Archive for ‘Bike Trip’

January 17, 2011

The Charlottetown redhead

“One day… you’ll cease to care anymore about whom you please or what anybody says about you. That’s when you’ll do your best work.” – – J.D. Salinger.

I went from Antigonish, past Pictou [oldest Scottish settlement in NS,] and took the the Caribou-Wood Island Ferry to PEI, and from the terminal I made the 60K to Charlottetown in two and a half windless hours. PEI is nice and flat, and very pleasant with good roads and farms. I recognized the route from my trip in 2006, especially the place where the river flows under the road to the ocean at Pinette. It was Friday night and the island was drunk. I rode across the bridge from Strafford and slept that night in the bushes by a Timmy’s near the big Hollywood style Charlottetown letters.
In the morning I rode around for a bit and sent emails from a Starbucks. At an outfitter I found a light one-man tent for a hundred bucks and hit up Wal-Mart for a can of brown spray paint to tone down the yellow highlighting. As I came out from the bike shop where I’d restocked on tubes [I’d done all of Cape Breton to here on no spare tubes] I saw a grey stucko house, slightly run down, that I would recognize later. I’d set up at the campground in Strafford, but the twilight found me at Starbucks again, and it was one of tho se nights when you want to know someone in the town. It was pouring rain, but the town was trembling and waiting for dark, and somewhere violins and guitars were being tuned and people would be at home and pre-drinking with dinner.
Food was a toss-up between fish and chips and Mediteranean, and the Med place was a dark looking, branched-in kind of place with the rain to help remind me of a restaurant in Van, and I went to it.
There was one other customer inside, and old man in a corner, and he left after I came. The waitress was a redhead  – had the kind of thick curls that redheads have – but her hair was dyed brown and we met in the middle of the empty tables and I said the place was empty and she rolled her eyes and said,
“I kinda noticed.”
A middle-aged brown guy in the kitchen looked up with eyebrows curious but disapproving, and his look made it seem that the girl was always this way.
The redhead and I talked, and she didn’t sit but returned often. She was slim, but had the hips of a girl who will pear-out in her late twenty’s or thirties, and I was glad I could see her now, not then. The nachos had lettuce on them, and I said exactly that when she came to take the plate and asked how it was. I was thinking about that quote from The Virginian – “when you call me that, smile” – but I didn’t mention it.
You can talk nachos forever, like beers or hitchhiking, if you can pretend your way around knowing something about it, and the other person pretends as well. Almost as good a conversation starter as the pink glasses pushed up on my head.
“I ate shark nachos in Cyprus,” I lied. It had been sword fish, and not with nachos. I had eaten alone at a sea-side table with linen after walking along the new marina in Paphos. Looking out over the harbor I could see the piled stones from the ancient Geek break-water still sticking above the water. The girl reciprocated with something smart and when she had gone I sat watching the bouncing rain drops and drinking J&B’s in a short glass.  Later I asked about music and we decided she would show me around later. It was time for me to vanish, and I left, amazed that I didn’t do something dumb at the last minute, like pushing against a door with a ‘pull’ sign. There was a liquor store on the next block, and later a shower, and at nine-thirty I was waiting when she came walking. The place had closed at nine, and she had gone for a shower and looked different but the same, the way girls can change themselves. Her hair was the same, but damp.
“I’m Sara,” she said, and we hugged and our arms linked and we walked on the sidewalk, across grass by a church, until we met cobblestones in the shadows on the other side. Charlottetown wends its way and is a place of shortcuts and cross-able grass and old municipal buildings. The streets are straight, but end strangely in some places, and in the summer night the arms that stretch from downtown were crisscrossed by music and bar-light and outdoor patios. We sipped the Palm Breeze, and then the Golden Wedding, and to wait for later we ended up on the roof of a high parking garage, and could see the lights of the town and the black ocean while we talked.

She’d grown up on a goat farm, travelled in India, and had lived with Hare-Krishnas. Once she’d had her Neon T-boned and there was nice little scar on her mouth that I could barely see. There was an ex-boyfriend who still thought she was his, but she wasn’t, she said. It was so damn warm out and we flung the first empty bottle way down to the concrete, then sat on the ledge so it would’ve been easy to push each other off and all we had was trust. I spun some words about dew sizzling on machine gun barrels and she looked quietly at the tags on my neck and asked me things, and then told me about talking to a homeless man in Toronto, and about her little brother who was musical and a wimp. She was someone who understood things, even things she hadn’t seen – she seemed to imagine a place and people very well, and this made me like her.

We had come down from the edge and were standing there.

“Yeah,” she said, in context with the thoughts we didn’t speak of. She spoke in a voice that was coming down after being excited and laughing from joking and talking. A voice that progressed towards sadness and then remembered where it was and bounced back. “Tonight’s tonight and tomorrow’s whatever…” she said, and I leaned against the waist high concrete and looked at Charlottetown, thinking about memories, and then answered quietly.

We went to some different bars and sat in back alleys. At one place the bouncer she knew wouldn’t let us in. Cirque du Soleil was in town, and some quirky-looking dudes and gals with piercings were moving amps and equipment from a truck to the back-doors of a building. I yelled at them in French but they laughed and wouldn’t say who they were. Later we were sitting on a concrete jersey barrier by some empty recycling bins – the kind of place you just end up without knowing how. Sara had scraped up her knees from running and falling. I was probably the same. Tomorrow it would be evidence.

