Thursday, September 06, 2018

St. Peters Bay

Much of today was among the most enjoyable cycling of the trip thus far.

We got up early and, foregoing breakfast other than a cup of coffee, were on the road by 8:15. The idea was to be done with any road cycling before the tourists came out to wreak havoc. It turned out to be a good plan. We had the wind on our starboard quarter for much of this first leg and saw very little traffic. After about 11 km, we rejoined the Confederation Trail at Tracadie Cross and turned east toward St. Peters Bay, with the wind now fully astern.

Goodbye, Dalvay
The trail in this section is mostly quite good aside from a few soft sections, and we made pretty good time. By 10:15, we had reached Mt. Stewart, where, as our server at Dalvay the evening before had informed us, there was a good place to breakfast. We didn’t even make it to the place in question, there being a lovely little bakery/cafe at the interpretive centre right on the trail, which served us a lovely breakfast. We also picked up some cookies and buns for lunch.

Around the time we were finishing breakfast, some other cyclists, whom we had met briefly at Dalvay, came in, all wet – it had started raining not long after we stopped to eat. Our early start time was looking like an even better decision now! Though we were ready to go, we decided to wait out the rain and were chatting with some cyclists from a tour group when the baker pulled a batch of fresh cinnamon rolls out of the oven. Fortune was clearly smiling on us today; although we were quite full from breakfast, we could not resist the temptation to share a freshly baked cinnamon roll – delicious!

In our nearly seven weeks total of cycle touring thus far, we have been extremely fortunate weather-wise; we have only been seriously rained on twice in all that time. Today was another example of our luck. By the time we were back on the trail, the rain had stopped completely. Our next stop was Morell and its grocery store, where we picked up some veggies and fruit for the road. But it was only just after noon, and we were still quite full from breakfast, so we pushed on to our ultimate destination of St. Peters Bay. We checked into the “inn” (rather slim pickings in this town, unfortunately) and had a rest.

The ride on the trail today was just lovely. We had a pretty fierce tailwind the whole way, which made the ride much easier – though the salt marshes around Mt. Stewart were teeming with mosquitoes, and that delightful tailwind also meant that the bugs were travelling at the same speed we were: For 3 or 4 kilometres, there was much swatting and swearing. But the scenery, especially as the trail swept alongside the bay, was striking, and we were greeted with many a picturesque view, some interesting birds (including an immature bald eagle), and lots of pretty wildflowers blooming alongside the path.

Rolling into St. Peters Bay
Our accommodations were not particularly inspiring and there’s not a lot to do or eat in the town – which made the end of the day somewhat of a letdown, but nothing a few chapters of Anne of Green Gables couldn’t fix. We’ll be up early again tomorrow, since much of our route is on roads before we rejoin a southern branch of the Confederation Trail that will take us to Montague.

Another gorgeous day comes to an end on PEI

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Dalvay By the Sea

Today was two delightful ends separated by an unpleasant middle.

We woke up fairly late (for us), so we didn’t get on the road till about 9:30, but it was supposed to be a fairly short day, so we knew we could take our time. The first stretch of the ride was along the paved bike path alongside the parkway that runs through the western end of PEI National Park from Cavendish Beach to the town of North Rustico (“Rustico,” we learned, being a bastardization of the name Rassicot). We were greeted with really lovely views of the North Coast.

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Lovely rock formations along the North Coast
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North Rustico Harbour
After picking up some lunch provisions in North Rustico, we embarked on the unpleasant middle section of the ride, a very hilly, noisy, and stressful ordeal along Route 6 (and for this stretch, there were no shoulders). If there’s one thing this trip has proved to us, it’s that we definitely do not enjoy sharing our cycle tours with cars. Even if most of the drivers are quite courteous, there were one or two who passed quite close to us, seemingly on purpose. In Europe (trying… and failing… to not compare), there are lots of lonely (paved) country roads to ride on; here, however, the equivalent roads tend to be unpaved and in very poor shape. A quandary to be sure.

Eventually, we came to the second lovely part of the trip – the middle section of PEI National Park. After picnicking near the park entrance, we continued on our way, with just 10 km left to our destination – the historic old hotel Dalvay By the Sea. Again, we were cycling alongside the parkway with the wind at our back, so we were making good time.  We arrived at about 2 o’clock and our room was ready – sweet! A mere 41 km, but the middle section had taken its toll, and we were ready to stop.

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Rolling up to Dalvay By the Sea
Our stay at this grand old hotel is a treat. We don’t normally stay in such fancy places, but it’s fun to play at “topping the nob” from time to time. After settling in and resting, we headed to the beach for a swim. But though Sonia loves the water more than almost anything, neither of us are really “beach people” and, it being very hot, we only stayed an hour.

