Demystification Guru

Just because we don't understand something, doesn't mean it isn't understandable.

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Location: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Big Bike Trip

Maritimes August 2007

We decided to take a two week holiday this August, to test out the capabilities of the new tandem, and our capabilities riding it. Also, getting along with each other while riding the same bike all day long. And it worked very well. The edited pix are all here at Peter's Flickr site. I'll use a few in the story but I recommend you go there and have a nice slide show or view them all individually for comments, captions and notes.
Half bike, packed.
We chose to go to the Maritimes because we could fly there and test the packing and unpacking of the bike, and because we knew two people there who could come and rescue us if everything went wrong. We flew into Halifax Friday morning and went for lunch first, before attempting to assemble the bike. We chose the Citadel Hotel partly for location, partly because Peter had stayed there before, and partly because they agreed to store all three large suitcases for the two weeks we would be away. The bike comes apart into as many pieces as necessary, to fit into two Samsonite suitcases. The airlines have a 50 pound limit on checked baggage so we also had to make sure we didn't overload the bags with other things like shoes, panniers and helmets. They aren't very heavy but every ounce counts.

Packing the bike into the two bags had taken Peter quite a bit of time, as he tried to make sure they were evenly balanced in terms of weight, and not bend any cables or other vital bits in the packing process. Putting the bike together took less time - about an hour in the hotel room. However, when we had packed the bike, we had deflated the rear tire so as to squeeze it into the suitcase more easily and when Peter went to inflate it in the hotel room, we discovered that it appeared to have been warped. We couldn't figure out what might have happened to it but the rear tire seemed to have a weird compressed spot on it. We took the bike out anyway for a test drive and as I sat on the rear (waiting for the tire to explode), it felt like a "square tire", like what you sometimes get on a very cold morning if the car has sat in the driveway overnight.

We found a near-by local bike shop and clomped our way over to it on the bike, expecting to have to purchase a new tire as this one seemed to have some sort of defect in it. Our original purchased tires were very nice quality Schwalbe marathons and Peter really didn't want to have to swap one of them out for a cheap alternative. To our delight and relief, the local bike shop guy took the tire off, put it back on and while inflating it, used a sort of plier-looking, de-crimping tool to pull the tire out as it wanted to creep under the rim. Kind of a weird description but that's the best I can do. In any event, he handed us the rear wheel back and it looked perfect. We asked how much and he said no charge so we gave them $5 and said many thanks.

I got back on the rear seat and still held my breath, waiting for an explosion but eventually, and by the next day, I had relaxed enough to forget about it. And the tire never gave us any other problems for the rest of the trip. We never did figure out what had gone wrong.

Saturday morning, we left for Jack and Betty's place near Port Williams, Nova Scotia. We wobbled out of the hotel parking lot and hit the road before breakfast, intending to stop at a recommended place on the way. We found the Ardmore Tea Room as advertised and ate plenty of eggs and toast to fuel us for the day. We soon learned that biking on a really full stomach is not very comfortable and in fact, it is better to eat frequently and only enough to satisfy the hunger.
Pit Stop about 60Km north of Halifax.
We soon discovered the Hills of Nova Scotia. We had heard about them but they were quite challenging to two middle aged, overweight and under athletic folks. However, we were somewhat prepared and we took frequent breaks, resting for only a few minutes by the side of the road. Even so, we developed painful pressure spots on our sit bones and needed to take breaks more and more frequently by the end of the day. And I developed a pain in my right knee. In retrospect, I think it was due to me leaning unconsciously away from traffic and using my right knee differently from the left. I am not afraid of traffic and I can even ride right down the middle of a city road in rush hour but I think it was the lack of control I was experiencing on the back that led to the leaning. I have no brakes and no gears and no steering back there and I found that difficult to get used to.

We had also been warned about the spikey hills north of Windsor but it wasn't until we were riding them that we realized the warning had not been an exaggeration. At one point, we hit 60 kph going down a hill and at another, we rode downhill for almost 7 kms without pedalling. Of course, all this lovely downhill riding was balanced by the up hills. On one of the up hills, we were riding so slowly (at less than 7 kph) that I started trying to identify vegetation growing by the side of the road. "Oh look," I said, "is that Virginia Creeper?" Peter wasn't looking as he was trying to keep us upright. Next time you are on a bike, try riding v-e-r-y slowly and you will realize that you need some speed to keep from toppling over sideways.

