Dan and Hannah Hike to Pinwheel Vista on the Appalachian Trail in New Jersey

Max at ten days

Max at ten days

Maxwell Archer Rawding has arrived!

Hannah and I are bee-lining it from Maine through JERSEY to Virginia to see Owen Daniel’s little brother Max, who is five days old today.  As grandparents, we now have more time, energy, and moolah to really enjoy our grandkids than we had when we were parents ourselves.

Owen and Max with Omi and Boppa

Owen and Max with Omi and Boppa

Why just the other day at an elementary school Spring Fling of carnival rides and petting zoos, we saw cotton candy for sale.  With their Omi and Boppa (our grandparent nicknames), Owen and Max are going to enjoy the good life at the end of a cotton candy swirl.

Goshen Plaza Diner, New York

Goshen Plaza Diner, New York

With 550 miles of driving through the maw of the monster (traffic in the Northeast) ahead, we find a hike along the way to break up our trip to the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Having grown up in nearby Fair Lawn, JERSEY, I am coming home to love a state I couldn’t wait to leave when I was 18!

Leaving home in York at 520A, we travel 250 miles on Interstates to the Goshen Plaza Diner in New York for our pre-hike breakfast; it’s just 15 miles from our trailhead at Wawayanda (pronounced by the locals as Way-Way-On-da) State Park.  Wawayanda is Lenape for “winding waters.”

Good times at the Goshen Plaza Diner

Hannah knows breakfast!  Good times at the Goshen Plaza Diner

The Goshen Plaza Diner is a classic New York diner with booths, shiny metal interiors with mirrors everywhere, and veteran waitresses.  At 10A we easily score a booth and Susan, with seven years of experience and diamond ear studs, warmly welcomes us.  Though I love pancakes when eating out, I find that I am still hungry an hour later; that just won’t do when hiking.  So it’s two eggs over easy, home fries, and rye toast for me while Hannah spices up her breakfast with four strips of crispy bacon.  Susan is cheery and engaging in a JERSEY sort of way, which is a good thing.  In fact, a very good thing.

9G Wawayanda Park sign

After breakfast in New York we cross into JERSEY and turn right to enter the near empty parking lot on this mid-May Thursday (no one is collecting the $10 admission fee for out-of-state vehicles).  Changing into hiking boots, we find the blue blaze trail (side trail) is immediately in front of us, just three tenths of a mile from the white blazes (signifying the main trail) of the 2,180 mile Appalachian Trail (AT).  I wasn’t much of a hiker as kid but growing up in JERSEY meant baseball, basketball, and tennis all the time with the guys in the neighborhood.

AT map 2

Setting foot on the Pinwheel Vista trail, we make JERSEY #10 of 14 states that we’ve hiked on the Appalachian Trail.   (Going from south to north, it’s Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.  I think of the 62 miles of the AT in JERSEY as an easy going, mellow part of the trail.  BTW, JERSEY guys can be easy going, mellow themselves.

Easy-going Jersey guy

Easy-going Jersey guy

The nine-mile round trip Pinwheel Vista hike through the rolling mountains of JERSEY has its trees that are not fully leafed out.   But today’s spring green is a most pleasing-to-the-eye forest color.

White blazes of the Appalachian Trail

White blazes of the Appalachian Trail

Setting out at 1120A, we are shooting for a rockin’ three miles per hour pace to complete the nine mile hike in around three hours.  What’s the hurry sister and brother, you may be thinking.  We have an evening motel reservation in Newark, Delaware, which means we’ll be traveling the length of JERSEY during the afternoon commuter rush hour when we finish the hike.

Hannah by the puncheons through the boggy part of the trail

Hannah by the puncheons through the boggy part of the trail

With drizzle and a thundershower in the forecast, we find the well-marked trail moist but not too sloppy and messy.  And then voila, we see a hiker with a huge pack and I greet him with Are you a thru-hiker (meaning he’s hiking the AT from Georgia to Maine in one calendar year).  His trail name is Captain Cook; he’s, in fact, is a section hiker hiking a part of the AT; in his case he is going from Pennsylvania to Vermont this time.  Still looking for a trail name myself and with no nautical experience, I find his trail name doesn’t bring me any closer to finding one for myself.


