From Costa Rica and beyond

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Of Gravel Roads and Frontier Towns

It's about time my travel/riding blog be updated. I am now back in Vermont, where after just a couple days my lawn is mowed and raked and my house clean and livable. The school year will start very soon, so why not procrastinate by writing one last blog entry?

The previous entry left off in Port Hope Simpson where I enjoyed a comfortable night in a B & B, before traversing 225 miles of gravel (and 252 miles to the next gas station!) to Goose Bay/Happy Valley. So how was the ride? The ride was rather uneventful and a bit anti-climactic. The weather was good - sunny and neither too hot nor cold. There were occasional crosswinds to contend with. The road was good too. It was very well maintained. Probably every 50 miles or so I encountered a grader methodically plowing the road. Early in the day, one caught them in the beginning stages of their work, leveling the surface and pushing the extra dirt and stones to the middle of the road. Riding that freshly plowed surface was great as there were fewer stones and thus less fish-tailing of the bike. Later in the day, the graders plowed the middle and spread the gravel evenly back across the two lanes, which made for a smooth, but very rocky surface.

I made good time zipping along as fast as 60mph. I stopped for a couple bathroom and snacking breaks, but otherwise had no need or incentive to stop. A breath-taking view could have halted me, but the view was very consistent: scraggly black fir trees either blocking further views if on flat terrain or dominating views if the road crested a hill. There were, of course, a few streams and a couple small lakes. Other travelers on the road ranged from normal cars, tractor-trailers, and even a German overland vehicle with giant wheels (and spares) and seemingly equipped to survive a nuclear holocaust and the rapture. The plates indicated they were from Aachen.

As I approached the end of the gravel portion, my bike stalled and rolled to a stop. I still had not driven 220 miles. My bike usually has a range of about 240 miles and that's without the extra 2.5 gallons I had already put in my tank from my jerry can. Yikes!!! I switched the lever to the reserve tank and rolled on...this time a bit more slowly so as to conserve fuel. I was relieved somewhat to reach pavement, then to cross the broad Churchill River. I was extremely relieved to finally reach a gas station! How could my bike consume so much fuel?!?

Happy Valley/Goose Bay are consolidated towns that (as I've learned is the norm) look way less frontier-like than most people imagine. Walmart is there, the Canadian automotive equivalent to Walmart, Canadian Tire, is also there. There are a couple motorcycle dealers, as motorcycles and ATVs are very popular in this part of the world. Fast food restaurants like Tim Hortons are also represented. My number one priority there was to get my new sprockets and chain for my bike. Having made really good time, I pulled up at Frenchy's Motorcycles with 1.5 hours until closing time. All my parts were there. Thanks to their helpful crew, I was gone by 5:30. My worries about a broken or slipping chain were also gone. A stop at the tourism office did not convince me to stick around. The wish to visit my parents and friends in Michigan and to get back to Vermont at a reasonable time also urged me onward. I drove another two hours west on  the paved portion of 500 and found a nice spot just off the road for some brookside camping.

Black flies and mosquitos awaited me, but I was ready this time. I dismounted my bike and grabbed first thing for my netting and the DEET. What a difference DEET makes. I sprayed it over my clothing, on the netting, and by the entrance to the tent. I could now relax, fix up another helping of ramen noodles with turkey chunks, and watch a mama bird tutor her two young on how to snatch black flies in mid-air. Such sweet schadenfreude! Sleep eluded me that night though. As soon as the sun disappeared, the cold air rolled into my tent and put my sleeping bag (rated for 40F, I believe) to the test. I was cold! In my half-sleep I complained about the sleeping bag, not knowing that temperatures went down to about 38F that night. Of course, the clear skies that allowed that to happen also warmed my tent up nicely in the morning. I didn't get up until 10am. What a rough life!

