Dan and Hannah with a Prince Edward Island Fundraising Update

PEI map 2

In June of 2013, Hannah and I biked the 175 mile Confederation Trail across Prince Edward Island in Canada from Tignish to Elmira.  We were raising money for our friend Amy Paquette and her family to go to Disney World in Orlando, Florida.  Amy, a top-of-the-class student of mine at the University of New England, was struck by a disabling brain aneurysm in early 2013.

Hannah, Amy, and Dan

Hannah, Amy, and Dan

Some 50 of our family and friends donated over $1600 for the Family Paquette for their trip to Disney World.

I am pleased to report that in August of 2014, Amy was healthy enough to drive with her husband Mike and their three young boys to Orlando, Florida.

Dan, Hannah, Donna, George, and Becky

Dan, Hannah, Donna, George, and Becky

On Saturday, September 13, 2014, Hannah and I with our sister-in-law Becky and good friends Donna and George Ellis participated in the 6th Annual KAT Walk for Brain Aneurysm Awareness fundraiser in Portland, Maine.  Amy as our captain led more than 50 of us on her “A Team” around the Back Bay in Portland, Maine on a blustery, fall-is-in-the-air, mid-September afternoon.

If you are in the Portland, Maine area in September 2015 consider walking with us to raise money to fight this debilitating disease.

 

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Dan and Hannah Bike the Cabot Trail – Interested?

cabot trail map 3

Does the idea of biking the Cabot Trail intrigue you?  If you are one who thinks that you couldn’t do that, think again.  With the proper planning, it just may be possible.  Here’s what Hannah and I learned about biking the 300 kilometre (~190 miles) loop trail in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.

Have a damn good reason to take on the challenge.  Though doable, this is no walk in the park.  When you get weary in the third, fifth, or seventh hour of biking, you’ve got to have a good reason to stay motivated.

Coastal road skirting French Mountain

The Cabot Trail in Cape Breton HIghlands National Park, Nova Scotia

For me I was taken by the physical challenge of just seeing if I could actually ride 190 miles and hills in faraway Cape Breton.  As those who know Hannah will not surprised, she wanted to push herself beyond her everyday boundaries.

The Maritime Provinces of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia

The Maritime Provinces of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia

We are country mice.  Getting away is our “go to” choice.  When we travel, we often choose the mountain West, coastal California away from LA and SF, and the Maritime Provinces of Canada.

There is no time like the present.  How much longer will we be able to do such physical challenges?  My Phoenix, Arizona elementary school principal, John Laidlaw, said, Tomorrow never comes.  Chew on that while you carpe your diem.

Let’s be honest.  The cool factor plays into much of the challenges I take on.  It seemed cool to run a marathon so I ran the Fiesta Bowl Marathon in 1981.  It seemed cool to visit all 50 states as a family (49 down with Hawaii to go!).  And it seemed cool to learn how to juggle and now I am hired out for parties (Not really, but I can juggle).  Certainly it being cool is not enough of a reason by itself, but it is cool to say we’ve biked the Cabot Trail.

Lastly this trip gave us an opportunity to stay at B&Bs where we could toast our day’s ride with a glass of Shiraz, interact with some local Cape Bretoners, and have a family home breakfast before we hit the road.

Beginning the assault of North Mountain

Beginning the assault of North Mountain

Fitness.  As over-60 athletes, we have been exercising for 40 some years.  Not uber-exercisers, we just put in the daily work.  The downside of running for 30 years is that our knees have said no mas to any more running.  The upside is that as over-65 athletes we are now “going to the gym” fit.

I did have right knee issues after both the second and third days of biking 7 to 8 hours.  That said, each morning after, I could ride again just fine.  Once the entire ride was done, it was three to four weeks before my right knee felt totally right and six weeks before my energy returned to its pre-ride level.

Mountains.  French and North Mountain in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park are beasts.  They are more than two miles of long, steady 11 to 13% climbs.  We did walk up part of North Mountain with our bikes.  To train for these steep grades, we did not seek out the highest mountains in Maine.  We biked some local hills and left it at that.

Camping or Bed and Breakfasts?

For us, it is B&Bs with a queen bed and breakfast each morning before we hit the road.  We stayed in four B&Bs and the reviews are below.

A4 Baddeck Riverside B&B sign

Baddeck Riverside B&B in Baddeck, Cape Breton – $90 Laverne, the innkeeper, is par excellence; she has personality, spunk, and a sweetness; we felt like old friends right away.  For privacy, it can’t be beat as it is a one room B&B.  There is an additional room, even two, to let, but that’s only if everyone knows each other.  The bathroom is spacious; there’s an expansive bedroom view of the Baddeck River.  This B&B is four miles from the Cabot Trail out a rural road, but well worth the drive.  Bikes can be conveniently stowed in their barn.

We rest after the first day on the Cabot Trail

On the Cabot Trail in Cheticamp, Cape Breton

L’Auberge Doucet Inn, Cheticamp, Cape Breton – $85 + tax – With eleven rooms it is more motel than B&B right on the Cabot Trail.  The private bathroom and spacious interior make it feel luxuorious. Since we were preseason, they upgraded our room to one with a king bed which had room for our bikes.  There is a café rather than a dining room for breakfast; we ordered off a small menu.  With an outside deck that looks across the bay to Cheticamp Island, it was ideal for that evening glass of wine.

Hannah with tomorrow night's dinner in front of the Country Haven B&B in Cape North, Nova Scotia

Hannah at the Country Haven B&B in Cape North, Nova Scotia

Country Haven B&B, Cape North, Cape Breton – $80 – In this family home with two B&B rooms, it is quite private with a modern bathroom and access to their comfortable living room.  Andrea’s Restaurant (4 of 4 stars) on the Cabot Trail itself is conveniently located 100 yards down the hill.  To supplement breakfast these innkeepers had a side table with cereals, especially helpful for the energy demands of bicyclists.  They adjusted the breakfast time when we got up early.

Leaving Pamela's B&B in light rain

Pamela’s B&B on the final morning of our four day ride on the Cabot Trail

Pamela’s B&B, St. Ann’s Cape Breton – $70  – Pamela and Donald are a likeable couple who asked us when we wanted breakfast rather than offering a specific range of breakfast serving times.  With two rooms for guests, the one bathroom needed to be shared.  And the small tub has only a hand held nozzle so getting a good soaking shower after a day on the road was not easy.

Along the Margaree River Valley to the Gulf of St. Lawrence

Along the Margaree River Valley to the Gulf of St. Lawrence on the Cabot Trail

Seasonal Timing. By biking during the first week in June, we took advantage of pre-season rates at the B&Bs.  Since there is far less road traffic at that time, Hannah and I were able to ride side by side for 97% of our ride.  There is a peace and calm to be found on the island of Cape Breton during the preseason.