When Peter planned this first leg of our trip, he used a book he had found at or through some website like Bicycle Nova Scotia, called Nova Scotia by Bicycle by Walton Watt. It has detailed maps of particular bike trips, with detailed notes about way points and other sights. We wanted to stay off main highways and took the old Highway 1 most of the way to Port Williams. In the book, this is "Tour #7" and it says that to cross the Gaspereau River, you have to take the multi-lane highway 101. This was our first experience on a proper highway and while Peter found the high speed traffic a little unnerving, we both appreciated the more gradual grades for the hills and the wide shoulder. Since bikes are not normally allowed on multi lane highways, we weren't sure what the wide shoulders were for except maybe to allow the traffic more room to manoeuver. For sure, we could have used another ten inches of pavement on the smaller roads in the province, especially while I was developing a theory about people learning to drive and a lack of ability to steer very well.

We finally arrived at Jack and Betty's at about 6pm, after 115 kms. I had never before that day biked more than about 90 kms in one trip so it was a record for me. In fact, at the Domaine de Grand Pre vineyard, Peter pulled over to show me the bike computer as it said 100 kms exactly for the day on it. Since we were tired and sore, we didn't bother to tour the winery and then we didn't go back so we'll have to save that for another trip.

We had a lovely stay at J&B's. Got to play pool with Jack, groom Jessie the Golden Retriever, get taken out for sightseeing at the Look Off and visit with their progeny. Their daughter-in-law Carole, when she heard of our saddle sores (not involving broken skin but feeling bruised), gave us a tube of Traumeel from her store EOS Fine Foods. Always a little skeptical of homeopathic stuff, I nevertheless applied the ointment as directed and my butt did feel better! I'm not entirely sure, not having done a scientific study, if my butt might have felt the same without Traumeel, but I feared it might have been worse so I did use it every day. By the end of the trip, we were reminding each other to "Traumeel your ass" and thinking that sounded like something some American woman might say to her kids: "I'm going to Traumeel your ass if..." I even Traumeeled my knee but nothing seemed to help it except ibuprofen.
Ready to roll
We left J&B on Monday, after they kindly put the bike in the van and drove us back over those nasty hills north of Windsor and let us out a little bit east of the Avon river on highway 14. Given their druthers, I think they would have driven us ("the kids") all the way to our destination that day which was Stewiacke, but we said it was just too much like cheating to get a ride all the way.

Then we hit "the Rawdon Hills". We'd been warned about those too and they were long and steep. Not as spikey as the hills north of Windsor but challenging anyway. It started to drizzle and we put on the rain gear. Large trucks seem to like taking the 14, along with giant bus-like RVs towing full sized SUVs. We pedalled on. We stopped for a break at the junction of the 202 and the 14 and were rocked by the passing wind of more RVs than trucks. We wondered how you could possibly enjoy visiting any place if you were encased in glass and metal and never walked anywhere. Wouldn't one province seem much like all the others?

When it started to rain harder, we were also looking for somewhere to have a late lunch and ran across a tiny roadside diner near Nine Mile River, complete with bars on the windows. We hadn't seen anything else for miles and went in to ask about other possibilities, of which there were none. So we ordered a pizza and just as it came to the table, the heavens opened and the rain gushed down the pavement. We watched and ate our pizza and by the time we were finished, so was the bulk of the rain. A lot of our trip was serendipitous like that, with things appearing when we needed them.

We saw from the map that there was a winery nearby but decided to press on to Stewiacke as it was still about 30 kms away. As it turned out, we didn't visit any wineries in Nova Scotia but we did drink plenty of their products! On the way, we passed through Shubenacadie but never saw signs up indicating this was the home of the "world famous" weather predicting groundhog, Shubenacadie Sam! I think the local business promoters should do something about that omission.

