May 15, 2006
We have been traveling in Canada since the May 12. The drive from Medway, Maine to the border was another very rainy drive. Just prior to getting to the border the rain stopped. By the time we cleared the border crossing, the skies were starting to clear and we had occasional sun breaks to guide us into Fredericton, New Brunswick.
We camped at an interesting campground on the St. John River called Hart Island Campground. We were able to take advantage of the on property driving range to sort of knock some of the rust off our golf swings. We need a lot more practice and maybe a little WD40 to smooth the stroke a bit. The campground also fronted a community trail that linked the downtown to the rural community. The path was well maintained and I believe it spanned some eight or nine kilometers. I took advantage of the trail to get a four mile run in to loosen my legs after the drive.
For the first time on this adventure we dined away from the motorhome. I felt it was time for a break, so we drove into Fredericton and found a nice little bistro style restaurant to have a wonderful dinner and enjoy each other’s company while at the same time interacting with others.
What we realize in our first twenty-four hours in Canada is that with the US Dollar as weak making the cost of living in Canada for Americans really high. For instance gas sells for between $1.119 and $1.169 for regular unleaded per liter. At 3.89 liters per US gallon, that makes the cost of gas $4.35 to $4.55 per gallon. When you factor in the currency exchange rate which currently is $.95 US Dollar to one Canadian Dollar, the realized cost range is $4.13 to $4.32. Virtually every commodity we have purchased or considered purchasing has had a similar higher price than the same commodity south of the border. Finally, if the prices and the poor exchange rate and higher prices were not enough, there is a tax called the Harmonizing Sales Tax (HST) that is applied to nearly everything except groceries. Groceries do not include cooked food purchased at a grocery store such as pre-cooked chicken. The rate of the tax is 15%. So, that dinner I mentioned above. The menu prices were a little higher than we are accustomed to in the states, but when you add 15% to the whole meal you are suddenly talking real money.
The bottom line in all this discussion is that we have found Canada to be much more expensive a place to vacation in than we had thought it would be. That said, we are simply modifying our lifestyle some in order to enjoy seeing the sites we came here to see. We have decided that we have to drive the motorhome fewer miles in order to control the outpouring of dollars. So, today we drove the motorhome 200 plus miles to Cheticamp, which is on Cape Breton Island in the Northeast of Nova Scotia. We intend to stay here for a week and take a lot of day trips at nearly four times the gas mileage in the car as opposed to the motorhome.
Now, let me back track a little. We spent the last two nights in a cute little campground near Truro, Nova Scotia. Truro is on the eastern end of the southern branch of the Bay of Fundy. The Bay of Fundy is famous for the extreme tides. There is a phenomenon called Tidal Bore that occur twice daily with the incoming tides into the Bay of Fundy. As the tide comes in and pushes against the outbound current of the rivers and streams that drain into the bay, a wave forms at the intersection of the opposing flows of water. It is an absolutely incredible sight to watch the tides roll in. The inbound tide is moving at about 8 knots, so if you happen to be at a location where there is little outfall and the tide starts coming in, it looks as though you are witnessing the outflow from a dam. I have never seen anything like what we witnessed yesterday.
Making the whole thing even more incredible, where we watched from was advertised in the AAA book and it was a hotel and restaurant. We figured that at a minimum there would be some sort of admission charge to the viewing area since it was on private property. To our surprise, there was no charge and there were all sorts of tourists and locals who came out to watch the tide come in. We all sat at picnic tables or wandered the grounds of the hotel.
The drive across Nova Scotia has proven worth the price of the fuel. First, the roads are really good. At least the main roads are really good. We found a road today that rivaled the bad roads we found in Maine last week. The Trans-Canadian Highway is an excellent road particularly given the harsh environment. The miles just flew by as the view was continuously changing. We drove through mountains, had the ocean on one or the other side of the road at different times and we passed through lush valleys where crops have been planted and are starting to show themselves above the soil. The weather has been delightful. Neither too cold nor too hot and the skies have been a deep blue with only the occasional contrail to add contrast.