Hannah rides the Cabot Trail along the seacoast of Cape Breton

Hannah with panniers packed on the Cabot Trail along the seacoast of Cape Breton

Suitable clothing and biking gear.  Temperatures during the first week of June can be mornings in the 40s and daily highs in the 50s.  That said, our first two days on the road were 75F.   We were prepared with sweatshirts, biking tights, jackets, and gloves.  Rain can come at any time so our ponchos were a must.

Crossing the Ingonish River with Cape Smokey Mountain in the background

A good sport and fun-loving

We each took all that would fit into two panniers (bicycle saddle bags).  We wore biking shorts, black biking tights, long sleeve tee shirts, sweatshirt (Hannah two jackets), reflective yellow vest, and Merrill sandals for biking.  I had extra dry-fit Under Armour-type shirts, socks and underwear, open toe sandals and extra shorts for the evening.  Each morning I liberally applied Bag Balm to my thighs.

Biking tools?  We had an Allen wrench for adjustments and spare tires and tools for changing flats. With only one bike shop in Cheticamp, small vehicle repair shops may be able to fix tires as they did for us on Prince Edward Island last year.  If we did break down irreparably, we were going to hitchhike; there were locals with pick-up trucks to transport our bikes and us, if need be.  We never did test this theory.

Find someone compatible to ride with.  For us, the experience was heightened and made legendary by biking with each other.  For me, the ride doesn’t happen without Hannah.

Descending Cape Smokey Mountain

Descending Cape Smokey Mountain in five minutes

Sense of adventure.  If you look to experience what you have no idea that you might experience, this may be the ride for you.  Are you curious and wonder about the people beyond your geographical area?  This may be the ride for you.  Are you resilient and have faith that you will find a way when things don’t go as planned, then this may be the ride for you.

Take four days, five, even six or seven to complete your ride.  Be at one with the road.  More commonly, people drive the Cabot Trail.  Maybe that is your cup of tea.  Our cup had two wheels, each other, and the wind at our backs.

When biking long distances, know thyself and thy limits.  Be prepared.

Dan and Hannah Bike the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia   Day 4 of 4

cabot trail map 3

Awaking a little after 6A at Pamela’s B&B in St. Ann’s, Cape Breton, we are pumped for our final day on the Cabot Trail.  With only 34 kilometres of biking to complete the 300 of the Trail, we feel like we have it made in the shade.  We are as cool as the other side of the pillow.  As I peek behind the bedroom curtain, I see that clouds and fog have descended down the mountain to the backyard of the B&B. Pleased that my debilitating right leg cramps of yesterday are just a memory, I’m ready to rock and roll on the roads of Nova Scotia.

After three days of six to eight hours in the bicycle saddle, we look forward to a simple few hours of coastal bike riding back to Baddeck, Nova Scotia where we began our trek three mornings ago.  Breakfast is simple; pancakes and bacon for me (I give the pig to Hannah) while Hannah has cheesy scrambled eggs and toast.

Leaving Pamela's B&B in light rain

Leaving Pamela’s B&B in light rain

Packing is quick and easy since we have brought only what we can fit into each of our two panniers.  After yesterday’s afternoon rain, we’ll put our gloves and rain ponchos near the top of these saddle bags for easy access in case of more rain.  As we step out into what we thought was just a dense fog, light rain is falling and out come our ponchos.  Even if the rain were to be bone-soaking, we still should arrive before noon.

Hannah heading for Baddeck on the Cabot Trail on an early June Thursday

Hannah heading for Baddeck on the Cabot Trail on the first Thursday in June

Following Hannah on the very small paved part of the shoulder of the Cabot Trail, I push my sweatshirt sleeves above the arms of my poncho so as to keep them from getting wetter; I settle into a steady pace on this 58F morning.  Always most concerned about being cold, Hannah has three layers beneath her poncho, biking tights, and two pairs of gloves.

Rain or shine, we roll on

Rain or shine, we roll on

For the fourth day on the road, we have very little vehicular traffic so Hannah and I ride side by side with her closer to the edge.  After getting thumped by North Mountain on Day 2 (see blog of June 21, 2014) and hitting paydirt with Wally and Phyllis on Cape Smokey Mountain on Day 3 (see blog of June 28, 2014), we look forward to a morning of relatively level coastal riding along the Great Bras D’Or channel.

Hannah along the Bras d'Or

Hannah along the Bras d’Or channel

What would normally be a spectacular ride along the coastline is just a ride in a fog bank between evergreens with the spray coming up from Hannah’s back tire.  Having experienced spectacular for three days, we accept what the weather gods give us this morning.  It can pour and pour and we will just marshal on for the Baddeck Riverside B&B, returning to Laverne and Gordon’s place.

D6 D on trail in poncho

Since it’s a warm rain Hannah feels no morning chill.  Genetically sunny, Hannah pedals on as she has for three breathtaking days on the Cabot Trail.

The last 15 kilometres on the Trans-Canada Highway

The last 15 kilometres on the Trans-Canada Highway

Turning right onto the Canadian Highway with its wide shoulders 20 kilometres from Baddeck, we are just smiling.  Our bicycle chains and gears have gone 300 kilometres without a breakdown.  The flat tires of last year’s ride on the Confederation Trail in Prince Edward Island are just a distant memory.  Our bicycle steeds have come through like California Chrome in the Kentucky Derby.

D9A river scene on trail

We are bowed but not beaten.  We ride quietly and pay humble homage to the Cabot Trail in all its glory.  It was tougher, much more challenging than we had imagined.  But we made it.  The Cabot Trail has exacted a physical toll for riding her roads.  We have paid in full and have had the ride of a lifetime.

Gordon, Laverne, and Hannah

 

About 1030A, after two plus hours of biking, we exit the Cabot Trail and get to Big Farm Road to the Baddeck Riverside B&B; there, innkeepers Laverne and Gordon, welcome us as if old friends.

 

Tonight we will go to the Baddeck, Nova Scotia public library to hear Laverne talk about her hike of the Camino in Spain.  (The El Camino de Santiago is the 790 kilometre (~470 mile) pilgrimage route in northern Spain to honor James, the apostle, whose remains are said to be buried there.   Martin Sheen stars in the 2010 movie, The Way, about the Camino.)

Camino map

At one point during her presentation, Laverne introduces us as her overnight B&B guests who have just finished biking the Cabot Trail.  Surprisingly, the audience of 30 Cape Bretoners loudly, collectively oohs and aahs in appreciation.  I am a little bit shocked.  As hearty daughters and sons of 19th century Scots, they are impressed with our ride when I thought they might think anyone can bike the Trail.

After Laverne’s media presentation in front of thirty of her neighbors (Baddeck has a winter population of 700), her husband Gordon surprises us by inviting us back to their living room for a glass of his chilled homemade red wine.  They take us in like family.

The Mainiacs with Laverne

The Mainiacs with Laverne

Later that night Laverne recites her own poem, the Hall Lamp. (She recites from, literally, beneath the hall lamp on the landing of the stairs to the second floor.)  Here words speak of the family history that connects her life with generations past and the joy and love she has for Gordon.  Touched that we have been included in such intimacy, we have come to know what is good in Cape Breton.