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Clearly, we're doing it wrong...
Then it was off to dinner in the hotel’s dining room: a very fine meal indeed! Finally, we wandered the grounds, found some chairs with a view of Dalvay Lake and I read a couple more chapters of Anne of Green Gables aloud to Sonia. Now it’s off to bed early so we can get an early start tomorrow. The first part of our ride is on the roads again before we hop back on the Confederation Trail for the rest of the day.

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The Dalvay take on lemon meringue "pie" – fantastic and perfect for sharing.  

Tuesday, July 31, 2018


Today was a study in contrasts.

After a very good (though rich) breakfast at Warn House B&B, we were on the road by 9:30. Today’s destination: Cavendish – Anne of Green Gables country. The first half of the route took us back on the Confederation trail. It was a lovely, bright morning, the humidity had dropped somewhat, and we were feeling cheerful and happy to be back in the saddle. Just outside of Summerside, we saw a fox cross the trail, and the scent of potato blossoms was everywhere.

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A lovely little trailside cafe in Kensington
We passed by the cute little town of Kensington, which seems to have preserved some of its rail-town heritage. The PEI countryside is gorgeous. At one point, we came across a riot of wild hop plants climbing over every vertical surface.

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Hops galore!
Despite stopping often to take breaks and pictures, we made pretty good time and were at Emerald Junction by 11:30. Then we pointed our wheels off the trail and north, toward Cavendish. This second half of the day was all on roads, which we had mostly avoided since Saturday. For the first 5 or 6 kilometres, there was very little traffic and the going was pretty good (despite a 2-km stretch of washboard dirt road). After we crossed Highway 2 (which serves as the Trans-Canada Highway in these parts), the road got busier. But the main difference from the bike trail was that it was much hillier. I imagine the really serious cyclists would laugh at my idea of hilly, but I was pretty winded at the top of more than one of them. By the time we got to Stanley Bridge, at about 12:45,  we were very much in need of a break and some food.

From there it was just a 7-km ride along Route 6 to our “resort.” Route 6 being a much busier road, there were at least shoulders to ride on, but this is still a fairly hilly part of the island. By the time we climbed up the last one to our destination at about 2:30, we were both pretty wiped. Today’s 52 km was much tougher than yesterday’s similar distance!

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But at least we got here relatively early, so after a rest, we walked down to Cavendish beach, where we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves for a couple of hours. It’s a beautiful beach and the water was lovely and refreshing.

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Relaxing on the beach
I suspect we’ll both be fast asleep in just over an hour, but I think there should be time to read a couple of chapters of Anne of Green Gables, especially now that we’re in her neck of the woods.

Monday, July 30, 2018


After three days in the saddle, I think we’re starting to get our mojo back. And the wind has finally shifted to the west!

Today we rode into Summerside, the second-largest city on PEI. The first time I remember hearing of this community was many years ago, when the legendary host of the CBC program Morningside, Peter Gzowski, decided to spend the summer here and, for that period, called the show Summerside.

Initially, we had intended to ride down to the southern coast and the island’s Evangeline Region (otherwise known by the astonishingly romantic name of Lot 15), the only area of PEI with a French-speaking majority. Unfortunately, I had developed a kink in my front tire late Saturday and, having endured it all day yesterday, was eager to get it fixed. So after breakfast at Chez Yvette, we rode straight into Summerside, a short jaunt of about 22 kilometres.

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The sea once more – or to be more precise, Northumberland Strait
There, at Summerside Bike Works, the owner basically dropped what he was doing to install a new front tire and tube on my bike. We were in an out in 15 minutes! Amazing service. I had almost forgotten what a smooth ride was like. I regret not taking a picture of the tire though. It was pretty gnarly!

On the ride into town, we cycled through potato field after blooming potato field, and I finally realized what it is that I find so delightful about this aroma: when I was studying trombone at McGill (over 30 years ago!), my teacher, Ted Griffith, used to smoke a pipe with very fragrant tobacco, and there is something of the same spicy sweetness in the smell of potato blossoms.

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Another gratuitous picture of a potato field
Once my bike had been fixed, we stopped for coffee and a doughnut and then headed up to the local Canadian Tire to pick up a bag to sit atop Sonia's bike rack to give us a little more space for lunch items and the like. Then, though It was still before noon, we took a chance and called the B&B (Warn House) to see if we could drop off our panniers. Lucky for us, our room was actually ready, so we were able to drop them off and get acquainted with the hosts, Gerry and Alice (pronounced the French way, she being a Franco-Manitoban). They gave us a lovely welcome, and we were soon on our way – light as a couple of feathers in the wind sans panniers – to hang out at the local provincial park (Linkletter). After a few hours there, we rode back into town, picked up some provisions for tomorrow’s lunch, and headed back for a shower – and laundry! The final tally in the saddle was 50 km, a “light” day since 20 km of it was without panniers.

