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Published: July 23rd 2018
Lake George to Englishtown
Thom took me back out to the highway in the morning because, in his words, "There's no reason you need to ride any distance that doesn't get you farther east." Before we parted he asked me how many flats I had had. "None", I said without knocking on wood. Ten kilometres down the road my back tire went flat. The day was off to an inauspicious start, though the tube repair went without a hitch. I pedaled back down toward the St. John river and then east and before long I came to Fredericton. After seeing so much of the Acadian French part of the province, Fredricton seemed very English. I rode by huge stately mansions on the river and shady parks with paved bike paths. The city did not seem very big for being the capitol - apparently Moncton is much bigger. It did not take long to get through it - I crossed over the St. John once more and in no time was moving into the countryside beyond. The road was flat and I had a bit of a tail wind - a nice change from the day before. I came
upon a heavily loaded cyclist heading west. His name is Gordon Paterson and he is on a tour to raise money for Heart and Stroke foundations in Canada and in the UK. He told me he grew up in Vancouver but moved to Scotland when he met a girl from there (the same old story) and now is a citizen of both countries. He completed the first part of his challenge two weeks before, when he finished riding the length of Great Britain, from John O'Groats to Land's End. Look him up if you wish to contribute to his cause. Thom had suggested a campground to us, but I was having such a good day that I arrived there before Michele. So I suggested she go on a bit farther and look for another place. We had planned a short day, but conditions were so good I was able to cover what would be a long distance any other time. Which was fortunate because that night and the next day it rained, a cold, miserable rain, and the less said about that day's ride, the better. The only thing of interest was when a big bull mastiff chased me, or
rather ran along side me and in front of me, wuffing all the way, for about a kilometre. I thought he would never give up. He was a big powerful dog (and, a propos of nothing, he had a scrotum the size of a lemon) but it seemed he just wanted to escort me off what he thought was his territory.
We skirted Moncton and ended up in Shediac, once again in a French part of the province. We found a room at the Parlee Beach motel, not wishing to set up the tent until we could be sure of a sunny day to dry it and the sleeping bags out (the tent had developed leaks in its corners). Shediac is a real seaside summer holiday type of town. Seafood and especially lobster is the name of the game there. We were told that if we wanted lobster we would have to settle for Bay of Fundy lobster as Shediac's were not yet in season. The waiter had an apologetic look when he said "Fundy", as if that body of water was well known for producing substandard seafood when compared to Shediac. Instead, we ordered locally harvested
I decided to take the small coastal road rather than the main highway the next day. Our goal was PEI and I thought I might get a long view of the Confederation Bridge. Sure enough I caught a glimpse of it in the distance, it's graceful arches curving away into the hazy outlines of PEI. Michele met me at Cape Jourmain, a conservation
area right at the approach to the bridge. The PEI bridge and ferry policy is called "Stay or Pay" - it is free to go over by either means, but you pay to get back to the mainland - $47 by the bridge or $78 by ferry. It occurs to me that it would be more economical to take the ferry to the island and the bridge off, but the bridge is in the western Island while the ferry leaves from the eastern part. We loaded Allen on the roof and headed across the 13 kilometre link. The walls are high enough to prevent vertigo, but low enough to see the long view. Also the crosswind was quite apparent and disturbing; I didn't want to think what would happen if Allen blew
off into oncoming traffic. What an amazing structure. I am certain it has changed Island life for the better, and probably for the worse too.
When I look at a map of PEI, I am reminded of maps of fictional lands I dreamed up as a child. The shore line is indented deeply with all kinds of coves and inlets and places where pirates might shelter. The towns are so evenly distributed, the place seems invented by a mind intent on leaving no blank spots. The average town is small - just a collection of a few houses, a store or two and perhaps a steepled church, all nestled in a shady fold of the rolling farmland. It is all so storybook, so Anne of Green Gables: the dirt is bright red and every teenage girl talks just like Anne Shirley. We stayed at the Cumberland Cove Campground our first night, just a few kilometres from the bridge. Our host, Douglas Ferguson, had not yet opened the park, but Michele sweet-talked him into letting us pitch our tent. I came upon them standing together and talking as they looked out over the exposed sand flats and the
straits of Northumberland beyond. He in his suspendered work pants, hands in pockets, stocky, slightly rotund, bushy mustache and eyebrows - certainly a character off the set of A of GG; and Michele, her frock billowing in the wind, against a background of red sand, green grass, blue blue sky and fluffy clouds - transformed by island air into at least a neighbour of Anne's, perhaps an Aunt. Douglas told her we should take a walk on the sand flats now that at low tide and collect some shells. The sand looked like it wouldn't support our weight, but it turned out to be hardpacked. We must have walked 500 or 600 metres out from shore, sometimes through ankle deep water, where schools of minnows raced through the sea grass and bumped into our ankles, startling us hilariously, and other times on hard ripply sand flats dotted with periwinkles and here and there clam shells or the remains of crabs. It was no time at all before Michele had both hands full of shells and I was enlisted to carry more. That night we had a visit from a racoon who made short work of the cooking oil Michele had
In the town of Crapaud I pulled into "Anna's" diner for breakfast. I was served by Anna's granddaughter who was, of course - like all Island girls- Anne Shirley made real -sweet, polite, attentive and able with a smile to handle the good natured teasing coming from the table of old farmers in the corner. Anna did the cooking and she came out after I had finished my eggs to inquire if they had been to my liking. "Perfect," I replied, referring not just to the eggs but the whole charming experience. I got to Charlottetown about midday and pedalled by the university and down into the old town centre - where they still park diagonally - past the scaffold-enclosed Province House (undergoing restoration) where our Confederation began and over the Hillsborough river. If the capitol city has a seedy underbelly, I missed it. Michele passed me not long after and went on to set up camp at Lord Selkirk Provincial Park. Our site was atop cliffs that overlooked tidal flats similar to those at Cumberland cove. Here, though, great blue herons were taking advantage of low tide to fish - feeding perhaps on the
same species that raced around our ankles the day before. It looked like the living was easy for these birds - we counted 20 or more standing like weather-cocks on their stilty legs in the low water. When the tide was at its lowest ebb, the birds were joined by some-clam digging humans and their dog (it occurs to me that clam-digging is just about the perfect occupation for dogs). Meanwhile, Michele had cooked us up some lobster she had purchased in Charlottetown that day and we ate it while basking in the red glow of the sun setting over the straits of Northumberland.