So what’s next for us?  What about going to Spain to hike the Camino in all it’s nearly 500 miles of glory?

Nah, Hannah keeps our adventures in North America and that’s just fine with me.

Dan and Hannah Bike the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia   Day 3 of 4

cabot trail map 3

Walking to the bathroom just before dawn, I find that my tender right knee shows none of the balkiness and cramping from yesterday’s ride.  With 113 kilometres (~70 miles) of biking today, I can do the math: we have eight give-or-take hours in the bicycle saddle and I need two good knees.  Fortunately we have none of the steep mountains of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park today.

Dan and Hannah in front of the Country Haven B&B ready to roll

Dan and Hannah in front of the Country Haven B&B ready to roll

With my panniers lined with plastic to protect my clothes from the forecasted drizzle (Hannah’s yellow panniers are waterproof), we have overcast skies after two sunny days in the 70s.  Relieved that our monster day through the mountains is over, we know that a long day in the saddle this Wednesday means we have only 30 some kilometres of biking tomorrow.

Heading up South Mountain on a chilly, foggy morning

Heading up South Mountain on a chilly, foggy morning

Pedaling out of the wee town of Cape North, we reenter the Cape Breton Highlands National Park.  Our first ascent is South Mountain, a welcome change to its big brother, North Mountain, who bullied us yesterday.  Chilly and damp, our morning ride requires sweatshirts and jackets with Hannah in her biking tights and I in my biking shorts.  At the beginning of the biking day, we steadily climb the 6% grade of South Mountain.  Now, whenever we have a climb, we say, It’s not North Mountain. (See last week’s blog [June 21, 2014] about the ass kicking North Mountain gave us.)

There is still a morning chill in the air entering the national park

There is still a morning chill in the air entering the national park

How do we pass the time riding side by side on the Cabot Trail for hours on end?  We search for meaty topics and dive in.  Today we talk about what we want when in conversation with others.  Often conversations begin with the sharing of information.  Clearly, that can be an important prelude to meaningful dialogue.  What takes conversation to the next level is the back-and-forthness of genuine interest and curiosity.  Thankfully, the distraction of this conversation takes us kilometres down the Cabot Trail.

Taking a break near St. Ann's Bay

Taking a break near St. Ann’s Bay

By noon, we arrive in Ingonish but sadly learn that there is no Coop grocery store in town for salads and fruit for our lunch.  Buying two bananas for a dollar, we split one and head for Cape Smokey Mountain; we’ll lunch on peanut butter on bagels and last night’s pizza once we find a picnic table.

Crossing the Ingonish River with Cape Smokey Mountain in the background

Crossing the Ingonish River with Cape Smokey Mountain in the background

At North Bay, we pass Ski Cape Smokey Mountain, which should have been our first clue that this part of the ride will be no walk in the park.  Though the guide says we have 5% grade over three kilometres, we take the guide with a barrel of salt since it has erred before on its calculations of the grades of mountains in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park; we will soon learn that it has erred again.  We climb and climb some more.  It’s a persistent, unrelenting climb on a cloudy, overcast day.

Out of nowhere we have another major climb, albeit slow and steady; but unexpected on a day when we thought our biggest challenges would be just pedaling 70 miles along the east coast of Cape Breton.  With no place for lunch on the side of the road, we bike on for the next hour.

At the summit, we find a picnic area atop of old Cape Smokey after what I am guessing has been a relentless climb of 12 to 15 kilometres.  Cycling in on the gravel road to the picnic tables, we have been on the road for nearly six hours with miles to go before we sleep.  While the greying overcast looms, Wally and Phyllis from the States welcome us over to lunch with them.

Hannah with Phyllis and Wally on Cape Smokey Mountain

Hannah with Phyllis and Wally on Cape Smokey Mountain

Over the next hour, we learn that Wally and Phyllis are the daily double of friendship: they are interesting and interested.  A winning combination in couples.  We connect immediately over the joys and challenges of raising children, biking throughout the Northeast and Canada, our life journeys, and eventually learn they have a child with leukemia, as did we.  Interestingly, how when you feel safe with others and there is mutual interest, these stories of the heart come out.  We hug them good-bye as if we are old friends.

Descending Cape Smokey Mountain

Descending Cape Smokey Mountain

While they drive off, we know that we still have three hours of biking til we arrive at Pamela’s B&B in St. Ann’s.  The descent of Cape Smokey Mountain to Wreck Cove (ominous name indeed?) is something out of downhill racer.  Braking most of the time, we descend the mountain in less than five minutes when it took us more than an hour to climb the other side.

Our rain gear comes out.

Our rain gear comes out.

Making good time on the level coastal ride and feeling good, I then feel the first rain drop on my left hand just after 3p.  Then another.  A steady drizzle forces us to the side of the road to change into our rain ponchos.  By this evening, 90% of our bike riding of the Cabot Trail will have been completed so we just push on.  We can do what it takes to get to Pamela’s as we pass through Skir Dhu (Gaelic), Little River, and North Shore.  (These “towns” are, in fact, a few houses on either side of the Cabot Trail.)

Moving on down the Cabot Trail

Moving on down the Cabot Trail

The showery rain goes from drizzle to serious rain and back to showers.  Without roadside kilometre signs, we have no idea how far we have gone, but every pedal gets us one meter closer to our night’s B&B.  Beyond the point of wanting to take pictures with my iPhone, we pass the occasional farm house and craft shop, but our focus is the rain spitting road ahead.

Told by Pamela that we will turn at a long white church, we think it’s got to be close since we have pedaled for two hours since our Cape Smokey picnic.  Finding it, I dismount and walk to the door of the church with my right knee cramping and barking.  No one is about, and I hobble back to my bike and painfully remount.  I will pay for having dismounted.

When looking back down the road from where we have come, we see a sign that indicates we have come 91 kms from Cape North.  Doing the simple math, we calculate that we still have 22 kilometres (~ 14 miles) to go.  Crushed and dispirited, I was hoping we were so much closer.  The pain shoots up and down my right leg and hovers around my knee; I say to Hannah I can’t go on.  You go ahead.  She suggests I get back on the bike and see what happens.  I say, Please ride ahead and have Pamela come back to get me.

Hannah pedals on and I give it a shot and put my feet in my toe clips and let the left leg carry the load.  Fortunately, I find it easier to bike than walk.  The rain having stopped, I decide to pedal as far as I can until I can go no more.  The faster I go the less painful my right knee is.  So I go for it.  In minutes, I race pass Hannah hoping to just make it as close to Pamela’s as I can before keeling over.  My right knee/leg cramp doesn’t allow me to pedal on the downhills, but it goes along for the ride when my left leg takes on the hills.

.

The Journey's End - Pamela's B&B

The Journey’s End – Pamela’s B&B

Having no idea where Pamela’s is, I make it the ride of my life.  One pedal after another.  And then, as life deals me good cards again, I spot the Pamela’s B&B sign some 8 kilometres (~5 miles) this side of the village center of St. Ann’s.  My thirty minutes of bent-on-hell biking gets me to the uphill driveway leading to Pamela’s.