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My third meal of fish in four nights on PEI
For a change of pace, we walked from the B&B into downtown Summerside and had dinner at the FiveEleven West restaurant, which had good reviews. When we saw that it was actually in the local arena, we were skeptical, but since there was nothing else around, we went in anyway, and were rewarded with quite a good meal. We wandered back to the B&B through town, which has some lovely and well-maintained old homes, and I noted with curiosity that there is only ever one sidewalk on any street. There’s a play on words with sidewalk and Summerside there somewhere, but I’m too tired right now to find it.

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Shadow photographers capturing evening light and low tide on the Summerside waterfront

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Potato blossoms on the Confederation Trail

Last year, when we set out on our second big cycle tour to Europe, one of my goals was to not compare it to the first one (#cycletour2015), which had been an astonishingly lovely vacation – perhaps the best we have ever had. I wanted to let #cycletour2017 have the chance to be its own thing. I think that philosophy really helped us enjoy the second trip; it was very different in some ways, but we still returned home exhilarated.

But in truth, not comparing our last two vacations was no great task: though we visited several different countries on the second tour, the two trips were similar enough that there were few glaring points of comparison. But this goal of not comparing cycle tours will be a little harder this time. Cycling Prince Edward Island is, literally and figuratively, and ocean apart from cycling in Europe.

Last night, we were both fast asleep by 9:45, and we didn’t stir until 7:45 – 10 hours of much needed and refreshing sleep. After a shower and a quick cup of hotel-room coffee, we were on the road by 9 am. After yesterday’s tiring day on Route 12, we decided that since our next night’s accommodation was very near the Confederation Trail, we’d stick to the bike path today. Once we were on the trail, our first destination was the town of O’Leary, where, the previous evening, our eye had been drawn to the Maple House Bakery and Cafe on Google maps.

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Quebecers can't resist the Maple House...
Our intrigue was well-founded, and we spent a pleasant 45 minutes there eating a hearty breakfast and picking up some lovely buns and delicious peanut butter-chocolate chip cookies for lunch. Then we headed back onto the CT. The Confederation Trail is a rail trail that crosses the island on the old PEI railway bed. It passes mostly through the interior of the island, so its main drawback is that you won’t get any ocean vistas cycling it. On the other hand, you can be pretty certain you’ll have it pretty much to yourself – at least on the stretch we did today, from Howlan to Wellington. I think we saw a total of four other parties all day. I may be in the minority, but this is the kind of cycling I love: rolling through a mix of forest, marshy scrubland, and farmland. PEI is famous for its potatoes, of course, and the fields of flowering potato plants gave off the same intoxicating aroma that I first noticed in Belgium last year (I know, I know… don’t compare…).

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Potato blossom smell-o-rama
Today was just as hot and humid as yesterday and there was still something of a headwind, though not nearly as brisk, but riding the CT, surrounded by trees and fields, was at least 4 or 5 degrees cooler than cycling on pavement, and being a rail trail, the gradient, while undulating, was quite gentle. The trail has much to recommend it in terms of scenery, but the surface was inconsistently maintained for most of our ride today. Some sections were fine, but others suffered from the passage of ATVs and dirt bikes (despite the barriers and signs forbidding motorized vehicles), which chew up the stone dust and leave tread marks, making the surface somewhat soft and bumpy in places. We didn’t see a single one today, but there were places were there was clearly more ATV traffic than bicycle traffic. With those caveats out of the way, not having the stress of cars passing by and being able to ride side-by-side made riding the trail, warts and all, well worth it.

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So glad there's a gate to keep the ATVs out!
We had lunch at a picnic table along the trail at Nordham and then called the B&B (Chez Yvette) in Urbainville to warn of our impending arrival. Unfortunately, the room wouldn’t be ready until later in the afternoon, so we decided to push on to Wellington (a French-speaking town despite the name) to buy some food for supper before the Co-op closed at 5. We were basically forced to picnic again in an adjacent park, since there are no restaurants in the area. We finally rolled up to the B&B a little after 5, having cycled 60 km today – and though we were tired, it wasn’t nearly same feeling of exhaustion as yesterday, even having gone 10 more kilometres.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

No plan survives contact with the elements

An ominous title for the start of #cycletour2018...