The red spotted newt on the trail.  “He” is an intermediate terrestrial version, as “he” started in the water and the adult form returns to the water.  This stage is called an “eft”.  (Thank you Patty P for this information.)

The red spotted newt on the trail. “He” is an intermediate terrestrial version, as “he” started in the water and the adult form returns to the water. This stage is called an “eft”. (Thank you Patty P for this information.)

An hour into our hike, we spot an athletic looking hiker with a back pack who acknowledges he’s a thru-hiker, having left Springer Mountain in Georgia on his way to Mount Katahdin in Maine.  His trail name is Sloth, which he says, when we ask, is an inside joke.  Way inside for this lean and fit college student (University of North Carolina) is no sloth; since late February, he and his buddy have completed 1350 of 2179 miles of the trail.  Maybe irony in a trail name is the way for me to go?  Dancing Dan?  I think not.

9 D on trail above stream VCU

Soon his buddy Rameses (trail name) comes by.  Rameses is the animal mascot of UNC.  Just as athletic, Rameses says this is one helluva way to spend a spring semester and he doesn’t have to pay tuition.  Like the Mormons on missions and the British with their gap year, these young men have stepped away from their university studies to take an unconventional path.  Maybe a college nickname as a trail name might work for me?   Sun Devil Dan?  Nah.

Cable secures this bridge during high water

Cable secures this bridge during high water

Feeling a time crunch to find Pinwheel Vista, we know the geography of JERSEY is not our friend today.  We have some 220 miles to our motel in Newark, Delaware (pronounced New-Ark) going through the belly of the beast of JERSEY traffic.  We have been had for dinner by the Garden State Parkway and the New Jersey Turnpike before.  We keep up a good pace on the trail and are looking for the blue blaze side trail to Pinwheel Vista.

9F river on trail

Approaching the 90 minute mark of the hike and still seeing no blue blaze marking to Pinwheel Vista, we find ourselves heading down the other side of the mountain!  That is not a good thing!  We are supposed to be at a vista.  And then we meet Stephanie and Heather, college girls from JERSEY, who are hiking up the mountain from the opposite direction.  When we ask if they have seen any blue blazes to Pinwheel Vista, they shake their heads no.

Blue blaze trail to Pinwheel Vista

Blue blaze trail to Pinwheel Vista

Retracing our steps, they help us find, in literally 100 feet, the massive pile of rocks indicating the Pinwheel Vista turn-off; its blue blaze hidden behind the leaves of a newly greening small tree.  We had walked right by it!  In 100 yards we are looking over the valley to the Pochuck Mountains on this quite humid and threatening-to-rain day.

Dan and Hannah at Pinwheel Vista

Dan and Hannah at Pinwheel Vista

A quick look and then it’s time to turn for the trailhead.  With a purposeful, steady pace, we cruise through the forest.  I’m so fortunate to be married to someone so athletically fit who can cruise (and likes to!) along the trails in the mountains, over the streams, and through the woods.  (You can sing that last sentence to the tune of Jingle Bells.)

Meeting the two college girls from JERSEY who went to college at William Paterson University (where I spent a summer in 1969), I just may have my AT trail name: Jersey!

Enjoy this one minute video heading for the trailhead at Wawayanda State Park.


Rawding boys

Leaving Wawayanda State Park by 320P, we are no match for late afternoon JERSEY commuter traffic.  What is normally a three hour trip to Delaware takes us five hours.  Some days you get the bear, and some days the bear gets you.  So sayeth Davy Crockett.

Molly with her sons, Owen and Max

Molly with their sons, Owen and Max

No matter, for tomorrow we will see our six day old grandson Max and his what’s-happening two year old big brother Owen.

Dan Hikes with Will and Laurel on the Moorman River in Virginia

Richmond Virginia image

There are so many reasons to love RVA (Richmond, Virginia):

  1. It’s a small town city with neighborhoods of homes.
  2. Mild winters; springs and falls in the 70s and 80s
  3. Virginia Commonwealth University with Shaka Smart and Will Rothermel
  4. Friendly people where “Ma’am” and “Sir” are commonplace, heartfelt, and genuine

Add to those starter set ideas a #5 – Hiking in the Shenandoah and Blue Ridge Mountains is a mere two hours away.