We arrived in Stewiacke after 72 kms at an average of 18.2 kph, only slightly damp and were welcomed to our very first B&B. We'd talked about staying in B&Bs but had been nervous about the quality of the accommodation and the closeness with the family who ran it. Sometimes, a little anonymity is what you want on holiday. The Nelson House B&B put us completely at ease and convinced us to keep trying B&Bs after that. Added to their hospitality was what for me was a complete deal-maker - they had a three year old female yellow Lab! Named Bailey, she welcomed us with a smile (rare for dogs) and I was immediately charmed. She had also been trained to stay away from food, even the cheese and scones placed on a low coffee table and I thought this was a miracle for a Lab. Such good manners.

Stewiacke is pretty small and the only place for dinner within walking distance was Whistlers Pub, so named for the railway near us. We hadn't thought about having a railway right by the B&B and were immediately transported back to our campsite at the Last Duel Campground in Perth, where the freight train goes by and blows its horn about every two hours, all night long. Thankfully, we only heard the train once all night. Whistlers happened to be having its all you can eat spaghetti night so we thought we would carbo-load but it turned out to be so spicy that we only had one plate. We played some pool there and had a great time but went back to the B&B in time for tea and scones before bed. There we met a couple from Japan who were here to look up some of his ancestors who had spent the last 5 generations in Cape Breton.

In the morning, we heard small noises in the hallway and, not being used to sharing a bathroom in a B&B, peeked out to see when our turn should be at the shower. But it was only Bailey who had come upstairs for some reason and was stretched out in the hall, obliging me to step over her to get to the bathroom. I tried to lure her back into our room but she obviously has been taught not to go into guests' rooms. So well-behaved!

We set off in the fog but no rain after a wonderful waffle breakfast and headed into what would be our longest day of the trip. We had a reservation at a B&B in Parrsboro and knew it was over 120 kms away. Again, locals had warned us about the "Economy Mountain" and so, having experienced the "hills" we wanted to give ourselves lots of time to bike that day.

We set off for Truro and stayed on highway 2 the whole way. Like the other highways we experienced, it has very small-to-no paved shoulders and so we were forced to be in traffic all the time. We're not afraid of traffic but it's nice to be able to let faster cars go by, especially climbing hills at 6 kph. Only occasionally did we bail off the side to let big trucks go by us - we figured that as soon as the way was clear, they could go and then they'd be going much faster than we were anyway so why should they complain? Well okay, that's what I figured. I always think that the faster one can go, the more impatient one tends to be. Just relax and you'll get there eventually - we do, on a bike.

The fog cleared and the sun came out and eventually, I got a sun burn because I hadn't put sun block on in the morning because it had been cloudy. We continued to trudge over the many rolling hills along the north coast of the Minas Basin, one of the far ends of the Bay of Fundy, home of the highest tides in the world! Funny thing was, we never really noticed when the tide was in. Only when it was out could you see the vast red mud flats glistening in the sun. We wondered whether you would disappear up to your neck if you stepped on that flat, shining mud - it gave the impression of being unsupportive like Jello. We even asked locals but none we spoke to had ever tried walking on it.

As we got near Economy, having passed Upper Economy and Lower Economy and maybe some other Economies, we began to wonder if we had already made it over "the mountain". Certainly, some of the hills we had climbed had been long and forced us into our granny gear. After several kilometers of road works during which we wondered in hope if they might be shaving the top off this mountain we had heard about, we passed some locals who waved to us from the garage they were standing in front of. "Halloo!" we called, "is that Economy mountain near here?" They all laughed and said yes it was just up the road a piece. We pressed on and suddenly, after a turn in the road, there it was, unmistakably bigger and steeper than anything we'd encountered.

