Saturday, August 29, 2009

Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg, MA: Hello Bill, Hello Danny

It's been hot, it's been humid, and it's been wet. We have found ways to cope -- get out of bed before the sun rises to get an early start, suck down electrolytes early in the day to prevent hydration (despite the inconvenience of peeing every five miles) and linger in the frozen food section during the afternoon grocery stop. But we also figured out how to save a flooded tent, which happened to us on a night outside Kennebunk when Hurricane Bill sent us waves of torrential rain showers during the evening. Good thing we hung on to those Maid of the Mist plastic ponchos -- spread out on the floor of the tent they made a nice barrier between our air mattresses and the puddle occupying our tent site.

The effects of the high surf caused by our friend Bill was evident as we went down the Maine coast near Wells Beach the next day. Seaweed strewn on the beach and residents shoveling sand and seaweed that breached the seawall and moved into the streets and driveways.
We arrived at York Beach to find a campground that resembled an RV parking lot -- vehicles parked side-by-side with not much more than ten feet separating them. If we wanted a site right on the oceanfront, those were $87. Those with a view of the water -- $72. The tent sites were in the mushpot -- surrounded by RVs and no water view -- $35. But it was a weekday and the proprietor had a soft spot for cyclists, and she gave us a site where we could see water between the gaps of the row of RVs separating us from the ocean for $25. And despite the fact that Bill delivered a curtain of rain on us in the middle of dinner, we also got a rainbow.
So once bill moved on to threaten Canada, it left behind a couple of humid, hot days with temperatures near 90 degrees. We waited one of them out by taking an extra day in the countryside of New Hampshire at a campground that could not be more different than the one at York Beach. Next to a lake, no neighbors, and the cooling effect from the canopy of trees. And no rain.

We have left the coast of Maine, and we are now deep in New England. Colonial architecture dominates, the cemeteries bear dates from the 18th century, and rock walls from local granite delineate property boundaries.
We are hiding out today near Webster, MA. The Atlantic hurricane season is blooming, and Tropical Storm Danny is showering his grace upon us. We are on the shores of Lake Webster, aka Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg. According to a local brochure it is the second longest place name, but they failed to tell us the first.
It has been raining steadily since midnight. And watching it out the window of our most lovely room at the inn is much better than it could possibly be from our tent.

Warmth, a real bed, just a few steps to the bathroom -- all are an indulgence after 14 weeks on the road. Not that I miss being home, but it does make me appreciate it when we are there. And thanks to Bill and Danny, we got a little reminder of just how comforting these basic pleasures are.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Ellsworth, ME: The Maine Triumvirate

Maine south of Bar Harbor is more populated and the roads busier due to summer tourist traffic. And why do these East Coasters flock to Maine? Why, to shop and eat, of course. And the scent of a bargain does not escape us, so a stop at the LL Bean outlet store was attractive for a couple of reasons -- they had air conditioning and lots of outdoor gear. We ended up buying enough stuff to fill a box, which John transported strapped to the rear of his bike till we could get to a post office to send it home.

And the other two icons of Maine? Blueberries and lobster, and we consumed both outside of Freeport. I have been carrying a list of good places to eat in Maine, and this was our last opportunity to eat at a bonafide lobster pound before leaving the state. It was 30 miles from our campsite, which is achievable before lunch. But add a few hills and a few stops, and it was a bit past the hour when we need to eat. So, arriving in a famished state, we plopped down $40 for a lobster roll, a crab roll, clam chowder, two huge chunks of sweet, moist cornbread (with butter, of course), and a slice of homemade blueberry pie with true vanilla ice cream. Sorry, remedying my LBSE (Low Blood Sugar Event) took precedent, and the thought of taking a photo did not even enter my mind. Trust me, it was supreme.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Acadia National Park, ME: Wilted Travelers

We entered the boundaries of Acadia National Park from the north, accessing the less visited Schoodic Peninsula. We camped at Ocean Woods, a private campground unlike any private campground we have stayed in -- secluded sites, quiet, clean, near the ocean, low-key managers. Unfortunately it is in its last year of operation, and may be replaced by a resort or some other less rustic development. It was an oasis for us, following a long hot and humid ride to get there.

