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 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)

Dan and Hannah Bike the Confederation Trail on Prince Edward Island on Day 1 of 3

You might be wondering who this Prince Edward was.  In 1799 the Island was named in honor of Edward, the father of Queen Victoria.

Bill and Buggie and Dan

Bill Buggie and Dan

Each day we will dedicate our ride across PEI to one person.   Today’s comes from the Great White North, Bill Buggie, my University of New Hampshire and our family friend of 30 years.  Without Bill, our trip doesn’t happen.  He spent ten hours yesterday in the car with us so we could have a car waiting when we finish our bike ride across Prince Edward Island.

Dan and Hannah ready to ride

Dan and Hannah ready to ride

Given our innkeeper’s Debbie Downer forecast of morning rain when we checked in last night, Hannah and I wonder when our biking day will begin.  Usually up first, I peer out on the deck of our two bedroom cottage and notice the temperature is 62F, partly cloudy skies, a slight wind.  Sweet Georgia Brown!   We’ll be biking right after breakfast this morning with cool temps and plenty of sunshine.

The deck at our Murphy's Cottage

The deck at our Murphy’s Cottage

Slipping into my biking shorts, I then must do the indelicate Bag Balming of my thighs and butt for today’s 70 miles.  Waiting for the others to shower, I watch Sports Centre.  Sports Centre with an –re!   That can only mean trouble for Americanos like me!  Hockey – morning, noon, and night.  Last night LeBron James and the Miami Heat won and I get nothing of the game this morning.  Sacre bleu.

Our morning B and B breakfast fuels our double piston engines (i.e., our legs) for our seven to eight hours in the bike saddle.  Here at Murphy’s, I begin with Corn Flakes while Hannah has yogurt.  A cheesy omelet with peppers and a side of ham follows.  Homemade toast, blueberry banana muffins, orange juice, and decaf coffee!  Yet it’s the forecast of no rain that gives me the most energy.

D and H closeup

Laden with full panniers for the first time, we pedal a quarter mile through town to the start of the Confederation Trail.

PEI map

First of 273 kilometres

First of 273 kilometres

One down, 272 to go

One down, 272 to go

As a one-time railroad bed, the trail is as level as an honest roulette table in Vegas.  Over the first three hours we never need to get up off our bike seats to pedal an uphill as the trail meanders past fields and through forests.  It will be the third day before we bike along coastal waters.

Red dirt trail heading south from Tignish

Red dirt trail heading south from Tignish

The red crushed gravel gives us a smooth ride without mushiness.  Pedaling more forcefully than we would on pavement, we still fall into easy conversation.  Throughout the morning, we do not see another bicyclist and just the occasional walker on this first Tuesday in June.  Only occasionally do we hear a car’s engine, for we are well away from the island’s highways and have the morning for each other.

1 D on trail (2)

Due to my years of meteorological training (i.e., watching the Weather Channel), I am well aware that the prevailing winds in the northern hemisphere flow from west to east.  As such, we chose to start our ride in Tignish in the west to gain the advantage of a tailwind.  Already this morning we feel the zephyr’s push at our backs.  With temperatures in the low 60s, we’ll use our energy to push forward, rather than sweat to cool our bodies.

1 H on trail (3)

Getting one hour, then two hours behind us fills our emotional tank and makes the 70 miles seem very doable.  With picture taking and gabbing as we ride side by side, we average 8 to 9 miles per hour.  Riding beside Hannah, I am reminded of the poster of 20 ways to be happy that I once stared up at on the ceiling as I reclined in our dental hygienist’s chair.  It said: #1 – Marry well.  95% of your happiness is based on that one decision.

1 Han on trail (5)

Funny how time on the trail goes so quickly with Hannah.

Gates on trail to slow us prior to roads or driveways

Gates on trail to slow us prior to roads or driveways

A little before noon after three plus hours of biking, we arrive in O’Leary, home to 860 people and whose economy is tied to potato farming.  We have biked 45 kilometres of our 110 today; we are on target for a late afternoon arrival in Summerside, PEI.   Finding a picnic table, I feast on two blueberry banana muffins from breakfast and some salty gorp.  While I look for any shade, Hannah lies out in the sun.  Fully extended legs recharge her body for the afternoon of riding.

Hannah on trail by potato fields

Hannah on the trail by potato fields

Lunch break after 45 kilometres

Lunch break after 45 kilometres

Cognizant of the stories that our butts and thighs will be what will ache the most, a kilometre down the trail I apply extra Bag Balm.  Love the Bag Balm.

