Archive | June 2014

Newfoundland/Labrador Day 13: Icebergs, History and Labrador

O Canada

While I’m writing this the evening of June 30, many will read it July 1. So, Happy Canada Day, eh? We’re celebrating the 1867 Act of the British Parliament which joined three colonies (Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Canada (Quebec and Ontario) and created the federated state of Canada. Click  here 

Off the coast near St. Anthony

Today was a day of icebergs for me.  I had seen some yesterday, but saw a lot more today.  St. Anthony’s, at the northeastern tip of Newfoundland’s western finger, is at the heart of what’s called iceberg alley where many icebergs come to finally melt away in the many coves and inlets along the Newfoundland and Labrador coasts.  Most of the icebergs I saw today probably calved (broke off) glaciers in Greenland more than a year ago and then slowly made their way south on the cold Labrador current.  This year and last have been banner years for iceberg watchers and scientists say the trend will continue as Greenland continues to shed its ice cover at an increasingly rapid rate due to climate change

Off the coast of Labrador

I had generally pictured icebergs as mountain-shaped blocks of ice, but what I saw today dispelled that.  They clearly come in all shapes and sizes and wind and waves melt them to ever-changing shapes (but almost never like a pointed mountain).  It was hard to estimate how large the ones I saw were, but they seemed to range in size from a tractor-trailer to a half a city block.  And, of course, most of their bulk is underwater

Off the coast of Labrador

As they melt, the water that runs off them into the ocean is some of the purest water in the world, having been frozen 15,000 years ago when there were far few pollutants in the air.  I would like to have chopped off a piece to put in my glass of Jack, but those who know icebergs say you generally shouldn’t get that close to them, unless their grounded near shore.  Out at sea, they continue to break apart and flip over, and anyone in the vicinity is likely to get tossed into the frigid Atlantic waters.

I also saw icebergs on the 1 1/2 hour ferry ride aboard the Apollo from St. Barbe, Newfoundland to Blanc Sabon, Quebec.  Blanc Sabon is only about two miles from Labrador, but that’s where the ferry lands.  Some days on the ferry you also see whales.  Some days you don’t.  Today was a “don’t.”  No whales sighted from the ferry, but I definitely expect to see the behemoths of the deep later this week and next week when I’m on the eastern side of Newfoundland.

At Fisherman’s Point in St. Anthony

Before I left St. Anthony for the two-hour ride in the rain to catch the ferry, I stopped at a local museum that honors one of the great pioneers in medical care in Newfoundland and Labrador:  Dr. Sir Wilfred Grenfell.  Grenfell first arrived in 1892 as a 23-year old physician and missionary to serve the then unserved population of tens of thousands of cod fishermen and the their families.  He traveled by boat, by dog sled and by foot to reach his patients and his potential converts.  He raised money to build hospitals and nursing stations all along the Labrador coast the northern and eastern arm of Newfoundland.  He recruited other doctors and nurses.  Then he started an orphanage, a school, a cooperative store, industrial workshops and more. His work was institutionalized with the creation of the International Grenfell Association, a non-profit organized to expand and continue his work. For his efforts in medicine, social work and education he was knighted in 1927.

I spent more than an hour at the museum and still didn’t see all the parts of the historic Grenfell properties in St. Anthony’s and didn’t take any pictures at all (mainly because I would have been taking pictures of pictures).

Now the plot thickens:  When I made my B&B reservations four months ago, I picked on in Labrador called Grenfell Louie B Hall Bed and Breakfast.  As it turns out, the house I’m in as I write this served as a nursing station and stopover for traveling physicians in the 1940s and 50s before there were any roads build in the area and the nurses who would have staffed it were recruited by the International Grenfell Association.  I haven’t spoken much yet with the owner/operator of the B&B, but she has decorated the house with artifacts from years it was a nursing station.  Tomorrow I hope to learn more about the house and it’s history

Rugged, rocky coast

Today was only the third day out of 13 on the road where I had to put on rain gear and even the rain I rode through wasn’t too bad.  But it’s about 20 degrees cooler today (low to mid 50s) than it has been my first five days in Canada.  I think this is far more typical and its actually what I expected to see.  Tomorrow the temperatures should be about the same after overnight lows in the low 40s, but I don’t think it’s going to rain.

Off for another ride along a rugged coast tomorrow to the end of the pavement in Labrador, then turn around and come back after a stop at an historic site dedicated to whaling and yet another European influence.  I don’t know about you, but I’m having fun.

No apples in bakeapple pie.

Before I sign off, I have to give another pie report.  Tonight it was bakeapple pie.  Like partridgeberry, bakeapple was new to me, too.  While I was enjoying the sweet, orange, seeded fruit pie, I did a little research.  First, it has nothing to do with apples as one look and one bite will tell you.  The name, it turns out, is an Anglicized version of the French “baie qu’appelle” which means (roughly) “What is the name of this berry?”  It also turns out that while the name bakeapple is unique to Newfoundland/Labrador, the berry is not and is actually called the “cloudberry” in other boggy parts of the world.  Anyway, it was another good addition to my pie arsenal.

Keep dodging those potholes and I’ll do the same.



Newfoundland/Labrador Day 12: A Little bit of History

My decision not to try to ride to St. Anthony’s and back to Cow Head today, but instead to find a room in St. Anthony’s and only make a one-way trip was a good one.  It allowed for a much more leisurely ride and the chance to stop at several locations that I otherwise would have missed.  And they were not places I would have wanted to miss.

In addition to hiking (check that one off my list) and kayaking (yet to be accomplished) I also wanted to take in some historic sites and museums of Newfoundland/Labrador.  Today, when I was not riding, was devoted almost exclusively to that and the history I explored goes back a very long way.

