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The Last Avocado to Halifax

September 3rd, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (3 Comments)

Day 73: Spry Bay to Halifax (100km)

I awoke to fog. A few lamps cast fuzzy globes of warmer light on the grey, misty campground. The springy carpet of moss and thick grass was wet as I rolled up my tent for the last time this summer. Back at home, the Canadian geese are doing practice flights across the river. Soon enough I too will take the migratory flight home.

I followed the coastal highway headed west. The fog hid the stitches between the ruffled ocean waters and the opaque sheet of sky. The air was cool, wet and quiet with the solemn stillness of an early Sunday morning. Gone are the holiday makers. Derelict boats, the paint peeling from their hulls, and houses for sale pointed towards a more affluent past when abundant hauls of lobster and cod were the order of the day.

A sunning of cormorants stood on the harbour rocks waiting for the cloud to break its hold over the sky. Flashes of lemon-yellow tweeted in the trees, the goldfinches fluttered and called in turn as the cyclist pedalled by. I stopped to enjoy the view of one of the harbours. Looking out into the water I was not aware that eyes were watching me until I turned to continue and saw, at the crest of the hill, the lithe figure of a deer. Our eyes met and the spirit turned, springing into the air with the grace of a ballerina. I watched its dancing retreat along the road until it disappeared back into the spruce forest.

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After a slow but steady morning on the road I cycled through a harbour town where I expected to find a dry picnic spot where I could ceremoniously eat The Last Avocado. These coastal towns usually only have one road – the highway – and so stretch out for a few kilometres without much of a central hub. I passed all the way through the town without finding a spot. Still hungry, I had to take my turning off onto the main highway towards Halifax.

Within meters the heavens opened. First one heavy drop, seconds later a pounding rain battered the road like an army of drummers. The cold bullets of rain hurt as it hit my bare legs. There were no buildings in sight, no rocks to hide under, nor trees that could afford protection. The wind created ribs out of the waves sliding down the road. With nowhere to stop and a hollow stomach I kept on pushing up the hills.

Then: a triple flash of lightning. The head-splitting crack of thunder. In that flash and roar echoed the terrifying memories of Calgary. Except for the dip of the hills, there were no structures pointing to the sky – no buildings, not even a telegraph pole – a lone, drenched figure on a metal bike cycled alone into the thickening storm.

I imagined the sad tale of the person who cycled across Canada only to be struck by lightning 30km out of Halifax. It was in the local paper.

I carried on pedalling. My muscles burnt with lactic acid as I ascended the steepening hills. In defiance of the 12th day of non stop riding, hills and lactic acid, my Atlas legs burned along the highway. I have not cycled 7,500 kilometres across a continent to be beaten now.

I came to a flyover bridge and hid underneath, waiting for the thunder to past. Please go, please go, I urged. Before I get too cold. I stuffed my last protein bar into my face, packed my jersey pockets with the last of my jelly beans and M&Ms. I heard the cracks of thunder reseeding into the east. The westerly wind blew against me as I mounted Monty for the final time. I am not going to stop.

I did not stop until I reached the city limits. The gaudy lights of the gas stations and fast food outlets were a dazzle of harsh colour against the grey day. The traffic into town was busy and gave me little space as it splashed past me. Two Alsatians in the back of a pick up truck barked loudly as they shot past me. I ate a final handful of jelly beans and headed for the ferry.

I arrived at the Dartmouth ferry terminal just as a boat was pulling in. We boarded the boat. The end, on the far side of the small harbour, was in sight. My cold fingers unwrapped the last bite of my Kendle Mint Cake. I have carried this with me since the very beginning and it has survived, as sweet and restoring as ever. The ferry pulled out its dock and putted over to Halifax.

“Monty,” I said, rubbing my fingers along the neck of his frame. “Monty, we made it.”

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Pure Joy

September 2nd, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 72: Sherbrooke to Spry Bay (98 km)

That was nice. I’m glad I had a nice day near the end.

Today was a reminder of how wonderful cycle touring can be (when the weather is good).

As it’s my penultimate day on the road, I followed the coast south west towards Halifax. The coast is beautiful. Not in a big, showy way like the mountains, but in a gentle way that reflects the coast’s glimmering, smooth waters. The road swung to and fro between the hills and the natural harbours of the coast. The land was thick with Christmas trees and ferns. The ocean bays were framed in bronze and rock.