Confederation Trail

Confederation Trail

1 Trail (8)

Shortly after lunch, Hannah comments on how slow going things seem to be as she struggles to keep up.  At kilometre 56 (about 35 miles in), she pulls over with a back tire which is as flat as Parisian crepe.  Really!  We haven’t had a flat in ten years of biking at home; fact is, biking in York we never rode with a spare tube or had a bike pump.  The girl and boy scout in us would not let us be so cavalier on this trip.  Mama didn’t raise no fool.  I jump into action, becoming the knight for my damsel in tire distress.

Truth be told, I really didn’t believe we’d get a flat, but a flat we have.  Those of you who have changed tires know the back one is a greasy mess with a grimy chain and oily back gears.  Flipping her bike upside down, I pry off the tire and pull out the tube to replace it with a new one.  Checking the tire itself to see if anything sharp is still within it, we find nothing and pedal for Ellerslie (pronounced El-er-schlee) 15 kilometres away.

Handy dandy bicycle pump

Handy dandy bicycle pump

Finishing touches on Hannah's flat tire

Finishing touches on Hannah’s flat tire

But now there is an edge to our ride.  Hannah has no spare tube.  We are still 54 kilometres from our paid-for reservations at the Willow Green Farm B and B in Summerside.  We have no safety net; our Hyundai is in Elmira at the other end of the island, 217 kilometres away.  My sense of urgency starts to mess with our ride as I push the pace; and after five “never quite keeping up” kilometres Hannah speaks up and says it feels like a sprint.  Her eyes say, Slow down big fella.  I slow down and stop acting like a douche bag.

As we pedal to Ellerslie (population 470), Hannah’s thighs become tender to the touch, but her left tibia (fractured ten months ago while water skiing) is as solid as Gibraltar.  For me, years of exercising are catching up with my right knee.  It creaks and quietly complains; but biking 70 miles is not for sissies.

We’ll take a break at Ellerslie and then push on for our last 38 kilometres.  But…

…at the Ellerslie crossing, Hannah’s tire is flat again.  Clearly, we had not removed the sharp object from her tire that had caused the first tube to deflate.  With 25 miles before we sleep and no spare tube to replace this flat one, we check our guide book to see that the entire island has three bike shops.  There are none between here and Summerside.

Rite Aid in Ellerslie, PEI

Rite Aid in Ellerslie, PEI

While Hannah refuels with gorp for our final push, I wonder if we can just pump her tire up every few kilometres to make it to Summerside for the night.  I walk across the road to the Rite Stop, a convenience store.  I ask a question I already know the answer to, Is there a bike shop in town?  He says no, but in typical Canadian fashion he cheerfully offers to fill my water bottles; he runs the water for sixty seconds to get the water cold for us.

We shoot the breeze and I consider our options 38 kilometres from our B and B in Summerside.  What do we do with two punctured tubes?  Hitchhike?

Dan and Hannah Prep to Bike Prince Edward Island

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.  Live the life you have imagined.              – Henry David Thoreau

We start in Tignish.  First night in Summerside.  Second night in Mount Stewart.  We end at Elmira.

We start in Tignish. First night in Summerside.   Second night in Mount Stewart. We end at Elmira.

Dan and Hannah hear voices.

Really?  Are you two serious about biking the 273 kilometres (about 175 miles) of the Confederation Trail from one end of Prince Edward Island, Canada to the other in three days?  Though you biked 24 and 22 miles last weekend, do you have any idea what it means to bike 70 miles one day, 60 the next, and finish with 45 more?  

The answers are yes, yes, and no.  But it’s a dream of ours and we think we’re ready.  We won’t know until we try, will we?

Bicycle Sweethearts

Bicycle Sweethearts

I like your sassiness and your optimism.   Let me tell you I’m pulling for you kids!

Confederation Trail

Confederation Trail

So faithful readers, we are told that it’s our butts more than our knees that will feel the pain from such long distance biking.  A local bike shop owner clued us into the healing qualities of Bag Balm.  We will apply it before, during, and after our ride to relieve any chafing and soreness.

Bag Balm

A cross country ski instructor has his skiers lay down, legs extended, for 20 minutes every few hours to recharge their bodies.   We can do that.  We have all day to do 70 miles.  The cliché is true, it’s about the journey.   There is no rush to get to that night’s B and B.  After breakfast, we have 12 hours of daylight to complete our daily goal since, in June, the sun sets after 9P on Prince Edward Island .  We want this ride to be more than chalking up miles; we want it to be about the people of PEI we meet.