Exhibit at Port au Choix

One of the bonus stops I would have missed was the Parks Canada interpretation center at the fishing village of Port au Choix (pronounced port aw schwa) which has been inhabited off and on for more than 6,000 years.  In addition to the European settlers who currently occupy the site with their brightly colored fishing boats and their ubiquitous lobster traps, the limestone spit of land that juts defiantly into the Gulf of St. Lawrence has been the home of the Maritime Archaic peoples (5,000-6,000 years ago), the Groswater and Dorset Paleoeskimos, (2,000-3,000 years ago) and the more recent Indian relatives, the Beothuk.

This spear tip was crafted with great care about 3000 years ago. Note the serrated edges,

The full history of the archeological digs and surveys is beyond the scope of this blog, but a significant, accidental find by a local resident brought scores of archeologists to the site in 1960 and led the Canadian government to declare it a National Historic site.  Unfortunately, there is no active digging going on now so I couldn’t talk with any archaeologists, but I was able to pick the brain of a knowledgeable interpretive center staffer for about an hour.  I found it fascinating (I’m sure others would not find it so fascinating) to learn about the migratory patterns of these ancient people for thousands of years as they followed the seal migrations up and down the coast.  Their ability to survive on the cold, rocky shores of present day Newfoundland and Labrador is a testament to their ingenuity and their skill at hunting and using completely all that the seals had to offer.

By the time Europeans arrived, all that remained were their buried remains and thousands of artifacts (spelled “artefacts” in Canada, I noticed) that range from cleverly designed fish hooks to meticulously created spear points to lamps and pots carved from solid sandstone.  We often think of these people as “primitive,” yet if left to our own resources could we develop the same tools before we perished of cold or hunger?  They migrated hundreds of miles over the course of each year and kept alive their cultures for millennia.  Quite a feat.

Point Riche lighthouse

Following my time at the Port au Choix interpretive center, I made a short run to see a more modern artifact:  the Point Riche lighthouse.  I don’t believe this one is in operation any longer, but it still stands as a proud beacon on the rocky coast.  A couple of pictures and a walk on the windswept beach and I was off again, headed north to another historical site, this one involving the Vikings.

Actual location of a Viking sod (peat) house. I could stand on the very ground where Vikings stood. Cool.

Norsemen (and Norsewomen) landed at the northern tip of Newfoundland in about the year 1000, predating Columbus’s “discovery” by almost 500 years.  For hundreds of years Norse sagas spoke of the settlement at Vinland but not until 1960 did an historian and his archaeologist wife find the actual site of the landing.  Local people at L’Anse aux Meadows knew of some strange indentations in the ground but had always assumed they were Indian in origin.  But archaeologists found solid, artifactual evidence that proved the site had in fact been inhabited by Vikings off and on for about 25 years.  

Reconstruction believed to be about 90% accurate.

Parks Canada has once again done an outstanding job of interpreting the site and making it available to visitors.  Maybe too much so, since I was amazed to discover that I could actually walk on the remains of the site declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO.  Eventually, I suspect, they will have to fence it off or at least restrict access in some way in order to preserve it.  

A sculpture on the grounds makes an interesting connection to emphasize the importance of this site.  And that importance is this:  Beginning about 100,000 years ago our ancestors began to leave the plains of Africa.  Some headed North and West, others headed East and for the next 100,000 years there was no contact.  But when the Vikings (from Europe) first met the natives of Newfoundland and Labrador (whose ancestors had migrated across the Bering Strait about 15,000 years earlier), the circle had been completed.  East had met West for the first time in 100,000 years.  Pretty cool, eh?

A Viking re-enactor. He knew his stuff.

One of their interpretive efforts included a reconstruction of one of the houses (probably Leif Erickson’s) that could hold up to 30 men and a few women.  They recreated it on exactly the dimensions of the ruins found at the site and using a model of a still existing structure in Iceland.  Two re-enactors and a walking tour guide were able to answer all the questions tourists could throw at them.  There’s still much that historians and archaeologists don’t know about the short-lived Viking visitors, but they know they were here, how they lived, and why they came.

In one day, I covered more than 5000 years of history, including the first landing by Europeans in America.  In addition, I saw my first icebergs.  More on icebergs tomorrow after I’ve gone to the beach to watch them float by.  There are hundreds of them floating down from Greenland and bumping into the coast of Newfoundland so I’ll see them tomorrow morning here in St. Anthony and again tomorrow afternoon when I take the ferry across to Labrador.

Sorry for the long post, but I have more than a passing interest in history and want to pass it along when I can.

Andre and Johanna: Meeting nice people is part of the adventure

One more note for today’s blog:  Three days ago when I was waiting to board the ferry to Newfoundland from Nova Scotia I struck up a conversation with a couple from Ontario.  We talked and said good bye.  Then two days ago, just before I started my ill-starred 9-mile hike, I ran into them again at an overlook at the Tablelands.  We had another short but pleasant conversation and went our separate ways.  Tonight, when I went to the restaurant at my hotel, Andre and Johanna were sitting in an empty dining room and I joined them for dinner and a truly delightful conversation.  We may meet again given our predilection to traveling to the places.  But if not, I wish them well and bid them adieu.

Oh, I also had partridgeberry pie again.  This time with ice cream.

Click here and see what you find. Will try to load pictures to Flickr.

Stay safe and watch out for the icebergs.

Newfoundland/Labrador Day 11: Slower Pace

Following yesterday’s hiking equivalent of self-flagellation, I slowed down a bit today but still managed to see several interesting locations and, of course, more beautiful scenery.  I wasn’t nearly as sore as I thought I might be (no doubt a result of the medicinal properties of Jack Daniel’s) though the bottoms of my feet are a little tender.  Having become better aquainted with the roads and the slow speeds they demand, I decided not to try to get to St. Anthony’s and back in a day (400 miles roundtrip) since that wouldn’t allow me time to see much while I was there.  So I’m leaving Cow Head tomorrow and going to spend tomorrow night in St. Anthony before ferrying to Labrador

My Cow Head Bed & Breakfast

One of the things I accomplished today was uploading pictures from the last two days to Flickr.  It took almost two hours to upload 40 or so pictures but I wanted to share more of what I’m seeing and, besides, it gave me two hours that I wasn’t hiking somewhere.  I’ll try to upload today’s pictures, too, but, once again it’s past 10 now and uploading pictures will once again end my day about midnight.  Nothing is too inconvenient for my faithful followers.  I’ll put the link at the end of this post in an effort to make you read the blog instead of clicking immediately on the pictures.  Ha!

