Tenere, Tiger and the TCAT
The Trans-Canada Adventure Trail is a new way to see the country, as two boys from Saskatchewan discover.
Most of us are familiar with the Trans-Canada Trail, which is primarily for hikers or people on bicycles. The 15,000-kilometre Trans-Canada Adventure Trail, or TCAT, is much longer and laid out across Canada for the dualsport, dirt bike and ATV adventure crowd. It begins in Newfoundland and crosses Labrador, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia with each province and region offering different sights and experiences. My good friend Robin Ziolkoski, and I are really just starting to research and explore the TCAT within our home province of Saskatchewan where a 1,731-kilometre leg of the trail enters from Manitoba somewhere east of Preeceville, and meanders across the province, exiting from the Cypress Hills into Alberta.
I won’t speak for Robin but I’m basically a bumbling rookie when it comes to off-road motorcycling. To start with, we may have purchased the wrong bikes for this trail—Robin chose Yamaha’s Super Ténéré while I opted for the Triumph Tiger Explorer. At the time, they seemed perfect.
Of course our brains still think we’re teenagers, but after a day of rugged terrain riding, our bodies told us our true age (I’m 63 and Robin is no spring chicken either). And, when fully loaded these bikes start pushing well past 270 kilograms. Try lifting that when you’re exhausted and standing on uneven ground or stuck in a swamp. Don’t ask us how we know!
Since we live in Saskatoon, we decided to link up with the trail just east of the city near Bradwell. The first few km were easy going on grid roads heading south. But then the trail grows more interesting as it follows alongside the Blackstrap Lake reservoir canal system. Within the first 15 minutes of canal riding we came to the first bog of the day. I chose to circumvent this obstacle via the grass patch on the left. Just as I successfully navigated this little gem, I heard a very load ‘clack’ from behind. Quickly looking back I could see that Robin had tried going around the bog’s right side, but upon hitting a hidden pothole, lost control and slammed down hard into the mud. Robin’s pants and jacket were thus caked in drying mud throughout the remainder of the day.
My brief feeling of superior off-road riding prowess was completely erased, as I experienced much the same wipeout on the very next patch of wet clay. At this point, we both had a good laugh and continued on—the last time either of us could recall wiping out on motorcycles was back in our teenage days, so this was somewhat humbling.
The trail continued on through various irrigation canal trails, grid roads, fields and pastures. We opened and closed several cattle gates throughout the day, and even had to backtrack through one series of gates, when we encountered a No Trespassing sign just south of Dundurn.
We stopped for lunch at the Terrace Dining Room in Broderick, and then completed the canal-riding phase of our adventure at the Gardiner Dam. Gassing up the bikes in Macrorie, we then continued on through no-man’s-land to the southwest. Little did I know that rapidly approaching was my complete humiliation.
Just a few miles west of Lucky Lake we came to a Road Closed sign. Robin and I looked at each other and said, “Ha, this means nothing because we’re on our mighty dualsports!” And with that shot of confidence we headed down the road. Over the very first rise we could see the problem—sloughs on both sides of a valley, with a very muddy and thoroughly rutted bog in the middle where the road used to be. My teenage brain was still functioning at full tilt, so without hesitation, I plunged ahead directly into the centre of the slop. I was doing okay until halfway across. That’s when I remembered I hadn’t turned off the bike’s traction control system. I think I would have made it, but with no rear wheel spin I gently settled into the ooze, coming to a full, axle-deep, stop about 10 yards short of solid ground.
Now you can imagine the condition of my boots, as I off-loaded the hard bags and any extra weight. Standing on either side of the bike with the back wheel spinning, we pushed and cajoled the Triumph along in the muck. Unfortunately, the instant the rear tire caught on solid ground the bike jumped and I lost grip on the clutch lever. It was all slow motion until the bitter end, where Robin witnessed his friend being buried under his own motorcycle. Other than my pride, and a very sore ankle, I was okay. The Triumph faired a bit worse, with a broken windshield, signal light lens and freshly minted gas tank patina.
After dusting my clothes and dignity off, we regrouped and carried on our merry way. The final treat of the day was the massive Monet Community Pasture just north east of Kyle. It’s an exceptionally beautiful place with undulating terrain that took us about 30 minutes to ride through.
Needless to say, we were hooked on the whole experience, so a few days later we decided our next Trans-Canada Adventure Trail day ride should take us north of Saskatoon.The first leg of that ride, starting near Bradwell, looked a bit boring. So we headed up to Alvena to link up with the trail there. After a brief stop at the Fish Creek Battle of Tourond’s Coulee Historic Site, we continued along the east side of the South Saskatchewan River all the way up to the St. Laurent ferry crossing. Not well known outside Saskatchewan is the presence of a 12-vessel fleet operated by the Ministry of Highways because the Saskatchewan River and its tributaries dissect the province.
What a beautiful ride along this stretch with the wooded valley and rustic farms and ranches. There was no other traffic at the landing besides us, so the operator rushed out of his trailer and readied things for embarkation. The voyage was smooth and Captain Roger filled us with info about the area. He also indicated that there had only been about seven or eight bikes like ours on the ferry all summer. Does this mean there’s not many adventure tourers taking in the TCAT yet?
After another bout of grid roads, we finally entered the Nisbet Provincial Forest leg of the trail. We had previously read some nasty stories about dualsport troubles in these woods but the only difficulty we encountered was lots of sand. If you’re a Dakar Rally expert hitting this stuff at highway speeds, then there’s no problem. But if you’re neophytes like us, plodding along at a crawl, then you are in for one hell of a challenge. Amazingly we got through the entire forest without dropping either bike. Lots of close calls though before we finally came out the other end just west of Prince Albert.
If any are interested in venturing out on these Canada wide trails, it would be a good idea to have the proper armoured riding gear and a friend along to help out when (not if) you get stuck. You can find the Trans-Canada Adventure Trail online (www.graveltravel.ca), or by purchasing a Backroad Mapsbook from your local bookstore. I also have a Montana 600 GPS loaded with the Saskatchewan Back Roads mapping. Once you zoom into three km or less range, the TCAT trail appears highlighted.
Mounted on my Triumph, this proved to be an invaluable tool as it is very easy to miss the many subtle trail turning points. Even with this setup, we missed a few and had to occasionally backtrack. And, if you want to learn how to ride one of these extra-large dualsport bikes, don’t ask us—we’re still trying to figure it out!
By Bob Dishaw Canadian Biker #317