New England 2019: Oh, Canada!

Sunday, the 15th of September, greeted us with ideal conditions for a bike ride: a gentle wind from the southwest, comfortable temperatures and a cloudless sky. After breakfast with Polly and Rod, my cousin drove off to her tennis date. Cheryl and I dallied over maps and tour books until 11:00, then we wheeled our bicycles out the garage.

We rode the entire 34 km of the Park Loop Road around Acadia National Park. We stopped to photograph several beautiful scenes, including Jordan Pond, Eagle Lake and Otter Point. Traffic was one-way for most of the circuit, which gave the motorists an extra lane for passing us. There were many Sunday drivers, but with trucks and buses banned from the eastern half of the loop, there was never any backup and no impatient drivers.

Created in 1916, Acadia National Park was the first National Park east of the Mississippi. It is also one of the ten most-visited parks, welcoming more than 3.5 million people last year. We were lucky to be there in the near off-season. If you are interested, check out: https://www.nps.gov/acad/index.htm and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acadia_National_Park.

On Monday, autumn returned, but it warmed up in the clear sunshine during the day. We took advantage of the free bus service, the Island Explorer, to visit special destinations: Thuya and Asturia Gardens, the Visitor Center and the town of Bar Harbor. The bus service, which connects the airport at Trenton with the communities of Mount Desert Island and the Schoodic Peninsula, is made free by L.L. Bean, a fair trade in my mind. Give them some advertising and keep more cars off the road. As the cities that have eliminated fees for their bus systems have noticed, ridership goes way up when public transit is free, and automobile congestion goes down.

The gardens were small, but jewel-like in their precision and beauty. Bar Harbor is a charming town, like most such New England towns, but badly overwhelmed by cruise ships, which drop anchor sometimes two at a time, and disgorge up to 10,000 tourists at once. Unlike big coastal cities like Boston, Portland, and New London, Bar Harbor lacks interesting destinations in its hinterland, so the ship passengers don’t distribute themselves among motor coaches waiting to take them day-tripping away from the port.

Cheryl joined the fray and shipped stuff from the Acadia Shop. “We have forty boxes to ship already just today,” said the store manager, smiling. “It may take a while.” In fact, she had Cheryl’s package (and, I guess, the other 39) in the postal system within 24 hours.

With a forecast high of only 16⁰C and a grey overcast, Tuesday matched my mood. I was sad to be leaving, and I would miss Polly, Rod, and this beautiful setting.

We did not get going until 10:00, so we planned to ride to the ferry at Bar Harbor and take it to Winter Harbor rather than ride all the way around to the Schoodic Peninsula. I swung by Bar Harbor Bike where Joe the wrench dropped everything to help me with my gear-shifting problem. We noticed that the new crankset was wobbling. The wrench in Niantic had forgotten to shim the crankset when he installed it. Joe had me on the road just in time to make the 11:00 ferry.

We rode 86 km to the far side of Jonesboro. The woods on US 1, lovely as they were, became boring after a few hours. The towns offered nothing of interest. However, Wild Blueberry Land offered some comic relief: weird and corny, but cool. And with delicious blueberry pie.

While at Wild Blueberry Land, I learned that the state fruit of Maine, Vaccinium angustifolium, differs from its supermarket cousin (V. corymbosum, the “highbush” blueberry) grown almost everywhere, including the Okanogan in Washington and British Columbia. The bushes of the wild blueberry are short, only 20 cm or so, and the fruit is red in the fall. Sure enough, as I rolled away with my tummy happily wrapping around the blue slice of pie, I spied what looked like a hillside of red Virginia mud: a “wild” blueberry farm!

Maria Nelson, owner of the Blueberry Patch Motel and Cottages (do you hear a fruity theme here?), exemplified generosity to a degree that went way beyond the modest charge for our room. Knowing that there were no grocery stores nearby, and how long it takes to bike anywhere, she offered us her new Chevy Equinox to go to dinner at Helen’s Restaurant in Machias. More kindness of strangers, when we needed it most.