The tourist side of this adventure is therefore, going well, although a bit more expensive than we had anticipated it would be. But, you may be wondering how we are doing. First and foremost we still love each other and we are getting along just fine together. I think we are adjusting to the confines of the motorhome quite well. For the uninformed, there are many secrets to living in a twenty-nine foot motorhome. Many of those secrets are second nature to a career submariner. You never know where those skills developed in the Navy will reemerge. For instance, while underway everything has a storage location of its own. We have developed the storage locations over the years based on a lot of factors. The most important rule is to put things where they naturally fit and as close to where they will be used as is practicable. Obviously, heavier things should be stowed down low and vice versa. We have violated that rule a time or two. Since as they say in the airline safety brief, “things may shift during flight”, you really have to be careful when opening any storage compartment after the motorhome has moved even a few yards. Most of the underway storage locations are not conducive to real use of the items stowed. So, part of rigging the motorhome for camping is to remove from the stowage locations all the stuff that was painstakingly put away a few hours ago. If you are on the road a lot as we have been up to now, this routine can get really old. We have learned to minimize the removal of items to only those required to get us to the next event. That works for a lot of things and a lot of areas within the motorhome. However, there are some quirks.
In our current motorhome, the microwave oven doubles as a breadbox. So, if we want to nuke anything we first have to unload the oven. The contents are generally stowed on the bed while using the oven as an oven. So, before we can go to bed, the oven has to be returned to its breadbox status.
The shower is the travel location for Connie’s African Violets. We have nearly forgotten to take them out only once prior to turning on the shower. We have forgotten to take them from the table back to the shower at least once prior to getting underway. That was nearly a disaster.
Underway, the dirty clothes are stowed in a basket alongside the bed. In camp that same basket occupies the passenger seat in the front of the coach.
As you can see there are a lot of internal logistics that have to be completed to have a successful trip in this motorhome. I am happy to report that with a minimum of near misses we have settled into a routine that can get us from fully camping to road ready in about twenty minutes. We have almost gotten to the point where we go about our business with very little discussion of who does what and when. I do have to admit that this afternoon I spent about twenty miles pondering what happened to our camp chairs. I had collapsed them this morning and returned them to their stowage bags. I then propped them against the picnic table while I disconnected shore services. The normal underway storage location for these items is in the car. When I went out to disconnect services, I did not have the car keys with me. Connie and I went about the business of disconnecting shore services and reconnecting the car to the motorhome and all the light and break checks that go along with that process. Once we completed all our tasks we got underway. About four hours later I turned to Connie and asked if she had stowed the chairs. She told me that she had put them in the motorhome above the cab. I was relieved to know that they were not nearly 200 miles back up the road, but I was equally puzzled as to why they were stowed in the motorhome. I had changed the stowage location several days ago in an attempt to economize on space. Connie was not aware of the change and returned them to their original location. None of that matters of course. What matters is that even though I had done a final walk around of the campsite before driving off and verified nothing was being left behind, when I realized that I had not completed a task I had started several hours earlier, I became concerned for the quality of my look around.
I can tell you with complete confidence that the chairs are with us. We sat in them this evening watching for rare birds to fly by. Speaking of watching for rare birds to fly by, we keep hoping, but we have seen very little in the way of variety and certainly no rare ones.
As I mentioned in the opening of this rambling, we are now on Cape Benton Island. We have found this island to be very beautiful indeed. The people have been very friendly. The lifestyle is very simple. I talked to a fellow today in a gas station who remembers the last time he left the island and went to New England. He remembered the trip as though it was just last month. However, he made that trip in 1986. He implied that he would only leave the island again if he had to in order to find work. Mind you this fellow was pumping my gas while we were talking. So, it isn’t like he will be looking for a skilled labor or management position any time soon.
I have also noticed that people smile a lot around here, even when there isn’t someone to smile to or for. We were getting ready to leave the parking lot of the local grocery store this afternoon when this lady came out from the market and got into the car next to ours. She was smiling when she walked out of the store and she was smiling when she drove off. I like to see people who are just happy to be alive and well and able to enjoy the their lives.
We have learned that you cannot expect to have a short business only conversation with the good people of Nova Scotia. If you give them a reason to ask a second question beyond “May I help you?”, then you will be in a conversation for at least a few minutes. So, my advice is to slow down when you come up here and take a chance on getting to know a little about the local people here by listening to what they have to say and probably more importantly realizing what they are interested in by listening to the questions they ask and the topics they choose to ask about.
We are still trying to slow it down a few notches. We are getting there. Connie has to remind me to open up to the questioning. I have to remind her to drive slower. The pace is much more relaxed here.