Rusted remains of the SS Ethie

Once my Cow Head chores were done, I went south again to have a look around at some of things I missed while I imperiled my aging bones yesterday in the mountains.  Before I got as far south as I was going to go today, I made a brief stop at the site of a 1919 ship wreck that could have been disastrous but, as it turned out, all 96 people aboard were rescued from the SS Ethie in a driving winter gale.  The ship was done for, though, and its rusted remains still lie scattered like the bones of some strange sea creature on the beach.  In this area, the Wreck of the Ethie is part of the heroic folk lore of the dangers of the sea and the bravery of those who sail it.

Next stop was the Gros Morne National Park Visitor Center where I picked up an annual pass that allows me to get into all the parks in Canada for a year.  $56 for a senior pass, which the young woman at the desk made me ask for, bless her heart.  Not bad, but I guess that means I have to come back next year to get my money’s worth.   Hmmmm

The Village of Norris Point on Bonne Bay.

Not far from the Visitor Center the village of Norris Point snuggles on the shore of Bonne Bay with colorful fishing boats tied up at various docks and other vessels beached at scattered locations. I had received several recommendations to go there to check out a couple things including a boat ride across the bay and the Memorial University sponsored Bonne Bay Marine Station and, since neither of these involved hiking in the wilderness, I went.  It was too late in the afternoon to take advantage of the boat ride so I putted my scoot to the Marine Station.  

The staff told me what it was, but I forgot.

It was a good $5.00 lesson in the geology and marine life of the area.  The staff explained how the two-arm bay was created by ancient glaciers slowly carving their way to the sea.  Then they noted that certain aspects of its creation made it a unique marine habitat.   For example, where the two arms come together at a narrow point, the water is only about 45 feet deep as a result of massive glacial deposits.  But the northern arm is over 700 feet deep at its deepest.  What that means for marine biologists is that the aquatic creatures that live at the lower depths have lived there unaffected by outside populations for hundreds of thousands of years and have, as a result, developed distinct subspecies.  

Maybe it’s just very, very cold.

The marine and fisheries biologists who study and work at the Station also work to understand and help improve the local fisheries on which so many people here depend for a living.  At any rate, they keep a lot of live specimens around that I was able to see, touch, hold, examine.  Pretty cool.  One of the coolest things was the blue lobster.  Sounds like it could be a new grunge band, but it was actually a real live blue lobster.  Had something to do with mutated pigmentation.  Lots of other creatures and unfamiliar (to me at least) fish.

Perched on a rocky point for almost 120 years.

Next stop, the Lobster Cove Head Lighthouse, still operated as a lighthouse by the Coast Guard and also run as an historic site by Parks Canada.  Unfortunately the interior of the lighthouse keeper’s house was being rennovated, so I couldn’t go in.  But they had the displays set up in another building on the site and I could walk around the site and take a look at the 1890s lighthouse. 

Rocks: Hard on ships and feet.

After seeing the rocky cliffs on which it sits and the rocks that line the shore, I can see why 19th century sailors thought a lighthouse on that rocky point was a good idea.

After a solid afternoon of no-hiking, I indulged in a large fish dinner (hey, when in Rome…..) complemented with a new addition to my pie repertoire.  As soon as the weathered waitress mentioned “partridgeberry” I knew what I was having for desert. 

Newfoundland Partridgeberry Pie

The term “partridgeberry” is common to Labrador, Newfoundland and northern Nova Scotia and refers to what other parts of the world refer to as the Lingon Berry.  It grows wild here and no one farms it commercially;  they just go where their mothers and their grandmothers used to go and pick a bucketful of berries.  They’re small and a little tart, but they make a dandy pie.  I ate this one straight up–no ice cream–but the next time I’ll go full out.  And there will be a next time.

OK, now you can go look at pictures.  Click here for Flickr. 

Take care.  Tomorrow I’m off to see Vikings and Icebergs.


Newfoundland/Labrador Day 10: Gros Morne National Park

Note the snow on mountains that are less that 2,000 feet above sea level.

It’s been another great day on the road with weather the locals say almost never happens, but too many more great days like this one and I’ll have to stop for a while.  One of the most signifcant parts of seeing western Newfoundland is seeing Gros Morne National Park, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its significant geology.  It’s a large park and I’ve only seen parts of it but what I saw today was beautiful, rugged and unlike any place I’ve ever been to.  Interestingly, the mountains here are actually the northern end of the Appalachian chain, created at the same time as my North Carolina mountain on which sits my humble cabin when two continents collided hundreds of millions of years ago.

I’m tired and sore for reasons I’ll explain in a minute so this blog will be short.  I’ll make up for it with some great pictures.  Still no new pictures on Flickr, by the way, and I don’t know when I’m going to find a strong wifi to add more.  Will create a link when new pictures go up.

Geologists studied these mountains when developing plate tectonic theory.

I headed about 50 miles up the road from where I’m staying to one of three visitors centers they have in the park to pay my fee ($8.90 is a bargain, believe me) and to get some suggestions for how to attack the park.  The Parks Canada staff was helpful as they always are at all the National Parks I’ve been to in Canada.  The young staffer helped me sort the park into different areas and then suggested that I take on the southern half today and the northern half tomorrow or Sunday.  She mentioned about four or five places I could go today, but, as it turned out, I only got to two of them.