Nova Scotia can be very beautiful when it's not raining

Nova Scotia can be very beautiful when it’s not raining

I was treated to the sound of loon, their mournful call evoking memories of the Ontario wilderness. I crossed rivers rushing down to meet the sea, and glassy bays where a cormorant perched on a rock drying its wings. (Which, oddly enough, reminded me that my tent fly was wet and needed drying.)

By mid-morning the clouds had lifted, revealing a ceiling of perfectly blue sky. It was now hot enough for me to peel off my layers and hunt for the sun cream.

Cycling on days like today is refreshing and invigorating. Over breakfast I was getting annoyed by the man from the camper next door who talked at me for an hour, asking me endless questions. He did not get the hint from my monosyllabic answers that I didn’t want to chat. But soon enough my stuff was packed and Monty and I were on our way.

However annoying a person is (and, trust me, I’ve met some annoying people en route!) you know you can always pedal off. The difficulties of bike touring arise when you can’t pedal off (injury, broken spokes, awful weather, flat tyres etc). Problems that arise get fixed and the pedalling continues. I’m sure there’s a life lesson in there.

Certain moments today – the loon calling, an attack of bugs while I ate Second Breakfast – reminded me of other parts of Canada. It’s been a long journey and it’s hard to believe it will soon be over.

There are some things that I am, quite frankly, a bit bored of. Crackers and Kraft dinner, for example. Packing up wet tents. And answering the repetitive questions about my trip.

But there are things I love and appreciate even more deeply than before: sunshine, tailwinds, wildlife spotting, M&Ms, the crackle of a campfire, the silky darkness of the night sky.

But the best is this: that feeling I get when cycling along with the summer sun warming the skin on my back and the wind pushing me gently along. I’ve experienced that moment countless times on this trip. I believe I will never get tired of it for that feeling is called Pure Joy.

The Cruellest Day

September 2nd, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 71: Linwood to Sherbrooke (93.5 km)

So, that was awful. In fact, that was a strong contender for the hardest, cruellest day of the whole trip. You wonder why you get out of bed sometimes, don’t you?

It rained all night. Loud, battering rain and gusting wind blew my tent around like a skiff in a storm. Despite having my earplugs in I was awaken throughout the night by the combination of frightful dreams and the weather pounding of my little green home.

By breakfast time the tent was sodden and any shuffling inside caused water to seep in. Sipping my coffee in the tent porch, it did not appear to actually be raining but the air was so thick with moisture that it was hard to tell. I will miss Canada when this is all done with, but I won’t miss packing up a wet tent.

I wound out of the campground under a gloomy sky. The wind shook the trees wildly. I stopped to take a photo of the drizzly ocean front but the water fogged up my lens immediately and the camera couldn’t focus. Only a few more pedal strokes down the road and a violent gust of wind blasted Monty a meter into the road. We would need to be careful.

We joined the main highway. The wind, which was supposed to be pushing us south, appeared to have changed direction. A strong, cold crosswind slowed our progress to a miserable crawl. Trucks rumbled by with an engine roar and a spray of cold water.

Turning off the highway onto quieter roads, my mood did not improve much. The wind now should have been at my back but it seemed to twist and turn in the air, punching violently in all directions. The rain, a slow, steady drizzle, continued relentlessly. The sky was a melancholy grey. I tried to remain upbeat by singing to myself. It did not work. I will miss Canada when this is all done with, but I won’t miss cycling in cold, wind and rain.

Cycling weather

Cycling weather

Eventually I pulled into a community playground and hid under a small shelter. I remember my mother’s wise words: “Do whatever you need to do to not be miserable.” I called a B&B. They were full.

I spied the colourful shapes of the playground, knowing that a climbing frame makes an excellent place to hang a tent. It was still raining but the rain is finer than it was when my tent got soaked. I contemplated whether my tent would get drier in thin rain given that it is currently sodden. I then contemplated what my life has become that I am sat in a deserted playground contemplating whether things can dry out in the rain.

My stomach growled. So I ate the usual fare of avocado, crackers and apple. And then quickly polished off the rest of my M&Ms. I was now getting cold. I will miss Canada when this is all done with, but I won’t miss having to wolf down lunch before the hypothermia sets in.

