Sunday, July 22, 2007

Cyclostravaganza 2007, Day 7: Shelburne NS to Summerville NS (thence to Chester NS)

(Sable River, NS: the foam at the river's top was moving fast, but the surface was mirror-smooth.)

The rain overnight was very, very heavy. There was some infiltration at the edges of my tent. I was glad to have bought paper-towels the night before, as they helped with drying things out. I took down my tent and hung it between two trees to dry. It took me a long time to get everything packed up and to get going - it was probably 11am by the time I got going. By this time, breakfast was but a distant memory.

I stopped at a Subway restaurant in an Irving gas station on the edge of town for lunch. I was chatting with some touring motorcyclists, comparing and contrasting our two-wheeled travels, when they pointed out I had a flat tire. This was the second flat on this trip; both were on the front tire whose tread pattern seemed perfectly designed to trap shrapnel. On the bright side of things, if you had to choose the place where you'd get a flat tire, a gas station is one of the better places. After I fixed the flat tire, my brake decided it would rub - and I was pleased as punch with myself when I managed to fix that, all my previous attempts at brake adjustment having done nothing but make things worse.

On the downside it was now very late, some time between 1pm and 2pm. I called Gretchen and asked about possibly exercising a get-out-of-jail-free card later that afternoon, since at this point it would be nearly impossible to make it to my goal of Chester, some 160km away, solely by bike power.

I cycled east, mainly on route 103. There were a few stretches where I would have had the option to take the old road (#3) but I was pressed for time. In most places, the 103 was the only option. Much of the ride was inland, but there were occasional glimpses of the ocean, and some very nice bays and coves. It was a beautiful day, nice and warm, sunny, and the sea was a gorgeous azure blue. While inland, there were many brooks and rivers. Some were rocky and rapid, some were wide and broad (as at Sable River, pictured at the top of this posting and just below), but all were very dark-coloured, somewhere between the colour of coffee and that of tea.

I made it as far as Summerville, exit 20, where Gretchen's husband Bruce met me on the highway. We loaded my bike into his big plush vehicle, and we drove back to Chester NS, about 100km away.

We had fish and chips for supper at Bruce and Gretchen's cottage. Later that night, the sunset over the water was stunning. It was great to sleep in a real bed again, and to be among friends who spoiled me.

(Chester NS as seen from the deck of Bruce and Gretchen's cottage.)

MXS 43.7
AVS 19.9
DST 56.93
TM 2:51:14

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Cyclostravaganza 2007, Day 6: Arcadia NS to Shelburne NS

(Almost all my baggage, stuffed to the max, except the bento-box tucked inside one of the others.)

A day of rain: there was some rain as I was getting going, some rain or and off all day long, and torrential rain upon arrival in Shelburne at the Provincial Park. (Finally I would get to stay in a provincial or state park!)

It was a somewhat unremarkable ride today. I had started out on Route 3 from Arcadia through Ste-Anne-du-Ruisseau and on till Argyle, but the scenery was nothing special, so I switched to Highway 103 to minimise distance. I would really have liked to explore the Pubnicos, Shag Harbour, and Cape Sable Island, but I really didn't think I had enough time. I thought about going into Barrington, but the signs made me change my mind. Even though I had a tent with me, the promise of a tent meeting at 7:00 PM did not appeal to me.

There was a beautiful scene in Clyde River; the water was as glass, mirroring perfectly the meadows, trees, and sky.

As I was almost pulling into Shelburne, I got another message from Gretchen to check how I was faring. I declined the offer to pick me up - it was hard to resist the offer of a halibut dinner! - and told her I was doing fine. Message sent, and the rain started. Aaargh! The provincial park was rather attractive, and I set my tent up in the rain.

I set off into town for supper at a Chinese-Canadian restaurant. The food was good but nothing outstanding; however, I liked the fortune: "Taking a chance at something new in the near future will pay off." Hmmm, I was thinking about canoe camping that day...

I continued on to the grocery store for breakfast fixings, and paper towels to sop up any infiltrations that hopefully wouldn't happen. I passed by a wonderfully funny sign on a convenience store:

I stopped in town and admired some beautiful 18th century (I think) houses and buildings on the waterfront. It was sunset, and the views were stunning of the harbour and looking across to the provincial park where my campground was located.

