Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tatamagouche, NS: Dear Wayne and Bridget

Dear Wayne and Bridget,

We were a bit surprised to get that flat tire. It was the first one John has had since Rome. In fact, it was not a new puncture at all, but rather the patch that sealed the hole from that Italian glass shard that finally wore out after 9,000+ kilometers. And your driveway was just right there, with a sliver of shade just wide enough to work under. We realized you were friendly folks when you sent your grandson down with the air compressor. And then you invited us for drinks, and there was a pitcher of ice tea dripping with sweat it was so cold. And snacks, too. All we hoped for was maybe a corner of your lawn to set up our tent. But within 10 minutes you offered us your spare room and a shower, and, well, basically run of the entire house and the contents of the refrigerator while you were away for the evening. That mac and cheese was mighty tasty, by the way.

We loved your 150-year old house, the swim in the ocean, the way the breeze came through the windows of our room during the night, the country quiet, our conversations, and the oatmeal and bagels in the morning. When we think of Nova Scotia, we will always remember you.

Thanks for your trust and good company.


John and Doris

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Cape Breton Highlands National Park, NS: A Cabot Trail Photo Album

Cape Breton is a large island that defines the eastern end of Nova Scotia. It is a popular destination for many travelers, including these two cyclists. The Cabot Trail is a road that follows the shore along the northern trace. It oddly crosses in and out of Cape Breton Highlands National Park, so following the trail is a mixture of sections of craft stores and motels followed by vistas of undeveloped shoreline cliffs and wooded plateaus.

The areas is also one of cultural contrasts. Along the eastern shore we stopped at a gas station, and the attendant there spoke pure Gaelic to his neighbor filling his tank. By the time we reached the town of Cheticamp on the west shore, fiddle music played in the background in the public places and Acadian French was the dominant language. All within less than a hundred kilometers.

Cape Breton is popular for cycling, and we met the most bike tourists so far on our trip. The route is legendary, mostly because of four steep hills. The recommendation is to do the route clock-wise, but ever the contrarians, we did it the other way. The angst early in our trip about that darned Achilles tendon was in anticipation of these climbs. But being 100% healed, I had room to fear other things, like mosquitoes, rain, and low blood sugar.

Our first hill was Kelly Mountain. It was overcast and pleasantly cool yet humid on our ascent. The reward was a view down of the Seal Island Bridge that we crossed just an hour or so earlier.

We wanted to relish the hills, so we did one a day over the five days it took us to traverse the trail. After the hill at Cape Smokey we stayed an extra day at the lovely campground at Ingonish to rest and wait out a rainstorm. The weather moves fast in this region, and the interesting cloud pattern dissipated in the time it took to take this picture and to call to John in the tent to come out and see.

The day after was clear and spectacular. It was on this day that we had our best views of the rocky shores as we traveled between Ingonish and Pleasant Bay.

We took a scenic side road at Neils Harbour that afforded nice views towards White Point.
And the hill at North Peak was a challenge -- winds and traffic added to the fun. There were numerous turnouts and vistas, which made good rest stops on the way up. It never ceases to amaze me how we can be chugging up a hill, pull into a turnout, and crowds of RV and motorbike travelers parked there will not even look us in the eye or acknowledge our effort. But they are offset a hundred times over by the honks and thumbs-up we have had throughout our entire trip through Canada.

But with every up there is a down, and my hands ached from braking on this one.

The significance of Cape Breton National Park is that it protects the ecosystem of the highlands, which are virtually inaccessible. But it is in the river valleys that incise the highlands where old growth hardwood forests still exist, a glimpse of the native flora untouched by logging. We did a short hike into one of the forests, winding along a path under a sheltered canopy of sugar maples.

And moose enjoy the forest, too.

After ascending our last climb up Mackenzie, we had the fun of the descent on the French Mountain side.

The coastal views on the way down were spectacular, but a bit dampened by the gray skies.

Rain descended on us at Cheticamp Beach. We were forced to say an extra day to wait it out. In the evening the most furious thunderstorm we have had in a long time came through. The sheet of rain obscured the other side of the bay, and flooded the campground, including our little tent. We sopped it up best we could, and our air mattresses floated us on top of the moisture throughout the night.

We said good-bye to the Cabot Trail at Margaree Forks, following the coast and then crossing inland to Whycocomagh. Like making up after a big argument, the sun after the storm is sweet.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Channel Port-aux-Basques, NL: Goodbye, Newfoundland

The memory of the ride south from Gros Morne is a bit of a blur. There is a recollection of wind...strong wind...strong wind in our face...strong wind in our face while going uphill. It all comes back in a flash when I see one of these signs..I swear there were a hundred of them, warning us of the next grade.