“When do you leave?” she asked, when we were talking about the trip.

“Tomorrow.” I said. “Early.”

We sat quietly looking at each other. “That’s quick.” A breeze came running between brick walls and brushed my t-shirt sleeves. Her hair was done up loosely behind her and in the shadow made murky and yellow from the nearby streetlamp her tiny lip scar was a pencil stroke that some artist forgot about. “Why is that so alluring?” she asked.

And we both knew why, but I looked deeply into her eyes and said I didn’t.

Later we danced.

December 5, 2010

PEI Popcorn Sister

<In September 2006 [when I was eighteen] I was sent to Kentville NS to do an intensive course in additional machine gun, pistol and mortar skills. We spent time at ranges in Granville [South NS] and Gagetown, NB and after the course I took two weeks off, went to Halifax for a $300 Infinity bike, and continued from there on my first solo bike tour. In one day I got to Amherst and stayed for thanksgiving with some friends, and from there continued to PEI. The following is an excerpt from writing completed in the spring of 2009, regarding that trip.>

I turned right on the 16 out of Sackville and got to the Confederation Bridge that afternoon. A shuttle bus over the 13K bridge and I was on PEI, Anne of Green gables country. I biked past the McCain factory and past old churches set along the quite two lane highway, stopped at a convenience store at the lip of some small town and got apples and candy. Long after dark I got into Charlottetown, locked the bike and climbed a Wal-Mart roof to sleep the night. Someone came up early in the morning, didn’t see me, and I ran between the vents and intakes down to a lower level of roof and jumped down to a loading area at the back of the store. That was a quiet day. It was nice to be alone for a while, to think. I walked up and down some streets, shops labelled Anne’s this and Anne’s that, and stopped in book stores.

That night I was in a coffee shop. Strange towns are great in the day, but at night when it becomes dark they can be very sad if you’re alone and sleeping on roof-tops. I talked to the girl working, glad that her name wasn’t Anne. They were closing up soon.

Have you heard of couch surfing?” She asked. She was late twenties maybe, dark hair tied back.


It’s cool, its a club of people that take in backpackers on their way through a place. You post note on the net saying when you’re coming through, someone sees it and maybe tells you to come stay with them for the night. It’ s a good way to meet people, go party for the night. You should try it.”

It’s a little late tonight.”

Yeah… Sometime you should try it though, if you’re into this stuff.”

There was no one in the store. She had turned the closed sign. I looked down into the empty mug.

What about you? Could I just crash on your couch tonight?”. Please, I though to myself

She was cashing out, the change was slamming and clinking in the register trays as she counted. She was quiet.

I still have to do some stuff here. There’s a bar up the street-” She said the name “-I can meet you if you if you want. Half hour or so.”

Her name was Nisha, and she lived on the whole second-floor of an ancient square-built wooden thing that could have had a typical old corner store, or an art studio on its ground level. There was a long staircase where I put my bike, and mustard-yellow interior walls . We stayed up watching vintage sci-fi, eating popcorn, and after midnight I fell asleep on the couch and she actually threw a blanket on me before going to her room.

In the morning when I woke up she had gone to work already. There was a man in the kitchen. He had a white beard and could have been her dad.

I’m Glen, I’m Kate’s room-mate. Your were pretty tired last night.” He looked like a professor, and thin beard, glasses. A granola eater, the kind of guy who took LSD in the sixties and now has a PhD and bikes to his research job in a yellow MEC jacket and spandex all year round.

Help yourself to something. I got to go. She left you a note.”

I chewed milk and Cherios and read the yellow post-it note.

What a cool chick, I thought.

And that day i left Charlottetown, and it has kept a  warm spot in my memory.

November 29, 2010


From Pleasant Bay I got to Cheticamp, famous for its history of rug-making, and the heart of Acadian Nova Scotia. To read more about Cajuns, Acadians, the southern US, and what it has to do with Colonial Canada, check out

This place is gorgeous and would make a damn good drive. Everyone speaks french, a strange, curling kind of french, the Newfy version of Canada’s francophone percentage.

Every house has the Acadian star above its door, like a Canadian version of the Confederate Banner, and the crab-traps that stand in stacks like everywhere else in NS are painted red white and blue.

Outside Cheticamp there’s a scarecrow village overseen by a local named Joe Delaney. In a massive central circle hemmed in by smatterings of small gatherings and even a few solo’s, nameless effigies in costume jump in beside presidents and royal family members and other celebrities, to a total number exceeding a century.

A character or two were originally installed to protect some veggies doing their best to grow up and be eaten, but as usually happens when a species gets together, the scarecrows eventually multiplied.

Inverness, famous for folk music, was a disappointment, only because of the ranting and raving I’d come to expect about it. To the ears of a cyclist three days away but fast approaching, Inverness had taken on the mental image of a Mecca where I would stay for a few hours and drink at the bar with fishermen. Not so much. Just like any other town, beautiful in its normality, but sparse. I ate lunch at an abandoned gas station on the outskirts and then went on biking all the way through Mabou where the entire town had gathered in a local watering hole, kids included, and a band was making it happen big time on bar-worthy strings: Tunes from instruments that had been learned on by the same Old Boys 30 years before I was even born, and knew their maritime gusto well-enough by now that they practically played themselves.

Must be honest though, I was desperate to get out of Cape Breton. The Canso causeway, the link to mainland NS, was looming in my mind and it was hard to break the temptation about making a record-ride and hitting Antigonish in the morning.