MXS 54.9
AVS 22.7
DST 91.05
TM 3:59:58
DEP 10:45 AM
ARR 5:45 PM

Friday, July 20, 2007

Cyclostravaganza 2007, Day 5: Portland ME to Yarmouth NS, thence to Arcadia NS

(My campsite in Arcadia NS had its own name.)

I awoke at 4:30 AM to realise that I had fallen asleep on top of my bed before undressing or even getting under the sheets. How ironic; this was the nicest, certainly the most expensive, place I'd be staying on this trip compared to the campgrounds, and I was too tired to properly enjoy it. I also realised that my laundry was still in the sink, and that my bike's tire was still flat.

In due course, the laundry was dealt with (thank goodness for the abundant hotel towels to wring them dry), and my bags were packed. I repaired the flat tire in the backyard, and headed to the ferry terminal; I was supposed to be there by 7:00 AM for my 8:00 AM departure; I left the hotel at 7:00 AM, but the map told me I was very close and I had a reservation.

Alas, torrential rain began to fall as I headed out. The signage to the ferry terminals was not as clear as I'd expected might be. I was going downhill, got confused, turned the wrong at the waterfront on Commercial Street, and perhaps because of the rain, did not see an old set of railway tracks peaking through the pavement. Hitting wet tracks parallel on a bike is a recipe for a wipeout, and I went down. I don't remember the fall (I never do), but I got bad scrapes on my right knee, right elbow, and left palm. Fortunately nothing on me or my bike was broken, and my cuts did not seem severe, so I got back on my bike and eventually found the ferry terminal.

Aboard the ferry, I discovered there were no special facilities for stowing bicycles (so why the surcharge?!). I bungeed my bike to a pillar next to cars and a bus, then went above to the passenger deck, and asked for the first aid kit. When they asked why, I showed my wounds. Their first concern seemed to be where my accident occurred and whether on board. I told them no, that it had happened ashore, that I had a first aid kit, but wasn't sure I had enough bandages for my wounds. They gave me theirs and showed me to a washroom, where I dressed my wounds.

The 'Cat' hydrofoil high-speed ferry seems to be a real motion-sickness machine, judging by how much retching I heard. The air-conditioning must have been on maximum setting, to keep fresh air flowing I guess, but I was wet and already very cold. I should have brought dry clothes to change into, but I'd left most of my bags on the vehicle deck with my bike. My heart-rate monitor showed my heart rate going down as low as 39 beats per minute, which was at the border of causing me concern.

I'd hoped to write some postcards and look over some music on the ferry crossing, but for the first time in my life, I was battling sea-sickness. I had to keep my focus on one thing; in this case it happened to be the CTV Newsworld newscast that kept cycling over and over on the TV in front of me; this and the noise of the slot machines behind me were not pleasant, but were less offensive than other areas, which were too noisy, had too many children, or reeked too much of retch. The casino really depressed me, though; they started serving beer at 7:45 AM. I can't say that I enjoyed the ferry ride.

We arrived in Yarmouth around 1:30 PM Maine time, 2:30 PM local time. It was foggy but warm, and I stopped shivering almost as soon as I got off the boat. The fog confused me; I was sure it was going to rain, but locals said there wouldn't be any rain. At the tourist information bureau, I enquired about hospitals to check my wounds, but it was a Friday afternoon, and I thought I might be there a very, very long time for no good reason. But even without the hospital, time passed quickly in Yarmouth. After the tourism info, there were stops at a bike shop (for a spare tube), a restaurant (I had only a light breakfast, as I couldn't eat lunch on the ship due to my borderline nausea; I had a scallop burger for lunch), a pharmacy (I needed many more bandages for my first aid kit), a bank, and to get directions... and it was well past 5:00 PM. My original plan was to cycle to a provincial campground 119 km away, but at this time of day, even plan B of Middle West Pubnico, 50 km away, was too far. So I checked my guidebooks for a closer campground.