I looked up the distance to the campground. 37km. That’s not too far in sunshine. But it is a mission in the cold, wet and wind. Now there is just the road, the rain, me and my demons. The demons are yelling “give in!” But how? Where? I can’t give in you stupid demons because I’m alone in the middle of nowhere.

I stick in my headphones to block out the irrational demons and pedal off. I pass a cheese factory, a Christmas tree farm, and a fish hatchery. The rest of the time I just pass mundane tree, ordinary house, and average side road.

I approach a car that is pulled up, indicators flashing. At first it looks like the man is hustling a large tree into the side door. As I cycle past I notice a body: fresh, new trainers and a large denim-clad rear lying on the ground. I wonder if the body is alive for it looks to be in the recovery position. My instinct is to stop but then I remember I am alone. Why wouldn’t you flag down a car if your friend (?) was medically compromised and lying on the ground? Why would you put on your indicator lights if you were hiding a dead body?

I reached the 7,500 kilometre mark on my bicycle odometer. I brake to stop for a celebratory snack, bash into a rock hidden in the earth and tumble from my bike in slow motion, bruising my bum as I fall.

Finally I arrive into the town of Sherbrooke. It looks like a nice town. Monty and I pull up outside the grocery store. Hmm. The door won’t open. I try again. I try a different door. I check the opening hours, I see people inside. Then a woman inside comes to the door: “We’ve only just turned the cash registers on from the power cut. We’ll be open again in 30 minutes.”

I pedal to the campsite. Thankfully it has stopped raining but the wind is kicking up a storm. I am greeted friendlily enough but then directed to what appears to be the windiest spot on the whole campsite. I tie a length of rope to a tree for a washing line and am struggling with my tent when an old gentleman walks over with a strawberry icecream cone and the air of someone with too much time on their hands.

“Where’d you bike from?”

Oh no, not now. My tent is impersonating a wind sock, twisting and flapping as it is caught in the ferocious teeth of the wind.

“Where you from? Oh England. I have an uncle in Manchester.”

The story of his uncle is lost in the wind as the flapping crash of the tent drowns out his words. I want to yell: “I’m cold, I’m hungry, my socks are soaked, my tent is soaked and I just want to dry this thing out so I can go back town and buy my own bodyweight in whisky and chocolate. In short I DON’T WANT TO TALK TO YOU.”

I will miss Canada when this is all done with, but I won’t miss “the conversation” (ie the exact same questions asked about my bike trip multiple times per day).

Addendum:

As I wrote this a woman came to my tent:

“Hello? Are you sleeping? Hello? You there with the bicycle.”

I unzip my tent flap.

“I thought you might be cold so I bought you a hot drink.” Hands over cup. “It’s hot chocolate.”

Faith in life is restored.

Addendum to the addendum:

I drank half the delicious hot chocolate, adding in some Baileys that I had purchased on my return trip to town. But then I go for another sip and the cup slips from my hand, throwing delicious Irish cream flavoured hot chocolate goodness over my shoes and camping mat.

Today is the cruellest day.

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Dry dreams

September 2nd, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 70: Baddeck to Linwood (99.5 km)

“You do know it’s going to rain ALL day.”

The woman peered down at me along a long, beak-like nose.

Yes, I do know. But I also know that there is going to be a strong north easterly wind. I am not missing out on the opportunity of being blown by 35km per hour gusting winds all the way to the mainland.

Last night I actually dreamt about tent drying. The dreams were so exciting that they woke me up several times. THAT is how exciting my life is. Thanks to good luck and ingenuity (of hanging the tent under a porch) I managed to pack up a dry tent.

I faffed enjoyably for over an hour in the campsite common room, enjoying the free coffee and wifi while delaying the moment I’d have to hit the road. Eventually I got a tweet from David asking me if i was on the road yet. David is another trans-Canada cyclist who I know from Twitter. Following each others’ blogs, we worked out that today we would pass each other as I head west to the mainland and he heads east to Newfoundland.

Only a few kilometres down the road I spotted the outline of a man on a bike with a trailer and I crossed over to meet him. I’d never met David before this roadside encounter but it felt like bumping into an old friend as we shared a swig of scotch, a handful of M&Ms and our stories of the road. David said he felt like we were about to graduate. We are “the class of 2013″. This journey across Canada has been mixed with so many other people’s journeys: David’s, the Wanderers’, Nicholas’, Kat’s. I will remember these people as though they were school mates I grew up with.