We started up the steep grade, having had a rest and some water near the bottom. Within moments, we were in our granny gear and labouring. Finally, after several minutes of wobbling, Peter admitted the mountain had done us in and we got off the bike. It was so steep that he had to apply the brakes to keep the bike from rolling backwards. We started to push the bike up the hill, with Peter in the front taking most of the weight and me, initially pushing from beside my stoker's seat but eventually, pushing from the very back, using the panniers to push on. We had to rest several times as our legs got tired just from the walking uphill. Peter thinks it took about 30 minutes of walking to get to the top (I think I blacked out a few times) and when we got there, there wasn't even a view of the ocean or anything. We were mostly hemmed in by trees although you could see a long way off down the hill to something that was blue-grey in the distance. Anyway, we were also hot and sweaty from the effort but we knew the coast downhill would be freezing, given the hour (near 6pm) and general temperature. We put on our rain jackets and got back on the bike and pushed off, coasting to near record speeds all the way down.
Getting late.  We were usually in by 4pm.
Finally, we passed a small roadside diner and went in to have a little something to eat. Although it was dinner time, we weren't that hungry and we wanted to make sure we made it to Parrsboro where we expected to have dinner. Peter decided to call the B&B where he had booked over the internet and that's when we discovered that through a computer glitch, we had no reservations for that night. The very nice lady at our first B&B choice offered to look around for another room. Since we were having telephone issues, she said she would phone us back at the restaurant. Peter came back to the table to tell me this and since I had finished my snack, I went to the kitchen to take the return call. Nobody seemed to mind that I stood there on the phone, making reservations, while they breaded and fried fish.

Once we had confirmed reservations at The Maple Inn, we took off for the final 20 kms. It was close to 8pm when we finally rolled in to Parrsboro and the owner of the Maple Inn made us welcome. We tied the bike to the railing of the back porch, had a shower and went to dinner at the Stowaway, just a short totter down the street from the inn. We had fish and lobster and the cheapest drinks ever - local wine was only $3.49 a glass!

Our room had whirlpool water jets in the tub but we were too tired to bother filling it up. I would have fallen asleep in the tub if I had. The next morning after breakfast, we decided to walk a little around Parrsboro to look the the tides and things but soon decided to hit the road. This day was a short day - only 57kms - compared with the 126 kms we had biked the day before to Parrsboro. Both my knee and my sit bones needed the break. We headed up the 2 toward Amherst and it was a beautiful day, sunny, not windy, and we had been assured that it wasn't very hilly.

When we got to the fork in the road at Southampton, we had to decide between the shorter but less travelled highway 302 or highway 2 which went east in a big bend on the map. We worried about whether the 302 would end up climbing over some other mountainous hill and maybe that's why the 2 bent around like it did. And there was an icon on the map showing a "look off" on the 302 which implied a big hill. However, we decided to take the shorter route, after being reassured by some men hanging out at the local garage that there were only two main hills that way. They were right and we rolled into Amherst early enough to find a laundromat and do laundry.

We stayed at a Comfort Inn in Amherst, as it was sitting right there on the highway and looked inviting. We got some local intel from some ladies in the Horton's parking lot and decided it was our best bet. Wheeling the bike right into the room, we had a shower and changed and set out for the laundromat. While the clothes were washing, we had a beer at a Chinese food place nearby. It was too early for dinner but not for beer. While the clothes dried (4 minutes per quarter), we finished a crossword puzzle in the local paper. Someone had attempted it but only two words were filled in using a pen and one of them was wrong.

After laundry, we asked and decided on Jungle Jim's restaurant for dinner. It's a chain but it was within walking distance of the inn and we aren't fussy. We had a decent dinner but made the mistake of ordering dessert which we really weren't hungry for but had a coupon. This was one of the many reasons I didn't lose a pound on this trip.

The next day was medium long one, as we were to end up at our friend's cottage in Shediac, New Brunswick. We expected a trip of 88 kms, which we got, but it seemed much longer because of the headwinds. The first leg, from Amherst up to Tidnish, was lovely, with tail winds and not very big hills. We stopped at the Nova Scotia info centre in Tidnish (Peter insists on calling them all "question marks" because that's what they are on the maps) but despite the fact it was spitting distance to New Brunswick, they didn't have any N.B. maps. Good thing we'd Google mapped the roads before we left Jack and Betty's. We had lunch at a lovely homey diner in Port Elgin, with a lobster roll that was delicious, but we forgot to write the name of it down. It's right on the main road so I guess you can't miss it.