The paving process is actively underway on 500. I suspect it will all be paved by next year. On this day, though, I had another 120 or so miles of gravel to cross...and dust to breathe. It was a dry day. The 500 has more traffic than the 510. Construction vehicles (for the paving work) kicked up so much dust that one simply could not see anything as they passed. The dust and grit got in my helmet, everything! Shortly after blindly passing a pick-up/trailer combo (which kicked stones up at me), my bike again rolled to a stop. No WAY!! I had already poured the 2.5 extra gallons in the tank. How could I be out of fuel? I had traveled perhaps 160 miles from Happy Valley/Goose Bay. I hailed a passing car and asked them if they had any extra fuel. They did and eagerly handed me their can. I opened the tank and...saw that there was still ample fuel. Ruh roh! I returned the can and sent them on their way. What could the problem be? Perhaps the fuel pump or fuel filter. I knew I wasn't too far from Churchill Falls, so I was mentally preparing to push my bike, if need be. I tried the ignition one last time fired right up. Whew!!

At Churchill Falls, the gravel ends (or begins). The town's raison d'etre is the giant hydroelectric generating station located there. This town is truly a company town. Nalcor owns everything except the gas station. Employees and their families live in company owned houses (and pay about $100 rent per month). There is no real downtown. Instead there is a big building (I though it was a school with sort of modernist architecture) which houses a public library, a grocery store, a restaurant, a small hotel, etc. Of course, I didn't realize this at first. In my quest to find the downtown (and some food and maybe a garage!), I stopped at a house where a man was working outside. He turned out to be the town planner (a company employee) and a mechanic with all the right tools. He helped me clean the bike's air filter. As we did that, it dawned on me what the actual problem was. The dust was plugging the valve that allows air to flow into the tank, as the fuel is consumed. When air can't enter the tank, a vacuum is created and the fuel stops flowing. What a relief! Dale told me about the town and how it is to work there. I was impressed to learn that every employee and family member who lives there gets two allowances of $2200 to go on vacation away from Churchill Falls. When you retire, you have three months to get out of there before new tenants move in. Dale also urged me to tour the generating facility - something I had been hoping to do.

Say what you will about massive hydroelectric projects, the engineering is remarkable. This 5500 megawatt facility is located in a massive underground slab of granite. So as not to destabilize the granite, it was all bored out by hand and machine - no dynamite. Eleven tunnels funnel water to turbines that turn generators at very high speeds. The power is sent mostly to Quebec which consumes some and sends the rest to the northeastern US.

After an interesting tour (along with a Canadian and a German rider), I ate a Donair Supreme (a hybrid Doener and pizza) and called friends I had met in Gros Morne. They live just two hours from Churchill Falls in Wabush (right next to the better known Labrador City). Helene answered the phone and said I was very welcome to stay with them and with two French hitch-hikers they had met.

Labrador City and Wabush also defy the image of frontier towns. The streets are paved. Houses and neighborhoods are generally nice and neat. Again, fast food chains and big box stores thrive there just like everywhere else. These towns are not company towns like Churchill Falls, but they are industrial towns - iron ore is the business up there. Right now, that business is humming, both figuratively and literally. The mines with their giant trucks and cranes and the processing facilities can be heard around the clock seven days a week. One particular mine has an automated train that goes back and forth sounding its horn every five seconds non-stop. This sounds awful, but where Wayne and Helene live, one can just barely hear these sounds. There are, of course, some oddities about these towns. The homes, originally paid for by the companies, are very homogenous. Modest homes are quite expensive, as there is no new property available - it's all owned by the companies which have mining rights. Many of the people working in the service sector are Philippinos who will typically stay a few years and build up their savings. I didn't sense much cultural friction there. Some anger, however, is directed toward "Fifo's" - Men who Fly In and then Fly Out for short term jobs. They don't have a stake in the community. Helene, however, noted that some anger toward them is totally unfounded. She once heard two women in a store complain that Fifos were to blame for the lack of tampons in one of the local stores (almost all Fifos are men).