Being this close to the finish, David and I discussed what it would feel like to be back at work. Then a shadow appeared in the sky. The bald eagle swooped down and tilted in flight, revealing the width of its magnificent wings. Our conservation faltered as we stopped and stared. The eagle curved in the sky over the far lake before disappearing.

David hydrating for the road ahead.

David hydrating for the road ahead.

I cycled off in high spirits, thinking of what David had said and savouring the time on the road. The wind was strong as it pushed me up the highway hills. The rain started soon enough. The sky was a blank, cold grey. But I cycled along with a grin on my face.

My happiness grew when I discovered a large slab of Nanaimo bar for sale. Upon first chomp I declared it less tasty than my mother’s but I still managed to polish off a good third of the slab within 1 meter from the store’s exit. The rest didn’t last much longer.

Throughout the afternoon I cycled through a grey, fine rain. Monty’s tyres made the familiar slink noise as they splashed along the wet highway. The monochrome vista of Bras d’Or lake disappeared as I climbed over the inland hills back to the Causo causeway that I crossed a few days back.

Since it was raining I cheekily asked if I could eat inside the tourist info. As a bonus from being dry and warm, the tourist info also offered me free wifi and a big leather sofa still warm from the previous occupants’ bottoms. Best lunch location of the whole trip.

Over the causeway the land was obscured by drizzle. During the last few miles it seemed to get colder and wetter. Until by the campground I was bordering on that line which, under circumstances when I am not outlandishly happy, would have pushed me into a Grump.

I wanted to eat dinner but it was raining outside and I dare not cook in my tent porch for fear of flames, death etc. Looking for the only cover I could find I squeezed myself under a picnic bench. You might think “my, that must have been a big picnic bench.” It was not. I am, on occasions such as this, grateful for being so short.

Kraft dinner consumed, I broke a light stick for cheer and fell asleep to the sound of the rain drumming on my tent flaps. Doubtless to be consumed by more dreams of tent drying.

Coasting towards the end

August 31st, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 69: Ingonish Beach to Baddeck (91.5 km)

Despite going to bed at 8.30pm (!) I woke up feeling tired. Hardly surprising perhaps given yesterday’s epic ride.

The season seems to have shifted overnight. The yellowing maple leaves signal the approaching fall and the summer of cycling is coming to a close. A breeze swooping down the mountain side causes a flutter of leaves to fall from their branches onto the empty Tarmac. The road is quiet as the holiday traffic has driven home, school starts next week.

First thing in the morning I follow the coast out from Ingonish beach, past the harbour to the foot of Smokey Mountain. It is a solitary climb up, though not as punishing as the mountains from yesterday. As I approach the summit puffs of cloud waft across the road as if someone is having a campfire. I guess it is not called Smokey Mountain for nothing. The downhill switches back and forth between gorgeous coastal views and sharp bends warning drivers to go at 25km per hour.

Smokey

Smokey

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For the rest of the day I followed the inland coast past a patchwork of harbours, inlets, lakes and rivers. Here it is hard to tell what is fresh water and what is ocean. I am told that the Bras d’Or Lake, though it is called a lake, is really sea water.

The road I follow glides off into a spit of land that narrows to the width of the road. For 2km I have water on both side. A ferry completes the last 150m the water over to English Bay.

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Approaching the campsite I pass a cycle tourist coming the opposite way. A woman by herself bent low into the wind with black panniers, she looks just like me. We waved manically across the road to each other.

It starts to rain just as I have finished setting up my tent. I spent the evening hiding in the campground common room, dithering about what to do tomorrow. It is forecast to rain for 5 hours tomorrow. But the stormy weather will also bring gusting easterly winds which will help me no end. Should I take the day off then on Friday I might only get showers but I’d also a gusting westerly wind? Decisions, decisions. My butt hurts and my legs ache but that is normal.

It’s 8.30pm: Time for bed,

From the mountains to the Atlantic

August 29th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (3 Comments)

Day 68: Corney Brook to Ingonish Beach 101 km)

“You feeling okay?” he asked

I was packing up my tent, pondering my fate high amid the dull blanket of cloud and the obscured mountain top above me, when Dad from yesterday’s fish supper came over.

My stomach was in a knot of nerves. But I replied cheerfully.

“Oh phew,” he breathed, “I was worried about you. Because my wife was up all night being sick. And all I could think of was what about that cyclist.”