Unfortunately I’m like the rest of the mortals and right outside of New Port Hood I ended up in a wild-growing field, the bike hidden under bushes and me in my green bivy, snuggled in the damp sleeping bag in the soaking grass, the occasional car headlights washing me and then vanishing again.


At 0500 it started to rain and by 0900 I’d reached Port Hastings and the causeway. I’d woken up in typical fashion, because the drops were hitting my face and crawling down my T-shirt into the bag. Its amazing what a rainy day does: What takes you twenty minutes to pack and get ready on a yummy warm Sunday morning takes 2.4 seconds in the dark, weeping dawn of a coastal storm.

The causeway was interesting enough [Canso is from the Mi’kmak word Kamsook which refers to a ‘location opposite lofty cliffs’ ]. The last time I went over it I didn’t even see it in the pitch dark, the lights inside the bus making mirrors of the dark windows. The thoroughfare is comprised of a swing bridge to allow the passage of large ships, and leads onto the long wall of rock on which the road is built. The artificial barrier is there to block sea-ice from entering the straight which allows for a large year-round sheltered harbor. A freighter lay at anchor just inside.

On the mainland, getting out of my rain jacket, I took breakfast at a Husky and took a serious chunk out of War And Peace, seriously ready to hang out and eat gas-station food for as long as it took.

Eventually the rain stopped as it always does, and Antigonish was only forty K out [two hours].

That night was spent in a dorm at St. Francis Xavier. It’s an old one and the mahogany made me think of Hogwarts [no I’m not a fan, no I’m not fan, please don’t think I’m a fan, but I have seen the movies – because of girlfriends – and I couldn’t help but be reminded].

It was also steep – but forty bucks but when you arrive soaked is something you’d skip the insects for and burn under a magnifying glass.

In a McDonald’s I met a fat, adventurous couple from Powell River who’d driven out here in a van that was ready to blow out and settle for its axles. They’d been everywhere, and by everywhere I mean everywhere, you get the picture, and we talked and talked till my computer battery died and the McFlurry was a sad sticky pool at the bottom of the soft paper cup.



November 16, 2010

This one time I almost made a mistake…

Shortest blost pog ever:

So what happened now exactly? It’s been a few months and the slower third of you would assume I just went and died in NS and the ones who know better would see the truth: That the bike trip just kept on keeping on and the blog keeled over by the roadside.
Yep. It’s been a month or two, or three. But here I am again. Sorry you didn’t get rid of me that easily. A lot’s happened, the weather’s cooling and I’m raring to strap some skis on, and here I am still catching up on summer.
Enough. I’m diving back in.
Look for more of me in a day or two. No promises, since that never works, but here’s a kick at serious commitment to short internet rambles.
The operative word being short. At least this time.

P.S. This blog just became a school project. Dont ask me how because I must’ve been asleep when it happened, or worse, faking an attention span. For now I’ll roll with the punches.

August 3, 2010

Driven from North Dakota

By 1000 I was raring to go. Another set of wily nurses had replaced the shift from yesterday. They still wanted a stool sample which I denied them. Too bad so sad, they’d have to get their precious stool somewhere else. There was a lot off biking to be done.

The doc re-appeared and bowed and scraped a bit, apparently unsure how to tell me that the bed needed vacation by sundown. Not a problem. At 1130 the IV was out, clothing restored and the bike rescued from its parking spot in the bleach-white hallway.

A burger stop was required at Neil’s Harbor and then it was non-stop to Pleasant Bay. The doc had been doubtful that I’d make it, said there were several mountains between here and there.

Maybe he’d never biked it himself but the only mountain I found was a 13% incline that went on for five K [ridiculous – I was almost afraid of falling over backwards].

Coming down out of Cape Breton Highlands National Park I looked around myself and thought how nice it would be to find a hostel somewhere. And miraculously one appeared.

Ahead of me on the road was a sign for Cape Breton Hostel. I’d had no idea.

Up the road about one K from a pink hotel overlooking a typically maritime theme – boats lined up in a sheltered harbor – the hostel presented itself. A house built from three trailers stacked together with the walls knocked out to make an integrated space.

A nice lady named Jean, with a lazy eye and a penchant, I would notice, for knitted sweaters, was doing dishes when I rolled up. An artist, she’d moved here for the summer and was doing a bit of gardening work for cheaper accommodation. Several years had been spent in Vancouver in the ’80s before i was even born, studying and taking meditation classes upstairs at the Naam restaurant. Other days had been spent abroad and in Ottawa, teaching art, particularly pottery, and now the mainstay was oil-on-canvas landscape productions. She didn’t actually live in the hostel building but down the yard in a small fifth-wheel.

Lizzy showed up a few minutes after I did and took my money. She’s in her early forties, managing the place for the young couple who own it. Childhood had started in England and and in her late teens she’s immigrated to Canada by herself. One of those immigrant stories we hear about showing up from the boat with ten bucks in her pocket, she’d found a job and lived in Van on Dunbar and 16th for sixteen years. A few circumstances in Van eventually prompted her to pack her car and trailer and start driving East, and just before running out of ground and making a wet landing in the Atlantic she’s found Cape Breton and established herself. She now works for a whale-watching company for fourteen weeks of the year, plus this hostel-management gig. She has a house, a car and a whole country of tax-payers kind enough to help her out with her winter months of mortgage, utilities and grocery expenses.

