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How to Escape the Hooved Man: All about the Winter Fat-bike Festival



Guest Article by Luke Brisbois


As a Cree-Métis man, Solomon Carriere's roots in the Saskatchewan River Delta and Treaty 5 Territory run deep. Big Eddy has been a traditional fishing and gathering place for local Cree people since time immemorial. In 1774, Cumberland House was established in the area and became an important depot during the fur trade. To the east, the Saskatchewan River leads to Lake Winnipeg where one can continue by waterway to Hudson Bay. To the west, the river extends all the way to the Rocky Mountains. The community is located 55 km downriver from where Big Eddy Lodge stands today. At Cumberland House during the fur trade, eastbound furs were exchanged for westbound trade goods, and pemmican was brought in by river from the prairies to the south — calorie dense pemmican fueled voyageurs on their long paddling journeys. In many ways, the distinct Indigenous and European cultures that met, worked, and lived together at Cumberland House during the fur trade period mirrored the confluence of the river delta itself. 




Solomon's great-grandfather paddled York boats during the fur trade, but it wasn't until the 1930s that Solomon’s parents, Josephine and William Carriere, first established the lodge at Big Eddy. Solomon eventually took over from his father and has now been guiding in the Saskatchewan River Delta for over 56 years. Solomon is also a renowned paddler and champion marathon canoeist. Solomon married Renee, an accomplished athlete and land-based Educator and together they took over the operation of Big Eddy, raising their family on the land of their home territory. Now, their daughter Michela operates Aski Holistic Adventures as part of the family business. Their family is the driving force behind Escape the Hooved Man.  



The first iteration of Escape the Hooved Man ran in 2017. Prior to that, Solomon had maintained an extensive trail network for training dog sled teams, but his discovery of fat biking sparked an idea. When the Carriere family initially discussed the concept of the event, they decided they wanted to pay tribute to the Cree and Métis veterans from the Cumberland House area. Escape the Hooved Man is named in memory of Joe McGillivry, a Metis trapper and veteran of both the Second World War and the Korean War. In the late 1950s, Joe maintained a fire watch cabin on a height of land near Big Eddy. According to local legend, Joe was visited one night by an unknown man who wandered up to his cabin through the woods. Joe let the man into the small cabin and they began to visit, but partway through their conversation, he noticed the man had animal legs and hooves for feet. Joe's story has since been passed down through oral history. According to Michela, many indigenous cultures feature similar stories of surprise visits from machayis, a Cree word describing a wicked being or devil himself. 



Every year, riders are instructed to arrive at the trailhead north of the E.B. Campbell Damn before noon on Saturday, February long weekend (this year landing on February 17). Michela and her husband Léo meet the group with snowmobiles; one pulling a custom trail groomer, the other a hand-constructed wooden cargo sled. At 12 pm, the group rides 18 km into Big Eddy. The journey into camp follows a private trapline that traverses the delta and winds its way through wooded forest, over muskeg, across frozen lakes, and along the Saskatchewan River. Riders have the option of either bike-packing into Big Eddy or having their gear for the weekend hauled in by snowmobile and sled to lighten their load. After arriving at camp, each rider is assigned sleeping accommodations in group cabins heated by wood stove — participants are also able to winter camp if they choose — before joining the Carriere family for a feast of local cuisine. Riders then had the opportunity to get to know each other and their hosts for the remainder of the afternoon. 


The main event for the weekend is an (un) "official" race held on Saturday night. The race uses a staggered start where competitors charge out onto the course in two-minute intervals. Race order is established by random draw from a hat during the feast earlier that day. Racers require headlamps or bar-mounted lights to navigate the course in the dark while tail lights act as beacons for racers rushing to catch those ahead. Just prior to 7 pm, Solomon relays Joe McGillivry's story to this year's cohort of riders in the oral tradition of the Cree people. 



The course begins in the middle of Big Eddy Lodge, along the shores of the Saskatchewan River, where riders follow a perfectly groomed 29 km ribbon of singletrack through the frosty night. As riders first set out, they ride through the woodlands along the banks of Steamboat Channel. After that, it's up and over Coulee and Hooved Man “mountains”. Riders then meander along the Burntwood River passing Hill Island Lake, Martina’s Portage, and Bens Lake before diving back into the woodlands for 5 km of flowy singletrack back to the lodge where the start line doubled as the finish. When the race starts at 7 pm, the temperatures can hover around -25 degrees Celsius but drop quickly. Leo Claret and Sarah Robbins were Last year's winners with times of 1:27:22 and 1:32:31, respectively. 


After the race, riders warm up in the wood-fired sauna before sharing homemade pizza featuring Leo's famous hand-tossed crust. The remainder of the weekend is filled with more riding, more stories, and more delicious food. A few riders depart Sunday afternoon, but the event itself spans the entire long weekend, and the majority ride out on Monday morning along the same 18 km trapline back to the trailhead.



As always, the entire weekend is a family affair, a fitting detail for an event held over the Family Day Long Weekend in Canada. Michela is the official organizer, Solomon and Leo keep the trails groomed (and participate in the race), and Renee provides oversight with a keen eye on participant safety. What sets this event apart is that each rider is invited into the Carriere home for the weekend and allowed to experience their unique way of life. 


The Carrieres are already gearing up to host this year's Escape the Hooved Man on February 17, 18, and 19, 2024, but if you can't that weekend, you can always contact Aski Holistic Adventures to book your very own winter fat bike adventure @ askiadventures@gmail.com


Written by Luke Brisbois 2023


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