We are still operating on Atlantic time, which is one hour ahead of Eastern time. It gives us the advantage in the morning -- we are up before dawn, pack and eat, and on the road just as the rest of the world is awakening and the temperatures are still cool. There is a one-way road that follows the coast along the peninsula, and we were able to cycle it in the magical morning light, seemingly the only ones there.

Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the Atlantic Coast and located on Mt Desert Island and where the masses go to visit Acadia, is the hump in the distance across the bay.

Polished granite defines the boundary with the brilliant blue ocean.

Later that day we crossed the bay to Mt Desert Island by ferry, saving ourselves a day of cycling and busy access to this part of the park. We disembarked into Bar Harbor, assaulted by the shock of swarming tourists, heat, and humidity.

We pedalled as fast as we could to the National Park campground, getting there just in time to get one of the last two campsites available. We planned to stay a couple of days, and in order to secure campsites for those nights, we had to get in line at each day at 6 am to get a site if available. Most of our neighbors did reservations, but the timing of our arrival was uncertain, so we had to play the lottery. Living on Atlantic time has it advantages, so the early queueing was not a major inconvenience.

The Eastern US was in the midst of a major heat wave, but one thing we were intent on doing was to climb Cadillac Mountain. And the first part of the hike starting from the campground was not too bad. A canopy of trees shielded us from the sun, although we were soaked with sweat. By the time we reached the stunted trees near the summit, we both had drank nearly two quarts of water each. My tank top was soaked, and I took it off and hiked in my sports bra, belly fat be damned. It was sweltering.

Arrival at the summit is not a solitary experience. Since a paved road leads to thee top, most people drive up in their air-conditioned vehicles. You can tell the ones who hiked by the sweat stains. Fortunately, there were drinking fountains at the top, and we refilled our bottles and crawled under one of those stunted trees to cool down and eat lunch before the descent.

The high humidity made for a hazy view of the islands offshore.

Acadia, the second most visited National Park, has an excellent shuttle system. We took our dehydrated bodies and rode the buses to see other sights on the island. Although not air conditioned, a moving bus can provide just enough breeze through the windows to keep one conscious. By 2 pm, at the peak heat of the day, everyone getting on and off the bus were like wilted zombies, moving just fast enough to keep from overheating.

On our second day, after waiting in line for a camp site, we took our bikes out for a ride on the many carriage roads that are the legacy of John D. Rockefeller. The classic rocky shore view was our reward for an early start before the humid haze of the afternoon settled in.

Restricted to hikers, bikers, and a few horse-drawn carriages, many of the roads are moderate grades under beautiful canopies of trees.

The bridges along the way are historic testimonies to the park's past.

We were able to load our bikes and ride back to the campground on the shuttle bus, all of which were equipped with bike racks, saving us a hot slog back to camp. By evening it cooled down enough for us to venture to the shore to see the evening sun on the distant rocks.

Acadia is a busy place, a destination for much of New England. And it is another place, like Cape Breton, where preserved land intertwines with civilization. We wished we had more time to explore it, that it was not so hot, that we had a kayak to explore the waters. But that will need to be another time -- this journey is just a sampling of a very narrow corridor that we can reach by bicycle, a taste of the landscapes we pass through.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Machias, ME: Downeast

Our re-entry into the United States was rather low-key. The border station at the bridge at Lubek was just a man and a shack. He glanced at our passports and waved us on. No litany of questions like when we entered Canada, making sure we had enough money in our bank account and that we would eventually leave and not stay for the free health care. We left Canada with a bit of meloncholy -- we both did not want to leave this place where the people were so open and generous. Would it be the same back home?

We did a side trip to West Quoddy Head, where there is a lighthouse and a plaque. It is an attractive candy-striped lighthouse, but the significance of the spot is that it is the easternmost spot in the United States, and that is what brought us here. There is an East Quoddy Head, too, and it is more easterly, but it is located accross the strait in Canada.

We spent the next days travelling south through the region known as "Downeast" Maine. It is still very rural with with few roads and great (to a cyclist) distances between services. But the side roads are very quiet, and we did another detour through Cutler and its harbor filled with fishing vessels. The towns here are less frequently visited by tourists, and the commercialism that comes with it.

We opted for a hotel in Machias, since campgrounds were non-existant in the area. It was the weekend of the Wild Blueberry Festival, but we opted instead to do an early-morning bike ride Jasper Beach to pick rocks instead of berries.