Filling the bivy bag with clothing greased by NL sweat and tears and NS puke stains I took jaunt down to the pink hotel where laundry machines abounded for three bucks a load. While waiting to retrieve, I carried on down the road to as store and then further along towards a beach in the sheltered harbor.

Its always an excellent circumstance when a blonde Ausie chick stops you for directions, and in Cape Breton the encounter was as pleasant as it was unexpected. The white Escape had come driving towards me, its massive American frame to big for the alley-size road it was terrorizing and by a quiet sucking sound the automatic window removed itself to reveal an immaculate face. It was like Barbie in her jeep – sexy – but something about the match just didn’t click. Either she was too small or it was too large. The seat fairly swallowed her – even sitting on a phone book wouldn’t have helped.

There was a shadow of maleness on the passenger side but I ignored it. The question on her lips was about fish and chips and of course I was useless.

“I just got here.” I said, and a thank you was issued, quick banter exchanged and the machine crawled on.

The blonde and her shadow would re-appear when I returned with the soap-smelling laundry. This was forty minutes later and the interval had provided what they wanted: a restaurant ten minutes down the road – and any restaurant in Cape Breton is a guaranteed answer to good fish and chips.

Mel was the girl’s name and her mysterious shadow was Niel, sharper-cut than a guillotine and taller than a bad lie. He would’ve made a good contender for Marlboro Man Of The Year and if it ever came down to fighting him or running like hell I’d pick the flight option and maybe later drop a sandbag on him from a high building.

These two were not a package but had met up in Halifax. It was mere coincidence that both were Ausies. The simple fact was, Neil was in the money and had rented a car and Mel was on a budget and needed a ride. The two would soon be splitting up, Mel to find a way to St. John’s and Neil to return Down Under, his four months of freedom exhausted.

Going inside we found a guy from North Dakota sitting on the couch in company of a Macbook. Twenty, first time away from home, quiet but with an aura of ambiton that came out in conversation later that night. He’d got a second-hand Cuttlass from his grandpa as a graduation present, worked for a bit and gotten jaded by the flat endless prairie and his birth-town that never grew, changed or vanished but simply existed to turn colour with the two seasons of that land. That’s when he took computer, clothing and a long deep breath and fired the ignition on a new lifestyle. The lifestyle of the road. And now he’d showed up here. A bit of WWOOFing [World Wide Oportunities on Organic Farms] had been done, where a traveller works for food and shelter, and relatives had been visited in Ontario. The future was uncertain but one thing wasn’t: Dakota was home, but not the pasture he was looking for. The question now was whether to sell the car, because nothing slims a wallet like gas money, and carry on by some other means. But until the answer found itself there was always the Cape Breton Highlands which is a dirt cheap place to go about making long drawn-out decisions. Contact with the family was good and he’d had few good talks with a sister over Skype. Dillon told me that night about asking a farm-owning lady he’d worked for what she would do if she won the lottery. To her the answer came fast: A new truck, a new barn, some horses maybe. And the point that Dillon brought up was that in a way he envied this lady, because happy are those who find their satisfaction easily. In five years or so, this thinker of a twenty-year-old pointed out, this lady could have her dream come true. What about people like us? Call us wanderers if you wish. We could never do that. But when your wish is to wander maybe a piece of the joy is to never find what you’re truly seeking – because when the object is found the wandering ends.

August 3, 2010

Stool samples and mad-hatter seduction

I’m not just being cute, there really was an old-lady mad-hatter seduction attempt. But it’s funny what a title does to a blog entry. Maybe people just click these things for the title. You people are sick, all you want is vileness and debauchery. Try a Harlequin, or if you want to add depth, Orwell. Otherwise get a real hobby, like a boat or something.

I carried on minus breakfast to a general store passing itself off as a town on the map. This happens a lot in Canada.

I sat down to a cup of coffee and conversation and out of nowhere came this lady wearing an ungodly hat. It was tall, purple, velvety and stovepipe-ish. She owns a hat-store down the street, which is probably enough info to deface this person in real life [since Cape Breton is damn small but obviously has internet] which is something i don’t wan to do, because really she was nice. And really, maybe she was in her fifties, so she wasn’t tottaly an old lady.

Anyway, so I mention biking and she talks about her sons, on in Alberta, one an artsy type living closer to home. About the biking, a warning came out regarding the next ‘mountain’ called Cape Smokey, just a few K ahead.

So next thing we know this lady is coming in for the kill and wanting me to come do laundry at her place and offering to fix me an egg for the ride over Smokey. And I had already accepted out of a real need to do laundry and egg-eating when a light went off in my brain. An incident similar to this one happened to me in the Yukon once, and intentions on the other side had been less about laundry than I’d anticipated. Don’t worry mom, I escaped and evaded, hopefully hurt no feelings, and if you could call that a lesson, I learned it.

So nothing against the Hat Lady but a minute after affirming to the positive I mumble a tune about changing my mind, I really needed to get biking but thanks anyway, and ran out the door.

The screen was about to latch itself and the last thing I heard was the Hat Lady remarking to the old guy at the counter, maybe I was scared she was going to try and take advantage of me.

I had been feeling a bit out of sorts all morning but I tried to ignore it and just push on. I had a feeling I knew what was happening and didn’t like it one bit. Before smokey tiredness was overcoming me, deep, dragging tiredness that I recognized and it was barely that I managed to drag myself up into a niche of woods by the roadside. I spread the bivy bag as a ground sheet and fell into a sick sleep waking up twenty minutes later and managing a quick roll before power-puking on the floor of the forest. Pleasant. Out my nose and everything.