It was only 20 kms from our campground to the Ferry terminal at Woods Island. When Michele arrived, we loaded Allen on to the carrier and were directed to a place in the waiting area. I read on the ticket that it was for a car or truck under 7 feet in height. Allen made us about 8 feet in height - I fervently hoped that we would not be directed to a spot on the ferry with less headroom than that. When I expressed this worry to Michele she gave me the
withering look she reserves for when I have said something especially idiotic. Sure enough when we drove on we got to stay up with the transport trucks while the other cars were sent down a ramp to a deck below. We were on our first sea voyage! We sat in the cafeteria and had lunch and watched the waves and noticed a little uneasily how the horizon went up and down and pretended we actually sailing across the ocean: 75 minutes by sea to England - that's not so bad! The weather had deteriorated and we set foot and wheels on Nova Scotia under thick grey clouds. It would be a motel night again, this time in the Lionstone Inn in nearby Pictou, but first we drove some 20 kms in the opposite direction to a sheep farm and wool store M wanted to vist. There she talked enthusiastically with the shop keeper in the mysterious language of knitting and yarns while I looked at the items for sale and contemplated what a "thrummed muff" might be. After purchasing just enough yarn to fill any remaining spaces in our tiny car, we went back to the Lionstone. It is called
the Lionstone because of its somewhat disturbing stone sculpture of a lion standing over the remains of its prey (see picture). That evening we had Chinese food in Pictou across the street from the famous Grohmann Knives Factory. While Michele paid the bill, I made friends with a six-toed cat that was hanging about outside.
It was raining in the morning and there was a wind. The rain was driven by the wind, but at least it was warm - another day best forgotten. I made it to Antigonish on a highway that was not great for cycling - especially in the rain. Michele had booked us into another motel because of the weather and texted me the directions. Unfortunately, I screwed up my approach and entered the town the wrong way. I kept getting wrong directions from the Antigonishers (who seem particularly stunned about the geography of their town) while Michele's rage at my not following her simple directions became nearly incandescent. She was on the point of texting her desire for a divorce when, after having toured much of the town (home of St. Francis Xavier University), I finally found the motel. When I arrived,
she was standing on the side walk out front with her hands on her hips - not a particularly welcoming pose. After reviewing the text message evidence of the past few hours, the jury found that, yes, I was at fault. I apologized and eventually she forgave me (I think).
The Gulf of St. Lawrence reappeared here and there next morning as I drew closer to Cape Breton Island. The Atlantic proper would not show itself until we reached the Straits of Canso - the strip of water between Cape Breton Island and the rest of Nova Scotia. Allen and I crossed the causeway and bridge and into the last stage of our journey. We started up the long hills after Port Hastings that stand between the Straits and the Bras d'Or, the complex set of lakes and inlets that occupy the central interior of Cape Breton Island. I reached the summit of these coastal hills and gratefully freewheeled down to the Bras d'Or. Allen and I were smelling the end of our journey - it was June 30th, and Canada Day would see us reach the finish line. We were both kind of tired - though
my fitness level was pretty good after a month of riding, both Michele and I were getting sick of never being in the same place for more than a day. Allen had developed an annoying click in his bottom bracket that was driving me crazy - I did not want to take the crank bearings out for fear that they would just fall apart. My faithful steed would have to wait till after we finished before he got the service he deserved. We camped in a provincial park at Whycocomagh, a little town on the Bras d'or about the middle of the island. We had decided we couldn't make it to Newfoundland because of the cost of the ferry and time constraints. We wanted to be back home by the middle of July, so it made no sense to spend a $1000 to ship us and the car there and back for only a couple of days. There was no need to go to the Ferry terminal in North Sydney - we just wanted a nice place to dip Allen's wheels in the Atlantic. When we consulted the map that evening, Englishtown jumped off the sheet - it was on
an inlet to the open sea and it provided a nice symmetry for our cross country journey which we started the year before at a beach on English Bay in Vancouver.
Canada Day dawned fair and sunny. I stopped in Baddeck, home of Canada's first heavier than air flight - the Silver Dart - and also Alexander Graham Bell's summer home, for breakfast at Tim Horton's. Preparations for Canada Day celebrations seemed well under way at all the little towns along the highway. All the place name signs in Cape Breton are also in Gaelic, which seems like an odd language, at least when you see it in print. If I am going to learn a second language, I think it would be more useful to learn French, although the sound of spoken Gaelic is beautiful. Anyway, as we neared Englishtown, I was cheered by a sign that wished us a 100,000 welcomes in English and Gaelic.
And all of a sudden, there was the turn off for Englishtown. And there was the steep hill down to the blue, blue Atlantic Ocean, a descent I could truly enjoy for I would not have to
ride it back up. Michele was waiting for me just past the little wharf where fishing boats were tied up and where there was easy access to the water. I rolled Allen down the shingle and into the water so both his wheels were dunked.
Mission accomplished - or almost. We did not get to Newfoundland and I had some missing miles to make up around the North of Superior. We will try to visit Newfoundland in the future when we have time to do it justice and, as for the trip back, I will tell that story in the next episode.
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