The forecast on Wednesday morning called for cold weather with sunshine until the weekend. My back was sore from the bad roads on Tuesday, but the aches dissipated as I warmed up on the bicycle. A cold headwind forced me to don my winter cap and my Arc’teryx jacket, but the sunshine felt pleasant.

Cheryl talked to the Chamber of Commerce employee in Machias, who told her about the Downeast Sunrise Trail, much touted by the State of Maine as a bike trail. It would certainly be one of the great trails, comprising some 87 miles (140 km) of the East Coast Greenway and claiming to be the longest off-road section of the ECG. Near as we could tell, it has become an ATV playground. The agent said that she had never seen anything else on it, and that the through-bicyclists all rode on US 1, in spite of its terrible condition. The State proudly posts the logo of the Maine Bicycle Coalition on the website for the Trail, but perhaps the Coalition should withdraw its support. The ATV users are almost all local, so they don’t add to the economy. The damage they do to the Trail makes it unusable by horses and bicycles, even though the State regrades sections of it. Certainly nothing we saw would make us want to use it. That’s a shame.

With a stop to drool – and shop – at Monica’s Chocolates, we entered Lubec, the easternmost town in the United States. We crossed to Campobello Island and visited the Roosevelt summer home. Very interesting, both for its history and for the perspective of Franklin Roosevelt and his family, before his polio and his presidency. Check out: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roosevelt_Campobello_International_Park.

The only grocery store on the island offered little to buy, but I used their ATM to load up enough Canadian currency to reimburse Cheryl for her clothing purchases for me before the trip, and to cover the rest of our stay in Canada. We picked up some things for supper and rode to the ferry at the north end of the island. It was 7.5 km from the ferry landing to our destination for the night, and we did not reach it until after dark, tired and very cold. My sister-in-law Allison’s family had offered it to us, and we were very grateful to be out of the cold and settled in while the hot water and the heat powered up.

Thursday, the 19th, we revelled in the electronic isolation of Deer Island. While we ran the laundry, we enjoyed blueberry pancakes with real Maine maple syrup. We took a long walk in the sunshine through the neighbouring woods. Back at the house, Cheryl replanned our trip. She decided to forego the right turn to St. John’s and Digby, and gave up Nova Scotia, now that the ferry from Yarmouth was no longer an option this year. Instead, we would turn left in Saint George, New Brunswick, and visit Saint Andrews and Saint Stephens, towns that we had not considered before. Using the bus to leapfrog the sections of US 1 that we did NOT want to backtrack going south, we could be in Portland, Maine, in time to ride south to Boston for her return flight.

Friday, the 20th of September, we closed up the wonderful cabin and rode the 12 km to the north end of Deer Island. The scenery along the way and while waiting for the noon ferry affected both of us. Cheryl was deeply impressed by the 28-foot tides, and I told her that I had dreamed of seeing the legendary tides of the Bay of Fundy since I was a teenager. Back then, I wasn’t even sure where Fundy was. I had never put them on my bucket list, because I never expected to be where I was this morning. I knew that the tides were higher at the end of the Bay (10 metres or more), but the changing landscapes here at the mouth of the bay primed our imaginations.

The ferry left us at Letete on the mainland. Cheryl took off in her usual style, but I paused at the first left turn into Saint George. The hills on Deer Island were tough, but the inclines ahead of me made those look like bumps in the road. I took Google’s recommendation and skirted around the tall hill that Cheryl had taken. I passed scenic brooks, but also climbed 14% and 15% inclines, just mercifully short enough for me not to fall down before I reached the top. Then, climbing the 17% grade on Pancake Hill Street, I was down to 4.9 kph. The power from my granny gear and the steep angle were lifting my front wheel. I had not trained to ride a unicycle with 40 kg of cargo! Scary – and I was so glad to reach the top.