It got on the bivy bag as well and the best I could do was take off my yellow Sandy Beach T-shirt, a freebie from the bro and beloved for the one week I’d had it, to wipe my face and gear well enough to pass a combat-inspection. I was dead but I had to get on the bike. No way was I stopping someone to call an ambulance.

The best part was up-and-coming. Cape Smokey made Kelly’s Mountain look like a pimple and I had to lead the bike for most of it. Near the top they were working on the road and I asked a flag-man about a hospital. Closest one was Neil’s Harbor, another 60K or so. Three hours on a good day.

Outside Ingonish I had to lie down again for an hour and a car stopped to ask if I was good and I just smiled and waved them on.

Here’s a piece of road advice. If your planning to bike the Cabot Trail, don’t. The only person who would enjoy it for the hills is someone like me, and people like me ignore advice like this all the time. So, people like me, wont miss out. But for the rest of you, stay off it. You’ll never thank me because you’ll never know what you missed.

There is one word for the Cabot trail and that word is ‘hilly’.

The Cabot Trail [‘Cabot Trial’, if you like awful puns] is hilly. Not a sloping Sea-To-Sky hilly but a brutal climb-from-San-Francisco-Bay hilly.

On the positive side, you definitely want to drive it. That will be three hours, not three days. The vistas are great. Once you’ve labored along for a bit you can look back and see the bouncing pirate-island landscape and a sea that changes colour with the bottom, which you can see because your so high up.

At Neil’s Harbor I almost missed the hospital, sorry, the health-care center. Buchanan Memorial Health Center.

But when I’d already cruised by it the same bell that warned me about Hat-Lady went off [that bell is priceless – the best part is it’s built in and doesn’t come with a plan]. I took a sweeping glance back, read some big letters on a wall and did a U-ey.

The bike came in with me and a chain-reaction got going among some nurses who see very few patients except a few customers awaiting oblivion in the terminal ward, or whatever they cal the dying-section.

Thank God for the Forces and the Canada-wide health card they gave me . Very little messing around.

A bed was found and one of the nurses got an IV going, poking me two or three times and saying the skin of my arm was like leather. Later she got another nurse to come in and they talked for bit while I lay there half-conscious, looked at the IV machine that I was hooked up too, pressed some buttons and shook their heads saying, ‘that’s not good.’

Always nice to hear when your hooked up to it.

“What’s not good?”

“Oh nothing, it’s just a new machine.”

“Hm.” I said.

Be in the army for a while and you tend to get numb to this stuff. Like getting vaccinated twice or three times because paperwork got lost. Or going out to look for bombs with your feet.

Funny thing was, the presiding doctor was out for a bike ride and came in to see me later in a sweaty green Arc’teryx shirt. In appearance and manner he was similar to Mr. Dave in NL.

My condition was confirmed: I had Gastro – capital G because if you’ve ever had it you know how much it sucks. This is a stomach thing you get from, for instance, possibly having shit on your hands. One of those travel things that happens. The good doc admitted me for the night, comanded a stool sample, commented on my Surly and asked how I liked it so far, then took off to finish his ride.

As if everyone wants to hear about stool samples [like I said, get a real hobby], one of the nurses provided me with a collection device and gave me instructions to which I nodded and smiled and then ignored. What are they going to use a sample for? Everyone knew what I had and by the time they got it back from the lab I’d be halfway to BC.

The best part was having a bed for the night. Mostly they left me alone, and with the lights shut I slept the sleep of death.

August 2, 2010

The axe-murder camp

By the way, while getting on the ferry at PAB I pulled the smoothest move ever. I’d busted out the camera to grab a picture while biking to the ferry, dropped the damn thing and ran it over. Oh yeah. Good test. It’s one off those Olympus waterproof-shockproof one’s and while it survived a war well enough it sure wasn’t allowed to survive me, in intact condition at least, for very long. Very few things do. If you want something broken give me a shout. I’ll come falling down a stairs towards you as soon as I can.

Kudos to Olympus though, their precious camera might be very banged up but it still caps a good shot, which is no credit to me: I just pull it out when I’m biking [hence, I drop it] and snap away, and once in a very small while I get a good pic out of a hundred or so.

Where was I going with this? I don’t know, but it seemed worth a mention. I’ve dropped it a lot since and the poor bugger’s still hanging on. Due to the massive opening in the camera-body I was led to assume its no longer water proof. But later I was photographing a toad in NS [yes!!] and dropped it again in a water-filled ditch. And it came out fine.

It was sunday and everything in North Sydney was closed. I’ve been here before and its not the kind of town I’d want to do a life-sentence in anyway, so I just kept on chugging.

It was bit of ride to English Town where Kevin had recommended I cross to The Cabot Trail. I stopped at a few gas stations and had some words with certain locals who looked at me doubtfully and said, ‘yeah English Town over there alright but you got a bit of a mountain to cross.’

The last guy I talked to, a shining example of stagnated teenage-hood beneath trucker-hat and undershirt and a pathetic attempt at facial hair was particularly adamant about my craziness. ‘Takes on to know one’, I though, looking at him.

He’d been filling someone’s tank at a place overlooking a river valley, and he pointed with a dooms-day look on his face at the other side and announced that I’d be crossing over Kelly’s Mountain.

