Doing some TCAT the wrong way, but my way

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by powderzone, Sep 2, 2017.

  1. powderzone

    powderzone Been here awhile Supporter

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    Prologue
    I'm a bit reluctant to post this RR in the "epic" section after following numerous RTW rides over the years but ultimately decided to do so since I'm riding a section of the TCAT that rarely gets any press, the locals know nothing about it, and when wet...doesn't get ridden. In short, the Prairies sections of the TCAT (and the TAT) gets no respect...no love.
    I've been playing in the Rockies for the last 25 years and it's a brilliant playground but with all the forest fires (and smoke) this summer when the opportunity came up to ride the middle bit of the TCAT, I got really pumped.

    21 Aug, 2017 - Calgary to Cypress Hills

    The bike is loaded, camping kit packed, my stupid fork is leaky (again), 4 hrs sleep, riding solo, and everyone is wonky with a looming eclipse....what could go wrong?

    I'm heading out from Calgary and traveling east on the TCAT through SE AB, all of SK and western MB to meet up with my wife and kids. They're more intelligent so are flying to Winnipeg. I'm taking this comically circuitous route through eastern Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba as though the prairies are trying to redeem themselves for all the boring drives I've done across the bottom third. We'll see.

    I've already done about 40% of the TCAT in BC and all of Alberta except for these last few tracks heading SE towards the Cypress Hills so I'm looking forward to what SK has to offer us ADV types.

    Here's a few of my escapades this summer. http://advrider.com/index.php?threads/powderzones-adventures-in-the-great-white-north.1231156/

    I transited east of Calgary to hook up with the TCAT at Carseland and jumped on the canal roads.

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    OMG... there have to be hundreds of miles of these canals. I wound my way from Carseland most of the way to Vauxhall, AB on canal roads. I must have seen hundreds of hawks/ falcons, thousands of ducks, a few cranes, and one big owl.

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    East of McGregor Lake the trail veers off a gravel road (you need to be paying better attention than I was)....a tractor track winds 10km through the largest field of wheat I've ever seen. It was just gorgeous. I was going to bypass this bit since setting fire to a field of wheat is low on my list of "to-do's" but the farmer had driven the track a few times which laid the crop down enough to mitigate the risk. I also stopped periodically to make sure nothing was wedged between the skid plate and the cat.

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    I dined at one of those classic prairie drive-thru's in Vauxhall where the same girl takes your order on one side of the tiny building then hands you the food order once you've navigated the 5 point turn to get around to the other window. It's a weird little setup but everyone just went about their business while periodically glancing over at the guy in the spaceman suit.

    The TCAT track between Vauxhall and Bow River is a bit "meh" although the Grand Forks are pretty.
    I fuelled up in Bow Island then stopped to clean my visor outside of town when two psychotic farm dogs (Cujo 1 and 2) went into attack mode. The horn followed by the bike starting up bought me just enough time to escape. I must have looked pretty comical with a bottle of lens cleaner in one hand, rag in the other frantically getting the bike in gear as the beasts were descending on me.

    The ride into the Cypress Hills is great. The road is loose marbles but the scenery makes up for it. I rolled into the tourist town of Elkwater, grabbed a campsite, showered up and popped into the store for a few beers.

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    Back at camp, tired from the day's ride the crazy drunk rockers a few camp spots over were drowned out by my iPhone piping Vedder's "Into the Wild" soundtrack into my head.

    Distance: 510km planned. 515km actual.
    #1
  2. powderzone

    powderzone Been here awhile Supporter

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    22 Aug, 2017 - Cypress Hills to Saskatoon

    Up early to checkout the view of Horseshoe Canyon then had to ride a modified route out of the park due to road closures on the SK side. So much for the "interprovincial" park experience.
    I opted for Reesor Lake Road through the east end of the park...which is a narrow ribbon of asphalt moto perfection.
    Thereafter it transitioned into miles of boring wide gravel passing by massive Hutterite colonies. Soooo hungry but only eating dust from some big stock haulers heading from the colonies into Maple Creek.

    Eventually I got to eat breakfast at a tiny drive thru/ cantina across from the Petro Canada gas station in Maple Creek. I chatted with the old farmer at the next table who the staff seemed to know well. He asked me where I was going and really liked the idea of the TCAT.