One section of the park is known as the Tablelands and it’s literally a world-class example of the power of plate tectonics.  The barren red rock at the top of the mountains in the Tablelands  was once a seafloor and the oldest rock is at the very top while the youngest is down near the base.  I stopped and took it in before heading to my real destination for the day:  the fishing village of Trout River and the Trout River Pond hiking trail.

Men go out to the sea in ships, and little boats too.

I didn’t spend much time in the village because there wasn’t much there.  It’s not a tourist spot.  It’s a real-life fishing village where people try to squeeze a hard and dangerous living out of the sea.

I had said I wanted to do some hiking (and maybe some kayaking) on this trip and this was my first opportunity to hit the trail.  I’m not sure I chose wisely.  The Gros Morne National Park visitor’s guide described the trail I chose as “gentle” though noting that it was an approximately 9 mile round trip.  No problem, I said to myself, remembering the last back packing I did for a week 25 years ago in the Sierra Nevadas.  The key to that last sentence is “25 years ago.”   Body-related things, apparently, have changed since then.

This was part of the trail.

I had a clue that I might be in for some trouble before I even set foot on the trail when I spoke with a park ranger who rode up on a mountain bike.  “Did you make it to the end of the trail?” I said.  “No.” he replied.  “Too muddy.  Winter was hard on the trail this year.”  Undeterred and determined to take a brisk walk in the mountains, I set off.  It didn’t take long to discover the truth of his “too muddy” statement.  Long sections  of the trail had water running down it and mud several inches deep.  And the forest was too thick to get off the trail  and go around the mud.  So I slogged on.  After about the first hour the nature of the trail changed and the mud was no longer a problem. But now the trail consisted of large rocks and gravel with sharp, pointy corners.  Oh, did I mention I was wearing running shoes. Running shoes! Did I think I was going to outrun a moose?  But my only other choice was my motorcycle riding/rain boots and I didn’t think they would work well either.  

I think Newfies have a sense of humor. Chairs were a nice touch.

So onward and, literally, upward I went as the trail veered away from the  rivulet-filled forest and the lake I had been following and up the side of one of the Tableland Mountains.  With only the occassional huff and puff, I hiked my way further along the lake and further up the mountain.  Finally, after about two hours and 4 1/2 miles, I came to the end of the trail, which consisted of a big pile of rocks and two bright red adirondack chairs.  I enjoyed the sit down briefly, but knew I had to walk back the same way I came in.  There was no bus service in the wilderness.

By now my old feet, old legs and old knees were wondering why I hadn’t chosen a flatter, dryer, softer trail and began to scream  obscene questions at my brain.  By the time I got back to the motorcycle (having seen no one all day except the ranger on the bike), putting one sore foot in front of the other was becoming increasingly difficult.  You can’t imagine how glad I was that I opted NOT to sleep in a tent and sleeping bag on this trip (but thanks for the offer, Greg).  I knew I could get a hot bath and a glass of Jack back at my room.  But that was still two hours away over Newfoundland roads that apparently had the same problem with winter that the trail did.

This, of course, is why I took a hike.

When I got back I hobbled over to a theatre to listen to some local Newfoundland music played by six reasonably talented musicians/singers. They were good and I enjoyed the evening. But I’ve seen “Men of the Deeps” and I’m spoiled.

I had planned on taking a nine-hour round trip motorcycle ride tomorrow to see the Viking site at L’Anse aux Meadows on the northern tip of the island, but I think I’ll hold that until Sunday, if I go at all.  We’ll see how quickly this old body recovers.

Everyone take care.  Watch out for moose.  I know I do.

Newfoundland/Labrador Day 9: I Found a New Land

My first view of Newfoundland from the 7th deck of the ferry.

After eight days on the road, I finally rode my bike off the ferry this morning at 7 a.m. onto Newfoundland, where I expect to spend 16 glorious days exploring this new found land.  The ferry ride was uneventful; it departed on time and arrived on time.  But their wifi didn’t work, so it was a good thing I posted the blog a little early yesterday.

The ferry had three decks for vehicles and probably room for about 700 people though I heard one of the crew members say there were about 375 passengers on board.  Lots of commercial trucks and campers and five other bikes besides mine.  By the time I got loaded, tied the bike down, found my reclining chair and settled down it was after midnight.  Then at five I woke up to the sound of the ship’s foghorn being sounded about every 3-4 minutes as we neared the coast of Newfoundland in a fog.

Several guys were wetting a line in a brook.

I had a destination for  today already picked out and a room at a B&B reserved in Cow Head on the western coast, but I didn’t have a specific route mapped out so I made a 3 hour detour off the main road (the Trans Canada Highway) on the way here to see more of the Newfoundland coast out at Cape St. George.  The roads were pretty good and the scenery was, at times, striking.  I’m going to add a couple pictures to this post (don’t forget to double click on them to make them bigger) but when I tried to load pictures to Flickr, they wouldn’t go.  I think I’m going to have a weak wifi connection at all the small bed and breakfasts that will limit or even prevent loading large-file images, but I’ll let try to get pictures on Flickr and make a link to them when I can.  But not tonight.

This was near Cape St. George on the detour I took.

It’s going to be a shame if I can’t post as many pictures on Flickr as I want because I have a feeling I’m going to see some great sights and take some pretty good pictures during the next two weeks.

Since there aren’t many roads in Newfoundland, I didn’t have need of the GPS, so I turned it off, loaded my new CD by “Men of the Deeps,” put my feet up, and listened to songs of working men while I enjoyed spectacular scenery passing by on both sides.  Sometimes, maybe too often, I’d stop and linger, wander around and take a longer look before snapping a few pictures.  I think that’s how I turn a two-hour ride off the main road into a three-hour ride.