But let’s back up a bit. The trip actually started yesterday morning at 5:15 am, which is when we pulled out of the driveway in our little Honda Fit and began the 11-hour journey to Prince Edward Island, where we will be spending the next two weeks. As long, tedious drives go, it went as well as can be expected. Once you get into New Brunswick, the driving is a breeze, since the province has these lovely four-lane highways with almost no one on them. To ease the monotony, we read several chapters of Anne of Green Gables to each other – a book that, believe it or not, neither of us has ever read before. I must say, it’s a delight!
Some reading for the road
Some reading for the road
We pulled into Charlottetown around 5:30 local time and checked into the BnB we had booked – the lovely Sonata Inn. After settling in, we wandered around downtown looking for our dinner. We ended up at a craft beer bar, naturally, but we were both pretty zonked after the drive, so after our meal, we wandered down to the waterfront and looked around for a bit before heading back to the inn and bed. We were both snoring by 10 pm.
Downtown Charlottetown on a Friday night! Party central
Downtown Charlottetown on a Friday night – party central

This morning, we were up at 6:30 to pack our panniers, have breakfast and then head off to the shuttle that was to take us to the western tip of the island. We used PEI Guide and Drive Service, run by George Larter, who had been very helpful on the phone earlier in the year as we were planning the trip. We arrived at about 8:45 but by the time everything was packed into the van and ready, it was 9:30 before we left. Then the two-hour drive to North Cape at the very western tip of PEI.
Sonia and Gord unloading the bikes and gear
Sonia and Gord get the bikes ready
The whole point of starting at the western tip of the island is that the prevailing winds in North America tend to be westerly. So in theory, we should mostly have a tailwind on this trip. Unfortunately, someone forgot to mention this little fact to Mother Nature, because the wind was blowing pretty steadily from the east-northeast all day today. But, undaunted, we dipped the proverbial toe into the waters and set off on our adventure.
Here we go!
Ready for our adventure
One of the things we wanted to do on this trip was take the Confederation Trail, a bike trail that more or less crosses the island. But we were advised by a number of people that if we stuck to the trail the whole way, we’d miss most of the coastal scenery. And anyway, the CT doesn’t go all the way to North Cape. So we took George’s advice and stuck to Route 12 today for most of the day. We’re not used to riding on roads and neither of us particularly enjoy it, but we were assured that there was little traffic. What a lie that turned out to be. Maybe there’s no traffic on a weekday in mid-November, but on a Saturday in late July, there were plenty of cars – or to be more accurate, pickups. I’m not saying they weren’t courteous; most drivers gave us plenty of room. But it’s one added stress that we’re not used to, and it distracted from the otherwise very pleasant scenery.
PEI vista
A beautiful PEI vista
Another natural factor we had to contend with was the heat and humidity. It was only 29C, which isn’t too bad for cycling, but it was so humid it felt at times like cycling through a warm fog. We managed to find a nice beach around 12:30 to have lunch, and we had a little swim, but it was cut short when I noticed a jellyfish in the water. Are there non-stinging jellyfish? I didn’t particularly want to find out.

And finally, anyone who tells you that PEI is nice and flat is flat-out lying. It’s not the Alps of course, but there are lots of rolling hills – hills that on a nice cool day without panniers loaded with 15 kg of stuff and the wind in your teeth would have been just fine; but today, they felt much steeper than perhaps they actually are.

In any case, we finally rolled up to our hotel (Mill River Resort) at about 5 pm after cycling just 51 kilometres; but it was maybe the hardest ride we’ve ever done on one of these tours. I’ll admit that we’re a little tired from the long drive yesterday and somewhat out of shape, but it’s been a very long first day of #cycletour2018.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Cycle tour 2018 preview

In just under a week, Sonia and I will be embarking on #cycletour2018. It’ll be a much less ambitious trip than last year and much closer to home – a week crossing Prince Edward Island. I’m mostly posting this little preview to test out some new blogging software (MarsEdit, if you must know).

Right now, the bike’s in the shop getting a tune-up, new chain, new rear tire, and new crank bearing cartridge: it’s better to get this stuff done now than have to fix/replace stuff on the road with minimal tools.

One other new piece of gear that we have both invested in is waterproof panniers. I bought your standard Ortlieb Back-Roller Classics; Sonia got the Arkel Orca 35. I need to dummy-pack mine and do some final adjustments before we leave, but so far, the Orlieb panniers seem pretty solid.

Now, to post a picture. Since I don’t have a recent one of us biking, here’s one of my nephew with a fish he caught on a short day trip cycling along the Massawippi River in Quebec’s Eastern Townships.
Kyle with a nice fallfish