On Sunday September 23rd, 2018 finally the time had come There were no more excuses left to enjoy the comfort of the city any longer. Our bikes were ready, waiting for us in the basement of Cyclesmith and on the day of or departure there even was a celebration of the international car free day with a closed road on the street in front of the shop. After the free donuts we rode our now completely customized bikes without luggage to our hostel - where we could install our bags on to our bikes for the first time ever. The whole time while I was clipping on the panniers the ironic question of one of the staff at Cyclesmiths echoed through my head: „You do know how to ride a bike?“
Of cause I could ride a bike - but could I ride this spaceship (Star Trek 920) with approximately 25 - 30 kg baggage as well? It already was a challenge to push the mounted bike all the way up the small incline from the backyard of the hostel to the street. Insecurity spread inside both of us. The hope that everything would get better as soon as we would sit on the bikes died after the first meters. I felt like being a child again. On an empty square, with the biggest effort and concentration driving a pennant equipped bike shaky into the arms of my mother. Except that there was no empty square and instead of a pennant our bikes were packed with heavy panniers and also there was no one yelling encouragements. What did we think? In doubts and thinking about turning around and getting back to get some advice we were standing in front of the bridge to Dartmouth. Looking at the time did not make the situation better. It was almost 3 PM already and we still had to get to our first campground.
We both had never done a bike trip this big with baggage - we had not even done a test drive with luggage in Halifax. We had planned jumping in at the deep end… but had never imagined that it would be this deep. Now there had to be made decision under time pressure. We calculated how heavy our luggage could possibly be, because the bicycles made quite some unfamiliar noises. Because we knew that our luggage on the flight had been 20 to 23 kg and we had only added a few kilos of food it was clear that our bikes could not be overloaded. However it was not imaginable to have fun driving with all this stuff… on the other hand - maybe we just had to get used to the unusual riding behavior. Turning around and asking for advice at Cyclesmith felt just embarrassing after these considerations. Also a start of our adventure on the same day would definitely not be possible after this anymore.
So a decision was made: „If we can make it over the bridge to Dartmouth, we can make it anywhere!“ My special thanks goes to the traffic planner of Halifax who designed the entry to the bridge for bicycles so awesome that you have to first go all the way down the hill and then (in our case) push the bike up again. Shaky we then rolled across the Bridge to Dartmouth. I had always imagined „Born to be wild“ would be playing in my mind in this moment but in reality it sounded more like „…Holding on - Why is everything so heavy? Holding on - So much more than I can carry…“
Having arrived on the other side we were not much surer about the matter at hand but decided (because of lacking alternatives) to just continue driving. The quickest route it should be. Mobile phone out, google maps bicycle route and zap: 31 km. After we had gotten out of town it got better with us and our bikes and the insecurity decreased. Beautiful forrest, even more beautiful lakes and the best weather accompanied us on our way to Porter’s Lake Provincial Park.
Embedded in the nice feeling I did not think too much about the sign „Dead End“. However I should have worried about about the following sign: „No Road Maintenance - Proceed at own Risk“. But Google Maps told me that a bicycle can be ridden here - and the most stupid thing was that I actually believed Google. The first meters of the „road“ however were already so miserably that the only mantra left was „It is going to get better!“. Turning back at this point was no option because of the advanced time and there was no asphalted street that could be used. So we pushed our bicycles on and on further across the path of gravel and boulders - at least this path would only be five to six kilometer long according to the map and we knew it was possible to run that far within around half an hour. After some time (and with the slowly setting sun) the path actually changed. Knee deep mud ponds and watercourses joined the gravel and boulders so that we could proof our „Ortlieb“ panniers on water resistance already. More and more often I asked myself: „In what kind of hell did I just end up? Why? Just why? What did we think?“ With the setting sun the mosquitos arrived which, thanks to our slow pace, could eat us alive with relish. After approximately 1,5 hours, in which I from a certain point on I was sure to hear wolfs howling in the distance, two ATV’s approached us ridden by father and son on a small evening ride and assuring us that it would only take another 20 minutes or so (depending on how fast we would be able to go) until we would be bag on a street. We were happy to see people here - although the question if we had enough water was slightly disturbing the comfort. However he should be proven right and after approximately six kilometers pushing and dragging our bike through the undergrowth we were back under the bright light of a street lamp and on an asphalted road. In Porter’s Lake Provincial Park we were greeted to friendly, got guided to our camp ground and supplied with free firewood that the stresses and strains were almost forgotten quickly.
What has stayed with us since then until now, additionally to mosquito bites and bruises, is an even bigger feeling of belonging together and loving each other. Adventure-based education works - even for adventure educationalists.
The beautiful Provincial Park and the fact that we urgently needed to sort out and repack our luggage were the reason we stayed two nights.
On Thursday (September 25th, 2018) we moved with a little less baggage and a new, more direct route (originally we had planned to travel to Cape Breton Island) towards Shubanacadie where we had booked an AirBnB because of the weather report that had predicted heavy rain for the next day. A better research of our planned route and sunny autumn weather were the cause of our very good mood and with that we took, shortly after leaving the campground, the so called Multi-Use-Pathway (MUP) - which also was marked on the regional bicycle map we looked at. The first view kilometers of todays 77 km went smoothly but soon we had to realize that the MUPs in Canada are not really multi usable and most of all not suited for heavy loaded recking Bikes with „Schwalbe Marathon“ tires instead of Mointain Bike tires.