A creek flows to the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

One of the reasons I chose Cow Head (besides the really great name) is that the Gros Morne Theatre Festival here that lasts all summer.  Tonight (it’s now 11:30 p.m.) I took in a play about a nurse in western Newfoundland who was a legend in her own time and who was awarded various medals of merit from the British Crown and the Canadian government. The play, “Tempting Providence,” was written shortly after her death at age 100 in 1994 and has been traveling throughout Canada for the past 20+ years.  Very well done and the four players in the cast were all professionals.  A nice change of pace from all the gorgeous scenery.

I’m not sure where I’m going tomorrow, but I will probably either head four hours up the West Coast to St. Anthony and a UNESCO World Historic Site where the Vikings landed about 900 years ago or I’ll stick around here and explore some of Gros Morne National Park.  In either event, I’ll be back at this same B&B.

I think lovely sunsets are in my future for the next couple days.

After five hours of sleep in a recliner not nearly as comfortable as the one I sleep in at home, then eight hours on the road to get here, plus two hours at the theater, I’m beat.  I must be getting old.  I can’t seem to handle 18-hour days like I used to.  So I’ll sign off and leave you with a picture of the 10:30 sunset I enjoyed from the porch just off my room at the Bay View B&B following the play.

Tired?  Yes.  But:  “I Can’t Wait to Get on the Road Again.”

Newfoundland/Labrador Day 8: Miner’s Museum and Board the Ferry

Woke up to gray, scudding clouds over Sydney promising rain, but not a lot of it.  And they lived up to the promise with off and on drizzle and light rain much of the day.  Fortunately I didn’t have far to go today so I wasn’t too concerned about the petty precipitation.  Took my time leaving the hotel after taking care of some long-distance domestic financial chores.  Even on the road, bills still have to be paid.  I even took time to wash my bike this morning, knowing it was going to rain today; seven days of bugs and mud make for an ugly bike.  As I write, it’s sitting in the rain, covered with mud again, but at least the bugs have been flushed down the Sydney sewer system.

Wish wished me well on my travels.

The only thing on my limited agenda today was to return to the Coal Miner’s Museum in Glace Bay for an extended look around, including a tour underground and undersea, as it turns out, because the mine tunnels go under the ocean.  The one I was in went only a few hundred yards beyond the beach and about 65 feet below the ocean floor.  But other mines in the area go out as far as eight miles from land and are 2,700 feet below the ocean floor.  Very interesting experience and I got to know, briefly, a retired miner named “Wish” Donovan who served as my tour guide and with whom I would like to have spent more time.  Wish mined coal for 36 years, as had his father and his father’s father.  And then, begining in the 1970s the mines began to close.  I think the last of the eight operating mines near Sydney closed in the 1990s after producing coal for more than 200 years, beginning when the French still held Nova Scotia.   Closing the mines devastated the economy of Cape Breton and they’re making efforts to re-open some, but it doesn’t look promising.

Wish explains the dangers of mining.

After having gone into a mine for a very short time and a very short distance, I can’t imagine wanting to do that for a living, but the miners I talked with in the past two days wouldn’t want to work anywhere else.  Coal dust that goes into your  mouth and lungs, also gets into your blood, I guess.

Wish reminisced about the miners’ camaraderie, the experiences of starting in the mine as a 16-year old, and the struggles of the Union to improve working conditions (mining is the most dangerous job in the world) and pay.  The history of coal mining in the late 19th and early 20th century was pretty much the history of labor struggling against absentee owners. The older miners, especially, have strong feelings about gains made by the unions before the 1950s.

This keeps the ceiling from falling on your head in a mine.

The museum exhibits included information on the geology of coal formation, the changing technology of mining, and the various uses for coal and coal by-products.  The museum was created when it won a competition to be one of 100 institutions to be substantially supported during Canada’s centennial celebration a few years back and was the brain child of one woman in Glace Bay who wanted to preserve a culture she could see disappearing.  They’ve also reconstructed such things as company houses and a company store that would have kept miners in debt no matter how hard they worked.

After I picked up a CD of the “Men of the Deeps” and Wish gave me a piece of coal (haven’t had one since Christmas as a child), I took one last look at the gray, misty skies over the ocean next to the museum, put on my rain gear and headed for the ferry departure point in North Sydney.  I got here about five hours early, but I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss the boat.  

My ride back in two weeks.

I watched the ferry that I’ll catch in two weeks for the return trip from Newfoundland depart for Argentia and then watched the ferry I’m about to board for Channel Port aux Basques make its landing and unload.  I think I’m still an hour away from boarding but thought I’d try to get this posted early so I can sleep on the way to Newfoundland.

I’m going to try to post Flickr pictures, but the wifi connection here at the ferry terminal is slow, so I’m not sure I’ll get any of them up.

Newfoundland/Labrador Day 7: Beautiful Day in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

All days on the road are good.  But some days on the road are absolutely outstanding.  Today was one of those days.  It’s 11 p.m. and I just returned to my hotel after listening to a wonderful music performance by an unlikely set of singers.  More on that later.  First, today’s ride

Coastline along the Cabot Trail.

Because I’ve made good time on the trip so far and haven’t any mechanical set backs or delays, I had some bonus time I could use to good riding advantage.  When Marilyn and I were in Nova Scotia in 2007 (I think)  [I’m unsure of the year, not who I was with], we were lucky enough to ride the Cabot Trail in the northwest corner of Cape Breton.  The Cabot Trail is one of those rides that, once you’ve done it, you want to do it again.  So today I did it again.  We had pretty good weather the first time, but today’s was even better with bright blue skies, puffy snow-white clouds, and temperatures approaching 80, which apparently is considered a heat wave for June in Nova Scotia.  I reversed the direction of the ride from the first circuit, and started on the western side and rode north and east.  The mountains in this corner of Nova Scotia rise about 2000-3000 feet from sea level and the Trail includes rides along the beach and over some of the highest passes.  A large part of the trail runs through Cape Breton Highlands National Park and the roads inside the park are decidedly superior to those maintained by local jurisdictions.

Best. Muffins. Ever.