I stayed two nights with Wayne and Helene, their son, Phil, as well as a couple young relatives who are summer-jobbing up there and of course the French couple. Wayne and Helene enjoy a full house - and it was fun! We ate very well and had a great time chatting late into the night. They gave some of us a tour of the nearby Quebec town, Fermont (iron mountain), with its imposing building (housing everything from stores to residential apartments to a strip club) called "The Wall". Wayne, an avid rider, got out his BMW 1200gs Adventure and led me on a ride up some very treacherous trails for some great views over the cities and countryside. From there, one could also see just how close the Summer's forest fires had come. About 2 miles is all that separated the town from the fires. The local population had been evacuated and roads were closed. I was lucky to arrive a couple weeks after the disaster.

From Labrador City, the road turns south into Quebec and eventually down to the city Baie-Comeau on the Saint Lawrence River. Much of the northernmost section of this road is gravel. Making the first 50 miles or so worse are all the curves in the road. Turning on gravel is not fun. The apparent lack of any reason for most of these curves made me wonder cynically if there was some Quebecois philosophy behind what the roadsigns labeled 'sinuousness'. Eventually the road straightened. Soon I was on pavement again...and then off it again. The highlights of this 1.25 day ride south were the Michouagan Reservoir (a ring lake that fills a giant, ancient meteorite crater) and the dam that created the reservoir, Manic 5. The latter must be an engineering marvel. It's facade (or downstream face) is composed of giant concrete arches whose supports stretch downward and forward. They appear to prop up the rest of the dam like flying buttresses on a cathedral. Here too, there are not many gas stations. But by now, I was figuring out that the lower mileage I had experienced was not due to any problem with my bike, but due to driving over gravel at relatively high speeds, wheels a-spinnin'.

After one last night tenting at the side of a lake, I was back on major roads heading west. The northern shore of the Saint Lawrence has some quaint towns. I sped on to Quebec City where I visited Sylvain and Suzanne who had loaned me a sleeping pad when mine failed in Gros Morne. They kindly hosted me that night. I loved both their apartment (which in typical Quebec fashion has graceful exterior wrought iron stairs up to their second story front door) and their slightly gentrified neighbourhood, Limoilou, with its good eateries and strong socially and environmentally conscious ethic. Big Agnes did not manage to get a replacement pad to their home in time for me - not by a long shot.

That was, for me, the end of this summer's grand adventure. My bike and I put on a lot more miles (highway miles) heading to Michigan to see my parents (Arlene and Ted) and friends (Cara and Mike, Tracy and Dennis). I was lucky to be able to visit a number of friends as I rode eastward (Marilyn) and westward (Jess and Jesse, Elfi and Maxime).

It was another great trip. Considering a trip to the Maritimes? I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Newfoundland and Labrador

Labrador at last! I was one of the last to roll off the ferry boat into...Quebec. Yes, the ferry to Labrador actually docks in St. Sabon, Quebec. Less than 10k to the north, a sign welcomes you to Labrador. A number of small communities are spaced along the paved road heading north. I was not sure where I would overnight, but Red Bay was definitely on my itinerary. Perhaps a bit more than an hour of driving up and over some long inclines and descents and past numerous lakes and small harbors (including one with an iceberg lodged in it) got me to this newly crowned UNESCO site. In the early 1500s, it was the Basque who pioneered the whaling industry to satiate Europe's demand for lighting oil. They found Labradorian waters abounding in North Atlantic Right Whales among others. History forgot their presence here until the late 70s when a researcher in Spain came across wills and receipts pertaining to a shipwreck said to have transpired in what is today Red Bay. The wreck of a modern ship in a November storm made some think that ship might be near the old wreck whose fate was also sealed in November. And underwater search soon found the San Juan and now the Basque presence here is chronicled and celebrated. A small but new and very nice museum houses a whaling boat and many other artifacts as well as context. After visiting the museum, I strolled along a beachside trail littered with whale bones dating back to the 16th century (or so I was assured at the museum).