    North of Maple Creek, the TCAT gets AWESOME!! Miles and miles of doubletrack (100km) through open rangeland. Hardly any fences either.

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    I felt like I was in Mongolia. The trail skirts by the Great Sandhills but the real big dunes seemed to be well east of the actual viewing area.

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    Getting hungry, I opted to ride the less direct route to the town of Lancer. Fail. No food. No nothing. The river ferry north of Lancer crosses the South Saskatchewan River and the track on the north side gets lost in an active quarry.

    And then...an oasis...
    Eston riverside camp has a lots of trees, a campground with a pool and canteen with decent food. A veritable oasis. If your timing works, it would be a great place to overnight.

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    Decision time. An opportunity to connect with family friends in Saskatoon. Hmm...no way unless I shortcut something. Looking at my GPS, it looks like most of the TCAT around Kyle, SK is gravel road and farm tracks that zigzag north and south. My thoughts are that riding straight-as-an-arrow gravel township roads...heading in the wrong direction just to avoid pavement...well it's sort of silly. That's just my impatience talking.

    I slabbed it to Eston for fuel then over to Wiseout, SK to relax under a shade tree before heading east to reconnect with the TCAT near Danielson Provincial Park.
    I ended up improvising by way of some tractor paths which turned out to be awesome. The Canal roads made for fun roosting for the next hour then jumped off the track again to ride to Kevin and Colleen's house in Saskatoon Their adorable three boys entertained us through the evening while Kevin made a FANTASTIC dinner.
    Truly great people.

    Distance: 626km planned, 603km actual
    #2
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  3. powderzone

    powderzone Been here awhile Supporter

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    More pics (GoPro) from day 2 (Maple Creek to Saskatoon)

    Somewhere near the Sandhills
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    Miles of this...
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    Finding my way back to the TCAT near Danielson Prov'l Park. I got lucky when this farm track went through. Woot!
    GPTempDownload.jpg

    Close to Saskatoon ...
    GPTempDownload.jpg
    #3
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  4. powderzone

    powderzone Been here awhile Supporter

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    23 Aug, 2017 - Saskatoon to Whiteswan Lake

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    Riding out of Saskatoon is pretty prairie farmland and the track is pretty easy except for a couple of spots, like this...

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    And this...

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    The ride from Saskatoon to Prince Albert is approximately 1.5 hours by car. I decided to take the technical alternate track as penance for cutting out some of yesterday's track. When the route crosses Hwy 11, there's an optional route through what my brain thought was 12 km of double track. This turned out to be 54 km of sandy heavily wooded track. Not ideal for a solo rider on a big bike but whatever...by the time I realized my misjudged distances I was already 15km into the bush. I aired down to 20/22 psi and had some fun.

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    Towards the end of the technical section, I saw a group in side by sides having lunch so stopped to chat. Great folks out having fun. We laughed about if they vote in an NDP government they might shut down trails like they've done in Alberta.

    It took 4.5 hours to get to PA so instead of stopping for lunch I forged on. The folks hanging around where I fuelled up were pretty sketchy anyhow so off I went.
    Rolled into Waskesui Nat'l Park for a late lunch around 3:30pm.

    Waskesui is post card perfect. Beautiful scenery framed with beautiful people basking in the sun on beautiful beaches. It's too perfect, really. It's not the RV / tourist insanity found in places like Banff or Yellowstone but it's just a little bit too prefabricated to seem like an authentic experience. Or maybe the meatpuppet dropping F-bombs at the next table while I tried to enjoy dinner...might have put me in a foul mood? Ya buddy I'm sure it's just the economy and not your shitty attitude that has you jumping from one pipe fitting gig to the EI line and back.

    Twit!
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  5. powderzone

    powderzone Been here awhile Supporter

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    Day 3 Continued

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    Fed, fuelled up and moving I set my sights on Whiteswan Lake, 120 km to the east. The " closed" roads through this area are just government being prudent so somebody doesn't drive their Camry into the rhubarb ...miles from nowhere (not a soul in sight).

    En route, the sun casting shadows it strikes me how big and beautiful, and raw Saskatchewan is. And the people...just the nicest ever...except for the dodgy characters lurking around the gas station in Prince Albert...and the meatpuppet.