Laurel, Will, and Dan selfie

A Laurel, Will, and Dan selfie

While Hannah is away with girlfriends in Vermont, today I am in Virginia with Will and Laurel cruising out four lane I-64 from Richmond towards Charlottesville and points west.  Sitting shotgun, I think how sweet it is not being the one in charge or having to be the responsible adult.  I am literally and figuratively along for the ride.  For one who is a planner, organizer, and a make-things-happener, this is a relaxing and welcome change.

Past the campus of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, we take to the country route 250 and then on to Old 3 Notch’d Road which becomes the Brown’s Gap Turnpike.  These are not turnpikes in the sense of the Massachusetts Turnpike, but rural roads that twist and turn and are hardly wide enough for two cars to pass.

MR9H curvy road sign

Our WAZE GPS says we have 10 miles to go in 31 minutes; that must mean hairpins aplenty.  It’s farmland with poor man’s horse ranches (at least compared to the affluent horse country north of here in Loudon County, Virginia).  We pass the Pony Academy advertising horse riding lessons and come to Wyant’s (General) Store which advertises PowerAde for 99 cents.  Though Virginia has not had the brutal winter of the Northeast, on this late April weekend the trees are still not fully leafed out.

Crossing a one lane wood-planked bridge, we are now on Sugar Hollow Road on the way to the Moorman River hike.  The last 9/10 of a mile is a dirt road which ends at an informal trailhead beneath the sugar maples.

Beginning the hike along the North Fork of the Moorman River, we first pass an older couple and then a father and daughter pair who both say they turned back once they hit the river crossing.  The dad talks about high water.  Hmmmm.  Last night it rained so hard in Virginia that water was flowing from Will and Laurel’s driveway through their backyard patio.

Will, Otter, and Laurel hiking the Moorman Trail

Will, Otter, and Laurel hiking the Moorman Trail

The Hiking Upward website is the go-to website when Will and Laurel want to hike in Virginia.  We learn that this five mile round-trip hike has a number of swimming holes with a fifty foot waterfall at the end.  Though it’s a toasty 80F in RVA this midday, it will be a delightful 70F hiking through the woods of western Virginia.

Laurel crossing the Moorman River

Laurel crossing the Moorman River

From start to finish the trail gently rises 460’ in elevation over the two and half miles to the falls.  At three points on this spring day, we will cross the river on rocks, stepping carefully through the snow-fed stream.  Will and Laurel have breathable mesh low-cut Merrell hiking shoes; though being a ten on the cool scale, they unfortunately let the water in when these Virginians cross the river.  My clunkier all-terrain to-the-ankle hiking boots don’t let the water seep in at all as I cross in two to four inches of water.

VCU crossing in styel

VCU crossing in style

The rounded river stones have a sheen of algae so I step cautiously from rock to rock.  As I cross tentatively, Will extends his hand to steady me and keep my picture-taking iPhone out of the drink.  Later a fisherman (the Moorman River is stocked with rainbow trout) does the same to support me as I cross the river again.   Virginians!   Got to love them.  My hiking poles in Maine would have been just the ticket to steady myself as I forded the Moorman River.

Heading to the falls

Heading to the falls


The Moorman River hike is the kind of hike that Will and Laurel can take their friends on, even if they aren’t hikers.  The rushing, running water provides us with soothing  background music.  Throughout our time on the trails, their Golden Shepard Otter seemingly covers fifteen miles through the forest while we hike five on the trail.  Otter does collect ticks that Laurel picks from his fur on our drive home.

Trails end at the falls

Trail’s end

Arriving at the waterfalls in just under an hour and a half, we have made it a leisurely, side-by-side walk through the Virginia woods.  Though the water is chilly, you can see that this gentle hike is one families and teenagers alike will love.  The swimming hole at the falls is fifty feet across and just perfect for cooling one’s jets for an hour or two on a steamy summer day.

King of the Mountain

King of the Mountain

Logs crisscross the trail at the falls to clearly indicate the trail has ended.  Like a young mountain lion, Will skims across the water rocks like it’s home.  Climbing the far canyon wall, he is king of the mountain at the top of the falls.

Looking downriver from the falls

Looking downriver from the falls

As we look down the Moorman River valley, we snack on apples, oranges, and trail mix and know we have hit the hiking jackpot.

I do enjoy hiking with young ‘uns like Will and Laurel for they keep up a good pace.  I have never been a stop-and-smell-the-roses kind of hiker.   A let’s-rock-and-roll kind of hiker.