I recognized several of the stops Marilyn and I made on along the way including a cultural center in   Cheticamp focusing on  the Acadians, French-speaking settlers who were largely forced out by the British after the Seven Years War ended in 1764.  Many of them resettled in Louisiana and are known today as Cajuns.  But a significant number stayed behind in Cape Breton and that corner of Nova Scotia is largely French speaking.   When I stopped for lunch in Cheticamp at a boulangerie (bakery) for the best cranberry and blueberry muffins I’ve ever had, the radio was  playing  music  that could have been confused with Louisiana Cajun zydeco.  Interesting to hear country music sung in French

Cape Breton Highlands

The scenery along the Cabot Trail is almost always spectacular, and was sometimes spectacularly distracting as I tried to keep one eye on the mountains/coast/valleys and the other eye on the road where pot holes and road breaks lay in wait for inattentive motorcycle riders.  I navigated the various pitfalls successfully and made several stops at well-planned overlooks, which gave me a chance to put both eyes on the gorgeous scenery.The road followed the coast and then headed into the mountains  for 70 joyous miles of roller coaster twisties that let me scuff the tread on the sides of the tires for a change  and scrape some chrome off the bottom of my floorboards.  

The ride took a little longer than I thought it would due to muffin stops and scenic overlooks, but I still managed to get to Sydney where I’m spending the night by about 5:30 and in time to start the second half of my day.

Men of the Deeps

One of the best things–maybe the best thing–about rides like this one and the ride to Alaska last summer are the unplanned, serendipitous gifts of fortune we get from time to time.  And tonight’s event was one of those.  About 20 miles from Sydney is a town called Glace Bay, which has a coal mining museum I had wanted to visit the last time we were here but didn’t.  When I looked online this morning to check on hours of operation and current exhibits, I discovered that the coal miners’ choir known as “Men of the Deeps” was going to be performing tonight at the museum.  Marilyn first discovered the group on PBS about eight years ago and I had wanted to see them perform since then.  Formed originally in 1966, they’ve toured all the major cities in North America and have sung around the world as well.  Rather than go into any more detail here, let me just give you a link if you want to learn more about this amazingly  talented group of miners and former miners.  Click here for info on “Men of the Deeps.

76 years old and singing strong

I had expected to be entertained, but the hour+ performance was more than that.  It was a lesson in cultural history and working class pride.  These guys not only sing and tell mining stories through their songs, they evince a profound sense of pride in being in an elite group that made industrialization possible through their hard and dangerous work.  They’re aren’t touring outside the area this year, but the expectation is that they will tour possibily next year and certainly in the 50th anniversary year in 2016.  If they’re booked anywhere near me and I know it, I’m going to go hear them again

Now all I need is a UMW union card.

After the performance I got a chance to talk with several of the miners/singers.  One was near 80 and had been with the group since its 1966 beginning.   Another was the son of a long-term member.  Another was a 76-year-old with an obvious ability to enjoy life by doing what he enjoyed.  One insisted I share his hat.  I was honored.

I left the performance with toes tapping and spirits buoyed.  What a great ending to a great day.  Tomorrow I’m going to return to the museum and learn more about them and the work they and thousands of men like them did underground (under the sea, actually since some of the mines tunnel under the sea bed).

More  pictures on Flickr.  Click here

Newfoundland/Labrador Day 6: Extra Time on PEI Well Spent

 Note:  This post was written on the 23rd but not published until the 24th.

In the past, especially when I’ve been riding in a group or as half a twosome, I’ve booked rooms along a carefully plotted route.  And that’s usually a good thing, because I don’t have to worry about finding a room at the end of a long day.  But this trip I built in more flexibility.  On the way to and from Newfoundland, I don’t have any reservations and I have only a vaguely plotted route.  So far, I haven’t had any real problem locating a place to stay when I decide I’ve travelled for enough.

Today was another day this built in flexibility worked to my advantage.  I initially thought I would just overnight on Prince Edward Island before heading to Sydney, Nova Scotia.  But when I rode yesterday across the island to the north shore and when I talked to Steve and Eileen Hauser (see yesterday’s post), I decided to stick around for a half day’s sight seeing.  Good idea.  Had I left the island first thing this morning I would have missed PEI’s striking beaches, dunes and cliffs, as well as an important cultural landmark and the provincial capital, Charlottetown.

Green, red, and blue are all you need to paint PEI.

One striking thing about the beaches, dunes and cliffs is that they’re red, just like the recently plowed potato fields that dot the countryside.  Apparently there’s a lot of iron content in the rocks and soil and it oxidizes (rusts), giving the island a Mars-like appearance (except of course for the green fields and the blue water and the cows and all the tourists which of course you won’t find on Mars unless you count NASA’s Mars rovers).  By 8 a.m. I was walking along the beach watching small fishing boats bobbing offshore and exploring the cliffs that in some places rise 30-40 feet above the water.  The tourists were either still in bed or enjoying a leisurely breakfast and I had my share of the beach to myself.  Very peaceful and a great way to start the day.  I stayed for about an hour until a horde of young beach goers getting a start on the summer holiday showed up, then I headed for a National Park site that preserves an important part of Canada’s literary past.

Anne was a figment of Montgomery’s imagination but the house was not.

Anne of Green Gables was published in 1911 by island resident Lucy Maud Montgomery who later published a dozen more books, all but one of them set on the island. The book became a modern classic, at least among children, and she became one of the island’s most famous residents.  Efforts to preserve historical elements of this fictional work in the 1930s included preserving the original house with the green gables that Montgomery wove into her story.  The external structure of the house has been preserved as it was, according to the young National Park interpreters I spoke with, but the interior has been recreated as the interior of the house which Montgomery created for Anne.  And, since it’s run by National Parks Canada, it’s all done very well.  Before leaving, I picked up a copy of the book for my granddaughter’s 8th birthday present.