Limping, I am greeted by Pamela and Donald.  Parking my bike under the wood pile tree, I wait for Hannah, who will arrive ten minutes later.

I can’t believe I made it – that we made it!  Thankfully I won’t have to get on the bike for another 15 hours after biking 106 kilometres over the last eight hours.  We are so fortunate the rain held off til after our ski slope descent of Cape Smokey; so fortuante that Pamela’s was on this side of St.  Ann’s; and so very thankful that we only have 34 kms tomorrow to Baddeck to complete the Cabot Trail.

After warm showers, we toast our good fortune in the B&B living room, and feel like we have basically finished the ride with 90% of the 300 kilometres of the Cabot Trail in the books.  We do await what surprises lie ahead tomorrow- our last day on the road.

Dan and Hannah Bike the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia Day 2 of 4

Cape Breton Highlands National Park

Cape Breton Highlands National Park

We don’t sleep well.  With the serious mountains of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park looming, we wake before 5A as dawn streams in around the shades this third of June.  Uncertainty lies before us.  We have no idea what to expect and have little choice but to pedal on into the mountains as our Hyundai Elantra is 60 miles back in Baddeck.  We like to think we are resourceful in the face of such physical challenges.  Well, let’s just see if we can walk the walk?

I slice up pancakes for breakfast while Hannah gets her bacon fix with eggs over hard.  Packed and pedaling down the Cabot Trail through Cheticamp, an Acadian town of 3500, Hannah in her biking tights and two jackets and I in my biking shorts and sweatshirt, see the distant mountains and wonder what lies ahead.

The highlands trail begins

The highlands trail begins

At the visitor center thirty minutes later, we pay $6.80 each as seniors to learn what obstacles we will turn into opportunities.  After the wife of an older couple takes our picture at the park entrance, he says, I was born on this spot.  You got to have a good heart [to bike these roads].  It turns out I find comfort in his words since good hearts are what we have after exercising at the gym all winter long.  Now let’s see how our mountain climbing legs measure up.

Pannier packed, Hannah is ready to rock and roll

Panniers packed, Hannah is ready to rock and roll

Nicely paved, the roads lead us along the rolling coastal hills above the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  Told the first climb is the steepest but shortest at a kilometre with a 15% grade, we await its arrival as we pedal on.

Before we know it, we shift to a low gear as I follow Hannah up the steep cliffside.  Head down, aware of every inch of the pavement beneath me, I focus on one pedal at a time.  And voila, we are at the top.  That wasn’t so bad. What’s the big deal? we think.  Of course, that was the baby brother of French and North Mountains.  Still, one down, two to go.

Coastal road skirting French Mountain

Coastal road skirting French Mountain

After cruising down the other side of this first climb, we see the ribbon of highway (thank you Woody Guthrie for that image) ahead of us.  French Mountain is to our right, the sea to our left, but it doesn’t seem overwhelming at first glance.  Are we missing something?

Hannah high above the Gulf of St. Lawrence

Hannah high above the Gulf of St. Lawrence

After fifteen minutes of climbing, we stop to take in the coastline at a parking area vista.  Easily remounting our bikes, we take the S curves on the side of the mountain and think, An eight per cent grade doesn’t seem so bad.

Roadside snow

Roadside snow

A photo op by the snow patch provides us with another break, but we are not yet winded or heavy-legged.  It’s actually kind of cool scaling this mountain on bikes.  Few cars pass us this preseason late spring day; the ones that do, give us a wide berth.

Spotting the French Mountain sign at the top, we are feeling, quite literally, on top of the world having biked for some 50 minutes.  Checking the roadside sign we are stunned to learn that our climb of six kilometres (nearly four miles) with an 8% grade really has been a climb up an 11% grade.  Well, that’s very cool.  Two down, one to go.

It turns out French Mountain was steeper than we thought.

It turns out French Mountain was steeper than we thought.

 

 

Hannah atop French Mountain with the flat highlands ahead

Hannah atop French Mountain with the flat highlands ahead

Flat highland biking restores our energy and refreshes our legs.  Taking a break at the overlook to the Gulf of St. Lawrence on MacKenzie Mountain, we fortunately only have to descend this monster of a mountain.

Ready for the descent of MacKenzie Mountain

Ready for the descent of MacKenzie Mountain

At 25-30 mph, we sail down towards Pleasant Bay on dry pavement that has me braking 70% of the time.  A local café waitress cheerfully allows us to fill our water bottles on this day of full sun in the mid 70s.  Having taken four hours of steady biking to go 26 miles, we are not breaking any land speed records at 6.5 mph.  On the plus side, we have just 18 miles to go.  On the flip side, North Mountain stands between us and our B&B in Cape North.

Beginning the assault of North Mountain

Beginning the assault of North Mountain

The advertised picnic area mocks us. It is in the woods down an embankment near a creek that has a summer long mosquito and black fly convention in progress.  Driven away, we finish our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches sitting in the gravel at the side of the road.  Right now food is fuel; it’s energy for our bodily machines.  North Mountain is right there, staring us in the face.  We are at the feet of the monster with our bikes of 21 gears ready to attack.

Hannah giving it her all on the North Mountain climb

There is no prelude, no preamble to North Mountain as the climb begins immediately; we press hard on our pedals to climb the steep esses of the road.  Already, we are in for the battle of our lives.  Going so slowly, we feel like our bikes would fall over or tip backwards at any moment if we go any slower.  I with a tender right knee and Hannah with a surgically repaired left leg push and push the pedals some more with power and conviction and hope.  To maintain her focus, Hannah spells out her grandsons’ names with each pedal stroke – O-W-E-N, M-A-X-W-E-L-L – on her climb to the top.

It's not getting any easier

It’s not getting any easier

At the one kilometre mark, with three kilometres to go, the task is daunting.  We are wavering; doubt creeps into our minds if we can really make it to the top at all.  We continue to pedal so slowly, and the mountain top is nowhere in sight.  And then, we have no more to give!  We dismount, grab the handlebars with the left hand, push on the seat with the right, and plod up the mountain.  We have no choice.  North Mountain is kicking our butts and taking no prisoners.

In five minutes, we remount but pedal for just a few hundred yards before we dismount again. Still unbowed and unbloodied, we press on for the summit.

Again, the climb is steeper than we were told.

Again, the climb is steeper than we were told.

After three kilometres we arrive at a plateau and resaddle our bikes.  This has been the hardest physical test either of us has ever taken.  Arriving at the summit ten minutes later, we learn that the incline has been 13% not the advertised 10%.

Though we have been manhandled by the mountain, we still have 20 kilometres to our B&B in Cape North.

Though Hannah’s left leg is fine, my right knee is tender and cramping.  Pedaling high above the Aspy River, I favor my left leg as the right is aching and just along for the ride.  I have little choice but to pedal on, however painful, for the next hour to Cape North.  The headwind from the north doesn’t make it any easier as the temperature drops 20 degrees to 50F.  Once in tee shirts, we are now bundled with jackets and sweatshirts.