Suddenly I felt sick. I leant over to pull up a tent peg when a reflux of something caused me to hiccup. What an idiot, eating shellfish the night before the hardest mountain in Canada. And I’ve never eaten shellfish before. What if I’m allergic?

Visions appeared in front of me: there am I bent over the soggy side of the mountain, heaving my guts into the verge. My one and only comforting thought, dear reader, was that the shellfish-poisoned-mountain-climb would (in hindsight) make an excellent blog post.

Sick with either worry, nerves or shellfish, I knew not which, I departed from the coastal campsite to meet my fate. Immediately I started to ascend. 100m down the road and I was greeted good morning by a signpost demarcating the foot of French Mountain. And a sign warning of the 12% gradient ahead.

And so it began. I climbed, pushed with all my might. The road was quiet. Damp, cool air hovered under the white cloud that obscured the view. The road curled up the voluptuous contours of mountain side, pulling away from the coast of the St Lawrence and entering into the forest of black spruce and balsam fir. I shifted into my lowest gear and pedalled relentless upwards.

As I approached the top it was pea soup. Visibility was reduced to 100 meters. The trees faded into paler shades before they disappeared off the edge of the world. The mountain vanished into a isolating whiteness. Slowly a silhouette transformed into a signpost: the summit of French Mountain.

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I pulled off at a rest stop to pee. A woman was asking one of the Park wardens were she could see a moose. I do love how tourists demand to see wildlife. I’m sure the nature conservation movement would be so much better supported if the wild animals and birds only stood in line and danced a merry jig when the tourist bus came through.

I would be quite content just to see the Road Ahead. The descent of French Mountain was like being dropped in a pot of white paint. The road threw terrifying twists and loops down the back of the mountain. My hands cramped from braking. I signed in relief when I came out of the cloud and skirted into the coastal village of Pleasant Bay. I was back at sea level again. Another mountain loomed.

North Mountain: oh my goodness.

It is hard to compare given the gaps of time but this mountain is in the running for the hardest climb of my life. Harder than the Rockies, harder than Alpe d’Huez, harder than Mount Ventoux. Oh my life.
I was in my lowest gear. I was pushing on the pedals with every ounce of strength. I felt like I was doing endless reps of leg presses with maximum weight at the gym. My heart was pounding. I gasped for breath. I fought like I was sprinting for an Olympic gold metal. Yet I was inching along JUST fast enough not to topple off my bike backwards.

I cannot stop. For if I stop I will never get back on again. My muscles are in knots. All the way from my knees to my mid back my muscles are a riot of pain. It is a cool day but I a wearing just a vest top and the sweat is dripping from my forehead to my legs. What’s that smell? A weirdly familiar smell takes me back to England. It smells like… The London Tube? Another car screeches down the hill and I realised that the smell is caused by the vehicle’s brake pads. Oh, if only my legs gave off a smell from this – it would be stinky!

I am practically in tears. I have not even the mental wherewithal to sing the M&M song. The mountain seems to steepen. Courage. We all suffer. Keep going. A thought enters my mind: if I keep going I will see the Atlantic. If I can see the Atlantic I can call myself a transcontinental cyclist. Keep going.

A car comes down the mountain on the other side of the road. Two road bikes are strapped on the rear carrier. A very cool looking dude with stylishly dishevelled black hair and large sunglasses leans out the window and gives me the thumbs up. I am Marco Pantani. That was my support vehicle telling me I am going to win. Thank you, Cool Dude.

After 40 minutes of relentless, knee breaking ascent, the road levels out. The sign approaches. At the top I celebrate by eating a Naked bar. One which I brought from England, waiting for a special moment. It is now downhill to the Atlantic. But not without first tackling the switchback bends. The road veers over to the edge of a precipice before snapping back the other way. My fear of heights is reawakened. I descended almost as slowly as I had ascended.

And then I see it: a line of blue in between the lumps of land like a tshirt poking through a v neck jumper. Monty and I tackle the afternoon hills with renewed vigour. The highland hills lay like an upturned egg box. We pull off the Cabot Trail into a small fishing village called Neil’s Harbour. Lobster pots are piled high next to bundles of fluorescent buoys. The lighthouse sits at the edge of the rocks looking out into the Atlantic. The Atlantic!

Neil's harbour.