Red Bay is also noteworthy for being the endpoint of this paved portion of the road. I stopped where the gravel begins to take a photo and to lower the tire pressure on my bike. A man on a BMW 1200GS pulled up having just completed the ride from the north. He assured me finding a camping spot would be really tough in the next section of the ride. With that news and with a mutual wish to chat with someone from New England, we set up our tents next to the church in Red Bay. We were assured the bugs would be not be so bad there.

Perhaps, but that did little to help us combat the swarms of black flies that greeted us, especially as the wind died down. I donned my head netting and quickly learned that blackflies will creep their way into anything. Soon there were hundreds outside my netting and probably a half dozen inside it. They also crept their way down my back and into my pants (the broken fly -- aptly named? -- probably facilitated that attack). A dinner of Ramen Noodles along with some chunk turkey I had bought was tasty, but testy. How to maximize my meal while minimizing that of the black flies? The best solution I found was just to hurry the meal and go to bed. I took a little run to lose the flies before bounding into my tent. That seemed to have worked until I saw more and more of the buggers emanate from the corner where I threw the head-netting. Fortunately, they seemed disoriented in the tent. Now they were the hunted. I'll have to give my tent a very thorough scrubbing when this trip is over.

Despite the persistent buzz of mosquitos trying to break their way through the tent screen, I slept fairly well. At 5am, the rain started and my slumber ceased. My tent is getting wet, my bladder is full, the bugs are waiting...what to do? The answer was to pack up as quickly as possible and hit the road. No bugs can fly that fast. A roof at the entrance to the museum was near, so I emptied my tent of heavy items and then carried it, still intact, to dryness where I toweled it off and packed it, trying to remain composed as the flies renewed their onslaught (do they never sleep??). A quick farewell to Will and I was off.

So far, the gravel road has been easy going. I can comfortably ride between 40 and 55 mph. There are rocks and a few rough patches, but compared to Ruta 40 in Patagonia, this is a relatively easy ride for a motorcyclist. What frightens me a bit is that I am alone and that it is so far between communities. Other than the road itself and an occasional motorist, the only sign of human existence are sleds that have been left just off the road as well as an occasional makeshift log bridge that allows ATVs to cross the gap between the road and the woods (they remind me of a very humble modern corollary to the medieval drawbridge). After a little more than an hour of driving past this rough, rocky land with its tall, very narrow spruces and firs, the rain faded and after another hour I was in Port Hope Simpson. Right now, I am writing in my room at a B and B. I feel a bit wimpy and indulgent stopping after such a short day, but I have my reasons. It continues to rain and I do not want to spend a second consecutive night in bugs and in the wet. Most importantly, the next town, Happy Valley Goose Bay, is over 400 km away (and there are no gas stations in all that way!). I am expecting a new chain and sprockets there, but one part of that trio has not arrived there yet, so there is no need to hurry there. Plus, tomorrow is supposed to be a nice day.

Having my own room, I am able to recharge my keyboard - such a bonus!! That is the primary reason I have not posted in a while. So what else have I been up to? The short answer is: "Newfoundland, That's what!" That is too short, though, so here is a bit more.

Newfoundland (pronounce it like 'understand') is fantastic! I took the ferry to Argentia and was in St John's two hours after disembarking. What a fun town! Row houses in the city center are painted in all shades of red and blue and green and yellow etc. There are fun, locally owned shops and stores to check out. George Street and environs throbs until 4 in the morning (yes, I know this first-hand) with music ranging from techno to amplified Newfie folk. Meet some nice people at your hostel (as I did - Ben, Lynn, Garech, Cynthia, Guillaume) or adjust your chain in a parking lot and meet a random German phd student who just bought a KLR (Regina), and you're guaranteed to have a great time. Several of us visited Cape Spear, the easternmost tip of land in North America, and watched whales from our perches atop high bluffs. We turned westward and then watched the sun set from Signal Hill where ships would receive guidance before entering the narrow harbor. Ben and Regina and I daytripped south on the Avalon Peninsula. The hot temps prompted even me to take a swim in very chilly waters. We ate mussels and moose burgers at a little diner and then visited Lord Baltimore's first attempt to find a new home for dissenting English Catholics (He had better success in Maryland). We also fought tough crosswinds before returning to Saint John's.