All winter, we’ve been working out at the Coastal Fitness gym in Kittery, Maine three to five times per week.  We elevate our heart rates and build endurance on recumbents, treadmills, and ellipticals.  Will that be enough?  We shall see.

I’ve learned from a Confederation Trail blogger that there are no hills on the trail.  It is a former railway bed so there is no grade above 2%.  That sounds very doable.

Hannah on the Trail

Hannah on the Trail

So some questions that remain:

You two are not backpackers, you wouldn’t sleep in a tent unless you lost a bet, and you would never share close quarters with others at a hostel, shelter, or lean-to.  So where are you staying?

True, true, and true.  Truth be told, we are soft.  We have no interest in roughing it.   Picture this.  Each night after a day on the trail, we will have a warm shower followed by a fine red to toast this day and the next.  That night we slumber in a queen bed.  Come morning, breakfast will be served before another day in the saddle.

How will you have a car waiting for you at the end of your ride?

Our friend Bill from New Brunswick, Canada will follow us in his car to the east end of the island (East Point).    We will park our car there; then load our bikes on his car and drive with him to the other end of the island (North Cape).

What if it rains? 

It rains.  We suck it up and deal with it.  Heavy rain?  We pause.  Light rain we pedal and thank our lucky stars we have the health, the time, the wherewithal, and each other to make this trip.  Ponchos will be our fashion statement.

Bring on the rain!

Bring on the rain!

How will you take all your gear?

We have panniers, saddle bags for our bikes; we’ll wear no backpacks.  We’ll line the panniers with plastic in case of rain.  Dressed in bike shorts, dry-fit shirts, and bike shoes, we’ll have light clothes to change into each evening.  It’s only three days.

Panniers make the Man

Panniers make the Man

What will you do for food?

Breakfasts will be at the B and B each morning.  We plan to stop each noon in a pub to be served a recreational beverage and a tasty sandwich.  Evenings we’ll order take out (Hannah’s partial to Chinese while I love anything with tomato sauce), and just chill at the B and B.

Will you take your laptop to record the days’ events for the over60hiker blog?

My phone will be my entire photo-journalism toolkit.  I’ll use the Siri and voice recognition software on my iPhone to record my impressions and observations and take still pictures and videos throughout the day.

How is Hannah’s leg?

She says she’s 96% of normal.  Of course, normal for Hannah is off the charts for most others eligible for Medicare.   Walking downstairs is a little slow going, but all in all, she’s been exercising all winter and recently biking our country roads with no pain.

Hannah is ready for action!

Hannah is ready for action!

What have you done to prepare your bicycles?

Each bike has been tuned up and a new chain installed.  We have spare tubes and extra water bottles.  We’ve purchased a dual bike pump for our tires.

In the end we are interested to see just how resourceful we are.  We’ll rely on our problem-solving and people-meeting skills to deal with any issues.

Can’t wait.

We learn the ropes of life by untying its knots.
Jean Toomer

I’ve never made a mistake. I’ve only learned from experience.
Thomas A. Edison

PEI map 2

Dan and Hannah Seek your Support as we Bike across Prince Edward Island (Canada)

PEI mapSince Hannah and I will never be “thru hikers” of the Appalachian Trail ( those hiking 2000+ plus miles), we look for other shorter “end to end”  experiences.  A trip to Prince Edward Island last June got us thinking about biking the 273 kilometres of the Confederation Trail in Prince Edward Island from North Cape to East Point (Tignish to Elmira).

Especially for me, one major downside of hiking the AT is the overnight sleeping arrangements.  Either we would be squeezed in a shelter with six to twenty others, a number of who would be locomotive snorers; or we’d camp in a tent and sleep on the ground.  Daniel Boone I am not.

The beauty of this trans-PEI trip is that we’ll be in a bed each night.  The AT is a four to six month commitment; the CF in PEI is a three day commitment.  Do I hear any Amen?

PStarting in the town of Tignish in the western part of the island, we’ll spend the night before we head East at Murphy’s Tourist Home.  In the 1950s, when our family would travel from New Jersey to my grandparent’s home in St. Petersburg, FLA, we would stay, rather than in a motel, in someone’s house, which was called a tourist home.

PEI trail 2Our first day ride is the big one as we will bike 109 kilometres (about 70 miles) to Summerside, PEI.  That night we’ll stay at the Willow Green Farm B and B, where we stayed last year.  As a one-time railroad track, the Confederation Trail is level, wide enough to ride side by side, and with only the occasional crossroad that requires our full attention.