Supposedly only one of two such beaches in the world (the other is in Japan), and we had fantasies of a beach covered with beautiful polished jasper. We weren't sure how far it was, and we ended up going 12 miles of steep ups and down and stopping for directions before we found it. There were some nicely colored red stones, but the serenity and sound of the waves filtering through the stones as the tide came in was more of a prize.

South of Machias we were truly in the heart of blueberry country. We learned to recognize the patches where they grew. And when they grow right on the side of the road, we could not help but pick a pint to put in our morning oatmeal.
We have since learned that there are specialized rakes to make the task a bit more efficient. And we went past the blueberry rake factory on our way to Jonesport where anatomically correct PVC people demonstrate harvesting techniques.

We spent one very windswept night in a rustic campground at the tip of a peninsula outside the town of Jonesport. No showers, and water was trucked in using a trailer-mounted plastic vessel that was filled at the local church -- our campground host called it "holy water". Afternoon entertainment included a couple of guys harvesting seaweed and getting their rusty old suburban and trailer stuck. They backed the trailer over the edge of the shore to make it easier to shove the seaweed in. But eventually it was too heavy to pull up, and it took some rocking and manoeuvring to get it back on the road.

The stiff breeze made cooking a challenge, but it kept the mosquitoes away. We were steps away from the bay, where lobster traps dotted the water. We were awakened before dawn by fishing boats heading out to sea, a parade that lasted for the couple of hours it took us to eat breakfast and break camp.

But the evening light was magical as the sunset in the west in quintessential Downeast Maine.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Campobello Island, NB: Franklin's Cottage

Our last stop in New Brunswick was two days on beautiful Campobello Island. It required two ferry rides to get there. The first one was just a short hop over to Deer Island. The ferry transported cars, too, and many of these would then drive the 16 kilometer length of the island to catch the ferry to Campobello Island. This was also our plan, too, so we pedalled for a solid hour, up and down short, steep hills, thinking the dock for the ferry was just around the corner. When it was finally in sight, we saw the ferry had just pulled away. We missed it by a couple of minutes.

We are smiling in the photo below because we did not miss the ferry the next time it came around.

The disappointment was not just because we had to wait an hour, but also because we wanted to visit the President Franklin D. Roosevelt summer "cottage" that afternoon. But the weather was glorious, so we decided to stay another day and take our time to visit.

The house was open to tour, and it was furnished much as it was for the summers that Franklin spent there with his family. In my book, 34 rooms does not qualify as a cottage, but the bedrooms were small, really just for sleeping. And they had lots of hired help -- no electricity at the time. It was a long journey for the Roosevelts at the time to get to this place, and despite the fact that everything was done for them, it had a rustic feel.

And on a clear day, the sweeping view of Passamaquoddy Bay from the veranda is breathtaking.

I am working on John to buy us a little cottage like this, too.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Pennfield, NB: Canadian Blues

So we pull into New River Beach Provincial Park. As always, we set up our tent quickly so we can shower and clean up before preparing dinner. We exchanged a brief greeting to our neighbors across the way, relating the abridged version of our travels so far. By the time we had the tent set up, here comes the wife with two plates with huge wedges of blueberry pie. Wow.

At this point we are only a couple of days of leaving New Brunswick and Canada altogether, and we did not want to miss the chance to stay in another one of these lovely parks. The sites are nicely graded with gravel, the bathrooms clean, and there was a kitchen shelter with tables and a wood-burning stove. And we woke up the next morning, and it was raining, and we decided to stay one more day rather than ride in the cold rain. And before we even got into the shelter to cook breakfast, the campground attendant brought in wood and lit a fire for us. He said he thought we would be needing some warmth on a day like this. Double wow.

We sat most of that rainy day in the kitchen shelter, doing blogs and reading. We met most of our fellow campers as they filed in to do dishes in the common sink area. And one family was particularly interested in our trip, and we talked for a good while. Later they invited us to come over for dinner. So we went, and we ate, and we talked the evening away. Wow, wow, wow.