Further down the trail with their hiking shoes and socks soaked, Will and Laurel say what the hell? and barefoot it across the river that is born in the mountain snows of the Shenandoah National Park.



At our final river crossing we talk with a young female teacher and her husband.  They have brought two of her school girls, one of which who has won a school auction to hike along the Moorman River with her teacher.   I am so impressed that she is taking her Saturday to make this an experience of a lifetime for these young girls.

The Virginia teacher takes our picture

The Virginia teacher takes our picture

After years of educational philanthropy and research, the billion dollar Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has concluded that it is excellent teachers in classrooms that make for successful students.  We need bright, caring teachers who want to change the world for our students.  Bravo to this young Virginia teacher!

Outside at the Mellow Mushroom in Charlottesville, Virginia

Outside at the Mellow Mushroom in Charlottesville, Virginia

After arriving in Charlottesville, we three, with Otter at our feet, sit outside and feast on pizza and a pitcher of beer at the Mellow Mushroom on West Main Street; we watch the cars and people pass by on this main campus drag of the University of Virginia.

With a relaxing California vacation vibe to my Virginia hiking day, I vow that next winter Hannah and I will be spending more time collecting vitamin D (the sun) traveling south and west where we can hike and sit al fresco, most appreciative of our blessings.

Dan Golfs and Grocery Shops in the Commonwealth of Virginia

Virginia map

Once Hannah scheduled a weekend to Vermont with girlfriends in late April, it got my wheels turning for some time away myself.  After this winter from Hell, I’m thinking warm.   Playing golf with our son Will in Virginia seems a natural.  Delta Airlines flies from Boston to Richmond non-stop, round-trip for a sweet $118.

Twice the space I had!

Twice the space I had on my Delta flight!

But let’s take it down a notch.  $118 on Delta doesn’t get you much more than a safe trip to and from the one-time capital of the Confederacy.  I understand that arriving safely is of paramount importance.  That said, a bit of comfort at 30,000 feet would be nice.  The plane feels like a 1930s two-seater bi-plane when in fact it has 90 sardines masquerading as adults and families packed into a space the size of a railroad car on a diet.  When I stood up, I banged my head on the aforementioned overhead compartments.

My two carry-ons

My two carry-ons

Hold on.  Do not despair.  Do I ever have a primo travel tip for you if you never check bags when you fly!   Typically, airlines allow you to carry on a small suitcase and one additional bag.  Keep the small suitcase as lean and mean as possible so it is not pulled out by the ticket agent at the jet bridge gate because she feels it won’t fit in the compartment above the seats.  In our case, we stuff our canvas bag to the gills.  The airlines will never take an open air canvas bag for checked luggage.  Brilliant Dan, I hear you thinking.

10th hole at River's Bend Golf Club

10th hole at River’s Bend Golf Club

Within thirty minutes of landing at RIC airport in Richmond, Will has us on the golf course at River’s Bend Country Club on the James River in Chester, Virginia, some 15 miles south of the airport.  Check out these prices.  Two of us played 18 holes with a golf cart for $36 total.  Only 36 simoleons!  Locally here on the Seacoast, one-of-me pays $22 to walk nine holes at Sagamore-Hampton Golf Club in New Hampshire.

With those prices the South will rise again!

Hitting out of the rough again.

Hitting out of the rough again.

Golfing?  Do you play?  I began playing golf in my twenties on the flat, palm tree-lined courses in the Phoenix, Arizona metro area summers during the years I taught elementary school kids in Tempe.  Learning the game for the first time, I got to be “okay.”   Then I took twenty plus years away from the game to focus on our family and because of the expense of golf in the Northeast.

18 hole layout at River's Bend Golf Club

18 hole layout at River’s Bend Golf Club

Since I didn’t play as a kid, I never developed golfing instincts to fall back on as an adult.  Ergo, I hit some good shots and then some rather sad and pathetic ones, too.  I can hit pin-seeking irons of 140 yards as well as top the ball so it skims the fairway into traps or the woods.

River's Bend scorecard cover

So given my modest golfing skills, how do I keep from being that guy who is  obsessed by his score?  I want to enjoy the time on golf courses, especially the few times I golf with Will, now that he lives nearly 600 miles to the south.  What sort of company or role model am I if I bitch and complain about my lousy golf score?