    Whoa...a cat...a big cat. Up ahead on the double track is a beauty Bobcat. He's just standing there watching me approaching so I slow down and he lopes into the forest. I need to get one of those Sena cameras for stuff like this.

    I rolled into Whalen Bay on the south shore of Whiteswan Lake around 6:30pm. Knackered. Looking for a camp spot, I notice that the camp sites are pretty shitty but they have cabins right down by the water.

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    They are pricey ($95/ night), and furnished in 1968 but they're clean and with one swipe of the card it's my castle for the night. I immediately set to working on the bike, cleaned and lubed the chain and cleaned up a weepy fork seal.
    Went for a dip in the lake. 20 deg C perfection and watched a gorgeous sunset.

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    And another...

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    Distance: 350km plan. 444km actual.
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  6. powderzone

    powderzone Been here awhile Supporter

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    24 Aug, 2017 - Whiteswan Lake to Hudson Bay

    Breakfast this morn with the village folk talking about black bears in the area made me thankful for the use of a cabin.

    I set off east and took the recommended TCAT route off the main gravel road and it soon turned into a sandy quad track. What's funny is this "road" shows up as Hwy 912 on PocketEarth but it's only a bit wider than a goat path. Within 6km I'm confronted with a water crossing. Fack. It's not a torrent...more like a lagoon with soft sand. I walk across and it's deep. Shite!
    Unsure whether there are 2 more of these crossings or a dozen...Prudence wins and I backtrack.

    Down the road I turn off onto the old Harding Road northwest of Nipawin. The trail eventually deteriorates into a very sandy jeep track.

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    Other than a few "oh shit" moments the trail is great fun and I saw a cow moose run onto the trail and disappear in the thick brush on the other side.

    The town of Nipawin seemed like a thriving little town with all sorts of sensible people doing their thing. It would be a good place to stop for the night but I've got plans to meet up in Hudson Bay with my brother-in-law who I nicknamed Dirt Burton (I'll just call him DB) since he bears a resemblance to Burton Cummings and he likes sledding in dirt. Don't ask me why...I don't get it either. It's a Manitoba thing.

    Meet Dirt Burton

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    So the gravel b/w Nip and Hudson Bay is the nasty dusty sort and I end up tailing a stock trailer (again) going way too slow. It was so dusty that got a static discharge each time I touched the levers. Damn. Finally passed the dusty beast and made it to HB where DB had booked a cabin at Fir Creek Ranch.

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    This place is awesome and the hostess is just fantastic. After a soak in the hot tub, we grilled up some steaks on the BBQ and enjoyed some brews around the fire. Really roughing it. Lol

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    Distance: 439km plan. 426km actual.
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  7. powderzone

    powderzone Been here awhile Supporter

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    25 Aug, 2017 - Hudson Bay to Riding Mtn

    Heads pounding, DirtyBurt and I shuffle over to the main house for a fantastic breakfast.

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    Well, it looked great but I was feeling a bit rough so only ate fruit and cereal.

    Looking rough...

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    Rainy as we decamped from Fir Creek Lodge to hit the trail south of Hudson Bay. The trail was a bit greasy from last night's rain so speeds were kept reasonable.

    Dirt Burton...
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    And Powderzone...

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    The gravel road south towards Townsend Lake was loose marbles and I had to wait for DB at the Moose Range Lodge. It's not worth the stop IMO unless your waiting for someone. The proprietor is a bit of a grump, the place reeked of weed, and grump didn't seem like the sharing sort....so I sat in the grass outside waiting for DB.

    (Continued...)
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  8. powderzone

    powderzone Been here awhile Supporter

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    DB rolls in and we continue onwards towards Swan River, MB. My partner is having GPS charging issues so I left him directions (that he somehow missed but still made it to town).

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    Met a nice fellow with his 3 young daughters at the next table at the Timberland Inn restaurant in Swan River. Turns out he's a rider (KTM 1190) from Edson, AB and was curious about our trip. Chatted about the TCAT and advrider, exchanged contact info and wished him well (They were visiting family when his wife took ill and was still in hospital).