So, the pie was outstanding. Ever since we had a really lousy piece of blueberry pie in Newfoundland, I swore I would make a decent one when I got home. But the pie from our benevolent neighbor was baked just down the road from the Provincial Park. And lucky us, it was on our way, so we pulled in there first thing in the morning. There were pints, quarts, and flats of blueberries, pies stacked on shelves, and blueberry muffins in plastic bags with holes cut in the tops of the bags to let them breathe. There was a little kitchen in the back where women were making even more muffins and pies. The head blueberry matron got a kick out of the fact that we already had experienced her pie. When asked if her blueberries were wild, she said she calls them wild, but they are more like "encouraged" -- lots of tender care, like what went into those baked goods. We asked for six muffins to go, please.

So we are blue. Our fingers are stained from jammy globs of cooked blueberries in those muffins. But down and out blue? No way -- the kindness of the Canadians continues to amaze us.

Friday, August 7, 2009

St. Martins, NB: The Fundy Trail

If you look on a map of New Brunswick, you will see that only about 50 kilometers separate Fundy National Park and the seaside village of St Martins to the south. There is a road that connects the two locations, but most of the route is equivalent to a dirt trail, we hear. A paved road is under construction starting at St Martins, and currently 11 kilometers is complete. This paved portion is known as The Fundy Trail, and we were curious enough about it steer towards it.

But the route to get there required going way inland to the town of Sussex, and then back to the coast. And this required scaling a significant mountain ridge out of Fundy National Park. We left the park in a shroud of fog that stayed with us until noon. It was a cool blessing, because we went uphill for the better part of the morning. And the uphill was steep. At one point someone called out their window as they passed us, that they admired our courage. The ones who thought we were stupid refrained from verbalizing it.

We were rewarded for our efforts with the downhill into the valley where the the town of Sussex lies. This is a rich agricultural area, and boasts 26 murals throughout the town.

Little did we know we would need to cross that southern extension of the mountain ridge again on our way to St Martins. The first half of the day was a series of hills, mostly ups separated by some downs. We met another pair of bike tourists coming the other direction. They commented on the choice of the road -- I thought they were talking about the narrowness and traffic, but they were concerned about hills. They had already crossed Canada, and seemed a bit shell-shocked on this day, saying something about some good hills ahead of us. A short time after we parted we found out what they were talking about -- fortunately the 15% grade was downhill for us. John descended first, and within seconds he was a speck in the distance.

St Martins is a quaint village that is in transition. The current stretch of The Fundy Trail opened in 1998, and changed the fishing village to an out-of-the-way tourist destination. When the trail is completed in 2012, it will bring a stream of tourists that will undoubtedly change it even further.

We camped for two nights at the Century Farm Family Campground. The founder himself drove us around in his golf cart to select a campsite and administered first aid to a bee sting on my neck. There was a recreation room with sofas (!!!) where we could hide out of the wind. And we had our very own covered picnic table to stash our bikes and hang our laundry.

The harbor experiences the extreme tides of the Bay of Fundy, stranding boats twice a day,

We had spectacularly clear weather on our first day, with nice views of the caves, accessible only at low tide, and the wide beaches.

I was informed by the woman standing next to me while taking this photo, that this is the only place where two covered bridges can be seen from one place in
Canada. Impressive enough to share with you, eh?

On our second day we rode our unloaded bikes along the paved section of The Fundy Trail. We had overcast conditions, so the coastline views were impressive but not spectacular.

The route has parking lots for vista points and other interesting features, including this waterfall.

The Fundy Trail is actually both a paved road with a hiking/mountain biking trail along the same route. Both pathways intersect at observation platforms built along the way. Each viewing facility had lots of picnic tables, a large parking lot, and restrooms. They were often built just five minutes apart, and it puzzled us sometimes some of the elaborate structures were built in locations where the view was obscured by vegetation.

The Visitor's Center is located at the current terminus of the trail, along the banks of the Big Salmon River. Atlantic salmon no longer travel here anymore, virtually gone from this part of the ocean, for reasons not entirely understood.

From this vantage point we saw large trucks completing the grading and sealing of the future extension of the road that would open up one of the last sections of undeveloped coastline remaining in the province. The economic benefits will surely be great for some. But we were glad to experience St Martins and the region as it is today, ahead of the crowds that the surely will come in the future.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Fundy National Park, NB: Tides in the Extreme

Back in the days when I used to fantasize about bike touring, I remember seeing a brochure for a tour that went along the Bay of Fundy. I thought, wow, that would be a great place to go and see the biggest tides in the world. So now that dream is a reality, too.