Neil’s harbour.

Monty and I arrive exhausted but satisfied at our campground. I pitch the tent, upload Monty and then together we go on a small excursion to Ingonish Beach.

I carry him over the beach wall and prop him up on the pebbles. There were pebbles on the beach at Victoria, I remember. The sun breaks through the day-long cloud and casts a auspicious light on the rolling waves. Monty wheels into the surf.

Whatever else may befall Monty and I, we will always remember today. Today we made it.

We cycled from sea to sea.

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Shuffle into Cape Breton Highlands

August 28th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 67: Cheticamp Island to Corney Brook (26km)

I’m scared.

I’m scared because the land around me pitches up into the sky. I haven’t seen anything this steep since the Rockies. The road curves around the voluptuous folds of earth. Tomorrow I must cycle.

I’m scared because I’m not sure that I will make it. But I need to, have to. I am alone here and there is nobody to pick me up. If I can’t cycle up French Mountain then I will walk it.

This is what I wrote the night I camped at Corney Brook, a basic campground nestled between the gulf of the St Lawrence and the looming French Mountain. It was supposed to be a rest day but I decided that, rather than fret all day on Cheticamp Island about the looming ride ahead, I would shuffle forward 26km to make the ride along the Cabot Trail less epic.

I still managed to fit in some of the fixtures of a rest day. I did my laundry in the worst manner possible. I realised once I had trekked all the way over to the laundrette that I had forgot my camp soap. Oh well, I guess this normal soap will do, I thought, breaking off a few lumps with my fingers and smearing them on my tshirt. It was only when the clothes were hanging on my self-made washing line that I noticed the lumps of normal soap were exactly where I had smeared them. The tissue I had left in my short pocket was now in tiny flecks of white scattered over everything. If I’d had time I would have washed it again. But I didn’t. And since it actually smelt nice and clean, the soap smears and tissue fluff remain.

Another fixture of a good rest day is to have a good campfire and a beer. The problem with that was that the basic campground I was shuffling to did not sell firewood. I had purchased firewood on Cheticamp island but, as per usual, not burnt half of it. It seemed a waste to leave it behind so i set about strapping in together with an ingenious set of knots and affixing it onto Monty. It weighed an absolute ton but I was quite chuffed with myself.

Monty becomes firewood mule

Monty becomes firewood mule

On route to the campground I passed through Cheticamp village and picked up a beer which I would late leave to chill hidden under a rock in the brook. I was all set for a lovely afternoon.

Blimey the hills. No sooner had I rounded the corner out of the village, over the rocky river and into the national park when the contours started to riot like the noise visualisation on a booming stereo system. It’s not called the Cape Breton Highlands for nothing. The road swept and twisted like a rollercoaster over the hills and plonked me down at the campground at the very bottom of French Mountain.

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After a small afternoon snooze and exploration of the pebbled shore, I opened my beer and began cooking my beans and spider dogs on the campfire. I noticed a family had arrived and was setting up their gigantic tent in the pitch next door. The daughter was looking for firewood but finding none. I had just finished my last spider dog when the the Mom and daughter came over.

“We’ve made too much food and wondered if you’d like to have some?”

Second Dinner!? Yes, please. I wandered over and was given a healthy portion of spaghetti with fresh mussels and shrimps.

“I’ve never eaten mussels before,” I commented. And Dad gave me a quick tutorial in how to eat them.

It turned out that it was the daughter’s thirteenth birthday. So she had got to pick what they had for dinner. They wanted to have a fire but didn’t have enough wood.

“I saw your firewood,” Dad said, “so figured they must sell it here because you wouldn’t carry firewood on a bike. Especially here, up those hills.”

Oh, but I did.

I invited them over to “mine” for a campfire dessert and rushed home to tidy up my fireplace so that there was a clean space for them to sit. Thankfully I had ample ingredients for s’mores so I was very pleased to be able to share them with the birthday girl. She didn’t get a cake but she did get to toast some s’mores. And a few marshmallows caught fire so she had blow them out like a candle. What a great birthday.

To Cheticamp Island

August 26th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 66: Port Hood to Cheticamp Island (95.5km)

Is 11am on a Sunday morning too early to drink whisky?

After yesterday I think I needed it.

Canada does not stop amazing me. And you would have thought that after cycling across the Rocky Mountains, the prairies and the Canadian Shield then there would be no terrain left that I couldn’t pedal like the garden path. Think again.