Once we left Port Elgin, we had to get on the 15, which is a four lane highway with a maximum speed of 100 kph in parts and plenty of big trucks. While it has a wide shoulder, when you examine it closely from the saddle of a bike, it is all broken and full of debris, so again, we had to teeter on the 6 inches or so of good pavement to the right of the painted line, bailing often onto the broken pavement because of the trucks. Peter was ready to leave the highway when we finally got to Shemogue. From there, we took the smaller 950 that appears to run along the water, even though you can't always see the water from the road. That's where we really ran into the headwinds and it slowed us down tremendously. We had averaged over 20 kph coming up from Amherst to Tidnish but here, we were slowed down to 16 kph or less, especially as those hills hadn't disappeared either.

We checked the map when we got to Trois-Ruisseaux (it's all very French in this neck of N.B.) and decided we didn't need to go along the water which we couldn't see anyway. We took the faint line on the map toward Cap Pele which wasn't any worse of a road than the 950 and shortened up the slog against the wind. Unfortunately, we ran into road construction at Cap Pele but it was mercifully short and we did meet a local cyclist who we chatted with at the gas station. Interesting about those gas stations - we don't use any gas but they are sure nice to have for pit stops and re-fuelling in terms of water and snacks.

Finally, after beating ourselves up on the 133 and taking more and more frequent "butt breaks", we made to our friend's cottage. And we almost missed it because there was more road construction and the sign with the name of the road running down to the beach on it was not there. Thankfully, Peter recognized it in the haze of memory from five years previously when he had been there and we stopped a fellow in a back-hoe to ask. Pedalling down the Cap-Brule road, we encountered a fellow pushing a wheelbarrow and without hesitation, he shouted at us, "it's not far! It's the second last place on your right!" Obviously, people were expecting two folks on a tandem.

It was a lovely welcome but a party was immanently planned so I had my one minute shower and change and showed up for dinner - Nan's famous seafood casserole, of which I had three helpings. One of the reasons we chose to do this trip as our inaugural tandem ride was because we had these good friends in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick - they were indispensable resources, there if we ran into trouble. As it turned out, we didn't have trouble but it was reassuring to know they were there in the background.

Relaxing at our friend's cottage gave me time to reflect on "life on the road" so far. When people see us pass by on the road, most wave right away but a few seem dumbfounded by the spectacle of two people on one bike and it takes a few seconds for the wave to kick in. I found it was similar to the look on the faces of horses as we biked by - they (the horses) never in their lives expected to see such a thing and they stop what they are doing and just watch.

Dogs are another story. Most just watch from the safety of their porch. They see you coming and bark leisurely, with the old dogs not even bothering to get up. Other dogs we seemed to catch by surprise. They didn't see us coming so there is some frantic barking and posturing as they make up for having been asleep on the job. And then there was the stealth dog. This one was a little white fluffy thing who caught us by surprise because we didn't see him until he had raced up beside us and then he barked. We almost fell off the bike, we were so startled but even when we screeched back at him (mostly for fear he might get run over by cars), he dogged us down the road until we finally were able to out-run him.

We found that almost every single local person we encountered was friendly and helpful. It could have been that you get what you give and we were enjoying ourselves on the road and maybe this attitude elicited a favourable response. There was one grumpy local who ran a convenience store gas bar in the middle of nowhere and it seemed to me that he wanted to be anywhere but there. But he was definitely in the minority.

Another dog analogy: You know how when you take your dog for a walk, he is always so excited to see another dog? "Woo!" you can practically hear him think, "there is another of my species!" And you want to tell him, it's just another dog. But when you are riding a bicycle out on the road, day after day, and only occasionally see another cyclist, you react the same way. You see the cyclist coming, you start smiling with the anticipation of waving and then you both wave as you pass. We did notice however, that the waving was more subdued with the Spandex crowd, as they were serious cyclists out for a race, or something.

After Shediac, we headed back into Nova Scotia. We got a lift to Pugwash and set out from there after lunch to Tatamagouche. We wanted short days cycling as my knee had not recovered and still hurt with every pedal rotation when it bent. We found Tatamagouche to be a very pretty spot on the road, on an inlet of the Northumberland Strait, with a lot of local pride in the appearance of the town. Lots of flowers in boxes and gardens, nice looking shop signs, and a disused train station that was also a B&B. We had booked the day before at the local motel on the outskirts of town but we walked down the train B&B and had a good look around. We had dinner and then played pool at Big Al's Tavern and turned in for an early night.