River's Bend scorecard by hole

And then it hit me, the worst score I will mark down on the golf card is a double bogey (two over par).  If I am destroying a hole with poor shots, I can just relax and work on my game around the green without a scoring care in the world.  Then move on to the next hole without any baggage from the last one.

Will off the tee

Will off the tee

Fact is, no one cares what score I get.  Will bombs his drives and shoots in the 70s and 80s.  I am not competing against him.  When I hit the inevitable poor shot, I’ll chalk it up to That’s just what once-a-week or once-a-month golfers do, DanGet over it.

golf ball in grass

So today I chill.  There are few on the course this mid-day Thursday so we leisurely motor around eighteen holes in a little over three hours.  Sunny and 65 degrees on this spring day in paradise, I have some pars, a few bogeys, and some really big numbers, that I never record on the score card.   I stay in the moment and focus on the father-son time with Will.

Will shopping with Dad

Will shopping with Dad

And then the second part of my win/win afternoon comes at the Kroger Grocery store near Will’s place in Bon Air, VA.  That’s right, a grocery store.   Hear me out.  One of the true joys of retirement when we visit our children is buying an overflowing cart of groceries for them.

Grocery line image  (Identify the Corona, Sam Adams, and Gluten-free beer, Redbridge, pita chips, Tostito chips and salsa, gluten-free crackers, Ritz, watermelon, Dunkin’ Donuts Decafe coffee, peanut butter, bananas, milk, Corn Flakes, Cheerios)

Including Redbridge (a gluten-free beer), pita and Tostito chips and salsa, cheese and gluten-free crackers and  Ritz, watermelon, Dunkin’ Donuts Decaf coffee, peanut butter, apples, oranges, Cheerios, and Corn Flakes)

Before we get to the house that Will and his girlfriend Laurel are renting, we stock up at Kroger’s with snacks, fruit, beer, and cereals for the coming weekend.  You might wonder where cereals have a place on this list of party foods.  Read below under Bonus.  Sharing some of our good fortune with our kids adds continued joy to our longitudinal (never-ending) parenting life.

I’ve added a bonus thought for you and a “be careful” one.

Will and Laurel's place on Buford Road

Will and Laurel’s place on Buford Road

Bonus when buying groceries on the road – As a big cereal eater, I add a gallon of 1% milk, boxes of Corn Flakes and Cheerios, and bananas to our grocery cart.  By including these items I can have cereal anytime at Will and Laurel’s place without feeling like I am depleting their supplies.  As one who thinks cereal is about as good a dessert as it gets, I am set for the next four days in Virginia.  (You got to be thinking, Dan, my man, you know how to live!)

choice privileges visa card

The “Be Careful” – When traveling long distances from home, call your credit card company before you leave and tell them about the places and dates of your travels, even if you live in Maine and are just going to Virginia.  When it comes time to pay for the $122 of groceries at Kroger’s in Midlothian, VA,  my Choice Privileges Visa card is rejected not once, not twice, but three times.  A major bummer for me, as Will then has to use his credit card to pay for the groceries.  Of course, I will write him a check for the amount, but the “treating the kids” moment is slipping away.

Life is so good in VA

Immediately, while still at the checkout line, I get an 800 call from fraud protection at VISA.  I appreciate the credit card company looking out for me, I do.  Thanks to the patient customer service folks at Kroger’s we clear up the confusion with Visa in 25 minutes.  I am able to get the credit back on Will’s credit card and the charge on mine.

So a first vacation day ends successfully with a win/win.  Virginia is my kind of place.

Dan and Hannah Welcome Owen’s little brother Max to the Family

Owen with his Omi and Papa

Owen with his Omi and Papa

Picture this.  Our daughter Molly is due on May 2nd, which just so happens to be my mother’s birthday.  Mom passed on this past winter knowing Molly was soon to have her third great-grandchild.  Wouldn’t it be sweet if the planets aligned and our grandchild came on Mom’s birthday?

Mom at 92

Mom at 92

Alas, that Hollywood ending did out occur.  Friday came and went and the Rawding baby had other plans.  There was no movement over the weekend so come Monday morning, Molly returned to teach at her elementary school in Fairfax County, Virginia wondering if today would be the day.