Cape Breton is not the garden path. This terrain manages to combine the steepness of the Rockies with the relentless undulating mounds of the Canadian Shield and, as it showed yesterday, it can throw in a headwind reminiscent of the prairies. It’s a very good thing I’ve done 7,000 kilometres of training because this is Tough. There is not an inch of flat ground on this island.

I woke up this morning in my cosy little hut. Even before I’d shed my cocoon a flex of my leg told me that I would be in trouble today. My quads, hamstrings, piriformis all felt like they’d been through a mangler. You know that feeling when you hobble around the office the day after you’ve exerted yourself on something like a 10 mile run? You laugh merrily about what a fun weekend you had while all the time being extremely grateful that you get to spend the day sitting in a chair. My legs were not laughing merrily. You want me to cycle 100km today? They laughed, but it was in disbelief.

I was on the road by 8:45am. The road was empty save for a single exhausted cyclists with legs laughing in disbelief. The sky was empty save for a scrap of white cloud that looked like someone had pulled a comb through icing sugar. Since it was Sunday, the birds and butterflies were having a lie in and they did not stir from the wild flowers or flap from the bush as I pedalled past. The wind was tranquil. It was so quiet I could hear my own breath as I rasped up another steep incline. My legs burned with each upward pedal stroke.

Each five minutes of tormenting climb would be rewarded by one minute of fast descent. It seemed an unfair trade for my legs. My thighs dreamt of soaking in a hot bath and falling asleep in fresh sheets. But I know, when I am next bathing in Radox bubbles, I will dream of cycling in Nova Scotia again.

I stopped for supplies in a small town. The grocery store had decorated its foyer with a large stuffed moose head which peered over shoppers’ heads as they nipped in to get milk. I decided I needed to have at least one more campfire. So I purchased all the makings of a great Canadian campfire feast: baked beans in maple syrup (yes, that’s real), spider dogs, and s’more ingredients (chocolate, marshmallows, graham crackers).

After a further burst of cycling I pulled off at the entrance for the Glenora Distillery. This distillery, a cluster of white washed buildings festooned with the brightest ruby red flowers, produces the only single malt whisky in North America. Nova Scotia isn’t called Nova Scotia for nothing. Approximately 20% of the people claim Scottish heritage although that proportion is higher in areas like this. The distillery tour finished with a wee dram. I would have liked to have bought a bottle in the gift shop but I feared the extra weight on my panniers.

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The day continued to offer a blend of challenging hills, sunshine and, thankfully, calmer winds. As the road bent towards the coast I joined the Cabot Trail proper. I passed a number of small villages, their painted wooden houses facing the sea. Fishing boats bobbed in the harbour. A tangled turquoise pile of lobster pots stood for sale. Rocky, sloping headlands protruded into the surf.

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My destination for the evening was a sandy campground hidden in the corner of Cheticamp island. Cheticamp island isn’t an island any more. It was over a hundred years ago that the sand bar moved. Now a pile of rocks has turned the sand bar into a causeway connecting this sandy comma of island it to the rest of Cape Breton.

What a beautiful evening. I have waited 3 months for this evening: it is dark and I am still awake. The sky is clear but the moon is hidden. I am far enough away from anywhere that the land is dark. The bugs are in bed and I have a campfire to keep me warm. I lie on my back, nestled by the fire. The blue of the evening dims to the black of night. I look up as the full beauty of heaven’s cloth is unfolded across the sky.

I gaze up at the finest black velvet embroidered with a multitude of stars. Another star seem to have been sewn on each time I blink. The campfire crackles and purrs its way through another log. Bats fly overhead, darting like swallows. As I look up at the night star I wonder how small I am in all of this. Smaller than a pebble on a beach. Smaller than a leaf in the forest. Smaller than an island in the ocean, but still connected to the mainland.

Cape Breton

August 25th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 65: Antigonish to Port Hood (101km)

I must look as shattered as I feel.

I’ve battled with the cyclist’s nemesis: the wind. We fought for 45 kilometres. I wanted to go north north west. The wind wanted to go the other way.

The wind has two weapons: the push and the punch. The push is the softer blow. It is constant and, however hard it gets, your legs can adjust as you slip to a lower gear. The punch is a killer. The punching gusts hit you when you are not expecting. They wrestle you on the downhills and stab your knees on the uphills.

