This summer, I've had the opportunity to visit some amazing places, including the Canadian Rockies, the mountains of New Hampshire and big-sky country in Montana.
The truth is, sometimes when I'm travelling it makes me wonder why we live here on the Prairies. Don't get me wrong: I love Manitoba, but it sure would be nice to have a couple of mountains, or even a decent-sized hill to play on.
It turns out all this time there was a beautiful desert complete with sandy hills right here in my own backyard.
Last Sunday, my buddies, Dave Radey and Doug Bourbonniere, and I packed up Radey's truck and trailer with our dirt toys and headed to Seddon's Corner, an area popular with off-road enthusiasts located approximately 80 kilometres east of Winnipeg off Highway 44.
Just a few hundred metres from the highway down a dirt road and we were right smack in the middle of what is best described as Manitoba's own version of Baja, Calif. Since we were on Crown land, there were no worries about breaking any traffic laws; that was apparent as the local RCMP were doing a patrol as we arrived. According to a couple of fellow enthusiasts we struck up a conversation with, the police are only concerned with safety and alcohol consumption. The only beverages we consumed were Gatorade and we are all too old and wise to ride like fools, so we suited up and hit the trail.
Radey, who is a machinist by trade, rides a sport-oriented two-wheel-drive ATV, an Arctic Cat 400 DVX he has painted and decaled to look like a Harley-Davidson. He calls it his Quadster. 'Evel' Dave, as he's known to his many fans, is a former motocross racer who doesn't jump over buses anymore but can still do a mean wheelie.
Bourbonniere, who is a Grade 6 teacher from Selkirk, rides a dual-sport Yamaha XT 225 motorcycle and is typically the voice of reason on our many field trips. Although he could have ridden his street-legal dirt bike to the pits, (he rode it home) Bourbonniere opted to trailer his bike to the pits to save some much-needed energy.
My ride is a 2008 Kawasaki Brute Force 650 4x4. I purchased it brand new a couple of months ago from my friend, Derek Roth, the owner of Adventure Power Products in Ile Des Chênes. Roth came across a number of new 'old stock' 2008 models from Kawasaki and the deal was too good to pass up. Although I've owned it since May and have been enjoying riding it around our rural property and plan to mount a snow plow on it this winter, this excursion was my first opportunity to do any serious trail riding on my new quad. In fact, even though I've ridden thousands of kilometres on my dirt bikes, with the exception of a guided ATV tour in Mexico last winter; this was really my first time trail-riding on a quad.
With all due respect to my two-wheeled friends, you don't know what you're missing. Four wheels offer a significant amount of confidence I've been lacking on my dirt bikes in recent years. Despite my best efforts, I continue to battle the bulge and riding an ATV is much easier on the knees and the back. Even though I'm recovering from a calf injury that occurred while doing a cannonball in the pool, I was able to ride all day long in total comfort and had enough storage space to pack a picnic. I'm totally sold on my new Brute.
With Bourbonniere leading the way, and Radey filming our antics with his newly acquired GoPro helmet cam, we toured some amazing trails that featured lush vegetation, sandy surfaces and yes, even a few steep hills.
It's been pretty dry lately and I spent a fair bit of the day eating Radey's dust, but there was a grin on my dirty face all day long. Although Bourbonniere managed to drop his bike a couple of times, it still never ceases to amaze me how agile he is in the tight trails and the truth is he was probably waiting up for us on a few occasions. When you're in the moment, it feels like you are really whipping along but the reality is it's hard to reach speeds of much more than 60 km/h on the tight and bumpy trails.
While it's a sure bet some folks don't like us riding our machines in nature, I'm going to defend this hobby to the grave. Witnessing a young father run alongside his son while teaching him how to ride a dirt bike was among the highlights of the day. Fellow enthusiasts set up camp in the pits and enjoyed a day of fun in the sun. Everyone we encountered was full of smiles and waves and although the area is quite crowded, if you exercise common sense, the trails are likely safer than most Manitoba highways.
The area surrounding Seddon's Corner is just one of the many places throughout Manitoba you can legally ride an off-road machine. Throughout the year, there are numerous ATV derbies that are attended by hundreds of enthusiasts and the hobby injects much-needed money into many communities. For our part, we bought gasoline, Gatorade, pepperoni and cheap sunglasses at a local pit stop. The fun, however, was FREE!