Molly and Tip are old school in that they didn’t want to know the gender of their new child until the big day.  They playfully had a “March Madness” -type pool for others to guess the gender and name that they had selected for their second child.  I bucked the odds (Tip and his sister Bev have had all boys) and I guessed a girl was coming; I was partial to the name Caroline.  Sweet name, right?

Monday passed, as did Tuesday, with no baby.   Molly knew if their baby didn’t come naturally by the end of the week she would be induced on Friday.  Wednesday and Thursday came and went by as well.  So Friday it would be.

Owen with Molly the day before Max's birth

Owen with Molly the day before Max’s birth

On Friday morning Tip and Molly took Owen to daycare, and then drove on to the Virginia Hospital in Arlington for an 830A appointment for their baby’s birth day.  Not so fast.  Inducing a baby is not that simple and it can take quite some time.

Molly getting ready for her Maximus day

Molly getting ready for her Maximus day

Throughout that Friday, we texted with Tip, and waited.  Soon Pitocin was administered to Molly to move the process along.  By the time Hannah and I were ready for bed Friday night at 9P, there was still no bambino.  Though it was not a restful night for us wondering grandparents, Molly and Tip had a long night into the dark of Saturday morning ahead.

Here I come, ready or not (at 30 minutes of age)

Here I come, ready or not (at 30 minutes of age)

And then on Saturday, May 10, 2014, at 4A Maxwell Archer Rawding trumpeted his arrival into this world.  You may not know this, but Archer was my mother’s maiden name; though Max and Mom don’t share a birthday, they are now forever linked and connected.

The Rawding boys

The Rawding boys











And now Hannah and I have an Owen and a Max blessing our family.




Max at Virginia Hospital in Arlington, Virginia

Max at Virginia Hospital in Arlington, Virginia


Our friend Amelia with Max (She took care of Owen while the other Rawdings were doing their thing at the hospital)

Our friend Amelia with Max (She took care of Owen while the other Rawdings were doing their thing at the hospital)


sign of 9 pounds 3 ounces


Tip and Max at home

Tip and Max at home


Dan and Hannah Prepare to Bike the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia

cabot trail map 3

There is a dynamic duo, a Batman and Robin, of Canadian Maritime biking trails.  Batman is the Confederation Trail of Prince Edward Island that we pedaled for 273 kilometres (~175 miles) last June.  Robin is the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia.  The trail was named after Italian explorer John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto) who reached these shores in 1497, sailing on a mission for King Henry VII of England.

Though a little longer at 300 kilometres (~ 190 miles), the Cabot Trail has some significant differences from the bucolic Confederation Trail.

PEI map

The Confederation Trail is a secluded former railroad bed of crushed, hardpan gravel with never a grade in elevation more than 2%.  That’s easy going, side-by-side-talking kind of biking.  On the other hand the Cabot Trail is an entirely paved road that we will share with cars and trucks.  On the plus side, the paved Cabot Trail will allow us to pedal faster (~12 miles per hour) than the 8 to 9 mph we averaged on the gravelly Confederation Trail.

Cabot Trail

Cabot Trail

That said, there are parts of the Cabot Trail through the Cape Breton Highlands National Park that have sustained climbs at grades above 10%.  Some grades even reach 15%.  That’s Billy goat stuff.  To accommodate those hills we will take four days (anywhere from 25 to 65 miles per day) to complete this loop ride.

Our planning begins with finding bed and breakfasts conveniently located along the Cabot Trail.  On the road, we like to be welcomed “home” by locals after a day of bicycling.  A big country breakfast the next morning is just the ticket (meal ticket that is) before we burn the calories on the road.  As over-60 bike riders, Hannah and I don’t sleep on the ground in tents; don’t sleep in hostels with others in the room; avoid double beds.  Regally, we opt for a queen or king bed.

We’ve lined up these overnights.   (Click on these links below to learn more about each one.)