Arcadia, some 9 km outside town, became my destination. En route, I stopped at a Sobey's grocery store to stock up for supper and breakfast: yummy strawberries, brie, rolls, coleslaw, Beep juice cocktail (which I had enjoyed as an occasional treat in childhood), cinnamon rolls, pears, chocolate. The man in the campground office was funny and friendly. He asked me if there was anything he could do for me. I said I had only one simple request: for nice weather. He kind of laughed at me, as the weather forecast as not in my favour. I replied that nice weather was really such a simple thing to ask for... Overall the campground was fine, and I had a very nice hot shower, although there were some noisy kids making noise as I was trying to get to sleep. On the bright side, there were some cyclists at the neighbouring campsite. Somehow it's nice to see other cyclists.

I had never been to Yarmouth, nor to the south shore of Nova Scotia west of Peggy's Cove; I planned my trip specifically to discover this part of the province; but so far, it was too foggy to see much in Yarmouth or its outskirts. As well, Route 3 - the old route, not the new limited access Highway 103 - seemed to lack a paved shoulder most of the way; I wondered how the cycling would be. Gretchen sent me a text message on my cell phone, offering to me up in one of their vehicles. It was tempting, but I decided against it - for now.

MXS 35.6
AVS 16.6
DST 9.10
TM 0:32:58

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Cyclostravaganza 2007, Day 4: Twin Mountain NB to Portland ME

This would be the longest day's ride on my trip. I wanted to make it to Portland, Maine, by that evening, because of my ferry reservation the next morning; but I had not made it quite as far as planned on each of my previous days. So it would be the longest day - and perhaps the most challenging, as my itinerary would take me through the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

As I was packing up my bike on the veranda in front of the hotel, two outrageously cute red squirrels were staking out their turf. Red squirrels, unlike their grey urban cousins, are highly territorial, and it shows.

I stopped at a local coffee shop in the strip mall for breakfast - two egg mcmuffin-style sandwiches, orange juice, and coffee - and tried to keep from ogling the ridiculously attractive staff member.

It was a bit foggy and misty as I set out. That was a bit disappointing, as the kindly bike mechanic in Abercorn had suggested this would be the most beautiful part of my whole trip. I couldn't really tell because of the clouds/fog/mist, but I think that must have been Mount Washington behind the Hotel New Hampshire in Bretton Woods. Even so, the Bretton Woods municipality's town sign was worth photographing, in honour of those economics classes I'd taken.

At first the scenery was nice - like a larger version of Marshy Hope, Nova Scotia, perhaps - but a bit disappointing, because I was expecting more.

And then, well, I got more. Route 302 took me through Crawfod Notch. Wowee! Suddenly there was a huge valley/cleft, with me and the road on one side, and a sheer near-cliff on the other side, so steep that it was treeless in places. I cried out loud "wow!" to anyone listening as I descended wheeeeeeeeee all the way down the valley in a wonderful rush of glee.

I stopped at a friendly bike shop shop in Bartlett, where they cleaned my chain for me.

North Conway was attractive but a little on the cookie-cutter-side. It bustled with tourists shopping up a storm at the various factory outlets, big-box-stores, and temples to mass consumption. On the way out of town, I succumbed somewhat; I saw a Louis Garneau outlet, where I picked up the "bento box" I'd been wishing I had for days now. It fixes onto my top-tube, at the intersection of the down-tube, and keeps my camera and cell-phone within easy reach.

It started to rain as I crossed into Maine. (How funny that it stopped to rain as I left Vermont and entered New Hampshire, and then started to rain again when I left New Hampshire for Maine. New Hampshire, though, had hardly been dry to me. In any event, Maine was the best-smelling part of my trip; with good reason is it called the pine tree state. I also some some nice wild flowers: red lilies, and a wild corydalis.

I had a nice picnic - fancy crackers, habanero-studded cheddar, and (canned) pineapple - at the edge of a lake with beautiful wildflowers.

I sat on a perfectly-shaped boulder, under pine, oak, and maple trees; the boulder had a survey marker on it, so I suppose it shouldn't be hard to find this spot again. I walked around a bit, and found some massive highbush blueberries growing wild, along with poison ivy.

After my lunch, I continued on my way. It was a nice ride, but even with snack breaks, I was getting tired, especially past Gorham.