From Tatamagouche, we headed straight south on the 311 to Truro. On the way, we finally passed some wild blueberry bushes that were accessible from the road and that didn't belong to someone and we stopped and picked a few handfuls. We had seen a lot of blueberry fields and many of them weren't fenced off from the road but they had signs posted indicating their private nature. These bushes weren't even in a field and just rambled up the side of the ditch by the road. Since it was under 40 km, we got to Truro early and checked in to the Glengarry Best Western early and so decided to do a laundry. We found a laundromat within easy walking distance and it had a handy restaurant called the Wooden Hog right across the street where we had a snack and a drink while our clothes washed themselves. Later, we walked in the other direction from the motel and had dinner at Frank and Gino's, a restaurant that Peter had discovered on his previous solo trip. Piles of pasta which we really didn't need considering we weren't on the road for long these days.

Once we hit the road the next day, I realized that my knee was going to bother me more than I had anticipated so we bailed out of a B&B reservation we had made much earlier, because it was off the beaten track and we were going for the most direct route back to Halifax. Because we cancelled that day, they charged us for the night anyway, which was kind of a bummer. We ended up at another nice B&B (the By the Way ) in Elmsdale which is very near the Halifax airport, which is way out of Halifax. When you are in a car, everything seems close but on a bike, it's a day's ride. By coincidence, we ran into the same couple who we had met a week before at our very first B&B in Stewiacke. They had done their trip to Cape Breton and we going to fly out the next day so they had chosen our B&B as close to the airport.

The next day was to be our last on the road, as we were ending up in Halifax and back at The Citadel Hotel where we'd left our suitcases. We had left Halifax by taking the 2 out through Bedford and so we decided to come back through Dartmouth for a different perspective. We came in on the 7 on the other side of the Bedford Basin and happened to ride alongside the railway tracks for a while, just as a freight train also went by.
Look, boss, it's the train, the train
And we finally came across a bakery when we were hungry so we stopped and had scones and coffee. Then we got lost. Mixed up is more like it - we were on the Windmill Road and wanted to stay on it until we got to the ferry terminal. Somehow, we got routed on to a four lane ring road and ended up whizzing downhill at 60 kph, passed by cars doing 110 and thinking we might die right there. In fact, it was the only time in the trip where we really hesitated, because we didn't know, at the top of the giant hill that we had climbed only to find out it turned into a highway, if we should go back and struggle up another hill or just take the highway. Happily, we discovered the four lane bypass ended abruptly when it hit downtown Dartmouth again and we wheeled safely into a Horton's for a much needed pee break.

We found the ferry terminal with no problems and had a nice if cool boat ride across the harbour to the Halifax side. The ground slopes very sharply upwards from the water at that point and we routed ourselves slightly off to the north so we could come in from an angle to the hotel, and not kill ourselves with the last giant hill. We triumphantly showed up at the hotel and pushed the bike right into the lobby. We had asked for a ground floor room on returning and they had one for us so we were able to put the bike in the room and not have to disassemble it immediately. We got to see more of Halifax and then take the bike apart leisurely the next day. It all fit back into the suitcases, along with helmets and panniers. We hadn't picked up many souvenirs and the ones we had were small. On future trips, we anticipate sending things home by mail or courier if we get things that are too big to pack. But it's always best to travel light if you can.

All in all, it was a tremendous success and this trip gave us lots of confidence for our really big adventure, which will be going to Europe next year.

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Blogger Granny J said...

Wow! is all I can say. My only experience on a tandem cycle was long ago and far away and besides, it was a rental meant, I suspect, more for pictures than for travel. Each of us had to pump twice as hard. It sounds like a wonderful vacation!

4:11 p.m., November 11, 2007  
Blogger JuliaR said...

We had a tandem when I was a kid and it was heavy with no gears. This one has 9 cogs on the rear axle and a 3 speed internal hub which gives it 27 gears. But even they weren't enough to allow us to pedal at less than 6 kph. But it performed wonderfully and now we just have to plan our first trip to Europe - scary! Once we get there, it will be fine but there is a mental hurdle to overcome. Thanks for reading the while thing! I hope you looked at ALL the pix too (152). They are fun.

4:24 p.m., November 11, 2007  

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