  1. First and last nights, Baddeck Riverside B & B, Baddeck, Nova Scotia
  2. Night #2 – Auberge Doucet Inn, Cheticamp, Nova Scotia
  3. Night #3 – Country Haven B & B, Cape North (near Dingwall), Nova Scotia
  4. Night #4 – Pamela’s B & B, near Indian Brook, Nova Scotia
Coastal Cabot Trail

Coastal Cabot Trail

Baddeck, Nova Scotia is a common starting point for the circumambulation (or circumbicyulation?) of the northern part of Cape Breton Island.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let me set the stage for this highland adventure.

nova scotia 1


Getting to Nova Scotia: We’ll drive 360 miles from our home in York, Maine to Fredericton, New Brunswick, we will stay overnight with my University of New Hampshire buddy Bill and his wife Karen.   From there it is still six to seven hours of driving through much of rural New Brunswick and into even more pastoral Nova Scotia to the Cape Breton Island.  Arriving Sunday afternoon, we will scout out Baddeck and toast the ride with an evening glass of Malbec.

Four Days of Biking

CT preview picture 2

Day 1 (Monday) – Baddeck to Cheticamp  91 kilometres (~57 miles)

As the one-time summer home of Alexander Graham Bell, Baddeck is a little burg of 700.  There is nary a bike shop there, despite it being the traditional starting and ending point for this 190 mile loop for bicyclists.  We leave Baddeck, crossing Cape Breton from east to west and then head north on the coast of the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the town of Cheticamp.  We choose the counter-clockwise direction to take advantage of the prevailing winds so as to have them at our back on our second day through the mountains.

Elevation of Cabot Trail

Day 2 – (Tuesday) – Cheticamp to Cape North 75 kilometres (~47 miles) 

Cheticamp is home to Velo Max Cycling, the one bike shop on the Cabot Trail.  This is one bad-ass day.  We’ve got the mountains of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park staring us down.  We will encounter climbs of 15% grade (click on the above scary graphic), such as we have only seen in the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.  We will see just how tough we are.  We do have Trek bicycles with 21 gears.

CT 3 day 3 to the north

Day 3 – (Wednesday) – Cape North to near Indian Brook 101 kilometres (~63 miles). 

We leave from Cape North, the northern most point of our Cabot Trail loop.  We’d like to divide the remaining 89 miles of our last two days more evenly, but bed and breakfasts are few and far between.  Rather than make the third day from Cape North to Ingonish Beach just 26 miles of biking, we have our longest riding day.  Going into the prevailing winds, we think we are man and woman enough for the challenge.

Day 4 – Thursday – Near Indian Brook to Baddeck 43 kilometres (~26 miles)

It’s a sweet short day on level terrain after the hills of the previous two days.

CT day 2 along the coast

The training

Fact is, after one cold and snowy winter, its mid-April before we can bike outside even once a week.  How do you prepare for 15% grades?  One, we are not spending a week in the Alps to train.  Two, we’ve been exercising at our local Coastal Fitness gym five days per week on ellipticals, recumbent bicycles, and treadmills throughout the year.

Dan at Coastal Fitness pedaling his heart out

Dan on the bicycle recumbent at Coastal Fitness pedaling his little heart out

We are also upping the ante outside this month of May as well.  We’ll bike outside every other day on the hills of Bog Road and the Fall Mill Road Extension here in York.  Though we don’t know their grade, these hills require us to get in the lowest gear and often stand when pedaling to make it to the top.

During the first week of June, the sun sets well after 8P so we have 12 hours plus of daylight after breakfast to complete the 25 to 65 miles on the roads of the Cabot Trail. We are not too proud to walk our bikes up a serious mountain.  Hannah’s surgically-repaired left tibia remains an unknown and gives us pause.

What if it rains?

We’ll adjust.  We might get wet.  Mist and drizzle we can do.  Flat out rain means a day off from the road.  Maybe it’s a five or six day ride.

CT day 4 along the coast

Bike preparation

Readers of this blog know we had quite the challenge with flat tires when we biked the Confederation Trail last year (click on Canada to the left of this text to see that Dan and Hannah biking adventure).  We’ll have our tires checked and thorough tune-ups at our local Berger’s Bike Shop.  Extra tubes and a small tool kit to be sure.  We have  heard talk that after this brutal Nova Scotia winter bike riders need to be wary of anti-tank ditches (i.e., potholes).  Packing all our clothes and lunches in panniers, we always have our Visa card as a safety net.  We are indeed counting on the kindness of strangers.  For heaven’s sakes, they are Canadians.

Dan's bike with panniers

Dan’s bike with panniers


Nova Scotia has had our Maine winter and more so this year.  Kathleen of Country House B & B in Cape North says we will probably see snow on mountains in early June.  We’ll have biking shorts, and tights if necessary, fluorescent vests, and lots of Bag Balm for those bicycle seat sensitive areas.