“What mountain?”

I was just toying with him. This was too much fun.

“Kelly’s mountain,” He said, pointing. I looked.

“Where? I don’t see it.”

“It’s right there.”

“The hill?”

“It’s a mountain.”

The feature in question was a decent knob, I’ll give it that. After crossing a bridge I came to the sign: You are now at the base of Kelly’s mountain. You will climb 240 m in the next 7Km.

Jesus wept.

If only they knew.

The knob vanquished I carried on to the ferry at English Town, which is not a town at all, just a few houses and a post office. A lane off the highway leads to it. Blink and you’d miss it.

The ferry was one of these tiny river-crossing contraptions. The only reason there are any left is probably to provide a job or two in an economy that died with the fishery, and also because, in some parts of the country at least, they are considered a heritage thing.

I hadn’t looked at a map and had imagined more of a crossing but really it was matter of meters. A long pier had been built to meet the ferry on the other side.

Jersey Cove was more houses and a campground with a small store and I biked that night to Indian Brook. There was no sign telling the name, all I knew was what I saw: an old church for sale, a pizza shop [!] and an abandoned campsite by the beach.

I inquired at the pizza shop if this place was good to go, and a lady with wide eyes and middle age dumpinness who was working dough on a short counter told me, yeah, that place is really abandoned, set up where you want. Some ‘foreigners’ had bought the place a year or two ago and last summer the main admin building had mysteriously burnt down. The owners had vanished, perhaps with insurance money, and no great investigation was made.

Now remember I have no tent, so setting up for me meant spreading the sleeping bag and gathering firewood.

I’d picked a spot far in on the old property, right by the pebbly beach. Imagine a big field, wooden posts with deactivated electrical outlets distributed evenly, an empty swimming pool, broken swing-setts, a shower building showers with gaping dark doorways, and foundations of the burnt-down building. Give to this setting a rusty sunset coming through thickening rain clouds and a nice wind off the ocean that ripples leaves in a background of forest. The colours are a predominantly gray-green and orange. If the atmosphere wasn’t so moist the place would feel dusty.

This is that kind of post-apocalyptic site where the tired survivors would come in late at night and be brutally murdered. The spookiness was on the same plane as an abandoned theme park or a boarded up shopping mall.

There was a payphone nearby and for some reason it worked. I called the family and we talked for a bit and when I hung up the rain broke out. Fast rain. It was a hundred meter dash to the place where I’d meant to sleep and the gear was getting perforated by the time I reached it.

Another story short, I returned to the pizza place which was closing in half an hour, ordered a personal size and sat reading until the torrent which had grown to a monsoon size, had slightly subsided.

At the old church with the real estate sign there was an old gazebo and that’s were I ended up sleeping. The bench inside was acutely curved, but the floor was soaked so the options were slim.

At three in the morning I woke up to a wicked lightning storm, like something we’d see on the prairies.

The gods were fighting again. I lay awake for a long time and watched the celestial swords.

In places the roof was leaking, but I was mostly dry. It was one of those nights that both despite of and because of the circumstances was good, and very impressive on the memory.

August 2, 2010

Icebergs and Motorbikes

The insert worked fine. I write from Manitoba [guess I should’ve put in a spoiler alert: as you can see, the blog is behind but no, I’m not walking across Canada – I’m actually halfway home and still biking] and it’s still good.

I got up early, ate at A&W and took off as fast as I could. There’s very little between here and PAB [Port Aux Basques]. A few gas stations and that’s it. Stephenville is 60K of the highway so despite an invitation by an army aquaintance to go cause trouble, I said ‘no way in hell’.

I’d hoped to catch the evening ferry but that was a no-go. After an unstoppable meal of fish and chips and good conversation with an older Ontario couple, I peddled on into the darkness, and near PAB the land revived a bit. It was saturday night and people were everywhere driving their ATV’s, drinking, shooting guns. All that stuff we imagine hicks doing. It’s all true.

I was going good, almost at the ocean now, but had a blind moment against some headlights and hit a rock in the middle of the shoulder and blew an instant flat.

At three in the morning I arrived in PAB, another place I’ve been. I saw the rise where I’d camped in 2006,out of view of the town, but right on top of it. Remembered three days consuming nothing but orange juice and thinking about God and wondering about life and girls. Went hiking one day and found an old graveyard near the high-school which looked like a massive gray lego brick forgotten by a baby Godzilla at the top of a fortress-worthy hill.

There were graves from more than hundred years ago. Six foot graves and and three foot baby graves. The weathered white crosses were lilted, and many of them unreadable and un-maintained. Erosion was carrying them into the sea. The earth was eating its dead.

I ate at Timmy’s again. I’ll never get tired of Timmy’s but I’ll never love it like I used to. Fifty meters off the parking lot the land sank and grass was everywhere. I could lie there and someone would trip over me before they saw me.

At 0600 I woke up. Talked to some guys who’d just come off the boat with motorbikes. The ferry left at 0700. I climbed up on the deck as we sat at the moorings waiting to go. I was wearing the gray wool sweater that I got in Kerrisdale for eight bucks. War and Peace was tucked under my arm.

The crossing takes six hours, give or take and I spent most of it writing and answering emails over the on-board wifi.

Forty five minutes to the port at North Sydney I was engaged by a Kevin from the States. He’s been reading the blog, so Kevin, fear not, I’ll do you justice.

