...Driving along the Yellowhead highway, making good time for hitting Wasagaming Campground in Riding Mountain National Park, where we are booked in for the weekend, around noon...Quick detour into what we expect to be a sleepy small town to pick up milk and bread when whoa...We're in the middle of an anything BUT sleepy small town parade.
Well, not exactly in the middle of the parade, but the main thoroughfare has just come to a standstill...People have just walked away from their vehicles, left them parked there in the middle of the road, so we do likewise...And go and watch the parade.
It winds endlessly through Minnedosa's one street up and one street down, but it's a lot of fun...Great floats and quite a crowd. Beautiful day for it too. An hour later and we are still going nowhere anytime soon...we are grateful for the sunny skies and the fact that we are not on a strict schedule. We are also pleased to find ourselves in a place where everything just stops, things really do just grind to a halt, in the name of a good parade.
On the move again at last, bringing up the tail end of the parade, we get strange looks from people still lining the street...Wine women and philosophy, eh? What kind of community program is that?!
More of the unexpected when we arrive at Wasagaming, just inside the park limits. It is Clear Lake Celebration Day, the place is positively hopping. Not what we had imagined a national park to look like...A beach packed with people, motor boats skimming across the shimmering water, shops and snack bars galore, the whole place lit up like a Christmas tree.
We get Carmella set up in the campground, climb on our bikes, and go off to explore. The bicycle path around the edge of Clear lake soon transports us away from the roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd, and we find ourselves in lovely cottage country...Again, a surprise, given that this is a national park, but we are getting used to being confounded - are starting to shrug it all off. If the signs people have put up at the entrances to their cottages are anything to go by, so too is everyone else.
We swim on a quiet beach near the famous Clear lake wishing well, and when we peddle back into busy Wasagaming with our tongues hanging out from the heat, we join the fray and enjoy coney island style ice creams.
A beautiful sunset over the lake that evening is followed by a spectacular 'sound and light' thunderstorm as darkness settles in. It lasts for about 2 hours. The whole earth shakes.
The next day it rains...and rains...and rains. We drive many kilometres along rutted gravel roads to the bison enclosure at Lake Audy, but a little black bear who peeks out of the underbrush at just the right moment steals the show. We stumble upon a watery bird sanctuary, and marvel at thousands of swallows darting and diving through the air. We travel on to the small town of Onatole, where wine is sold at the hardware store and a second hand bookstore cum art gallery cum coffee shop is doing a roaring trade on this dripping wet day. Back at the campground, we pack soggy bug tent and towels and loungers away in the truck, and prepare for an early getaway the next morning.
It is still raining as we leave the campground and head north on highway 10 through the National
Park - destination Dauphin - on day 28, exactly four weeks into our trip, but we are rewarded by moose and deer grazing on the roadside all the way up. We don't know it yet, but this will be our last full day in (very) 'Friendly Manitoba'.