Battle commenced as soon as I crossed the Causo causeway that joins the mainland of Nova Scotia to the beautifully rugged Cape Breton. I turned left to the north north west, along the road that the locals call the Ceilidh trail. We fought up the hills and around the coast. Lace cuffs of surf dressed the coastal rocks and silky waves stretched to the horizon. A butterfly flew with me for a metre or two, it was encouragement enough. I was determined.

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My speed decreased to a pitiful 15km per hour. And I was pushing with my all might. But after 3 hours of fighting, I saw the sign welcoming me to Port Hood. I’d won.

At the beginning of this trip I used to get asked for ID when I bought alcohol. I don’t any more. After 100km on the road I wheeled into the liquor store to get a beer for the evening. No ID requested.

The lady at the campground took pity on me. She had long red hair, green glasses that framed the kindness in her eyes. She must have seen how shattered I felt after my long day in the saddle. I paid for the night and she pointed me in the direction of the tenting area. Moments later she was pulling up beside me in the car.

“Follow me, ” she said with a Scottish lilt mingling with her Canadian accent. I followed her car to the back of the campground where three huts stood. “You will sleep better in here. You don’t have to pitch your tent and it will be quieter.”

I helped her move a picnic bench to outside my new hut. The hut is nice. It is wind proof. It is warm.

I’ve checked the weather forecast and although it’s due to be dry and sunny tomorrow I fear that the wind will be blowing in the wrong direction again. The battle will begin again.

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Welcome to Nova Scotia

August 24th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 64: Northumberland Cove to Antigonish (86.5km)

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

Welcome to Nova Scotia! Well, yes, it is quiet Scottish isn’t it? Because its raining again. And there is a sign post for New Glasgow.

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It had started to rain as the ferry from PEI as we approached the misty coast. Just after the ferry port, I stopped for a quick cup of tea hoping the rain would abate. It didn’t, it just rained harder. It poured. A man walking outside with a cardboard tray of coffee saw me and commented cheerfully “at least my bike fits on the back of this!” Nodding at his SUV. Oh, because that’s a helpful and encouraging comment. I did not respond.

Monty and I splashed off down the main highway. Monty’s tyres made a slick hiss as they wove through the pooling rain. We approached an intersection. And there it was: HALIFAX.

The first sign of the end. I could get to Halifax in 2 days, just turn West and pedal. i laughed to myself as i cycled past the turn to Halifax. I want to prolong the fun. I am headed East.

All day I was in a ridiculously cheerful mood. My joy was unrelentingly upbeat despite the pouring rain. I only have 9 days left of cycling but I am determined to enjoy them.

I could barely see anything in the grey fog of rain. Cars zoomed past. The rain seeped through my jacket. My socks squelched.

Eventually the rain abated although it made precious little difference given that my socks were saturated and the road was still covered. Each passing truck sprayed the pooled rainwater sideways into me and Monty. But the lifted clouds had improved the visibility. I could now see the next hill approaching, the neighbouring mounds piled with trees. The verge was decorated with white flowers and tangled grasses. There wasn’t a lot else to see. No towns, no roadside stops. Just hills. Blimey, lots of hills.

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I saw a sign welcoming me to Antigonish county. It was in English. But the second line underneath was written in a second language… Gaelic.

Given how drenched through I was I decided to treat myself to a motel. The motel owner, a former police officer, was very friendly and equalled inquisitive as he interviewed me about my trip. He couldn’t quite believe I biked here from Victoria, BC. (Neither can I, to be honest, it is such a long way). We chatted for a while before I turned to go to my room.

“Oh, and if you see a load of police cars here later,” he added, “don’t worry.”

He’d had a woman here before demand to leave when the squadron of police cars had ferried round in the darkening night. Suspecting the police to be cracking down on the drug den located in the motel she was indignant that she wasn’t going to stay at a place of such lowly repute.

“They just come over here for coffee,” the owner smile. “They just want to hang out but if someone commits a crime and they are in McDonalds then all the locals will complain that they didn’t stop the crime because they were drinking coffee in McDonalds. So they come here.”

While my socks hung over the shower rail, I ended the day lying on my huge, comfy bed eating take away pizza. It was worth the $3 extra to have it delivered. I will sleep well. Tomorrow I head to Cape Breton.