Hannah biking on the Confederation Trail

Hannah biking on the Confederation Trail near Summerside

 

Our second day we’ll travel 95 kilometres (about 60 miles) to Mount Stewart and stay at the Water’s Edge B and B.  Where we stay each night depends on where there are accommodations.

PEI trail 3

On our last day we’ll have but 68 kilometers (about 40 miles) left to reach our destination.  We’ll soak our feet in the Gulf of St. Lawrence at Points East Beach Motel in North Lake.

North Lake PEI

North Lake PEI

At least that is our plan.

Why we are seeking your financial support is that we are riding to raise money for a dear friend of ours and her family.  See our fundraising letter below.

Hannah and I would like you to consider donating to support our ride across Prince Edward Island this coming June. 

With Hannah’s left leg healed from her water skiing accident last summer, we are going to bike the entire 273 kilometres of the Confederation Trail in PEI.  We are raising money for our friend, Amy Paquette, and her family (husband Mike and three boys, age five, seven, and ten).  Amy was a student teacher of mine during her teacher education at the University of New England and currently is a third grade teacher in Kennebunk, Maine.  In January, Amy suffered a leaking brain aneurysm and had successful emergency surgery in Boston. Three months later, she is home recovering and participating in regular physical therapy.  Hannah and others have made meals for the Paquette family, but we’d like to do a little more for them.

Hannah and I would invite you to support our fundraiser for the Paquette family by donating five cents per kilometre ($13.65 total) for our bike ride across PEI.  This money would go directly to the Paquette Family for a family adventure, necessary expenses (extra, added, unforeseen), or anything they choose to do with the money.

If you would like to donate to our ride, please send us a check made out to the “Paquette Family” at our address below.  Please consider sending the check by April 20th.  

THANKS!!!!

Dan and Hannah Rothermel

162 Chases Pond Road

York, Maine  03909

So if donating is in your budget, we’d love you to support us and the Paquettes as we ride across Prince Edward Island.

PEI trail 4 sign

Dan and Hannah Bike the Confederation Trail in Prince Edward Island and Meet a Fox

Days on our PEI “holiday” begin with an hour walking the boardwalk along the harbor of Summerside before our Green Willow Farm B and B breakfast.  In mid-June, the tourist season has not begun and we’ve the boardwalk to ourselves.