Finally I made it to Portland. Alas, I sprung a flat tire on the outskirts. I didn't even realise I had a flat until I noticed that it was too hard to advance, and looked at my tire. Grrrr! It was raining, and I really didn't feel like unloading my bags, struggling with the flat, getting dirty, and putting bags back. I checked the map of Portland I'd picked up earlier in the day at a Maine tourism bureau; it looked like I was just a few blocks from my hotel, so I decided to walk. I discovered that my map was not to scale, after walking 5km through the rain to get to my hotel, over hilly terrain, with slippery brick-paved sidewalks most of the way.

It was about 8:00 PM when I arrived at the Danforth Hotel, located very near the waterfront in a charming old house. My grumpiness couldn't last long; the hotel was very beautiful. I was famished - justifiably so, I think, after 12 hours and almost 160km - but it was getting late in the evening, and I wasn't sure what restaurants would still be open. The owner/hostess recommended Katahdin, as it was nearby, accommodating, "and they always serve pasta." I was expecting a very casual family diner, which, as it turned out, it decidedly was not. Katahdin is a lovely with a very modern and deluxe menu. I started with a wonderful carrot/corn soup; if only all restaurants put this much love into the daily soup. I followed with beautifully presented lemongrass halibut, and concluded with a delicious blackberry upside-down-cake with homemade vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce. (The latter tasted deliciously of caramelised sugar, not just brown sugar; no short-cuts here, it seemed.)

I returned to my hotel, well-fed and happy, and had just enough energy to wash my laundry in the bathroom sink before falling asleep around 11:00 PM.

MXS 47.8
AVS 19.7
DST 158.31
TM 8:02:03
DEP 7:45 AM
ARR 8:00 PM

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Cyclostravaganza 2007, Day 3: Island Pond VT to Twin Mountain NH

View of the White Mountains, as coming into Twin Mountain NH.

Another late start, but not for failure to get up early; this time,
I blame the weather and mechanical problems.

I arose around 6am, installed myself at my campsite's picnic table overlooking the lake, and enjoyed the quite beauty while I ate breakfast (bought in town at the grocery store yesterday) of muffins, cherries galore, cheese, and espresso. Espresso? Yes, I travel with a portable espresso maker, source of heat, stainless-steel demitasse, and my own ground coffee. Who wouldn't?

I watched a squirrel amuse itself greatly at a neighbouring campsite, where the occupants had left all sorts of foodstuffs out on their picnic table overnight. I guess that wherever you go, squirrels will be squirrels.

As I was packing up, it started to rain. Grr. It's much harder and slower for me to pack up when cramped inside the confines of a tent. Eventually I was ready to load everything onto my bike....

...when I discovered that two of the four bolts that hold my rear bike rack in place were missing, and the third was quite loose. Although vandalism was my first thought, I quickly ruled that one out. I can only suppose that the bolts had rattled themselves loose, and am grateful that the rack (and my bags) stayed put. I was pretty distraught over the question of how to transport my bags without a functional rack, and with nary a bike shop in the vicinity. I left my bags at the campground reception, biked back into town to the hardware store, and came across a very helpful clerk in the store. How lucky am I! I could have spent hours trying to figure out what size bolt I needed, but she eyeballed it and soon I was re-fitted of rack, back to the campground to retrieve my bags, and on my way.

I was hoping for a bike shop to check my rack, but there was very little of anything other than forest as I passed through East Brighton, Bloomfield, and Maidstone (where I'd hoped to camp). Past Bloomfield, I edged along the Connecticut River valley, which was very beautiful. Alas, there was plenty of rain along this stretch, and a surprising (given that I was shadowing a rail-line) abundance of hills. The combination of hilly terrain, heavy loads, and wetness meant I ate through my brake pads front and rear... making finding a bike shop even more important, but not much less elusive.

I left Vermont and crossed into New Hampshire at Stratford. The rain stopped (for a while at least) and the terrain seemed less hilly. In Groveton aka Northumberland I discovered that muncipal mergers and correspondingly confusing roadsign are not just a Canadian phenomenon. More importantly, I stopped at an outdoor (hunting) store, and found out that the nearest bike shops were not so near - one in Lancaster, the next in Littleton - far and farther, respectively.

I arrived in Lancaster around 2pm, anxious to replace my brakes, only to find out from a shopkeeper that the bike shop's owner had died just three weeks before. He suggested I look into taking the tourist-trolley-service to Littleton, and referred me to the tourism office down the street for more information... where I discovered that I had just missed the last trolley of the day by a few minutes. Grrr!