This is a middle-age man with a beard. A landscaper by trade and photographer by calling who lives in a renovated barn in Connecticut, rented out to him by his divorce lawyer. Who wouldn’t want that? I’d love to live in barn. That way I could finally stop giving police my standard ‘no fixed address’ answer when they wake me up for sleeping on lawns. It could also make a good funny if I ever left a door open and someone asked if I was raised in barn.

Anyway, Kevin wanted to know about my Ortliebs, the waterproof bags I got for the bike.

A stand-up guy who knows stand-up gear when he sees it, I took one look at Kevin and thought,’Here’s a man worth time and conversation.”

Seats were found and talk fell from our tongues without the need for un-profound filler [weather talk] between real topics. Kevin and I seemed to be very much of the same fabric: Travellers of the ethic that the more you know the less you need and all that life should really require is a set of good boots and a backpack, or perhaps in Kevin’s case a camera, and in mine, a journal. He was currently at the tail-end of a four month photography tour which had been mostly spent in the American deserts but had somehow ended in Newfoundland. In his lens he was now the proud owner of icebergs and other northern articles and he told me about a short but meaningful episode where he had found himself on an iceberg-watching boat.

It had been storming out that day and the only people up top were him, the captain and two adventurous ladies, one who brought out a bottle though it was only ten in the morning. The normal people, on vacation from their cars, dogs and 2.4 children all huddled below in the shelter of the cabin while the souls who were living life felt the spray of the wild waves and saw lightning rip the sky that Kevin, in his own words, described as something so magnificent that it threatened to draw tears. Sincerity is a virtue and for the half-hour I knew him Kevin was full of it. His description of the deep blue ice, the white of rougher surfaces, the green sea alive beneath them and the lightning searing the backround of low gray clouds and dark distance was writerly and beautiful. All I could think was, I know the place and feeling, and don’t you think we’re lucky that something gave us the will and guts to live in this full way while others huddle below?

Other discussion included a brief visit to my time in the Stan and more of Kevin’ travels including motorcycling on Route 66 and bringing dust and mesas to life through the aperture.

His mode of travel was now a van, one of these fully equipped ones, and I was jealous but not jealous all at the same time. Before coming up here he’d done Cabot trail, where I was going next and he had some good points concerning my route, the main idea being that I take a certain one-minute ferry from English Town to Jersey Cove to save myself a day of biking.

Shortly, N. Sydney came into view at the window and the engine noise changed. An announcement was made about vehicles and thence we parted ways.

Below deck I unlocked the bike. The mouth of the ferry, the whole front of the boat, lifted like a drawbridge. The air was different. Warmer and summer-like. Gone was the mist of The Rock.

July 30, 2010

Wooed by a pedorthist

By the time I mailed the packaged I’d come to a decision. The knee only bugged me aboard the bike. I could feel it walking around but it wasn’t bad as long as I didn’t lift the leg too high.

Yesterday while riding I’d already been on the rampage for another idea should biking the country prove undoable.

With the knee hurting this bad I figured I could keep going to Port-Aux Basques and that’d be it. Somehow I’d get a Greyhound for Halifax. There I could box the bike up, buy a back pack and walk home. If I ever got to Ontario I could even get a canoe an paddle across the lakes to save some time. Sound crazy? Don’t put it passed me.

This much I’d determined: The country was getting crossed, and on my own power. Get rich or die trying.

It would change everything. Plans for the winter would be wiped. Skip patrol would be out. I’d even done time/distance calculations and concluded on inevitably wading through snow. Skiing at least part of the way home was beginning to have a purchase on realism.

Other ideas had been to bike the whole trip standing up. That would be possible but brutal. What about a BMX? Comical and time-costly, but possible. What about a skate board? No way in hell was I roller-blading, though I’m told it’s been done.

Whatever I did, it would wait a day. Corner brook was alright, despite the fart smell of the mill, but more importantly, it was the only place to stay. Stephenville was far down the road and 30K off the highway.

That morning I’d woken up by rays coming in through the branches. The long grass was swinging in my face to a gentle ocean wind and the small brown slugs crawled everywhere leaving trails on the wet outer surface of the bivy bag. But as I left the post office the sky was bruised like a pole-dancers ankles. By the time I got back to The Lair, the rain was licking at my heels. Would this ever stop?

When I’d sat too long sending pointless emails, chatting, surfing, going to the washroom, I walked outside into the storm. It was like one of those days when you feel drunk even though you’re not. The world fades and tunnel vision sets in. You wonder if your sick.

There was a hiking store across the street and I went in. It had caught my attention yesterday because of a weird set of double doors, camping paraphernalia on one end of the store and shoes and purses on the other. Like someone from reno had knocked out a few walls and combined two totally different venues.

I’d been standing there dripping for two minutes when a lady asked what was up and I spewed some questions about a new bivy bag just to fake her out. Then I asked if she’d heard a weather report. I’d checked it on the net twenty minutes ago and tomorrow was supposed to be fine. But I asked anyway.

Here’s a journal excerpt:

… she shrugs and points to man named Dave who seems to have all the answers. He promptly rattles off a column about the weather saying it will improve by tonight.

Okay. One down. Then I ask him if the uni here rents rooms during the summer and he says yes.

We fall into conversation about the bike trip and I mention the problem with the knee…Dave tells me that in addition to owning this store he is also a pedorthist and has a clinic.

“A what?”

“A pedorthist. A foot specialist.”