We bit it off in 5 km pieces -- John would lead for five, then I would lead for five. One 10 km cycle might take an hour. We were going along the Trans-Canada Highway, a good quality road with ample shoulder, except where the rumble strip that took half of our allotted area and was tough to stay within the boundaries while going uphill in the wind. We went along a section with next to minimal services for 80+ kilometers, so we were loaded with food. One long day we ended up in Barachois Provincial Park, 10 kilometers further than noted on the map, where complications kept us from eating dinner until almost 9 pm. We both agreed it was some of our toughest biking yet.

Somewhere halfway it rained, and we retreated to a hotel to regroup. We checked the weather, and noted the warning for high winds in the Wreckhouse area. We did a search to find where this was, and saw it was the area we were to pass through in the next two days.Wreckhouse winds are a local weather phenomenon at the southwestern tip of Newfoundland, where the Long Range Mountains meet the sea. You can read all about it here. Fortunately for us, the condition passed before we got there. There was little more than a warning sign, a weather station, and a parking area for trucks to pull over and wait out the winds to mark ground zero.

We rounded the last pass through the mountains for our final descent to Channel Port-aux-Basques for the ferry ride that would take us to Nova Scotia.

This ferry is a main artery for shipping goods to Newfoundland. Although the boat was scheduled to leave at 10:30 am, we had to be there no later than 9 am to keep our reservation. They lined all the potential passengers in lanes by vehicle type -- look closely at the photo below for our steeds, first in line in Lane 11. Passengers like us and automobiles could reserve a place, but trucks were first-come-first-serve. The five hour trip cost them $500, and if there was no room they had to sit in their lane and wait for the next boat. If they wanted to reserve a slot, it was $1000 -- no mercy.

We were the first to load, and we road our bikes up the ramp into the ship and looked back on all those still waiting. The ship was well-equipped for passengers. Spacious with different seating areas -- tables with electric outlets, reclining seats in darkened areas for snoozing, seats in an area to view a movie, or a bar with live entertainment. It was like an airplane ride without being cramped.
Newfoundland is a wild place -- with less than 500,000 residents, there is lots of space with few people. Perhaps that is why the people are so kind -- it is the help-thy-neighbor spirit that makes it possible to live in such a challenging place. For a Californian it would be difficult to transplant here -- I could not live on root vegetables alone -- but for someone who was raised here, I sense the pull of the place. We leave it with great respect.

Friday, July 10, 2009

L'Anse-au-Clair, NL: 12 Hours in Labrador

Somewhere along the way on our cruise we crossed a time-zone, so when we disembarked from our ship we were an hour ahead and night was falling. We had reservations for a B&B 9 kilometres from the dock, over the border in Labrador. And by crossing that border, we jumped another time-zone, but this one was only a half-hour. (What is with this half-hour time zone?) We were all mixed up, since the dock where we arrived and were to depart the next morning was half an hour off from where we slept, but where we slept was on the same time zone as where we were going, and the ferry departure/arrival times were not the same as the dock time but were the same as the destination time. So I think we were in Labrador for about 12 hours...someone get me a calculator.

It was a foggy, gray morning when we had to go back over that 9 percent grade back into Quebec. We left good and early just in case there was a time calculation error. At the top of the grade we met our bunkmates from the cruise. They were on their motorcycles, returning from their night in the other time zone -- propelled by motors, they were able to go 20 kilometres further to Red Bay, where they saw icebergs. We snapped photos of each other before heading to the dock for the ferry crossing to Newfoundland.

This ferry crossed the Strait of Belle Isle to the Northern Peninsula of Labrador. This crossing is an important transport route, and we watched as truck after truck disappeared into the cargo hold of the ship.

It was a foggy crossing the couple of hours to St Barbe. From here our journey along the west coast of Newfoundland would begin. It was good to be cycling again, whatever time it was.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Woody Point, NL: Dear Susan

Dear Susan,

We don't know what prompted you to offer us your barn loft for the night on that ferry ride from Norris Point to Woody Point, but we are sure glad you did. We almost missed the boat -- we were sitting on the dock soaking in the sun, and the captain broke our meditative state to make sure we wanted to go for the ride. And you were on our boat, and took sympathy on us, and led us down the road on the other side to your little paradise. The feminine spirits took good care of us.

Thanks for the capelin, the warm shower, the tea, and for sharing your respect and knowledge of your world. The best of Newfoundland, for us, was symbolized by your generosity.