After three nights in St John's, I headed northwest to Bonavista where John Cabot was the first European (huge asterisk - stay tuned) to step on these shores. If you're in this vicinity, be sure to check out Trinity; it's what you get when you put Peacham, Vermont on the oceanfront. The next day took me farther northwest to Twillingate Island where I free-camped atop a cliff a couple hundred feet above the crashing sea. The next day was rainy, but I motored to Badger nevertheless and hopped on the T'railway, an old railroad bed converted to an ATV trail. This lent my ride a bit more adventure and even saved on mileage, although the bumps certainly beat up my bike. A deep section of gravel caused me to lose control and crash land just off the path. Two elderly couples on four-wheelers were right behind me. By hand, they pulled a rope and helped me back up on the path. This trail through the heart of Newfoundland was stunning. Much of it was flat and green, at times forested, at times treeless. The Gaff Topsail, as the area is called, is marked by four Topsails that are, as best I can figure, monadnocks or solitary mountains whose resistant stone allowed them to survive the glacial age and later erosion, leaving them to tower close to 200 feet above the surrounding tundra. With now sunny skies, I rolled into Gros Morne National Park where I spent three nights and enjoyed amazing scenery from the summit of Gros Morne mountain and took a cruise on Western Brook Pond, which is like a magnified Lake Willoughby with mountains towering 2700 feet above the 600 feet deep lake. Something remarkable about this lake: It has very few nutrients and thus very few ions, so its water reportedly will not conduct electricity. Something else remarkable: After hearing me pine about the faulty seam on my brand new, super comfortable Big Agnes sleeping pad, a man from Quebec City loaned me his. I'll return it soon (Big Agnes, to their credit, is replacing it and shipping the new one to that man's address).

My last stop before the ferry to Labrador was L'Anse aux Meadows, where Leif Erickson and a small band of Vikings built a very modest settlement 1000 years ago.

Whew, it is very good to be caught up on my blog. I'm still looking for a computer so I can upload all my pics. Stay tuned.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Fort Louisbourg, Nova Scotia

July 12, 2013

The night of the 11th was warm, but very misty. It was smelly too. A fish rendering plant was right next to the campground. While this may be the stinkiest campground in the world, there were redeeming qualities. The bathroom and shower facilities were very clean, there was a lounge area with wifi, and there were little rooftops over picnic tables at each campsite. Knowing full well that it might rain overnight, I removed the picnic table and replaced it with my tent. That had little effect on the mist that drifted horizontally with the wind. But while water did creep under the tent, I remained dry atop my sleeping pad. In the morning, I got up early so I would be ready to visit Fort Louisbourg when the gates opened. After showering, I commenced packing. I took out my super absorbant mini-towel and started drying the rainfly. I had just finished and started undoing the stakes when rain struck. It poured. All my efforts were undone in an instant. The opaque grayness hinted that this rain could last all day. Great. I migrated to the lounge and checked Canada's weather radar. The worst was passing and the storm should be done in an hour or two. This was a perfect time for breakfast at the diner across the street. A breakfast of eggs, bacon, home fries and coffee drove the rain away (the fish smell remained). I returned to my campsite, shed my rain gear, and pondered how to dry everything. The ground was soaked. So, I took my straps, threw them over the beams supporting the roof and hoisted my tent off the ground and dried it off as it hung. I felt pretty clever.