Given the slower pace and the slower arrival of the 21st Century to this corner of the world, I am not sure when this will actually get posted. I may just add to it with date breaks as we go along and then post the entire thing when we get reliable access to the internet.
Until then, good night.
May 16, 2006
Today we spent most of the day driving up the west side of Cape Breton Highlands National Park. The road through the park reminded me of the roads through Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. They twist and turn and climb and fall along the path left by glaciers thousands of years ago. The difference of course is that to the west in this park is the Gulf of St. Lawrence. In fact, as we looked down on the coastline from a lookout high above the water I was reminded of the Oregon coastline. The views from this drive were absolutely spectacular. Since we have preceded the tourist season by some few weeks, we found ourselves pretty much alone for most of the drive. Therefore, we took advantage of most of the lookouts stopping frequently to take it all in. About ten miles or so into the park there was on overlook that faced inland to a lake called French Lake. Connie took a few pictures, so if I can figure out how to upload photos into this blog, I will include one. I spent some time sketching the scene from the same location of Connie’s photograph. It will be interesting to compare the two and see if they bear enough resemblance to each other.
We continued our drive North-northeast and eventually came out of the park for a few miles. We turned off the main road and went towards the north end of the island just to say we had been there. This drive took us through more of rural Nova Scotia with small villages peppering the way. It was not obvious to us what sort of work most of the inhabitants participate in. There were some small farms, but there were a number of clusters of homes most of which are very well maintained indicating that the occupants are doing okay. But we saw no real signs of business other than fishing and some tourist operations. We went to a place called Meat Cove. I am not sure what we expected to see, but what we did see could not have been expected. The road snakes around for miles and eventually turns into a gravel road with even tighter curves than the paved road and it simply follows the coastline around to a small cove where there is a small housing development. Again, nothing to indicate a means of support for the occupants of the homes, yet there were a lot of high priced vehicles parked around. One thing is for sure, none of the people in the area work in any nearby stores, because other than a Co-op store here and there we saw no clothing stores or even gift shops to attract the tourist money. A big mystery, but I can understand why people would want to live out there as the area is just beautiful.
Coming back from Meat Cove we continued to the East side of the northern tip of the island to a small fishing village called Bay St. Lawrence. Now, in this little town it was a little more obvious that the main source of income is the fishing industry. However, there certainly wasn’t much more in the way of services for the residents. I saw a credit union, a Co-op grocery, a post office and a take out diner and not much else.
We then reversed our track and went back into the park and headed back to the campground. Just past French Lake on the way back there was a bog with a parking area. We stopped and took the walking tour along a boardwalk. There were signs along the way that explained the formation of bogs and their contribution to the overall environment and habitat of the area. This particular bog was, according to one of the signs a fen. I may have this wrong, but I think the difference between a bog and a fen is in how the water leaves. In a bog the water eventually is filtered through the vegetation and soil and goes into the ground water. The process is slowed by the layer upon layer of vegetation that builds up forming the bog. A fen really has no drainage path as the bottom is bedrock. So, the water remains in the peat and soil to be given back to the atmosphere through evaporation during arid times while providing for the plants of the fen. In either case, the ecology is very fragile and there are plants that live in these peat bogs or fens that live nowhere else on earth. The Canadian Park Service has done a wonderful job of preserving the area while making it available as a place to go to learn more about our environment.
We then returned to Cheticamp and our motorhome.
May 17, 2006
We have still not found a way to reliably get onto the internet and take care of business including uploading this update to the blog. Connie did try to log on at the campground office only to learn that it was dial-up access. She spent twenty minutes reading and responding to two e-mails. So, there will be no blog uploads going through that machine.
Last night it rained steady for a good four hours. At times it came down really hard. We were not encouraged by the weather report we had gotten before going to bed, so when we awoke to sunshine and singing birds we were pleasantly surprised. Not wanting to waste a perfectly good day, we jumped into the car and drove the Cabot Trail in the counter-clockwise direction. Let me explain. A good portion of the route up here from the time we got onto the island was part of the Cabot Trail. The Cabot Trail is one of those roads that on a may would have those little black dots indicating it is a scenic byway. We came up the west coast of the island. On our road trip yesterday we continued up the west coast and eventually turned to the east as we traveled across the northern edge of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Our plan for today was to drive back to toward the south and turn to the east following the Cabot Trail instead of heading off the island. We were not sure at the beginning of the trip whether we would be able to drive the entire trail or have to back track at some point. We knew we really did not want to go back the way we had gone yesterday for fear the bad weather that had been forecast would prevent us from seeing anything new. Interestingly enough, we made very few stops along the way. There were very few points of interest dictating a stop, so we just drove and enjoyed the views. When we got back into the Cape Breton Highlands National Park from the Southeast Entrance we did find some overlooks that begged stopping for a look.