    Tired and hungry we decide to stay on pavement which I find more tiring but allows us to crush miles and make it to Riding Mtn Nat'l Park. It's bittersweet since I'm finished this portion of the TCAT...through a province that most just set on cruise control while slabbing across on the Hwy 1 in the south, impatiently waiting for some terrain change.

    But this has marked a significant change for me. I gave Saskatchewan a chance and her geography, her trails, and her people just blew me away. I'll be back someday to RIDE further north, perhaps to La Ronge and beyond. There appears to be a road that goes almost all the way to the NWT.

    The ride south of Dauphin into the National Park lifted my spirits.

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    The scenery is beautiful and the road is twisty and rises and falls like a roller coaster. We're bunking down at a very rustic cabin in Wasagaming and heading out for dinner and beers. All is good!

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    Distance: 405km plan. 412km actual.
    #8
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  9. powderzone

    powderzone Been here awhile Supporter

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    26 Aug, 2017 - Riding Mtn to Spruce Woods

    She's a big girl with a wide load...
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    DB is having some GI issue this morning so it's a VERY slow transit towards Spruce Woods Prov'l Park where we will meet up with the family.

    We stopped at a rest stop for DB so he could "rest" in the restroom and a gentleman is pacing beside his car with the hood up. He explains that his is a minister in the process of relocating from Newark, NJ to Saskatoon. He was recharging his laptop while he napped and drained the battery. I explained that 98% of the pickup trucks pulling into the rest stop probably had jumper cables. Big farmer in a red F150 pulls in so I ask and...Result! Gods servant can barely contain his appreciation.

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    Next stop was the Farmery brewery in Neepawa, MB for a quick tour. Nice folks and tasty, creative beers but only the IPA and Lager are in my wheelhouse. Unfortunately, it's only available in SK and MB for the time being.

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    We finally rolled into Spruce Woods at 12:45pm. 3.5 hrs to travel 170km which is pretty lame but I enjoyed the change of pace...plus Dirt Burton looks like hell so slow and smooth was good.

    The kids are happy and we settle into the time honoured process of setting up grandpa's RV and family sized base-camp for the weekend.

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    It feels weird to be sitting still. I've ridden every day for the past week and was getting into a familiar routine. Now I'm back to another familiar routine wrestling three kids until Monday when I get back on the bike.

    Distance: 170km plan. 170km actual.
    #9
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  10. powderzone

    powderzone Been here awhile Supporter

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    28 Aug, 2017 - Spruce Woods to La Rivière

    Decamped from Spruce Woods after a weekend of sand dunes, relaxing by the "lake" (slough), and visiting with family.
    I decided to look for some interesting alternatives and man oh man...did southern Manitoba deliver. Lots of old farm tracks, disused / abandoned rail beds and other "interesting" tracks.

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    In the "interesting" category, I turned onto a farm track SE of Glenboro, MB and ended up in the middle of a hunting reserve south of the Bob Sigvaldson Nature Preserve. The dual track disappeared into rangeland but with some reconnaissance was able to find and lose the trail a few times. Eventually, I ended up at the edge of a field which fortunately had already been harvested. I rode the stubble on the field's edge for a couple of km's then found the overgrown road-allowance which led back to the road.

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    I dumped the bike from the front tire grabbing a wheel rut and did a barrel roll off the side. That'll do the sore shoulder wonders. Sorry no pics of the dirt-nap.

    Finally made it out of there and meandered through the Pembina Valley until the day's destination in La Rivière.

    A few hours later and I'm laid up with muscle-relaxants and some crazy heat rub that has my back on fire. Was planning on heading back tomorrow but that's not looking like an option at the moment.

    Distance: 98km plan. 111km actual.
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  11. powderzone

    powderzone Been here awhile Supporter

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    30 Aug, 2017 - La Rivière to Calgary

    Slab Slayer
    Rode 1,287 km all the way from La Rivière, MB to Calgary in one day. I stopped for a 1.5 hr meeting in Brandon with a client on the way to break up the ride.

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    Stopped for a snack in a tiny town south of Regina. Friendly gas station dude was interested in my trip and I was curious about his nest little town with most of the buildings long abandoned.

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    The construction around Regina was terrible but otherwise it was a clean run. Finally made it home by 11pm.

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    Sleep came fast and deep.