The gates had long been open, but the woman at the ticket sales counter said my three hours were perfect for a good visit. A bus retrieved us tourists at the welcome center and drove us about one kilometer to the fort. Across a small harbor, the fort looked elegant, dominated by a wide, colonial style dwelling above and with a ceremonial yellow gate on the waterfront. The French sense of style goes way back. Their military ineptitude also goes way back. Twice this fort was attacked by the English, both times over land (the defenses were directed toward the water - an acknowledgement of English naval prowess), and both times (1743 and 1758) it fell. The French had, however, established a remarkable outpost and community at Louisbourg. The village thrived on the cod they caught in the rich North Atlantic. Some of that cod was eaten there, some was traded inland, and much was shipped back to France for great profit. Although I am a history teacher, places like this can bore me to tears. However, Louisbourg is very charming aesthetically, gastronomically, and in how the "inhabitants" interact with the guests. The buildings remind one of historical buildings along the Maine coast with beautifully weathered Shake shingles on the roofs and exterior walls. Small garden plots can be found in spaces between the finer dwellings. Each person is greeted and briefly interrogated by a security-minded soldier in contemporary garb (English folk beware!). Go to the bakery and buy some fresh, warm bread (white bread for the officers, brown break for the rank and file). Kids are given costumes and engaged in games. Women are cleaning and cooking. Soldiers are showing off their living quarters where three share each bed. A 15 minute ceremony with marching and music culminate in the firing of the canon precisely at noon. If hunger strikes, there is a kitchen preparing delicious food elegantly served with faux (I hope!) pewter plates and bowls and spoons (no forks nor knives). I had a delicious pea soup, turkey pie, and scrumptious break pudding with coffee.

With that, it was time to return to my bike. Now I am on the ferry awaiting departure to Newfoundland. The sky is partly cloudy. I am dry. We leave dock at 5pm and will arrive in Argentia (I would soooo like to write Argentina!!) at 10am.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

A New Adventure

Riding through Latin America on a motorcycle never entered my mind as a youth. Family trips up through Canada, especially those spent on the rugged northern shores of Lake Superior, planted a sense that adventure lies in those cold remote regions north of the US border. My sabbatical ride south amended that viewpoint. The north, however, has not gone away and neither has my motorcycle. So, I'm riding again, just as far north as I can here in the east. The Trans Labrador Highway will be the extent of my ride north before the path leads south into Quebec. On the way there, I can visit Newfoundland which has long been on my list of places to explore.

Many miles separate Vermont and Newfoundland. This first post (no promises how many there will be!) summarizes how I got to Louisbourg, Nova Scotia.

I always get the jitters before heading out on a trip like this. Most elements of a trip like this are within my control: How precisely should I plan the route? Is my bike ready? Do I have all the gear I need? What gear do I really need?

One element in particular is beyond my control: the weather (Let it be good!!!).

Preparing my bike was not a huge job. Concerned about bottoming out with the considerable weight of me and all my gear, I purchased a raising link to lift the bike's rear end and to tighten the suspension. This also makes it less likely for my bike to tip over away from the kickstand when parked - something that plagued me during my sabbatical. I also bought and replaced the clutch cable and bought new Heidenau K76 front and rear tires and decided not to bring spare tires. Heidenau tires are supposed to have great quality. As new as they are, they should stay in one piece over the gravel of the Trans Labrador Highway. I think the only other real telltale addition to my gear (other than what I brought to Latin America) is a mosquito net that fits over a hat. There's no malaria up there (yet), but I would rather have malaria than to have all my blood sucked out a milligram at a time.

