Trip Update VII: Nova Scotia, formerly (but still) New England (2014)

Tuesday morning, 23 September, M/V Blue Puttees moored in North Sydney. Blue PuteesThe sun was shining on the calm water. We rode 60 km to Louisburg to visit the French fortress that anchored New France in the 17th and 18th Centuries. It was a fascinating visit. I wished that I had bought two 1-lb boules in the King’s bakery instead of one. The bakery still produces six- and one-pound loaves of the mixed rye and whole wheat bread that was the French soldier’s ration at Louisburg. 2014-09-23 13.18.47Woe to the soldier who lost his 6-lb loaf: he could not have another one until the following Monday. The bread is hearty and delicious. I can understand how one could live on a pound of it each day.

2014-09-23 14.24.36

Fortress Louisburg

Finding accommodations for the night became problematic, as places had been closing since Labor Day. We added another 40 km to our day, backtracking up Highway 22 to the Mira River. 2014-09-2014 Mira RiverIt was dark when we finally settled into the Mira River Cottages, and stoked up a fire in the stove. http://www.mirarivercottages.ca/

2014-09-24 13.55.02

Fleur-de-Lys Route

Out early the next day. The ranger in the Visitor Center in Louisburg had told us that the Fleur-de-Lys scenic highway was the subject of repeated complaints from tourists coming the other way, claiming that it was not scenic at all. I noticed that it was colored as a scenic bicycle route on the map. We quickly found out why this stretch of Cape Breton Island was underappreciated: the tourists were going too fast. On bicycles, we could see splendid scenes between the stands of trees. The whole route was a riot of smells, sounds, and sights, but only if you do not have the noise and stench of a motor vehicle around you. I had never seen and smelled so many different species of flora packed into such a small space. The Fleur-de-Lys route took us to Saint Peter’s, where we rejoined the main road, Highway 4. Cheryl got ahead of me again, and spent some time with the official at the Visitor’s Bureau.

St. Peter's Canal

St. Peter’s Canal

She found out that the local people had convinced the staff at Battery Provincial Park to stay open, although all other parks were closing. The park had tent camping only, overlooking the oldest operating canal in North America. We got settled just as it turned dark and the temperature plummeted. Grateful for our cold-weather rated sleeping bags, we realized that winter was coming on, and we needed to move south more quickly.

Isaac Harbor Customs House: abandoned and for sale.

For sale: Isaac’s Harbor Customs House.

For the next week, we rode hard each day, staying in a succession of historic inns (Guysborough, Salmon River), B&B’s (Isaac Harbor), and resort cabins (http://www.liscombelodge.ca/). Stiff headwinds kept us from averaging more than 100 km/day.

Sherbrook Village

Sherbrook Village

I was able to keep up with Cheryl by drafting her whenever the headwinds created a long slipstream behind her bicycle. On Monday , 29 September, we checked into the International Hostel in Halifax.

2014-09-27 17.25.56We spent two days touring the Citadel,

Inside the Citadel

Inside the Citadel

Public Gardens, Halifax

and getting our bicycles serviced at the Cyclesmith (http://cyclesmith.ca/). I rode to Best Buy NW of town in driving rain, but I was unable to get a new charger (or anything else) for my computer.

Leaving Halifax, we discovered the Trans-Canada Trail, a rail trail all the way to Yarmouth (and back up the North Shore to the rest of Canada).

The weather and trail construction kept us from using its entire length, but it would be a great ride in the summer, going east. 2014-10-03 11.09.58We stayed in Hubbards Beach Cottages in darling cabins built by the owner’s father during World War II. Amazing what one man could do with limitless wood, simple tools, and time.

2014-10-03 11.42.58The road to Lunenburg took us around the scenic Saint Margaret’s Bay, the town of Mahone Bay (holding a city-wide scarecrow competition), and the Swissair 211 Memorial. The smell of salt was in the air, mixed with the sound of pounding surf as we rode the coast. We visited Lunenburg in the rain, and found it fascinating. Blue Nose II was there.

Bluenose II

Bluenose II

The original Blue Nose is the fishing schooner on the Canadian dime. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bluenose. lunenburg-nova-scotia_78-76The Fishermen’s Museum of the Atlantic contains one of the most interesting collections that I have ever seen in a museum its size: everything about fishing, especially in the days of sail.

After Lunenburg, we rode to the LeHave ferry, and battled stiff headwinds to Liverpool, arriving after dark. The next day, Cheryl decided to forego our planned scenic route, and press on to Yarmouth. The weather and headwinds were making it hard to appreciate the beauty hidden in the rain. 2014-10-05 16.32.07We rode to Shelburne, where we stayed in a cabin on the Historic Walk. Our luck began to change.2014-10-05 16.45.24

On 6 October, we enjoyed beautiful weather, smooth roads and tailwinds. We covered 129 km all the way to Yarmouth. Though we arrived well before dark, we were frustrated finding accommodations. One inn had been sold and was now a private home; two others were full; and the nicest one was locked up, because the owners had gone to a hockey game. We ended up in the Best Western motel, arguably the worst accommodations for the money that we had found since Niagara Falls, although there was nothing particularly wrong with it as a motel. We were just spoiled, I guess.

It was 1,114 km from North Sydney to Yarmouth. We had covered it in 14 days. We were continually struck by the contrasts between the Eastern Shore north of Halifax and the Southern Shore between Halifax and Yarmouth. The former was clearly in the grips of depression, neglect, and feeling the impact of curtailed fishing and the loss of their work force. The towns on the Southern Shore were prosperous, upscale, and comfortable. Between the bedroom communities of the two main cities, well-off people from elsewhere were buying land and building large homes. The Eastern Shore ports featured fishing villages with no stores, few boats, and a fair number of abandoned buildings. The Southern Shore ports were yachting marinas, with working boats relegated to hidden coves away from town.

My first reaction upon reaching the coast below Cape Breton Island was “this looks just like New England!” Indeed, this was New England until the unpleasantness in 1776 separated New Brunswick and Nova Scotia from the rest. The sense of being in New England only grew stronger as we continued south: language, accents, traditions, fishing history, even the smuggling during Prohibition.

2014-10-02 14.58.13It was autumn in New England and the Maritimes. We saw our first red maple turn colors in Newfoundland, driving back from the Gros Morne National Park. As we rode, we watched the colors unfold gently, beautifully. oxford-county-foliageWe were moving slowly enough not to drive out of the color and back into the green, but fast enough not to be overtaken by brown leaves on wet roads.

The ferry to Portland, Maine, left the next morning, 7 October. By nightfall, we were comfortably ensconced in the Hyatt Place in Portland, another surprise. Portland Hyatt PlacePerhaps because it was new, it cost less than some hostels, but offered the latest amenities in well-designed spaces. We dined at the Fore Street restaurant, every bit as excellent as The Bicycle Thief in Halifax. Then we strolled the renovated downtown. Portland eveningEverything about Portland seemed positive: the fresh fish from dock to table, the bicycle routes and lanes, the ease of riding across town, and the parks. It was a good place to return to the United States.

Next week, I will wrap up this extended trip update to the end of the Northern Trek 2014. Then I will resume the regular weekly format of the blog: discussion of working on the road alternating with a sea story.

Smooth roads & tailwinds,

Jonathan.

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