I see. Dave actually looks like doctor. He is round from head to toe, but not fat. He looks like the stout type of man who’d wear a black vest and have small spectacles on a chain, maybe a stethoscope, and ride through blizzards to enter small cabins and shake his head slightly, out of view of the person dying of cholera. He just seems like that type of guy. This is what you get from reading too much Little House On The Prairie as a kid.

Now here’s the wikipedia definition:

A Certified Pedorthist, or C. Ped. is a specialist in using footwear – which includes shoes, shoe modifications, foot orthoses and other pedorthic devises – to solve problems in, or related to, the foot and lower limb.

He tells me to sit and remove my footwear…

“Trust me,” I say, “that’s a bad idea.”

I’ve been wearing these socks, soaked, then drying on my feet as I pedal for three days. Or four. He doesn’t seem to mind. I guess foot-doctors have seen their share.

…Examines both my feet, pushes a bit, and immediately recognizes that one naturally twists more than the other, meaning, he explains, that when I thrust downward on the pedal i put some sort of bad pressure…

He explains that the knee cap slides in grooves. When my foot twists naturally, under all that weight of pedalling the bike, the knee cap tries to run out off its groove, explaining the pushy-uppy feeling I’ve been having, like it’s about to explode out the top.

We pull out the insoles and Dave shows me where the wear is most intense – the inside of my right foot.

Hmm. Interesting. I think of the bones of animals and know now what grooves he’s talking about.

But I’ve bike toured before and never had this issue, I say to Dave. But with this this amount of weight, he asks.

No. I think about when Natty and I went over the Rockies from AB to BC in 2007. It was so damn hot we didn’t even have sleeping bags, just hoodies. We slept in the day and pedalled at night and footwear was flip-flops.

Today, add equipment I’m not used to and the problems begins to look like an equation. And equations can be solved.

There could be a fix for this Dave says, and tells me to wait a sec while he disappears downstairs. He returns shortly with a two millimetre half-moon-shaped insert to go beneath the insole of my shoe. This will off-set the extra twisting.

“Normally I’d tell you to stick around for a day, but I guess you want to get out of NL.”

It’s like I said, this guy has all the answers. “Tell you what, I hope it works, If it doesn’t you can probably find somewhere else along the way to get better help.”

“What happens when it wears out?” I say stupidly.

“It won’t. Look at it. It wont wear out. Its plastic.”

I’m flabbergasted. Guess I know where God’s been hiding. He gave up the Stan four thousand years ago and moved to NL.

Dave and I talk a long time and he gives me a business card. We talk various hikes, East West and North coast trails, The Yukon river and the traverse across Gros Morne. I ask about possibilities of distance and direction for paddling the Churchill but he doesn’t know much about it. He has another store in Happy Valley Goose Bay and they deal a lot with NATO…

He told me how Happy Valley is really a desert covered in trees. Sand – a thousand feet down in the ground it’s all sand. A bulldozer can be used as an excavator and a house foundation put in in one day.

I ask him about the large informal trailer parks, like communes, I saw on the way from S. Brook and he tells me they’re descendants or legacy-riders of gravel-pit campers, hippies who formed campsites in the massive gravel quarries used during construction of the TCH.

He also tells me about the re-settlement that occurred in the fifties to seventies which is why there are so many ghost towns along the coast of NL.

We bid farewell and I got to he uni and rent a room. I’m exhausted and and from 1730 to 2230, get up shower, do a few things, read, fall asleep.

Tomorrow I’ll see about the insert. Inside the shoe I don’t even feel it.

July 24, 2010


When in doubt, purge. If in doubt about purging, purge more. Discover minimalism and you’ll never go back.

I always think of the trip in the states. Standing outside the Walmart in Arkansas, Reno an Penny who we’d ridden with for three days in their stolen jeep, gone. The snow that was falling. Me in my white T-shirt. Natty wearing my brown hoodie. Our wallets and that was it. Natty swearing and me just standing there feeling free, more free than I’ve ever felt, before or since.

For breakfast I went to a Europeen bakery, like the one mom had but bigger, that also specialized in bulk products and doubled as a coffee shop.

The lady had lived in van, then Sudbury. I sat by the window and wrote in the journal for a bit, then asked for a box, say, double the size of one that shoes would come in. She had one. Perfect.

The coffee and writing had felt good. All I had for food was a bag of rolled oats and some yogurt from last night and I sat on a concrete curb on a hill above the post office [everything in corner brook is downhill or uphill] and ate it all. One thing I’ve learned: Alway’s bring a spoon. Always.

Then it was time to do some sorting.

Johno and I have different ideas about packing. This is mine:

Not Starving plus Not Freezing = Good Living.

His is a bit more detailed, like this:

Stove + tent + sleeping bag + sleeping pad + lots of clothing + garbage bags + first aid kit + extra food and matches just in case = acceptable camping conditions.

There’s no wrong or right answer of course. People are different. He’ll carry a pound or two extra by default and I’m always going underweight. Probably I’m just weak.

The point is, the front panniers, the ones hanging off the front wheel of my bike, could now go. Along with them went a bag of sugar, the stove the pot,the sleeping pad, the headlamp and other sundries.

That left me with the bivy, the sleeping bag, extra socks [I’ve brought old worn out ones this trip so most of them can just get thrown out instead of washed.] toque, sweater and rain jacket. Also, the pump, spare tire, and tubes, laptop and journal.

It all went perfectly into the two back panniers.