When in doubt, or in foul spirits, eat; so I headed to Lancaster's local American/Chinese restaurant. The sign indicated "no Chinese food today" so I had non-Chinese eggs, toast, ham, and surprisingly good coffee. I called the bike shop in Littleton, got directions , and discovered that they would be closing at 5:30pm. It was now about 3:00pm, and Littleton was about 30 hilly kilometres away, and I wanted them to have time to fix my bike before closing... so off I sprinted.

To get to Littleton, I had the choice of a route that went inland (routes 3, 142, and 116), or a route that hugged the Connecticut River (route 135), so I chose the latter expecting fewer hills. It's hard to imagine that the other route could have been hillier! There was a very long climb into Dalton, where I decided not to take a detour up "Mount Misery Road", followed by a long descent (which could have been more enjoyable if I weren't so worried about my brakes) followed by more up-down-up-down.

Around 4:45pm, I arrived in Littleton, a very very pretty town, and after stopping at a garage to ask the outrageously attractive cashier for directions, I soon found the bike shop. The mechanics were very friendly and helpful, and they checked my wheel alignments, replaced my brake pads, and such. When they lifted my bike and bags and realised how heavy it was, they weren't at all surprised I'd gone through my brake pads so quickly, so I bought spare pads to take with me.

I contemplated staying in Littleton, but decided I had some daylight ahead of me and a long day tomorrow, so I pushed on. In Bethlehem NH I saw a surprising number of Jewish signs, many in Hebrew. On my way out of Bethlehem, I had a magnificent view of the White Mountains, probably Mount Washington.

My happily repaired bike soon carried me into Twin Mountain NH, my destination, on the north-western edge of White Mountain National Forest. I was a bit concerned at first, because although the scenery was stunning, the town along route 302 looked like it had been abandoned 40 years ago - then I turned onto Route 3 and found the real town. I decided to spring for a hotel so I could let my tent dry, and so I would be able to get an earlier start the next morning. Istopped at the general store (in a grand old building that looked like an erstwhile hotel or railway station or railway hotel) to ask advice on where to stay, and got a recommendation for Lyons Hospitality (I think that's what it was called) which turned out to be a hostel. Since there was no one else there that night, for $20US, which was cheaper than any campsite I'd stayed at, I had the room to myself. I walked across the street to the appealingly-named Shakespeare Inn. The proprietor, one Mr Shakespeare, is a man of Caribbean origin, and for supper, I had Jamaican chicken soup, bread, roast jerk pork, rice, mashed potatoes, orange juice, and apple pie. (Hello, carb-loading!) The pie was okay, but everything else was wonderful. I retired to my hostel room, happy to have a private shower and a real bed to sleep upon.

MXS 47.4
AVS 21.0
DST 127.00

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Cyclostravaganza 2007, Day 2: Frelighsburg QC to Island Pond VT

On the way from my campground back to Frelighsburg, I passed by a federal government installation for the Frelighsburg Experimental Farm, with barbed wire to keep out unwelcome visitors - squirrels? I wondered what they might experiment here, up in the hills abutting the US border. Organic apples? Or genetically modified goldenrod that can spy on your neighbour?

I cycled over Mount Pinnacle which was a surprisingly challenging climb, as in not impossible but harder than expected. It was worth the climb, as it offered magnificent views of Vermont's Green Mountains and New York's Adirondacks.

I stopped at the, er, pinnacle of my climb at the Pinnacle cider works for some refreshments (fudge, juice) before heading on... Abercorn, Quebec. Part of the segment was, if memory serves correctly, unpaved, but not a problem. In Abercorn I was really looking forward to the bakery my former neighbours so raved about. To my dismay it was closed, but I did find a bike shop where I pumped my tires and chatted with a very friendly proprietor about my planned cycling itinerary. I'm glad to have met him - he gave me some good advice for cycling through the White Mountains (New Hampshire), steering me away from the busy hilly road I'd planned for, to a more gentle, quiet road I could take. He said that would be the best part of my entire trip.

After Abercorn came another more-than-respectable climb over one side of Mount Sutton past Glen Sutton into the Missisquoi Valley. This was the where I'd hoped to camp on my first night, but hadn't "quite" made it what with my late departure and heavy load. This valley is a very beautiful ride though the road is a bit bumpy.