Leaving Green Gables, I headed along the coastal road again for one final look at the Gulf of St. Lawrence as it lapped the red shores of PEI then struck out across country through red and green farmland on my way to Charlottetown.  I didn’t spend much time there but I got a feel for the old city that is trying to use its city-center historical resources to create a vibrant urban core.  On the outskirts, though, Charlottetown is like all modern towns:  strip malls, traffic lights and box-store architecture.

The extra half day allowed me to see a little of the middle third of the island, but the eastern and western ends of that big red rock remain to be explored on a future trip that will require at least a week on the island.  

I re-crossed to the mainland on the Confederation Bridge after paying my $18 toll, which, since I didn’t pay a toll coming to the island, amounted to a reasonable $9 per trip across the bridge.  There was a ferry that would have taken me to Nova Scotia, but I wanted to see more of the Canadian countryside.  

Along the Sunrise Trail in Nova Scotia

At the Nova Scotia border I stopped at the visitor center and talked with Melinda who pointed out that the scenic route to the north might suit my interests more than the quicker but less scenic southern route.   The northern road is designated as the “Sunrise Trail” and goes through small fishing towns and vacation spots.  

“Pugwash: World Famous for Peace” Nice.

Plus I wanted to ride through “Pugwash” and “Tatamagouche” just because I liked the sounds of their names, so, like Robert Frost, I opted for the road less travelled on.

I’m in New Glasgow and still a couple hundred miles short of where I thought I would be after six days, but I built in an extra day just to be safe, so I’ll still have time tomorrow to ride the Cabot Trail (again) or go to a coal mining museum in Glace Bay that I missed the last time I was in Nova Scotia.

I started to order pie tonight after dinner, but the desert case had some primo looking baklava so I ordered that to go and ate it while I wrote this blog.  If there are typos, blame it on my sticky fingers. Some serious exercising is in my future when I get back to North Carolina.

One more note:  I have a very good wifi connection tonight so I posted today’s and yesterday’s pictures on the Flickr Album.  Click here.


Newfoundland/Labrador Day 5: Made it to Prince Edward Island

I didn’t ride nearly as many miles today as yesterday, but in some ways today’s ride was more challenging.  I left the Interstate-like highway as quickly as I could after leaving Edmundston and headed cross country on a more scenic but much slower route.  In fact, Highway 108 in New Brunswick is little more than a paved logging road since there are no businesses, no houses, no nothing except mile after mile of trees and hills.  Signs warned drivers ahead of time that road conditions could be problematic, so I expected to go slow and I did.  Posted speeds were 70 an 80 kph (42 and 48 mph) but I was usually under those speed limits trying to avoid road breaks and pot holes for about 85 miles.  Still, given those challenges, I’m glad I left the four-lane highway and took the rustic route.

The Grand Falls at Grand Falls, NB

One of the first things I found after leaving the four-lane was a waterfall that, according to the official sign at the location, has a water flow 90% of Niagara Falls during the “spring freshet.”  Lots of water going over today even though they must be diverting some of it to a nearby hydroelectric plant.  They even had a zip line that went over the canyon and the falls, but I was there at 9 a.m. Sunday morning and no one else was around so I couldn’t try out the zip line.

Like Moses parting the Green Sea.

Once I got into the forest, the ride was like driving down an open-topped green tunnel.  Most of the time vision was limited to about 10 feet to either side of the road, but about a mile or two in front as the road often carved the shortest distance between two points.

All the important food groups.

Yesterday, observant readers may have noticed I made no mention of pie.  That’s because neither place I stopped to eat had any.  But one of them did have a caramel filled pastry that was almost as good.  Today I made it a point not to stop for lunch until I found a cafe/restaurant that looked like a promising pie candidate.  Today at the Kingway Family Restaurant I had a healthy lunch.  Grains (pie crust), fruit (blueberry filling), and dairy product (ice cream ala mode).  That was all the lunch I needed and got on the road again with my pie craving under control.

After ending the Highway 108 section of today’s ride and heading east, I paralleled but rarely saw the northern New Brunswick coastline until I turned north to get to Prince Edward Island.  Still, there was plenty of beautiful scenery to keep me occupied and to provide suitable inducement to stop once in a while and take it all in.

Wild flowers on PEI.

Once I crossed the 8-mile, Confederation Bridge over the Northumberland Strait that separates New Brunswick from PEI, I took another hour and a half to cross the Island to get to the northern coast.  The route was mostly backroads and gave me a chance to see some of the farming activity that, next to tourism and fishing, is the primary business on the island.  Potatoes, as it turns out, is the number one crop, followed by various berries, and then cattle.  Mostly neat, well-kept little farms with little farming communities centered around a local church–usually Catholic.  

PEI Rural Church

I saw the interior of the island but almost none of the coastline or larger cities, so I’m going to stay on the island for half a day tomorrow and look around some more.  Will try to get to Green Gables of Ann of Green Gables fame while I’m here and take a stroll through Charlottetown, the capital and main urban center.  I also expect to explore some of the beaches/cliffs if I can.  It’s a good thing I don’t have a real schedule (other than making my ferry connection to Newfoundland from Nova Scotia) so I can alter my travel plans as I want to.

One of the comments on this blog yesterday came from Steve Hauser, a rider I rode with in Colorado two years ago when I was invited to ride with “The Twisted Riders,” a group of not-too-twisted individuals largely from Indiana who taught me a thing or two about handling a motorcycle at high speed on the twisties.  He said he and his wife were going to be in Prince Edward Island today and gave me the name of their motel.  Not having made reservations, that motel was as good as any other so I headed there and ran into them at a cafe next to the motel.  After dinner, Steve had his Kentucky Bourbon and I had my Tennessee Sippin’ Whiskey and we talked about riding and retirement and the good life.  It was nice to meet Steve’s wife Eileen and I wished them well on the rest of the tour.

