Sagging for GASP 2013

GASP 2013, Lake of the Prairies (Darrell Noakes)

A broken spoke can really wreck your day, especially if it’s an outside spoke on the sprocket side of your rear wheel. Fortunately, someone had a spare “S” spoke for such emergencies, and we got our cycling colleague back on the road in fairly short order. GASP 2013, Lake of the Prairies (Darrell Noakes)

“So, what does ‘SAG’ mean, anyway?” someone asked.

Well, as long as I can remember, cyclists where I grew up referred to the support vehicle that accompanied them on trips as the “sag wagon”. Where the name came from, nobody really knew. What the term meant, everybody had their own opinion.

On the club tours that characterized my early tour experiences, the sag wagon was there to offer support and encouragement to tired riders, besides carry gear. We referred to the driver as “mom”, regardless of her or his gender or age, knowing that whoever was in charge of the van would look out for us and take care of whatever we needed.

The sag wagon was there to rescue tired cyclists as they sagged from fatigue. Others, those accustomed to acronyms, were certain that the term was short for “Support And Gear”. The term seems to have been around as long as bicycles existed, so anybody’s guess is as good as anyone else’s.

It’s been a long time since I drove sag, but this year I volunteered to take the wheel of one of two vans supporting the Saskatchewan Cycling Association’s Great Annual Saskatchewan Pedal — GASP for short.

Every year, the tour explores a different area of the province. This year, I had been hoping to visit communities in east central Saskatchewan and the Qu’Appelle Valley. Let’s see: there’s the Toy and Autograph Museum, CN Museum, Ukrainian Heritage Museum, Ukrainian Orthodox Heritage Church, Dennis’ Foods, and the Dari Bar in Canora; Madge Lake, surrounded by cool, refreshing forests interspersed with beaver ponds in Duck Mountain Provincial Park; 5th Avenue Cup and Saucer and Crazy Cactus in Yorkton (but, oh, how I miss Zebra X-ing!); the Railway Museum and the Heritage Museum in Melville; Crooked Lake Provincial Park; all the little resort communities along Crooked Lake, Round Lake and the Qu’Appelle River; and the wonderful small towns that dot the map throughout the region. Most of all, I was really looking forward to chowing down on beer-battered fish and chips and sipping an icy cold Alexander Keith’s from a frosty glass while watching the late-day shadows grow longer and longer from the deck of Chilly’s Crab Shack in Bird’s Point. Yep, I had a long list of places to see and things to do.

It was a welcome surprise, when I received the call for volunteers to drive sag for GASP 2013, to see that the tour route included everywhere I wanted to visit this summer. I signed up right away.

Lunch stop, Highway 83, near San Clara, Manitoba, GASP tour 2013. (Darrell Noakes)

Lunch stop, Highway 83, near San Clara, Manitoba, GASP tour 2013. (Darrell Noakes)

Planning a bicycle tour doesn’t always go according to plan, though. Places you thought existed, go out of business without warning. Places you thought were open, are closed on the dates you plan to be there. In recent years, severe spring flooding has damaged roads, closed resorts, and generally wreaked havoc on vacation plans.

The first news we got was that the Qu’Appelle Valley was out – no place to camp, at least not near anyplace we could find supper and breakfast, or a motel for the few cyclists who planned on indoor accommodations. The campground at Bird’s Point was still undergoing repairs from flooding two summers ago, and there were no nearby alternatives. Crooked Lake Provincial Park was in good shape, but nearby resorts lack food services and indoor accommodation; the closest services that would meet our needs were back at Bird’s Point, at 20 km away, too far for cyclists to backtrack. It worked out, though, because that meant the revised route would go through Esterhazy, and I was looking forward to visiting the Esterhazy Flour Mill National Historic Site and Saskatchewan Potash Interpretive Centre, plus the regional park and campground make for a pleasant overnight stay.

Next up, we found out that major bridge repairs between Canora and Kamsack meant that the route would head east from Yorkton on highway 10, then north on 8, instead of north on 9 and east on 5. Canora was out.

GASP 2013, rest stop at Wroxton, Saskatchewan (Darrell Noakes)

GASP 2013, rest stop at Wroxton, Saskatchewan (Darrell Noakes)

Still, there were plenty of great places to visit. The tour starts on a Sunday and ends on a Saturday. We decided to leave Saskatoon early so that we could visit Canora, with stops along the way in Rama, Buchanan and other towns, arriving in plenty of time for the Saturday evening meeting with organizers before the tour. The last day of the tour was short, so we could plan to take in a day and a half of vacationing before returning to ‘Toon Town. It’s good to be adaptable.

Our vacation was on, even if some might see it as a bit of a “bus driver’s holiday.”

Campsite, Carlton Trail Regional Park (Darrell Noakes)

Campsite, Carlton Trail Regional Park (Darrell Noakes)

(More t/k)

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