We hope our paths will cross again,


John and Doris

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Gros Morne National Park, NL: Geologic Wonders

Whenever continental plates collide, it makes for interesting landscapes. Such is the way it is at home in California, and as well on the west coast of Newfoundland. Gros Morne National Park is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its geologic attributes. Through rain and wind we cycled to reach this place, and our reward was four days of brilliant blue skies.

The thing to do in the park is to take a three hour boat ride up the Western Brook, which used to be a fjord and now is a pond which in reality is just a very long, deep lake. Although there is a hiking trail that goes along the lake edge, the boat is really the best way to see the rugged and wild interior of the park.

During the first half of the trip all us passengers were crammed in the stern of the boat taking pictures. On the way back we settled into the benches in the center of the boat and were rocked to near-sleep by the gentle bobbing, with the awesome landscape as a backdrop.

We spent one night a Green Point, and the next morning went down to the beach. Fisherman's cabins are still active on the shore, and moose antlers are a common decoration. Moose are not native to the island, and are abundant due to lots of habitat and few predators. They are hazardous to drivers traveling at night, and also quite destructive to the native forests. People warned us to be very careful of the moose -- we were to see lots of them. But we only saw one, purposefully crossing the road and oblivious to us.

Green Point is significant because of its designation of a global stratotype point between the Cambrian and Ordovician periods.

And beds striking into to the waters of the Gulf of St Lawrence also are quite attractive.

The morning light provides contrast to emphazise the platy nature of this bed.

At the south end of the park is Rocky Harbour and Norris Point. We took a ferry across this channel to reach The Tablelands.

The Tablelands are barren, a striking sight in this land of dense green forests. The rock is of oceanic crust and mantle origin, and the soil very poor.

It reminded us of our mountains at home, although our mountains are exposed and barren due to lack of water rather than unhospitable substrate.

The wind was howling when we were at this pass. Gusts were over 50 miles per hour, and one knocked John's bike over from its resting position against a railing. We were spent from the 10%+ grades to get up to this point, and the wind sucked the resistance out of us. We turned around and let the wind push us to the east, to the park exit. We were set up for biking, with no hiking boots to climb a peak or a solid car to protect us from the elements, so sometimes we can just touch a place but not truly explore it.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Northern Peninsula, NL: A Photo Sampler

After the rain must come sun. Here are some images from just one day of cycling between Hawke's Bay and Cow Head. It was a glorious day -- this is why we bike tour.

Salmon fisherman on a river south of Hawke's Bay in the morning.

For me this picture captures the feeling of the Newfoundland coast -- open. windswept, eternal.

Lunch spot in Daniel's Harbor.

Flowers on a rocky beach.

My favorite photo subject framed in dolomitic conglomerate in The Arches Provincial Park.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Squid Cove, NL: Holding Ground

There is a nautical term -- holding ground -- that is used as a noun and not a verb. It is often preceded by an adjective, and describes the quality of the sea bottom to provide a safe, secure anchor.

Our first day of cycling on the Northern Peninsula, fresh off the ferry from Blanc-Sablon, was overcast but with a strong tailwind. Our normal mode is to find campground symbols on the map, and connect the dots that are a reasonable day's travel apart. On this day there was no physical campground to match the dot on the map. We stocked up on water and found a nice spot on a rocky beach, next to lobster traps retired for the season. The wind was howling, so we secured the corners of the tent with the biggest rocks we could find. We cooked dinner in the sheltered side of one of the fisherman's shacks nearby.

Rain was in the forecast. But we have seen the forecast delayed or predicted rain amounts decreased so many times, that we figured we would be fine. That assumption proved wrong when we heard raindrops on the tent overnight. A break at dawn allowed the tent to dry while we ate breakfast and pack up. But as we stood, bikes fully loaded, huddled out of the wind on the lee side of the shack, the rain started to come down again.

One of the shacks was unlocked, so we wheeled the bikes inside. There was a table, sofa, a roll of paper towels, an ashtray, and a broom. In a closet were dishes and cooking utensils neatly arranged, and a half-full jar of peanut butter. We waited a couple of hours, hoping the rain might subside. But it grew colder, the wind more intense, and the thought of cycling in the weather brought visions of hypothermia before me. It became apparent this shack would be our home for the night. So we swept the floors and tidied up the place, and settled right in.

We spent the rest of the day doing jumping jacks to stay warm and periodically checking the weather satellite for the progress of the front (amazingly, the Telus Air Card had coverage). The concern about enough drinking water was alleviated when John found a spring on the shore nearby. I started reading a copy of "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac, given to me by our Irish friends on the cruise, and somehow our plight seemed trivial compared to hitching rides on the back of a flatbead truck with no money. And the wind blew and rain pelted the windows all day and into the night, and we were quite grateful for this shelter, this excellent holding ground.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Sept-Îles to Blanc-Sablon, QC: Cruisin'

One thing that is still hard to get used to is how early the sun rises this far north. It fools me every time I wake up at 4 am and I think its time to get up. It came in handy on the morning we boarded the ship for our three-day cruise. We had to be there at 5 am, so we were up with the sun and pedalling through the deserted streets of Sept-Iles on our way to the dock.