After Glen Sutton, the rest of the day's ride ran mostly parallel to rail-lines, either Northern Vermont or the historic St. Lawrence & Atlantic, so there were no more serious mountains, though there were plenty of smaller hills.

I missed taking a picutre of the ridiculously attractive former train station in Highwater, Quebec, and then I crossed the border at North Troy, Vermont. I was really concerned I might have to unpack all my bags, not because I had anything to hide, but because everything just (barely) fit when packed just so. Fortunately the American border guard was extremely kind; in fact, we spent a lot of time chatting about McGill University, where he'd hoped his child would study. Said child chose Columbia, or some other expensive university in New York City.

My cell phone was supposed to work only in Canada, but I was able to send a few last text messages to Gillian C. while in northern Vermont. Isn't northern Vermont an honorary part of Canada anyway?

I kept seeing very lovely yellow lilies:

...growing wild in the ditch in Northern Vermont.

The road through Newport Center, Newport, Derby Center, Charleston, East Charleston, to Island Pond was very scenic in that typical New England way, mixing farms, villages, forest, and clapboard houses.

I'd hoped to make it to Maidstone State Park that night, but I wasn't going to make it that far, what with my shortfall on day 1 and a late departure on this my second day, so I camped instead at Island Pond. I wanted to camp in the state park, but it seemed to have closed before I arrived, so instead I camped at a private park on another part of the lake. It was very nice but a tad louder than I'd hoped for. All I can say is that jet-skis are the bane of modern civilization.

I left my campground in Frelighsburg around 11:30am (it's hard to get going in the mornings, between having breakfast and packing up your travelling domus) and arrived around 6:45pm in Island Pond, Vermont. My cyclometer tells me I was actually pedalling for 5 hours, 18 minutes, but I really didn't stop much more than to have lunch, cross the border, pump tires, and take a few pictures. Those stops do add up fast though.

MXS 58.7
AVS 21.7
DST 115.23
TIM 5:18:16

Monday, July 16, 2007

Cyclostravaganza 2007, Day 1: Montreal to Frelighsburg, Quebec

I headed out around 12:45. I was giddy with excitement as I realised that after months of preparation, I was finally doing it - I was finally embarking on a 2-week mostly-solo cycling trip from Montreal to Cape Breton. Giddy exhilaration overtook me!

I stopped at a fresh-fruit kiosk in Chambly for some raspberries before continuing along the Chambly Canal, and after St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, briefly took the Montérégiade bike trail. After Montreal and the suburbs, the motorists in Kempt and environs seemed particulary kind.

I made a very short detour into Mystic, Quebec, for 2 very worthwhile stops. L'oeuf is delightfully self-described as a restaurant, auberge, chocolatrie et micro-brûlerie (229 chemin Mystic, Mystic QC, J0J 1Y0, 450-248-7529). While L'oeuf is normally closed on Mondays, the owner saw my pathetic dejected face at his front door, had mercy on me, and served up a delightful espresso and house-made sour-cherry sorbet. With difficulty I resisted the imported cookies, chocolates, jams, jellies, and everything else that would weigh me down further and headed out, but not before stopping next door for the famous 12-sided barn.

In northern New England and parts of south-eastern Quebec, there was a tradition of building round barns so that there would be no corners wherein the devil might hide. Building circular is difficult, so perhaps that's why someone built a remarkable 12-sided barn in Mystic. Are 12 corners safer than 4?

Past Mystic, the flatlands of Montérégie were definitely behind me, and I was into the delightful rolling terrain of the Eastern Townships, with walnut groves, pine stands, and a street named Val-qui-rit. (I burst into Wagnerian laughter a little too late to photograph that one.) Between my late departure and the weight of all my gear slowing me down, I didn't make it as far as I had hoped, so I camped in Frelighsburg. By the time I set up my tent, and biked back into town, I discovered that there were no restaurants where I could eat supper; one was closed for the holidays, the other closed for the day. It wasn't the ideal meal, but the gas-station dépanneur convenience store did provide enough sustenance. Not quite the meal I was hoping for, but all in all, a marvelous day.

MXS 51.0
AVS 22.7
DST 121.14