 I’m going to try to publish this post initially without pictures because the wifi at the hotel is very weak and it doesn’t seem to handle large files very well.  I’ve been unable to add pictures to the Flickr Album and I’m not sure I can add them to the blog tonight.  Will try to fix all that when I get a stronger wifi connection.

Don’t know where I’ll end up tomorrow, but I’m sure it’s where I’ll belong.  Everyone stay safe.

I can’t wait to get on the road again.

Newfoundland/Labrador Day 4: Into Canada

Parce que j’ai traversé des ÉTATS-UNIS au Québec francophone, j’ai pensé qu’il était approprié que j’écris ce soir l’entrée de blog en français. Je ne savais pas qu’un Français quand je suis entré au Canada, mais étant donné que tous les signes au Québec sont en français, et tous les gens là-bas parlent, J’ai simplement repris comme s’il s’agissait je rode partout dans la province et dans le Nouveau-brunswick . J’ai été étonné lorsque j’ai obtenu pour le Nouveau-brunswick , que la plupart des gens ici aussi parler et il est enseigné à tous les élèves de l’école.  Je suppose que cela a quelque chose à faire avec seulement à 10 kilomètres de Québec. Comme je suis aller plus loin à l’est demain, le français sera devenu plus rare et l’anglais sera la langue maternelle primaire. Mais ils continueront à utiliser une monnaie je ne pas complètement comprendre et un système de mesure que nous devrions adopter aux ÉTATS-UNIS .

What?  You don’t read French?  OK.  Here’s the first paragraph in AMEERICUN.  And the rest of the post will be in English also.  I was just trying to expand your linguistic horizons.

Because I crossed from the United States into French-speaking Quebec, I thought it only appropriate that I write tonight’s blog entry in French.  I didn’t know any French when I entered Canada but since all the signs in Quebec are in French and all the people there speak it, I just picked it up as I rode across the province and into New Brunswick.  I was surpised when I got to New Brunswick that most of the people here also speak it and it’s taught to all students in school.  I guess it has something to do with being only 10 miles from Quebec.  As I go further east tomorrow, French will be become more rare and English will be the primary tongue.  But they will continue to use a currency I don’t completely understand and a measuring system that we should adopt in the United States.

Vermont covered bridge

Another early start (kickstand up about 0715) gave me time to wander around Vermont a little on my way to the border crossing to the north.  I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, but wanted to see some of the countryside.  Vermont is known for its cheddar (and other) cheeses and that must explain the hundreds of farms with thousands of cows.  I’m not complaining, really, but the pungent odor that permeates diary operations and feed lots followed me for many miles this morning.  It’s not something I want to live with, but the earthy smell bespeaks a more agrarian America and is no doubt something that was far more noticed a hundred years ago when the U.S. had a predominantly rural- and animal-based population.

I also happened to chance upon a “restored” covered bridge just outside Middlebury.  I’m sure if I ride around the New England countryside I’d discover a lot more of them, including ones that haven’t been restored.  It’s pretty much a lost art since iron and steel and concrete replaced the wooden trusses that required protection from the elements.  That could be another road trip:  See New England’s Covered Bridges.  Any takers?

Welcome to Quebec (and all of Canada)

Today was a long day on the road (480 miles) and between my Vermont wanderings and the 100/90 kph (62/55 mph) speed limit across Canada, there wasn’t much time to stop and explore along the way.  Despite my current look which my daughter suggests makes me look like a serial killer, I made it past the decidedly stern Canadian border patrol officers, who apparently have their sense of humor removed at border patrol school.  After greeting me with a formal “good morning sir,” she proceeded to ask me the basic questions:  

Where was I going?  Canada.  
No, where are you going IN Canada.  Oh.  Newfoundland.  
Do you know anyone in Canada?  I looked and she didn’t have a nametag, so I said no.  
Do you have any weapons?  Sinister pause.  No.  
Do you have any alcohol?  A bottle of Jack Daniels for personal use.  
Are you bringing in more than $10,000.  Pause.  Are you kidding?  
Are you bringing in more than $10,000.  Uh, no maam.  
Pull forward.  

And she didn’t even thank me for having signed my passport, which a keen-eyed U.S. border guard had pointedly brought to my attention on last year’s trip to Alaska.

St. Lawrence was pretty, but no ships. 

The ride across Quebec took me on the outskirts of Montreal and Quebec City and along the St. Lawrence Seaway for about 100+ miles.  I knew the river was there all the time, but trees and hills mostly hid the water from view.  At one point I could see the water AND there was a place to stop, so I pulled over and looked for big ships, but to no avail.  I was a little surprised because I thought the waterway was pretty busy.  Sailing up the river must have been exciting for early European explorers who probably thought they had found the elusive Northwest Passage.  It was a lovely view, though, and worth the stop.  Note:  The St. Lawrence is one of less than a handful of rivers in North America that runs South to North.  So does the St. John’s back in Orange Park.

Premium gas for the motorcycle in Canada is about $2.00 more per gallon than in the states, coming in at between $5.50 and $6.00.  Hope it doesn’t go any higher than that.  I noticed as I rolled slowly across Canada that there are A LOT of little cars.  Gas prices no doubt have a relationship to auto sales.  Eventually the same phenomenon will likely hit the US when we see gas prices at about $7.00 a gallon.

Temperature never got above 65 degrees today so I stayed in my leather jacket.  Tomorrow will probably start out in the 40s so I’ll add chaps (which my Wyoming friend Linda says are “Shaps” not “CHaps).   Cloudy skies all day but no rain.  Not bad so far on the rain front:  Four riding days and only one of those required rain gear.  Tomorrow’s forecast shows a 30% chance for rain on Prince Edward Island where I’m heading.  Maybe my luck will hold.

More than 1,600 miles added to the odometer so far this trip.  And I’m only just gettin’ started.  I can’t wait to get on the road again.

Thanks again for tuning in and following along.

 Enjoy more pictures. Link to Flickr: Click here

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