Harbor scene from Baywalk

With the same crew at breakfast (mother and daughter from Alberta, Canada and a retired couple from the States), we gab like old friends on this second morning together, mainly because Hannah greases the pan for it all to happen.  Invite her to any small gathering; Hannah’s lively, quick witted, and warms to her role as facilitator.
This morning’s bike ride is heading north on the Confederation Trail from Summerside to Kensington.  (Doesn’t that sound like we are in merry old England?)  We’ll bike ten kilometres (6 miles-ish) each way on the former railway (closed in 1989) (a similar initiative to Rails to Trails in the States) with its red crushed gravel, raised bed between fields of potatoes or grain.
Newly planted potato field
Gates alert us to cross roads and slow us down for our safety.
Safety gates on the Confederation Trail
And if those Canadians aren’t nice enough already, they will 99 out of 100 times stop in the road, even on the high speed Route 2 that goes through the heart of the Province to let us pass.   Soon we come upon three pairs of all-female crews cutting the brush on the side of the trail, mowing a breakdown lane of grass, and weedwacking the high grass.  Surprised that we see no males, we ask why female teams?   No reason, but it’s easy to see the Province is an equal opportunity employer.  Their Provincial tax (16%) pays for the necessary infrastructure, let alone health care for all.  I was surprised when I paid nearly $2 tax on a $12.50 pizza.  Beer is $14 for a six pack.  Helmets are required of all bicyclists.  Will the Socialists stop at nothing!  But I digress. 
On this windy day with no humidity, laundry blows on the backyard lines out of some early 20th century Anne of Green Gables scene.
As we ride, Hannah and I talk of how going away gives us the discipline to read and write and dream and plan in ways the routines and have-tos of life at home don’t.  There are always “necessary” responsibilities keeping us from the business of self-reflection and growth.  It’s easy to run in place tending to life’s “to do” list.
Going to Kensington on the Confederation Trail
It’s a light 50 minutes of level pedaling to Kensington.   Returning to Summerside, we see a few bicyclists who are invariably smiling and polite.  Off to the East some three hundred yards past the potato fields we see Route 2 with its traffic of commerce, and yet it’s quiet and peaceful on the trail.
Confederation Trail
As we bike for home, an idea grows.  What if we bike the entire 273 kms (about 170 miles) of the Confederation Trail from the North Cape near Tisdale to Elmira on the East Cape?  With panniers (bags attached to bikes) on our bikes we could carry all we need.   We’d start out after an early June night at a B and B and bike 60-70 kilometres per day.  That sort of mileage or kilometage would allow us to visit new PEI towns in the off season and complete the trail in four days.  It would be our own mini-thru bike (a la the Appalachian Trail) with the added benefits of a short duration (four days), not sleeping with snoring fellow travelers in a shelter, a bed! and private bathroom, and ending each day with a fine glass of wine and a hearty breakfast the next morning.  This is an idea that won’t be denied.
Potato field just off the Confederation Trail
Lunch, nap, and reading rejuvenate us for our afternoon of golf.
Green Willow Farm B & B hayfield the day before it rained
On a whim, I had packed three clubs and a putter, six balls, tees, golf glove, and golf shoes in the trunk of our Hyundai on the chance that I’d find a nine-hole course.  I had no idea that across the street from our B and B is a nine-hole par 3 course at the Summerside Quality Inn.  And for $7 to boot!  Hannah jumps at the chance to play, too, and we have an afternoon twosome.
Quality Inn Golf course
The holes range from 70 to 120 yards so it’s short iron stuff for golfers.  The greens are just more shaved versions of the fairways with weeds here and there on the putting surface.  The Masters it is not.  The score card says; please hold up on swing at #9 as there are people in the pool.  Oh, that’s not a lawsuit waiting to happen.  But no matter.  Hannah has not played in 30 years since we golfed in Arizona.  But she’s a Phys. Ed. major from the division 3 sports powerhouse, the College of Wooster in Ohio (look it up!) and is up for most any athletic challenge.  You all may remember her willingness to climb Angel’s Landing in Zion National Parkfor a second time when the rest of the family said, “No mas.”
We get to the first tee and I exchange my sandals for golf shoes.  It’s 96 yards long with pine trees sprinkled throughout what must have been an old hay field.  We play two balls each for the practice, as our games are rusty and there is no one else on the course.  After hitting her first seven iron, Hannah sees a cute red fox approach.  How PEI!
The red fox moves in
The fox slithers over and stands above Hannah’s Titleist.  Before we know it, he grabs the golf ball in his mouth and skitters off into the brush.  Stunned, Hannah is incensed.  She runs toward the fox with her 7 iron, but the fox is too sly and too quick (You all remember The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog from high school typing class which contains all the letters in the alphabet.  That’s truer than I realized.)  In a flash, we are down one Titleist.  Given fair warning, we are ready to go mano y mano (or animale) with this PEI fox.   For the second hole, I walk half way down the fairway (some 50 yards) and wait for Hannah to hit, prepared to wave my wedge at the offending fox when he reemerges from the woods.  This strategy seems to work but doesn’t discourage the fox from trying.
Hannah and her Seven Iron
At the third hole 79 yards, the fox lurks. Bold as can be, she comes within ten feet.  Hannah jumps into action.  Grabbing the flag stick from the third hole, she starts down the fairway waving the pole with its red flag chasing the fox.  The fox wants no part of this highly motivated athletic woman and scoots into the underbrush.  On the fourth hole he’s back.  At this point, the fourth hole flag stick will be in our hands at all times.  I go down the fairway, wait for Hannah to hit and then return to the tee box and hit my shot.  We repeat this dance for each hole.
Hannah with flag stick in hand
We yell and wave the red flag when he reappears.  Fact is, Hannah plays well.  She’s an athletic talent of the first order.   She hits through the ball and follows through nicely.
Dan looking to hole a birdie putt
We each hit some good shots and enjoy the ninety minutes on a sunny 70 degree day without losing another ball.  Returning to the hotel desk, we mention the fox.  And the receptionist, clearly not a golfer, says, That happens all the time.  She is smiling and oh so Canadian.  She adds in a perky way, Sometimes people have to stop playing because they run out of balls.  “Perhaps, you might have mentioned the fox before we went out to the first tee!” we think.
That night we get takeout pizza for dinner.  As we walk back Hannah steers me across the street to this sign below at a local Wilson’s gas stop on the main drag.
I wish you Hannahs in your life.
Our take away – We’ll be back to bike the entire Confederation Trail next June and be ready for the quick red fox.
A June 2013 return to the Confederation Trail