Cabot Trail, here we come!

Dan and Hannah Hike the Ocean View Loop Trail in Muir Woods, California

MW map of area

A mere ten miles and twenty minutes north of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the redwoods of Muir Woods await to blow your mind.  Looking skyward at these 250’ towers of beauty, I wonder if anyone but the winter wrens and spotted owls have ever seen the tops of these majestic scrapers of the sky.  Named for the naturalist John Muir who was celebrated by Ken Burns in the PBS series on the National Parks, Muir Woods lies at the base of the winding Panoramic Highway in Mill Valley; an isolated paradise of redwood wonder.

MW map of trails

With the sun settling to the west this late January afternoon, we have an evening deadline to get to the San Francisco International Airport to fly East for Winter’s Revenge.  Seizing one last hike, we choose the Ocean View to Lost Trail to Fern Creek Loop.  The trail guide calls it a moderate hike with steep sections that takes two plus or minus hours; bring it on, for soon enough we’ll be thigh deep in Maine snow.

MW 5 Muir woods sign with D

With the weekend crowds two days away, we and maybe seventy-five others have the park to ourselves on this Thursday in January.  Due to its proximity to San Francisco, Muir Woods attracts one million visitors per year, mostly during the summer and on weekends.  This afternoon local school kids with notebooks and a running start are here to explore nature’s treasure that is Muir Woods.

MW 9 H on trail at MW

As with most trails at Muir Woods, the one mile long meandering boardwalk of the hall of redwoods begins our hike.  Ninety-five percent of all visitors seem to confine themselves to this stretch of majesty with its 1000 year old crimson towers.

MW 6 towering red wood

The entry to the Ocean View Loop is a well-identified right and takes us immediately above the Redwood Creek riverbed.  As we hike the 800 feet of elevation gain past redwoods and Douglas firs, we will soon learn that the Ocean View Trail has in fact no ocean view.  The cool, damp redwood forest belies the reality of a drought ravaged California.  Three years ago when we last hiked Muir Woods, the Redwood Creek was raging.  Today we can’t even see a trickle, a dribble, or a droplet during what is their quote rainy season.

Hugging the canyon-side, we climb a trail just wide enough for one.  Redwoods can only survive in the coastal California because the fog belt here provides the necessary moisture for the grand dames of the arboreal world to flourish during the dry season.

Climbing the Ocean View Trail

Climbing the Ocean View Trail

In the mid-afternoon we step purposely along the switchbacked trail occasionally passing hiking couples.  Breaking my code to converse with one and all on the trail, we pass others by nodding “a see-ya-later” in order to meet our flight departure deadline.  The redwood canopy blocks most of the sun which on this January day near 4P is beginning to set.  Old timers say that at one time the trees did not obscure the ocean view.

Descending the Lost Trail to the Fern Creek Trail

Descending the Lost Trail to the Fern Creek Trail

While the Ocean View Trail goes on further into the Tamalpais Mountains, we turn south on the Lost Trail, steeply pitched with railroad tie stair steps to ease the hilly descent.  A 1930s landslide covered this trail for 30 years and hence the name Lost Trail.  Later we turn back towards the Redwood Creek on the Fern Creek Trail.

MW 9L D between logs with redwoods behind

Focused on our upcoming departure to the Great White Northeast, we have motored through this two hour hike in 75 minutes.  As you can guess we don’t exactly stop to smell the roses or let the tannins from the six inch bark of the redwoods create any olfactory delight.  But we do get the exercise and soak in the redwood experience one last time.

Wrapping up an afternoon at Muir Woods

Wrapping up an afternoon at Muir Woods

Packing away our hiking boots and gear, we fit all our clothes and gear into a carry-on travel bag and a sizable canvas bag each.  Though it’s 5P, the traffic south to the Golden Gate Bridge is manageable and we sail across and then down 19th Avenue through the city.

From our front seat

From our front seat

Arriving at the airport we find our 11P flight to Boston is on schedule.  We crash in quasi-comfortable airport chairs playing with our iPhones as we await our departure.

Our California dream world hiking vacation is ending as we set our sights for home, our New England paradise on the coast of Maine.  It’s just that our East Coast nirvana may not be ready for us until May.






MW york temp