    Distance: 800km plan. 1,287km actual.
    #11
  12. wianbiggar

    wianbiggar Been here awhile

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    Thanks for that PD - all the stuff I had to miss (for a variety of reasons) so nice to see it. I thought I was doing well with my 600 km ride to Canmore but, whew, you got me beat by a long way!
    Ian
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  13. powderzone

    powderzone Been here awhile Supporter

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    You're going to need to be creative with your TCAT route heading west. All of the backcountry in SE BC is now off limits to everyone. It's still a beautiful ride through Banff or south through Fernie on the pavement. 3A from Creston north to Crawford Bay then take 31A across Retallack Pass b/w Kaslo and New Denver. You can pickup the TCAT on the other side of Upper Arrow Lake.
    #13
  14. GreatWhiteNorth

    GreatWhiteNorth Long timer

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    Great mini RR! Nice to see someone else that appreciates the prairies. I'm baffled by those that think (and say) nothing to see. Your great pics capture the beauty of the landscapes beautifully.
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  15. powderzone

    powderzone Been here awhile Supporter

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    Thanks for the kind words! Sometimes people need to see things through the right lens, to really open their eyes. Some of the seemingly most desolate places on earth can also be the most beautiful.
    For me, the wide open spaces and rolling hills that seem to go for ever...well it's just so different from what I typically experience west of Calgary. Plus, I am always surprised by the diversity of landscapes in Saskatchewan.
    This little excursion has me thinking about completing the TCAT rather than my planned big ride south through South America next year. If the rest of the TCAT is as good as BC, AB, and SK then count me in for more.
    #15
  16. GreatWhiteNorth

    GreatWhiteNorth Long timer

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    It would be good to see a detailed RR of the NW Ontario portion of the TCAT. I recently did the Kenora to Ear Falls portion, with buddy Reg/Crash101 from Edmonton - it sure got our full attention. We chickened out of carrying on the next leg up and around Lac Seul. Pretty remote country up that way. Somehow, the remoteness on the prairies doesn't intimidate me the way the Ontario bush country does. This pic is coming out of the challenging Conifer Rd section - the western half of that was a bit overgrown, and eroded in places.

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    #16
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  17. powderzone

    powderzone Been here awhile Supporter

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    The Manitoba and western sections of the SK TCAT aren't that remote - you're always within 30 to 40km of something/ someone. But northern SK reminds me a lot of the boreal forest in northern Ontario. The sections between Waskesui and Nipawin / Hudson Bay are quite remote. You don't really want to have a medical emergency or swamp your bike out there.
    I'd think that northern Quebec and Labrador are probably the most remote. It's all relative though...in BC, your not that far from towns as the crow flies but getting signal (even satellite), the terrain, the weather, and the big critters...well, it adds another dimension to the feeling of remoteness and adventure.
    That said, after riding a bunch of BC, all of AB and SK, you can't "fake it 'til you make it" out there. You need a well prepped bike, communications, camp kit, and provisions for a couple of days (just in case).
    And you need to be stubborn. There are some big distances between towns where you push on after lunch in one town and the next town is 285km away with not a damn thing in between and you end up in a deep sand section for 20km. Suddenly a 3 hour afternoon ride becomes 6 hrs.
    But at least there's services available with manageable distances in between. My low fuel light came on only a couple of times and I get 350km to a tank.
    Cheers and thanks for reading!
    #17
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  18. tokenboy

    tokenboy Gnirly Adventurer

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    Great report. Eston/Kyle are "home" for me and I've only taken the bike back once. I always point west, but I think I need to head east on the TCAT now...
    #18
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  19. powderzone

    powderzone Been here awhile Supporter

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    You definitely need to head that way. Some of the best trails that I rode in SK were in your neck of the woods. In particular the section between Maple Creek and Sceptre.
    It's not on fire...so there's that added perk.
    #19
  20. KTM-Bryon

    KTM-Bryon Newbie

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    I drove the MB and some of SK route in my truck Aug.30-31. It was great to see the back roads after so many trips on Hwy1 over the years. There are quite a few places where the road is flooded out in SK and by the looks of it they have been flooded out for 10+ years so TCAT GPS track wasn't an actual track from someone's trip.

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    Attached Files:

    #20