As we crossed inland from Shediac, through Moncton, and toward the Bay of Fundy, we could see reddish brown water in the distance. And crossing a bridge over a tributary channel, we realized we were in the zone of extreme tides. We were at low tide in the afternoon, and we saw the erosive evidence of the daily fluctuations.

We reached the coast and Hopewell Rocks, just at the maximum of the low tide. Now don't get the impression from this picture that we had it to ourselves. The parking lot is as big as some New Brunswick villages and there was a line to pay the $8.50 a piece to get in the gate. But the tide leaves huge swaths of beach where you can feel all alone.

The next day we cycled south along the coast to Fundy National Park. We started late due to morning rain showers and a stop in Alma for $20 of lobster meat and fresh rolls from the local bakery. Our destination was the campground at Point Wolfe, which required crossing some steep grades to get over the highlands. Late afternoon light was our reward for views of the highlands we had just tackled.

Dinner that night was late, but we made our own lobster rolls. We bought some garlic butter to go along with the lobster, conveniently packaged at the store in 1/2 cup containers. I thought we might eat half of it, but only a few drops were left at the end. At one point John was pouring it on his sandwich and watching it soak into the bread like a sponge.

The campground was perfect -- only unserviced sites, so no big RVs, and our neighbors were tent campers also there to enjoy the setting. We were a bit of a curiosity throughout our stay. I got cornered at least three times in the washroom by people asking where we were from and where we were going. Our last night we sat around the campfire with a family from Cornwall, ON, drinking Canadian beer, and telling stories.

We spent a full day in the park, taking a hike through the forest in the early morning fog. Can you find the spider web gilded by dew?

The main attraction, of course, was the tides. We walked the beaches and scaled the viewpoints both at high and low tides. Below are our favorite views of the estuary at Point Wolfe at both extremes. Amazing.

The low tide was late in the evening, and we walked to the edge of where the estuary meets the sea. A beautiful ending to a place of dreams.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Shediac, NB: Welcome to New Brunswick

Warning: This post contains a fair amount of complaints. Positive, optimistic musings will return again soon.

Sometimes timing is everything. We were heading for Shediac, the self-proclaimed "Lobster Capital of the World". It was a short day for us -- 50 kilometers, and we could get there by lunch. So we decided to treat ourselves to a lobster meal at midday.

We were slowed down a bit on a hot day by the pervasive headwind. And then there was the detour to avoid a washed out bridge that put us on the four-lane highway. By the time we got to town we were famished and dehydrated. The eatery recommended by Lonely Planet was shuttered and closed, so we opted for the one with the faux pier and fishing nets outside. A whole steamed lobster was $27.95, so nix on that, so we got steamed mussels and a lobster roll instead. It was hot inside the place, drinking water was slow in coming, and the waitress forgot our salad and never checked back with us after she served us. Maybe she pegged us for cheap tippers. We were worse than that -- we were no tippers. A cup of Death by Chocolate ice cream from the shop next door filled in the voids, fortunately.

We were also trying to get into town to shop at the farmer's market, held every Saturday according to our tourist guidebook. Fresh, local produce has been virtually non-existent so far on this trip, and we were looking forward to it. The market actually happens on Sundays at 9am -- we would be way out of town by then.

So we went to the local grocery store and bought peaches from California and headed to Parlee Beach Provincial Park. Looking forward to getting into camp early to relax and read, we expected the campground to be as nice as the other provincial parks we have enjoyed. To our disappointment we found out the campground has been privitized, all sites were filled due to the New Brunswick Day holiday, and there was only room in a grassy area with no tables and soggy ground from the previous night's downpour. And it, too, was packed. We found a slot for our little tent at the perimeter near a fence.

So we went to the beach for a swim. And we realized that most of the population of New Brunswick was there, too.

The night was a long one for John. I was tired and managed to sleep well using earplugs to block out the revelers at the campsite not 50 meters away from us. But John was awakened around midnight by the noise. He had to get up and tell them (in a nice way, of course) to shut up, people are trying to sleep.

The next morning we got up with the sun, packed our gear and cooked breakfast before most of our late-night neighbors stirred. We sailed through town, stopping only to say goodbye to the world's largest lobster.

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