand what the KZ 1000 LTD stood for; limited fuel range! (Upon my return from Manitoba, a carb kit, ultrasonic carb cleaning and tuning brought the fuel economy up to a respectable value).
Figure 1 Our first fuel stop in Stettler, AB
From Davidson, we dropped down to Lumsden and Craven for the start of our dirt portion of the ride. Didn’t look like it had rained in a while so prospects seemed good. Our second planned stopover was the town of Redvers, SK near the MB border and from there, a leisurely skip to Ste. Agathe on Friday afternoon. Redvers is along the Red Coat Trail, named after General Sir Redvers Henry Buller.
Brad had a keen interest in learning more about the Red Coat Trail as his grandfather on his mother’s side was a recruit with the North-West Mounted Police. The 1300km route is an approximation taken in 1874 to how it is marked today from Fort Dufferin MB. to Fort Whoop-Up, AB now marked by a cairn near Ft. McLeod. Readers may recall the Red Coat Trail Geezer run from Cypress Hills and Maple Creek, AB through places like Val Marie, Eastend, Willow Bunch SK in 2017. Remarkable trails, amazing history. Our goal this trip wasn’t to follow the Red Coat trail from SK into MB but to build an awareness of its importance as we crossed paths from time to time. Methinks the making of another trip perhaps.
Not long out of Craven, we quickly grabbed decent gravel roads thinking this would lead down into the Qu’ Appelle Valley. Most dirt/gravel roads led to dead end pasture fields. Speeds of 110kph plus were easy given the hollowed-out tire paths that one must follow religiously. Venturing left or right twelve inches gave a nice little adrenaline boost and satisfying butt clench! It was at this precise point that I knew Del was along with us, gently nudging us down more adventurous gravel trails as we yearned to explore the Valley from a gravellier perspective. One memory I will always have of Del is one of following him in his Norge with side car, me on my V-Strom, passing a fuel truck on a blind long uphill righthand turn on the Dempster to Tuk. I cannot see his toothless grin as he willingly pulled me around that dangerous curve, but I know it to be there!
Just before dropping down into the valley on our way east towards Fort Qu’ Appelle I passed Brad who was sitting on the side of the road. Thinking it was just picture time I headed onward but stopped a couple of miles later to wait for the guys to catch up. Finally a text came that the Suzuki had stopped. When I arrived, Lee had towed Brad to an abandoned farm turnoff. Modest diagnostics revealed a potentially faulty fuel pump. It would run very intermittently, but mostly not at all.
We may never know the exact cause of the malfunction. Brad requested some Marvel Mystery Oil to gurgle into the spent fuel pump. I calmly walked over to my saddle bag and brought back a bottle of said requested elixir. We gurgled a healthy portion into the fuel pump, line and fuel tank but also tightened the pump ground wire. Whatever it was that we did, the pump whirred happily to life; Brad commenting that it has never sounded that good, ever. We added a wee thimble full of Marvel oil to the Cavalcade tank at most fuel stops and did not encounter an issue since. Here again, Del got me in the habit of carrying Marvel with me, the only reason I could reveal it for use that day on the side of the road. I definitely knew Del was quietly smiling down on all of us this trip. Does it work? I don’t know; you decide.
We headed for Ft. Qu’Appelle and made a stop there for lunch on main street at a quaint little bakery/restaurant around noon on Thursday. Lee was informed that the last liquor store closed down about a month ago; not a dry town but no rum either! I fueled up at the Co-op cardlock; I could not afford to pass up a fuel stop at this point. Lee and Brad always knew where to find me getting fuel as there are fuel cardlocks or C-stores in virtually every town in SK and MB. Typically clean bathrooms and friendly staff too! And their top tier premium has zero ethanol.
The Qu’Appelle Valley’s westernmost origins now lie flooded under Lake Diefenbaker and ends just over the Saskatchewan-Manitoba border at St. Lazare where the Qu’Appelle Valley joins the Assiniboine. It was formed during the melting of the last glaciers
We headed east on the number 10 before ducking right onto Hwy 56 to the town of Lebret. The townsite highlights a very majestic fieldstone church on the south end of main street. Looking north one is presented with an impressive view of Memorial Chapel and the stations of the cross, reachable via a switchback hike up the bank from Mission Lake. If exploring history is your thing, Lebret will take you back as far as 1814 and in 1866 a Catholic mission was established. The paved highway reminded us of the Shuswap’s in BC as we travelled along beautiful beachfront properties named Sandy Beach, Lake View Beach and Katepwa South.