The Nordik Express is part passenger ferry, part freighter, and part water taxi. In the summer is the supply connection for numerous small communities that dot the North Shore of Quebec, towns that have no access other than by sea or air. In winter it is only by air. It carried about 200 passengers, plus almost half that many shipping containers loaded with basics like fresh produce and paper towels, but also cars, motorcycles, aluminium piping, and furniture.

People wishing to travel with their car and sleep in a private cabin must make reservations two years in advance. We made reservations a couple of months ago, and stayed in a room with bunks with a couple of motorcyclists from Ohio and opted to eat in the dining room for our meals. But several people were on just for the ride, and slept on the floors and brought shopping bags of food to eat along the way. Advance reservations are not needed for the last option.

Two or three times a day, and sometimes a couple times during the night, the ship stops at a port. Us passengers would have a couple of hours to disembark and walk around while the crew unloaded containers. John and I would get off with our bikes (daytime only, thank you) and go as far as time or pavement allowed.
And the bikes gave us the freedom to get a little further than our fellow passengers who were on foot. On the island of Anticosti we found this lighthouse, bearing the colors of hard northern winters.

In the town of Natashquan we were on shore at 6 am on a Sunday. The town was enveloped in a magical stillness.

Several ports-of-call were Inuit communities. The ship is a taxi for them to travel between towns. In Natashquan about 100 loaded, families with young children in tow. They occupied every empty space, stretched out across three seats to sleep. The children did laps on the deck. The majority of them unloaded in La Romaine about seven hours later. As we let onshore and headed into town, quad-runners were buzzing towards the dock to pick up their families. They passed us on their way back, loaded with more bodies and suitcases and goods.

The Gulf of St Lawrence has numerous currents and upwellings as a result of warm water coming from the river and cold water coming from the Atlantic Ocean. It is rich in fish and shellfish and large mammals, notably dolphins and whales. One magical evening we were puttering along on a glassy waters in fog that hat gathered on the water. And like a cork from a bottle, we reached the edge of whatever warm and cold water contact, and popped out of the fog. This same evening we had several whale sightings as the coyly showed their backs as they dove for food.

Our berth was on the bottom deck, and it had a bit of noise and vibration from the engines. But with earplugs the noise was minimized, and the rocking of the boat as it moved through the water like a mother holding a child made for restful sleep. On each night the boat made a couple of landings in towns we did not wake to visit, and during those visits the boat would be still and quiet for a couple of hours as they loaded and unloaded cargo.

The landscape changed gradually as we went north, but it seemed dramatic since we covered a great distance in the hours we slept. The vegetation became more sparse, the trees less numerous and stunted, and the ground covered with tundra vegetation. By our last couple of days the weather cleared to brilliant blue skies for a very dramatic passage through numerous islands on the way to St Augustine.

So let's talk food, shall we? This was not a cruise of the Princess variety, with buffet tables and formal service. We took our meals in the dining area, consisting of about 15 booths. Breakfast was always a choice of eggs, pancakes, or French toast or some combination of each. The pancakes were more like crepes, and each table had maple syrup -- the real stuff, not the American corn syrup imitation.

Dinner and supper always had a choice of entrees -- one meat and the other seafood. We chose the seafood every time, and so twice a day we had the most fresh seafood imaginable -- cod, salmon, shrimp (oh, the shrimp), scallops, halibut. And dessert, too. I had to take a nap one afternoon from a maple-induced coma after eating a whole slice of "sugar pie".

But the finale was our final night with the "Fisherman's Plate" -- steamed mussels, shrimp, scallops, snow crab, and lobster -- all fresh from the fish plant at our last stop. It took quite a bit of labor and time to eat -- my poor husband, a slow eater anyway, apparently didn't know what he was in for. But he was poking and sucking with the best of them by the end.

This boat journey was a symbolic halfway point for us. It was relaxing -- hours to read and do crosswords. The trips ashore were opportunities to explore and stretch our legs. And on a boat of this size people become familiar and friendly. By the last day the passengers from Montreal were at the stern of the boat singing into the night. Not a luxury cruise, but it fit our style. It was a bit melancholy to leave our new friends and the now familiar pattern...sobered a bit by the realization...uh-oh, its time to bike in the weather and sleep on an air mattress and cook using one pot again.

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