At this point it was again time to learn a fundamental lesson. For our plans we needed a certain amount of baggage (tent, equipment for cooking, food, different clothing,…). The panniers we needed in order to be able to carry all this made very well equipped road bikes out of our bicycles. So with these bikes it is only possible to ride on streets - no ATV roads, no MUP’s for us from now on for us! After this insight we finally did find the right way for us. Not the new Highway but the in parts the old Highway and in parts secondary or country roads labelled with two or three numbers. Our route took us mostly downhill on a secondary road through thick forest following a river. Whenever there was an ascent we got immediately with a beautiful way down again. After some time the landscape changed to less trees, more farms with meadows and fields. Navigating too was much easier since we only used streets and the traffic we had feared did not appear. Finally we had the feeling that it had not been such a bad idea after all to decide to actually realize our plan to travel through Canada only with the help of our muscles and without disturbing the environment.
After 77km we were welcomed warmly by Gina, who lives a little bit outside of the small town with her dogs and her horse. Dear Gina, we are so happy that we were able to be your first guests ever and would like to thank you again for all your help - especially for letting us take your car to get some pizza!
Two nights later (September 27th, 2018) we again mounted our bikes and started our journey towards Elm River Park Camping (57km). Differently from what had been predicted it was still raining cats and dogs in the morning. On our way we stopped in Truro for food and changing our cloths - because the rain finally had stopped. Next and last stop right before our campground was Masstown Market, which manages to gather all the shops of a small town under one roof and also has a café/ restaurant.
On September 28, 2018 we followed the old Highway 4 up to the top of Folly Mountain and down to the skiing area Wentwoth Valley. Unfortunately we again had rain and were after some time frozen stiff. But not even the attempt of the HI Hostel manager in Wentworth who stopped us on the street to ask if we would like to sleep at his hostel could stop us. We must have looked quite pitifully when we finally stopped at Patsy’s Diner to have some Coffee and Tee to warm ourselves up as we not even got a piece of blueberry pie (delicious!!!) for free but were also offered to stay the night on the bed in the basement of the Diner for free. The Diner is so cosy and it’s owner so friendly that we very much wanted to stay there. But we also wanted to reach our daily goal (50km) and so went on towards the Big Lake Camp. As we arrived there we quickly realized that this was no campground but actually a Church Camp for children in the summer. However we were very lucky to get a very warm welcome from two ladies who were preparing the „Fall Craft Sale“ that was going to be the next day. They allowed us to put up our tent, made sure the washrooms were open and took care of us by offering hot coffee. Again, thank you very much - also for the coffee and the delicious cinnamon rolls on the morning after. We hope you had a good Craft Sale!
September 29th, 2018 brought us to Amherst. The weather was much better and because of leaving out the lunch break (because there was nothing left to eat in our bags anyway) we got early to the Lochlomond Campground and were able to put up our tent in the sun and let it dry. Luckily the campground was not far from the mall so it was relatively easy to organize dinner and buy groceries for the next few days.
Our last tour before our rest days brought us through Sackville to Memramcook. Shortly before the border to New Brunswick we met Harold, who passed us and slowed down for us to safe us from taking a gravel road. After crossing the river that marks the boarder between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick together he escorted us on the highway which is the only good connection at this point.
Driving on the highway is legal in most of the States of Canada and was actually, thanks to the wide shoulder through which all the time we had a minimum of two meters distance between us and the cars, quite comfortable, as we were able to make a lot of kilometers in a short amount of time without any detours and on very smooth subsoil.
As soon as we were safely on the highway Harold accelerated back to his actual speed on his last 10 kilometers of his 130 kilometer long tour of the day - but not without arranging a meeting with us for coffee in the Black Duck in Sackville. Dear Harold, thank you so much again for the many tips you shared with us and the good time we had together! I believe we will stay in touch through Twitter and the Websites and that we maybe even meet up for another coffee (in Montreal!?)!
After a very pleasant hour in the Café we went on our last 27 km to Memramcook where we were welcomed very warmly into our AirBnB at Jacquelines and Gilles place - and were even invited to dinner. Campfire, good conversations, a huge warm shower, a luxurious bed and a gas fireplace in the living room made it impossible to leave this place and return to our damp tent after just one day of rest. We needed time and quietness as well as a dry, warm workspace with electricity to write this blogpost anyways. Also we needed to do our laundry, let our tent dry and wanted to follow the offer of our hosts to take a look at their cabin in the more and more autumn colored woods. Because of all this we decided to stay two more nights (until Thursday, September 4th, 2018) at Jacqueline and Gille’s place. Dear Jacqueline and Gill, we would like to thank you again for this beautiful and luxurious AirBnB - but most of all for your great hospitality! It was a pleasure to get to know you and thank you for taking such good care of us (providing lunch AND dinner on our last day as we ran out of food and even cooking vegan for Kira all the time) and sharing your home with us!
So by now we have already crossed Nova Scotia and have approximately ridden 350 kilometers. On Thursday (September 4th, 2018) we will continue our journey towards
Moncton and then further towards Fredericton.
Lots of love
Pascal (first-person narrator) & Kira (supplements)