We were separated again on Route 127 between Saint George and Saint Andrew. I went straight to the Kiwanis Oceanfront Campground in downtown, while she toured the downtown and the Blockhouse at the other end of town. I rode across town later to see it myself. One of three such forts built during the War of 1812, the Blockhouse was meant to defend against privateers, both British and American, which harassed shipping from both sides. The towns themselves, long-time trading partners, had declared a local truce during the War and continued business as usual. The privateers were outsiders, usually from Boston or Halifax.

I had the tent set up when she arrived. The Kiwanis Campground is all about RV’s, but at least the afterthought they call the tent area was surrounded by trees and adjacent to the Van Horne Trail, which we would be using during our stay. The washrooms and showers, although distant, were clean and well-appointed. On the negative side, the tent sites were sprinkled with sharp, large gravel, which punctured tents and air mattresses and was painful to walk or kneel on.

We had ridden 64 km that day, but it felt like a century or a mountain stage of the Tour de France.

The floodlights and air conditioner on the RV nearest our site kept us up all night. Cheryl finally fell asleep at 07:30. I got up and walked to the office. No coffee or hot water. Oh, well. Our neighbours were canning beets when I returned. After some pleasantries, I asked them about the lights, which turned out to be coloured LEDs, not floodlights. They had not meant to leave them on and apologized profusely. The man even showed me the plug to pull, should they forget again.

After bananas and peaches for breakfast, we rode out to Ministers Island, one of the top attractions of Saint Andrews. The causeway to the island is exposed only during low tide, teaching tourists and local alike a healthy respect for Mother Nature. The Van Horne trail turned into an unstable dirt track at Katy’s Cove. The “bike trails” on the island were unusable. I got wet feet pushing my bike along them. Finally, I gave up and rode on the dusty carriage roads with the cars.

Covenhoven, the Van Horne mansion provided a history lesson into the European expansion across Canada. William Cornelius Van Horne was more than a railroad baron; he was a Renaissance man of vast vision. The path of suffering that the Canadian Pacific Railroad caused with its railways, hotels, ships and land-grabbing was dwarfed by the transformative impact of building a railroad across North America in just five years, and bringing in 90,000 Europeans to work on the railroad, then settling them in homesteads in Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan. The mansion displayed the nouveau richesse of the Van Horne family, but for taste and accommodation, I preferred  the Roosevelt cottage on nearby Campobello Island. I was glad that I was able to see both so close together.

The bath house and the barn made a greater impression than the mansion on both of us. I admired the tidal swimming pool, and we both marveled at the cutting-edge agricultural technology in the barn. It was an experimental station for the enormous spread that Van Horne had established in the West, but its 140 acres also provided vegetables and dairy products for the Van Horne table year-round.

After Ministers Island, we rode to Kingsbrae for a late lunch at the café and a relaxing walk in the fabled gardens.

We bought some fresh fish cakes and slaw downtown and cooked up another fine seafood dinner in our campsite.

On Sunday, we packed out and enjoyed a pleasant ride to Saint Stephens and back to the USA at Calais, Maine. It was sunny, the winds were calm, and the air reached a seasonable 21⁰C We pressed on all the way to Whiting, where we had left the US 1 to go to Lubec and Campobello Island. Places were closing all around us. The only B&B and the only campground in Whiting seemed closed, too.

We had ridden 102 km at that point. Cheryl did not want to ride on US 1 in the dark (smart lady, that one!), so we stealth-camped behind the Whiting School. The lawn was heavenly after the sharp gravel of the campsite in the Kiwanis Campground in Saint Andrews.

We had spent only a few days in Canada, but I had forged memories that would last forever. I understood now why my family likes to go to New Brunswick in the summer.

It was time to execute our plan to make it back to Boston. Tune in next week for the rest of the story.

Smooth roads and tailwinds,

Jonathan.

1 thought on “New England 2019: Oh, Canada!

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