At one such stop we met a couple from Arkansas. He was retired twice, once from the Army and once from some private venture. He and his wife had flown into to Manchester, Maine and rented a car and were doing the same Nova Scotia tour Connie and I are doing. Another couple we met at the same overlook was from British Columbia. They had flown to Quebec and rented a car. He remarked as they had put some 2000 kilometers on the car so far and they were not done yet.
We had a small lunch at a little restaurant outside the park at the north end. It was not a remarkable lunch, but the proprietor was certainly an interesting fellow. We enjoyed talking to him while we waited for our food. He mentioned that the falling dollar was really hurting the tourist business in the area. I found that interesting so early in the season. He also bemoaned as to how the moose have run off all the deer that used to be in the area. Later, we would read that in fact the moose had been hunted to local extinction by the mid twentieth century. They were reintroduced and have flourished. For the record, we have seen only two, a cow and her calf. More about that encounter later.
May 18, 2006
Our campground is just a sand dune away from the beach. Connie and I had walked to the beach the first evening we were here. It looked like a great beach to run along, so this morning I decided to go for a run. I needed a long run, so I thought I would start along the road and work my way to the beach. When I got high above the beach I could see that the tide was too high and there were only short disconnected sections of beach that were really runable. Therefore, I stayed on the road and wound up running a bit over 5 ¼ miles. It was good to get a longish run in for a change.
We found high speed internet access today. However, we did not find a computer with USB ports. Since our laptop does not have a floppy drive, we move documents around on a thumb drive. No USB, no moving of this document to the blog.
Today was one of those lazy days where we just “hung out” waiting for something to happen. The weather was not great, so we did not lose much.
One thing we did notice though was how badly New England was getting clobbered with rain and apparent tornadoes. We decided to quit complaining about the weather we have encountered. We have seen nothing like what he heard about on the news.
May 20, 2006 – May 21, 2006
Today we hiked along the Skyline Trail in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. For point of reference, this trail is just west of French Lake that I mentioned a few days ago. In fact the trail runs roughly along the ridge of French Mountain as it falls off to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Our goal was to see moose, bear and of course birds. We were successful in two out of the three, plus a snake. The snake was later identified to be a variety of garter snake, but I do not remember which. The birds were somewhat few and far between. However, I chased the song of a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet long enough that I finally think I have it embedded in my pea brain. The kinglets are in breeding plumage, so the ruby crown really is ruby right now.
The trail has a branch that goes off to the other side of a rather broad plateau. We chose to stay on the main branch for the walk out. When we got to what appeared to be the end of the trail, there was a boardwalk that started down the slope towards the water. The boardwalk served at least two purposes. First and most important it was there to protect the fragile environment it was built over. Second, it gave one a safe place to walk. The winds on the slope were really something. There was a warning sign at the top of the boardwalk that gave the rules for using it. One such rule was that if the wind was blowing, then extreme caution should be exercised before venturing on. The winds would only get worse. We walked as far as the first resting/viewing station where the boardwalk was wider and there was a bench to sit on. The wind was blowing hard enough that my cap was in jeopardy. After starting to move on a little further we decided that whatever you could see from further down the walkway could not be worth the risk. We returned to the top.
We then decided to take the branch trail back, so off we went. About a quarter mile up the path we come around a corner and in front of us is a cow moose and her very young calf. It has been many years since I have been able to watch moose calves grow, but I am thinking this little fellow had to be within his first week on this planet. Given how thin mom was, it would not surprise me if he were in the early part of the week. Anyway, there are rules about moose and moose moms with calves. Never, under any circumstances do you want to get between them. Mom does not like that. That is rule one. Rule two is if mom is coming at you when you are in full view of her, then you are going the wrong way. She owns the trail and you need to be keeping ahead of her because she has important business to attend to. Besides, if you are not leaving the scene when the two are coming at you, you could either violate rule one or rule three. Either way you will be in trouble. Rule three, don’t make mom think you are going to try to harm either of them. Knowing the rules instinctively and through some previous life experiences I will not go into here, we decided to make a rather hasty retreat. We did get one picture before turning tail though. Again, once I figure out how to get photos into the blog it will appear.