Resting mid-way on the descent of North Mountain

Resting mid-way on the descent of North Mountain

With nothing left to give, I focus on one pedal at a time.  It’s a long slog to the Country Haven B&B, but the innkeepers Kathleen and Alfred take us in; a shower soothes me from top to bottom.  After thirty minutes lying in bed, we uncork the bottle of Pinot Noir we brought over the mountain.  Sitting in their living room in triumph, Hannah repeats three or four times, I can’t believe we did it.  We have slayed the beast.

Feeling well enough to walk the 100 yards down the hill to Angie’s Restaurant for a fantastic 18” veggie pizza, we meet up again with the six women from Saskatoon.  One tells me gleefully that she had no intention of biking up North Mountain and just started walking her bike up.  A maintenance truck approached her and the driver asked how are you doing to which she responded, it’s a struggle.  Are you in distress, he asked?   No, it’s just a struggle.  Well, only if you are in distress, can I take you and your bike to the top of North Mountain.  I am in distress! she agreed and got the ride of her life.

Hannah with tomorrow night's dinner in front of the Country Haven B&B in Cape North, Nova Scotia

Hannah with tomorrow night’s dinner in front of the Country Haven B&B in Cape North, Nova Scotia

Our monster day is in the books and now our big mileage day of 113 kilometres (nearly 70 miles) looms tomorrow. We wonder what the 100 miles of biking over the last two days will mean to these bodies of ours.

After two fantastic days of warm and sunny weather, drizzle is in the forecast.  Still with the monster mountains behind us, it feels like it is all downhill.  We sleep well, but we couldn’t be more wrong about what lies ahead.

Dan and Hannah Bike the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia Day 1 of 4

cabot trail map 3

In Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, the Cabot Trail is a hilly, sometimes mountainous 300 kilometres (~190 miles) of paved road, much of it along the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Atlantic Ocean.  It has character, personality, and highlands (read: mountains) with climbs with a 15% grade.  Though this is no walk in the park, Hannah and I have been thinking of biking this loop trail since we completed the Confederation Trail in PEI (Prince Edward Island) in 2013.  We are ready to find out if were up to the test.

Leaving early Saturday morning on the last day of May, Hannah and I drive north on the Maine Turnpike for Baddeck, Nova Scotia, the starting and ending point of the Cabot Trail.  It will take us two days to drive the 730 miles to this northern Maritime province.

A1 D and H Katahdin

Stopping at the Mount Katahdin viewing area on I-95 north of Bangor, Maine, we see the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail for the first time.  Usually the mountain is covered in clouds and hidden from our view.  Some might see this as a good sign.

A3 Nova Scotia sign

Renewed and energized by a night in Fredericton, New Brunswick with our longtime friends Bill and Karen, we weave our way along the Trans-Canada Highway through New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.  What does it take to climb 10 to 15% grades for kilometres on end when we have never done it before?  Have our three to five minute climbs up the Bog Road and Fall Mill Road Extension hills here in York, Maine prepared us?  We shall see.

A4 Baddeck Riverside B&B sign

Over breakfast at the Baddeck Riverside B & B in Cape Breton on Monday morning, Laverne (the innkeeper) rustles up eggs Benedict (she picks spinach from her garden as we watch) to satisfy our hunger and energy needs.  Soon we are cracking to go.

300 kilometres to go!

300 kilometres to go!

Today we have 94 kilometres (~60 miles) of biking to the Acadian seacoast town of Cheticamp (pronounced Shetty-camp) in what is described as moderate biking conditions.  Biking six kilometres from our B&B, we turn south on the Cabot Trail on the Trans-Canada Highway, our pavement home for the next four days.

Rolling onto the Trans-Canada Highway to start the Cabot Trail in Baddeck, Nova Scotia

Rolling onto the Trans-Canada Highway to start the Cabot Trail in Baddeck, Nova Scotia

Over the first kilometres of rolling hills, we pedal steadily up the inclines.  But no big deal.  As we will have reinforced over the next four days, Canadian drivers move over without fail to give us our space as we ride.  In our experience, Canadians have a richly deserved reputation for being just so damn thoughtful.

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Riding down the Cabot Trail on the Trans-Canada Highway

The Cabot Trail on the Trans-Canada Highway

Ten kilometres down the Trans-Canada Highway, we make a right turn inland onto a country road with no shoulders towards the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  As I will for 97% of our ride, I pull up beside Hannah so we can talk as we ride side by side.  It’s the first week of June, two to three weeks before the tourists descend on this vacation island, so we have the roads to ourselves for the most part.  There will be stretches where no vehicle passes us for five to ten minutes.  Riding in a clockwise direction on this loop trail, we take advantage of the prevailing winds and, as we will learn later, avoid the steepest climbs on the trail.

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With packed waterproof panniers, Hannah is ready for all the Cabot Trail has to give

With packed waterproof panniers, Hannah is ready for all the Cabot Trail has to give

Within the first hour we have our first climb to the top of Hunter Mountain.  It’s a 5% grade for two kilometres which requires steady pedaling in lower gears. It turns out to be very doable and our confidence builds.  Zipping down the other side, Hannah leans over her handle bars and rockets down the hill.   A little less steady and less confident, I sit tall in the bike saddle to let the wind resistance slow my rapid descent.

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Along the Margaree River Valley to the Gulf of St. Lawrence

Along the Margaree River Valley to the Gulf of St. Lawrence

In tee-shirts and shorts, for the next two hours, we pass fields with gently rolling hills along the Margaree River Valley and think biking this Cabot Trail is not so tough.  On the straight-aways, we can pedal up to 15 mph.  Anyone fit enough can handle this ride, we say out loud to ourselves.

Hannah at the Gulf of St. Lawrence

Hannah at the Gulf of St. Lawrence

Just after noon, we arrive on the seacoast at Belle Cote.  As we enter this coastal town of modest houses and vacation homes, we are passed by the only other Cabot Trail bicyclists we will see during our four day ride.  Six thirty-something women from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan are biking the Trail (as the locals refer to it).  We will meet these moms and longtime friends tomorrow after we bike the mountains of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

Hannah rides the Cabot Trail along the seacoast of Cape Breton

Hannah rides the Cabot Trail along the seacoast of Cape Breton

Today we lunch at picnic tables at the Belle Cote Community Center on turkey sandwiches and apple slices.  The wind is picking up from the south, which means we will sail along the coast at maximum speed with minimal effort.  With 20 some kilometres to Cheticamp, we cruise along the Cape Breton coast thinking we are definitely ready for the mountains of Cape Breton Highlands National Park tomorrow.  (In the distance, the highlands hear us talk and shake their heads; they think us sad and naive for they have other plans for us.)

Dan above the sea cliffs on the way to Cheticamp, Nova Scotia

Dan above the sea cliffs on the way to Cheticamp, Nova Scotia

Arriving at our evening motel, the L’Auberge Doucet Inn high above the Cabot Trail in Cheticamp at 230P, we feel ready for another hour or two on the bikes.  Alas, there is no place to stay the night further down the road since the Cape Breton Highlands National Park is just outside of town.  Thanks to Hannah’s innate sweetness, the innkeeper upgrades our room to one with a king bed.

