Nova Scotia

July, 1993

In July, 1993, Jaromir and I set out to bike around the Bay of Fundy. We took a train from Montréal to St. John, New Brunswick — one of the charming, old-fashioned trains with big comfortable seats and a sleeper that had beds big enough for two people separated from the corridor by thick burgundy velvet curtains. In St. John we crossed by ferry to Digby, Nova Scotia. It was a tough trip, with a lot more up-and-down than we anticipated, plus it rained nearly every day. My left knee was as creaky as a door hinge, and at every country store I'd buy frozen peas to ice it. One of our objectives was Blomidon Provincial Park. We pushed hard in spitting rain from Lawrencetown 80 km to Canning, where we parked our bikes at a tea room and joined the elegant little English ladies for afternoon tea.

I suppose we looked a little out of place in our sweat-soaked and oil-stained T-shirts, our faces already brown as old leather. It was only 5:00 pm and a highway sign at the edge of Canning indicated 15 km to Blomidon, so we kept pedalling. But two hours later there was still no sign of the park. The road wound through apple orchards with dazzling views of red clay cliffs and immense mud flats cut by slivers of green ocean. The road took a sudden sharp turn and we found ourselves pushing our bikes uphill for three km. I took a break from time to time to stretch out in the ditch with a bag of frozen peas on my knees. We finally crawled into Blomidon just minutes before the gates closed. It's a beautiful if somewhat foreboding site on a bare loaf-like peninsula 700 feet above the ocean. As night fell, a wet blanket of fog wrapped around us. Clouds whipped up and over the cape while waves crashed against the soft sandstone cliffs below us. It rained most of the night, and I lay awake for hours counting the seconds between lightning and thunder.

We took on a lot of water, but woke up to brilliant sunshine, so we were able to dry our gear. We had planned on staying two nights at Blomidon to we could hike out to Cape Split, but discovered that the trail to Cape Split was on the other side of the peninsula, nearly 20 km away.

The consolation prize was stopping for lunch at a picnic area where a tiny footbridge led to a barrier island composed entirely of parti-colored pebbles. We spent the afternoon noses to the ground, ankle-deep in saltwater that was comfortably warm saltwater — the first and last time on this trip. We picked up so many stones that in the next town we had to mail a box of rocks home to Montréal.

Tide coming in — way in — at Scots Bay Provincial Park.
We decided to camp there for the night. We cooked lemon poppy seed noodles and frozen knee peas for dinner. An otherwise peaceful evening was marred by a gang of noisy teenagers at a big bonfire on the beach. Periodically some of them crept toward us, visible just beyond the glow of our campfire. I thought I heard them whispering about stealing our bicycles. We went to bed late, the bicycles chained together in deep grass behind the tent, and I took a large stick to bed.

I woke with a start in the middle of the night. Someone was behind the tent. I saw the shadow moving along the tent wall, grabbed my stick and shouted, 'Get the fuck out of here!'. The shadow moved toward the front door, I lunged forward, stick in hand, threw open the front flap and came face to face with ... big black Labrador retriever. He took one look at me and ran off with his tail between his legs.

We woke up to pea soup fog, and waited until the convenience store opened for breakfast and many cups of coffee before pedaling back over the hill to Canning. And we thought we were dirty before! Our last shower was three days, 150 km and two rainy nights ago!

To avoid Route 1, we biked across the dikes from Port Williams to Wolfville. The tide was high, and we felt like we were at sea on our bicycles. We had a close-up view of life in the salt marsh, where we saw more shore birds than at any other time during our trip. Halfway across, the trail ran out and we were biking through two-foot high grass that gummed up our chains and derailleurs. Back in nervous traffic on Route 1, we wolfed down fruit juice and ice cream at a convenience store and pushed on to Evangeline Campground — the only one in the area.

"Shortcut" across the dyke between Port Williams and Wolfville.

And so I learned to studiously avoid campgrounds that advertise an abundance of services. For $15.50 a night — a tidy sum in 1993 dollars — we had a tiny patch of ground sandwiched between a trailer house with a blaring TV and a 16-person tent with two huge spotlights and a dozen screaming brats. We gave up on going to bed early, and washed clothes at 11:00 at night. When we came back, our neighbor had set up another huge tent on our site, between our tent and the picnic table. I stalked off to complain to the manager, who made them pull up stakes and move over. Finally around midnight they turned off the lights and reined in the little banshees, and we were able to get a few hours of shut-eye.

Now running far behind schedule, we realized we'd have to choose between the Noel Shore from Windsor to Truro, or Route 2 from Truro to Parraboro. The only busses to Truro were via Halifax, which would mean $50 in bus fare, a hotel and meals in Halifax and two days on the road.

So we bought markers and cardboard at a pharmacy and made a sign saying 'Truro - $30'. Most of the passing drivers had a good laugh, but about two hours later, a retired naval officer who had 'nothing else to do that day' loaded us in his pickup and deposited us at a campground 18 km west of Truro. We were giddy with success and thrilled to be able to start our vacation all over again in another part of Nova Scotia.

From Parrsboro, we made a side trip to Eldon Jones' Rock Shop. Eldon Jones was a Parrsboro native who had been rock-hounding since the age of six, and in 1985 he discovered what were believed to be the world's smallest dinosaur tracks. The site eventually yielded several skeletons and other fossilized remains from the Jurassic period. Jones himself still tended shop, and was happy to tell his story to anyone who was interested.

We pedalled through fields of wild blueberries into Port Greville, a tiny former shipbuilding community full of perfectly maintained Victorian-era homes. Our B & B for the night was an 1820s home built by a sea captain from Granada. The captain had slaves, and our hosts, Edie and Doug Allen, found shackles in the basement when they bought the house. The household included a boarder, a mysterious woman named "Lilah McDougall. Lilah was 72 years old and her present the abandoned village of Apple River, where she lived 40 years ago. She spoke quietly and nearly continuously about her life there, and it was a fascinating glimpse into everyday life in a small Nova Scotia lumber town in the 1940s and 50s.

Lilah and Jaromir with Doug and Edie Allen

We left our gear at Doug and Edie's and continued with bare bikes toward Cape d'Or in heavy rain over hilly terrain, stopping frequently to feast on wild blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and red currants. But at 5:30, were pushing our bikes uphill in rivers of red mud and clouds of blackflies, and the cape was nowhere in sight. Disappointed, we turned around. Near Spencer's Island, two cars stopped to ask if we were "the bikers" and to get news of our progress, and one of the women offered us the use of her cabin on the beach if we didn't want to pedal back over the mountain. Our host's name was Margaret Griebel, a schoolteacher from Alberta. She stuffed us on homemade blueberry muffins and tea and offered to drive us to Cape d'Or the following morning. We ended up spending most of the day with her, accompanying her to get eggs, having tea with friends and family, visiting Cape d'Or, and having lunch at the Harbour Lite cafe in Advocate. It was 3:00 pm when we finally said our good-byes and headed back to Port Greville.

Lilah greeted us warmly and quickly set two more placed for dinner, picking up exactly where she'd left off in the history of Apple River.

A long day later, we rolled into Amherst, where we'd catch the train back to Montréal. We'd pedaled 510 km in 12 days.

At the Via Rail station in Amberst.
Next