We ate lunch back where the trails split hoping to see the two moose come into view. They must have found what they were looking for before they got that far, because we never saw them again. We eventually gave up the wait and started back along the main trail. The rest of the hike was pretty non-eventful.
We returned to camp and Connie went back into town to process e-mail while I went for another long run. I noticed that the wind was really picking up as I ran along the road. It felt as though I was running uphill when I was actually going down a pretty good grade. Later in the evening as we were eating dinner we decided to lower our TV antenna to prevent losing it and the mounting bracket to the wind. By the time we went to bed it was blowing so hard the motorhome was rocking as though we were driving over a rutted road. We were rocked to sleep.
I woke up early and finished the book I was reading. The weather had improved to just being a rainy morning. The wind had died down considerably. When the rain finally stopped, we went back to town to read e-mail. Later we went out to dinner at a local restaurant. We were treated to some really good food and excellent Nova Scotia wine. I have no idea where they grow the grapes. I almost think they have to be imported from somewhere warm. I will put that on my list of things to try to learn before we leave.
May 22, 2006
Today we had to drive about 286 miles to get to the Halifax area. So, we actually got up early and were on the road before 8:00AM. I don’t know who was more surprised me for getting up or Connie because I got up and stayed up.
The drive off the island was uneventful. However, we were in for some more rain and wind before the day was over. I think we had driven about two and a half hours when it started to rain. We were just pulling off the road to take a needed rest when the rain started. We stayed stopped long enough for the rain to pass and to eat lunch. We couldn’t have been back on the road more that five minutes when the next wave of rain hit us. We drove in the rain for most of the rest of the day. It seemed to stop about ten minutes before we got off the freeway and back onto secondary roads.
Overall, the drive was a grind today. We would not have driven this far except that we are now tied to a ferry schedule and the desire to see a little of Halifax and the tiny peninsula that forms St. Mary’s Bay on the western edge of the larger peninsula that is the mainland of Nova Scotia. That tiny peninsula is supposed to be a major birding hotspot. Since our list has been so small to date, we feel we need to go to a hot spot to try to improve our count so to speak. Anyway, the only way to make all this work was to drive this long way today. The drive could have been a lot worse than it was. It either could have been raining the entire way, raining on the narrow windy roads of the Cabot Trail or had the quality of road that is the western leg of the Cabot Trail for the entire distance. Had any of those “options” been the case, we would not have tried to go this far in one day.
We are now camped in a cute little campground called Wayside Campground in the seaside village of Glen Margaret. If you are following us on a map, Glen Margaret is nearly due west of Halifax and along the west coast of a bulbous little peninsula that juts to the south of from the mainland of Nova Scotia. If you are not following us on a map, then I probably made no sense at all.
There was a positive highlight from the drive down. We saw what had to have been an immature bald eagle flying along the road this afternoon. Unfortunately it entered and left our field of vision in a matter of seconds. Neither of us was able to lock on to enough field marks to positively call the bird. Whatever species, it was large and graceful. My first inclination was Golden Eagle. However, after looking at the field guide immature Bald Eagle made more sense.
Well, in one sitting I have covered a week’s worth of adventures. Were it not for my journal I would not have had the detail to bring to this forum. So, it would seem that I will need to keep the two working in order to get the full story of this adventure recorded accurately.
One of the puzzlements of retirement is what happens to all the time you thought you were going to have. It seems that I have to steal away in order to do any writing either on the computer or in my journal. Just three weeks ago I was spending eight to ten hours a day working and therefore not writing unless it was work related writing. Since retiring, I have filled almost all of what used to be work hours with other activities and therefore still find it difficult to sit and write about what I have done and seen. Tonight, for instance I feel as though I stole an evening from Connie as we did nothing together after dinner. I need to work on this some how.
At any rate, there will be no more writing tonight. I am having trouble spelling or typing or both. Therefore, it is off to bed and another several pages of the third book I have started since retiring. Yes, I finished the other two.
Goodnight to all who have read this.