Bonjour

Bonjour

With time to explore Cheticamp, we find a bottle of Shiraz for our late afternoon of wine togetherness.  We pick up a Pinto Noir for tomorrow night after our ride through the highlands.

Stopping by Velo Max Cycling, the one bike shop in Cape Breton, we are both sobered and encouraged by our conversation with Andre, the bike store owner.  He tells us that just inside the park there is a 15% grade climb over a kilometre long.  Then there is French Mountain at 8% grade over six kilometres.  Finally the granddaddy climb of North Mountain has a 10% grade over four kilometres.  As an experienced bicyclist himself, he stands to pedal up North Mountain.  This must be some bad mountain.  He warns us of false flats, where the road seems level, but it is a climb nonetheless.

Throughout our twenty minutes together, he says at separate times, you can do it and I don’t want to scare you.  When someone says they don’t want to scare you, they have planted the seeds to scare you.  Have we trained enough?  Where could we have found such long, steep mountains to climb near our home in York, Maine?  Are highlands really mountains? Having already done nearly 60 miles today, we wonder how our bodies will react to an even tougher day on the bikes tomorrow.

We rest after the first day on the Cabot Trail

We rest after the first day on the Cabot Trail

Under 70F skies at 5P we sip a glass of Shiraz with our popcorn.  Dinner comes from the local Coop; potato salad over mixed greens with bran muffins for dessert.  We are reminded of Alaska by the sunset after 9P in these parts.  But the late sunset is not the reason we won’t sleep well tonight.  Day 2 through the mountains of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park awaits.

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

Clothing

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 Bike the Confederation Trail on Prince Edward Island on Day 3 of 3 (The home stretch)

We ask Gerard, our innkeeper at the MacDonald’s of Maple Hill B and B here in Mount Stewart, PEI, if we can have breakfast at 7A so we can get an early start.  He twinkles, That’ll mean I’ll just have to set the alarm a little earlier

After nine hours of sleep, we wake to the same wonderful forecast: no rain and temps in the low 60s.  Showers are predicted for tomorrow and “serious rain” the day after.  We know how lucky we’ve been.  We have organized our trip so that after days of biking 70 and 60 miles, we have just 45 miles today.

Though we think Gerard is married, he is the only one we see and he is up to the task.  Not given a choice for breakfast, we are delighted with his eggs over easy with toast and three strips of bacon.  Hannah wins big time for she knows she’ll get all my bacon this morning.  Yogurt and fruit complete the menu and we are ready for the home stretch.

Two days done, one to go

Two days done, one to go

Panniers packed, we ride with no urgency at all.  Our room for the night at Points East Beach Motel in North Lake is set so we pedal easily towards Morell (population 336) on red dirt trails.  After 15 kilometres we run across this small town with a restaurant, bank, and most importantly a Co-op.  This medium size grocery enables us to buy lunch for the day: potato salad, peanut butter for our Ritz crackers, bran muffins, and one of Hannah’s very favorites – crunchy cheese curls.  We learn Canadians no longer use pennies.  In transactions, they round up or down as the case may be.

3 H at Coop (2)

The trail heads to the Gulf of St. Lawrence for some seven kilometres of coastal riding; it’s the only time we bike by the ocean water.

Confederation Trail near St. Peters, PEI

Confederation Trail near St. Peters, PEI

It’s our third day of biking.  We have no zip, just a resolve to complete the journey to Elmira.

3 H on CT (4)

As we ride, Hannah says this has been her best vacation ever.  How can you beat all-day exercising…exploring new areas that are within a day’s drive of home… interacting with the locals?  We’ve made this trip one of interdependence, not independence.  After exercising all day, we slept in comfort and were fed each morning.   And to complement that, the two introverts have each other.

40 kilometres to go

40 kilometres to go

Staying at B and Bs has been an inspired choice.  Rather than end the biking day at a motel where we would mostly keep to ourselves, B and Bs have us meeting engaging Islanders who show their warmth and beat any feelings of isolation.

Hannah can smell the barn

Hannah can smell the barn

On the trail today, we talk about living lives of daring or lives of comfort.  What choices do we each make that frame the substance of our lives?  We like our routines (e.g., breakfast at home while Hannah writes notes and I read the paper, working out at the gym, or biking country roads).   Daring?  Do we meander beyond our comfort zone?  There isn’t a chance we’d go to Europe.  Months in Florida in the winter are just not for us.  Yet this trip without the safety net of a car at our constant disposal or the full knowledge we can actually bike 170 miles or what the weather will be has added a positive bit of daring to our lives.

273 kilometres later!

273 kilometres later!

Fini.  To me, it is no surprise that we made it.  In the months before hitting the Confederation Trail, I wondered how tough biking 7 to 8 miles per hour could really be, even if it is all day.  It turned out the ride was all very doable for two reasonablely fit 65 year olds.   Maybe we were just lucky?  The cool and rain-free weather certainly added to our enjoyment.  The Islanders in the right spot at the right time brought us conversations that we sought.  I must admit our relative affluence made it all possible.

Finito!

Finito!

At the train station in Elmira, Lynne the attendant offers to take our picture at the final sign.

Tignish to Elmira, PEI

Tignish to Elmira, PEI

She signs and awards us certificates for our achievement.

3 D and H certificates

3 D certificate

No lie, we are glad there is no additional day of biking.  We’ve done what we set out to do and no longer have the interest or the drive to do any more.

PEI map

It’s another five kilometres of biking to the end of the island at North Lake for our final night’s stay on PEI at Points East Beach Motel.

3 Point Beach Motel sign

After three perfect biking days, storm clouds are forming

After three perfect biking days, storm clouds are forming

Again there are no services in Elmira (population very few), so we drive twenty kilometres west to Souris (population 1300 – French for mice – The town’s name was provided by early settlers when a plague of mice invaded the area.) to the town Co-op for salads and fruit for our evening meal.  A bottle of wine will begin our celebratory evening.

We celebrate Amy and her family tonight and dedicate the third day of our ride to them.  It is we who are the fortunate ones: to have the health and resources to make such a ride in support of her family.

Hannah and Amy

Hannah and Amy

Thanks to over 50 family and friends who supported our fundraising ride, we raised over $1600 for the Paquette Family.  You will be happy to hear that they are planning a family vacation to Disney World in the near future.

Dan and Amy

Dan and Amy

One final note.  We hope you will consider reading further about PEI in the children’s classic, Dan of Green Gables.

D as Anne of Green Gables

Dan and Hannah Bike the Confederation Trail on Prince Edward Island on Day 2 of 3

While waiting for Summerside Bike Works (SBW) to open at 8A, we feast on breakfast at Willow Green Farm B and B.  As a cereal guy from way back, I love that they have Corn Flakes, a current personal favorite, on the side table.  Surprisingly, we get a little of old Tempe, Arizona (the town where Hannah and I lived for the first ten years of our marriage) with huevos rancheros wraps (scrambled eggs served in hot corn tortillas smothered in salsa).  With first and seconds of homemade oatmeal raisin bread toast, we are amply fueled for our 90 kilometre ride to Mount Stewart, PEI.

Off to SBW, one of only three bicycle shops on the entire island of Prince Edward, for a replacement tire and tube for Hannah’s hybrid bicycle, I once again pump up Hannah’s deflated rear tire.  As we approach, we see a small sign on the door labeled Summerside Bike Works on what is no more than a glorified two-car garage.  Riding up to the front door that seems surprisingly quiet for the start of a business day, we are stunned to read on this Wednesday that shop hours are 8A to 4P Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday!

We just smile.  Our sure thing just dissolved.  It’s 70 kilometres to the nearest bike shop in Charlottetown.  If pumping her tire every few kilometres is what it takes to get to Mount Stewart, we’ll do it.  Then again, today might just be our day to hitchhike.

Remembering having passed the Summerside Dodge dealership on the way to SBW, we reverse direction, ever hopeful, but with a touch of desperation.  We ask the lady at the counter if anyone can repair bike tires.  Without hesitation, she points us to the garage, and Nathan appears.

Hannah watching Nathan work on her tire

Hannah watching Nathan work on her tire

Having no patch kits for bicycles, Nathan puts Andrew’s (from Dennis Motors yesterday) patched tube back on Hannah’s rear tire.  In the process he finds stones in the tire itself and thinks that they may have been the source of the slow leak.  The stones could have come from our tube changing on the trail outside of O’Leary, PEI yesterday.  Pumping it up to 65 PSI, he gives us a rocking solid tire.  When I go to pay for his 30 minutes of work, the counter lady says, No charge.  We hurry to find Nathan and slip him $10 American.

Hannah and Nathan with her healed bicycle

Hannah and Nathan with her healed bicycle

We have another beautiful day in paradise with not a bit of rain in the forecast.  It’s blue skies with cumulous clouds and temps near 60F this first week of June lie before us.  There will be hills today, but, as a one-time railroad bed, the trail will be no greater than a 2% grade.  The knowledge that we’ve done 110 kilometres yesterday gives us the confidence we can handle today’s 90 kilometres, no problemo.

We cross our fingers, pack our panniers at Willow Green Farm, press our thumbs to Hannah’s back tire for reassurance that it is still holding air (she again has no spare tube), and head for Confederation Trail.

Blue skies on the way to Kensington, PEI

Blue skies on the way to Kensington, PEI

A gentle 15 kilometres to Kensington passing potato fields and single family homes kicks off our day.  Gun-shy, I can’t not look over at Hannah’s back tire every few minutes; to my unobservant eye it seems fine.

Backyards bracket the trail

Backyards bracket the trail

Stopping in Kensington, still wondering if her tire will hold air this time, we press it and find it as solid as a pair of six pack abs.

In no hurry and bursting with confidence in Hannah’s back tire, we are 15 kilometres down with 75 to go.  Brimming with confidence, we head to the Hunter River hills.

Potato fields east of Kensington

Potato fields east of Kensington

With two more hours of biking to our lunch stop at Hunter River, we take the trail through Freetown, Emerald and Fredericton, which have more cows than people.  We are coming to the hills and sense the climb ahead.  The satisfaction of one day of biking under our belts literally energizes our legs.  Our plan to bike the trail in three days seems well within reach.

The trail rises before us

The trail rises before us

Beginning our six kilometre climb, we still can talk side by side; distracted by the fields, forests, and hills, we totally forget about Hannah’s back tire.

2 CT (5)

The grade is not so steep that we have to get out of our bike seats to pump standing up, but the climb is steady, Eddie.  But we are ready, Freddy.  For bikers, there’s nothing truer than what goes up must come down.  We will soon be paid back in full with some serious downhill coasting. 

2 CT climbing near Hunter River (6)

Hills of Hunter River

Hills of Hunter River

At Hunter River (population 319) we break for a 30 minute lunch.  Ever so confident, we press our thumbs to Hannah’s back tire; Nathan has worked his magic in a big way as we are now 45 kilometres into our 90 for today.  Cooling down, we pull on our sweatshirts at the picnic table to eat half of our Subways subs as we look over the Hunter River Valley.

2 D at Hunter River CT sign

Before we left Maine, I just didn’t think about the fact that we’d be biking all day.  If we have no incidents, we’ll be in the saddle for 7 to 8 hours today.  We are not pressing to make miles; we talk, take pictures, and look forward to a cold recreational beverage in the evening as just reward for a job well done.

Dan along the Confederation Trail

Dan along the Confederation Trail

Riding the ridge, I find it stunning how railroad architects “smoothed” out the hills and weaved the trail around the modest “peaks” of PEI.

Hannah at the York, PEI crossing

Hannah at the York, PEI crossing

Riding to Mount Stewart,PEI

Riding to Mount Stewart,PEI

By 5P we arrive in Mount Stewart (population 312) with a plan to find a Co-op to buy fixings to make green salads with cottage cheese and a side of potato salad for dinner tonight.  We’ll treat ourselves with some barbecue chips to go with a bottle of fine local wine.  Pulling off the red dirt Confederation Trail on Route 22, we see first one restaurant boarded up, then two more closed for good.  Without even the most miniscule of grocery stores or gas station/convenience stores in town, we have no choice but to ride on to the MacDonald’s of Maple Hill B and B to get the scoop on Mount Stewart.  We later learn that folks routinely shop in the capital, Charlottetown, PEI, 25 minutes away by car.  Bummed, we connect the dots and realize that there will be no celebratory glass of wine tonight.

Driveway of MacDonald of Maple Hill B and B

Driveway of MacDonald of Maple Hill B and B

Our Innkeeper Gerard welcomes us to his home, which is the B and B.  A retired high school science teacher, he warms to conversation and enjoys his guests.

With her gentle voice that belies her formidable personality, Hannah asks, Is there any place where we can get some wine or beer?  He smiles and says, Wine is going to be a problem, but I have a couple of beers for you.  We’ll pay.  But he says, I can’t charge you because I’d need a liquor license to do so.  You are welcome to the beer; I’ve had it in the fridge since Christmas.  Canadians!

MacDonald's of Maple Hill B and B

MacDonald’s of Maple Hill B and B

We shower and return to his living room for cold beer.  After eight hours on the Confederation Trail, it tastes so sweet.  Gerard is an extrovert and fills us in with details of his MacDonald heritage and the fact that high school grads can’t find jobs in the country towns; they go to Charlottetown or to Canada’s western provinces to make the big money working the tar sands.

And then Hannah steps to the plate once again.

Gerard says he’s off to a church meeting, but before he goes, Hannah says, By any chance could I talk you out of another beer?  He smiles and says, In fact I have two more.  He leaves and we sip the second beer ever so slowly.  Hannah smiles and says, That was the best “second beer” of my life.  We’ll leave a tip on the bedside table when we set sail tomorrow.

Retiring to the queen room, we are in bed at 830A with my right knee barking ever so softly but fully committed to the 45 miles of biking we have to the end of the Confederation Trail in Elmira tomorrow.

We dedicate our ride on Day 2 to two Islanders, Nathan and Gerard.  Thank you, Nathan, we made it the 90 kilometres to Mount Stewart today because of you.  And Gerard, once we arrived you were the right person at the right time for us to celebrate 200 kilometres down and 73 to go.

Dan and Hannah on the Confederation Trail (Afternoon of Day 1 of 3)

After we put in the new tube after lunch, we find that in a little over an hour later Hannah’s back tire is flat again.  It’s 230P now and we’ve biked 71 kilometers, but we have 39 more to go to arrive at our B and B for the night.  Seated by the side of the road in Ellerslie, we wonder what is next as we finish off another energy bar.  Though her spare tube is flat, on the bright side, we did make it 15 kilometres on it.  Could we just pump up her tire every few kilometres and make it to Summerside, PEI by the evening?

39 kilometres from Summerside, PEI with the Rite Shop in the distance

39 kilometres from Summerside, PEI with the Rite Shop in the distance

If not, we could hitchhike?   Before I went into the Rite Shop convenience store, I saw a pickup truck that could easily hold our two bikes.   As I left off in the last blog, Don, the meat guy at the Rite Shop, is finishing filling our water bottles.  As I wait, I mention that we have a flat tire.  A flat tire? he responds.  Just go down to Dennis Motors, it’s about a mile down the road and they’ll fix you up.   Without me asking, Don calls Dennis Motors, then turns to me and says, They are ready for you.  Who knew a car dealer patches bike tubes?  Who knew they’d do it immediately?

I rush back to Hannah, pump up her back tire, and direct her to Dennis Motors, just a mile up the Ellerslie Road.  As Hannah pedals purposefully ahead, I pack my panniers and follow soon after.

We wait at Dennis Motors

We wait at Dennis Motors

Andrew of Dennis Motors steps out and immediately takes Hannah’s bike into the garage.  In ten minutes he returns with a thread of wire not a quarter inch long that he pulled from the tire itself.  Voila!  He found the source of our trouble!  That explains the slow leak.

Andrew repairs one tire, pumps it to 65 PSI, and patches the other one so we have a spare for our trip.  And get this!   For 45 minutes of work and two patch kits, he charges us $23.  You got to love Canadians.  At Dennis Motors, they call ahead to the Summerside Bike Shop and we learn it closes today at 4P.  It’s now 330P, which means there is no sense rushing to Summerside to try to beat an evening closing time at the bike shop.

Our hero Andrew with Hannah

Our hero Andrew with Hannah

Beyond pleased by this fortuitous turn of events, we can’t believe our good fortune.  What would we have done if Dennis Motors didn’t just happen to be down the road?  That’s right, we would have done my first hitchhiking since 1971 when, as a 23 year old with shoulder length hair, I ended up in the Knoxville, Tennessee city jail for hitchhiking on my way from Atlanta to Ohio.  (That’s another story.)

On the red crushed Confederation Trail, we bike toward Wellington (population 382) 19 kilometres away.  Though we’ve been on the trail for more than seven hours, we have nearly three more hours of bicycling still ahead of us.  Thankfully, the prevailing winds continue to push us east to Summerside.

Just 19 kilometres from Summerside, PEI

Just 19 kilometres from Summerside, PEI

As we pedal this afternoon, there are more quiet times as we ride.  I think how fortunate I am to have found Hannah, who wants to bike all these miles and is athletically able and fit enough at 65 to do so.   We met on the tennis courts at the College of Wooster in Ohio; she a physical education major.  I had no idea we’d be so well-matched.

Leaving Wellington (which is again a crossroads town with no services visible in either direction), we take a break with some buffalo right off the Confederation Trail.

Trailside Buffalo

Trailside Buffalo

Smelling victory just 15 little kilometres ahead, we have cool temperatures and level terrain.  Weary, but not wasted, we have visions of the Willow Green Farm B and B dancing in our heads.

The straight arrow Confederation Trail

The straight arrow Confederation Trail

Again the wind has been our friend.  As we approach Summerside, route two is to our left and the increased number of houses tells us we are close.  But Hannah knows something I don’t know.  We stop for a picture at kilometre 100 and I don’t have a clue.

100 kilometres down, 173 to go

100 kilometres down, 173 to go

Unbeknownst to me, Hannah is again struggling as she pedals.  If you know her, you know she is almost always cheery and upbeat; she marshals on when hurdles appear.  As we approach town, she says “Don’t look now.”  She hasn’t complained at all for the last three hours since Ellerslie, but for the last ten kilometers, Hannah has been riding with a mushy rear tire, feeling every bump.  Again the patched tire has not held up.

Disbelieving , we stop within the Summerside city limits for pictures and stare down at another flat tire.

Triumphantly in Summerside, PEI

Triumphantly in Summerside, PEI

Since Ellerslie, she biked 38 kilometres over more than two and half hours on a tire ever so slowly deflating, that is now as flat as a soufflé after the kitchen door slams.  Even so, we know we are quite fortunate, for we are only a half mile from our B and B.  We could crawl if we had to.  And we would have!

Still we are thankful for Don giving us to the idea to go to Dennis Motors and Andrew for patching the tire to get us to Summerside 39 kilometres away.  Throughout the day we’ve had blue skies and temperatures in the upper 50s.  No rain, no energy sapping summer humidity.  We are going to make it!

Tomorrow when it opens, we’ll go to the Summerside Bike Shop to buy a new tire and an extra replacement tube.   I pump up Hannah’s back tire again and we ride the last few kilometres to the Willow Green Farm B and B, spent and ready to kick back.

First night's B and B

First night’s B and B

After parking our bikes, unhooking our panniers, we knock on the B and B front door. Met by our innkeeper Laura, we learn that the room she had told us was to be ours has been taken  by a woman who is renting it for a week (the same room we were in last year when we hatched this Confederation Trail ride adventure).

She then adds with a smile, I’ve upgraded you to a suite with a king size bed and a hot tub!

We'd reserved the first room on the left.

We’d reserved the first room on the left.

With seventy miles in the books, we take long showers and relax triumphantly into the cushy chairs at Willow Green Farm.

1 Hannah at WGF

Upgraded bed at Wilow Green Farm B and B

Upgraded bed at Wilow Green Farm B and B

We toast our good fortune and the good people that have come our way.  We had left Tignish at 815A and now are settled in at Willow Green Farm at 625P.  Life is good.

Then a soak.

1 H in WGF hot tub

We learn that Summerside Bike Works is less than a half a mile away.  We’ll breakfast early at 7A and be at SBW when the shop opens at 8A.  We have 70 miles down, and tomorrow’s 60 to Mount Stewart, PEI will seem like a breeze, …

…that’s right, a west to east tailwind breeze.

1 CT (10)