The jitters were minimal as I left home on the 5th of July. since my first day's destination was Belfast, Maine, home to my friend Mark and his family. Still, my departure was not immaculate. Outside my walkout basement, I started the bike (choke on) and walked up to the front door to lock it. I came back down and found the bike not running. Hm. I fired it up again. It ran for a moment and stalled. Huh? Third time...the same. Grrrrr. The weather was hot and humid and I had all my gear on. I was already getting soaked with sweat. Am I low on fuel? Turn the fuel gauge to "reserve". The bike fired up...and stalled. WTF? Another try...this time no ignition at all, just a motor turning over in vain. Open the tank. Yup, it's low on fuel, but the reserve tank ought to work. Sweating even more, I go back up to the front door, unlock it, tramp downstairs, get my lawnmower fuel, put it in the tank, go back in the house, close the basement door, go back upstairs, close and lock the front door. I am drenched. Look the bike over again...and then it occurs to me. I bet I turned the fuel gauge the wrong way. Turn it 90 degrees, hit 'start', let it turn over a few times and then the bike comes to life. good grief. The drive to Maine was, mercifully, uneventful, although I nearly panicked when I thought I had left my Spot device at home (this was on hour east of Saint Johnsbury). A quick check of my paniers showed I was mistaken. Whew. Now, six days later, I can say that I don't think I forgot a thing.

After a great weekend in Belfast, I made my way to the Canadian border on a misty Monday morning. The rain gave up keeping pace with me before I even reached the border. My entry into Canada was dry and easy. New Brunswick presented me with a newly surfaced highway complete with an impressive fence system to keep moose and other big critters out. The fence had numerous one-way gates keeping animals off the highway while allowing the truly hapless ones who found a way onto the highway to be guided back into the forest, away from harm.

A quick look at the map showed green on the Bay of Fundy - a national park. I arrived there around 5pm, set camp, and dashed out for a hike along the shoreline. I set a good pace so the teeming mosquitos and blackflies could not keep up. The trail was perched up on cliffs, so while the view across the bay was lovely, it was hard to get a good sense of the epic tide for which the bay is famous. I took another hike in the morning, but by that time it was (as it was during my last walk) low tide.

Tuesday was very similar to Monday, except the weather was gorgeous the whole way. I enjoyed the coastal route just east of Fundy National Park with its winding roads, hills, green grasses, cliffs and beaches, estuaries, and (of course) views of the bay. Here too, I rode until about 5 and stopped at a park - Caribou and Monroe's Island Provincial Park. This time my hike was truly on the beach with views of the distant Prince Edward Island.

Wednesday led me to Cape Breton and the highlands. This big peninsula is definitely worth the trip. The ocean views are magnificent. The road follows the coast and winds  up the cliffs of the highland offering vistas and driving conditions that reminded me of California's Highway One (without the fog!). I had been given the impression that the towns along the way are charming. There are certainly a myriad of festivals planned (most starting on or after July 15). Many of them highlight Celtic roots. However, most of the towns themselves are rather spartan. Most homes are unremarkable, modest homes. The towns typically have a dock or two (for lobstermen and whale watching tours) and a few motels or cabins and restaurants geared toward the tourists.

Judique is a town famed for its Celtic music. I raced past the Celtic Music Interpretation Centre. What I appreciate about Judique came after the town - an ATV trail. I found this trail when making a quick pit stop. What a temptation. Should I ride it or not? May I ride it? I finally ended my indecision and just did it. About 50km further I reached its end in Inverness. This trail was a thrill to ride. It was fun to be off the pavement, away from the traffic, and cruising an old RR bed winding past swamps, lakes, forest, little harbors and over streams. In all that way, I encountered four other people. My luck was compounded when I got a delicious burger at a very unassuming beachside food joint in Inverness (probably the most scenic of the Cape Breton towns with a lovely beach and renowned golf course). North of Inverness, I found the Cabot Trail that enters the National Park. The highlands tower above the ocean at a pretty uniform height. The plateau is home to bogs, little lakes, and lots of very wind abused stubby pine trees. That is all a blur to the motorcyclists who flock here as much for the thrill of the twisting tarmac as for the scenery. I enjoyed both!

Indecision gripped again about where to camp. The final national park campground that came in question looked a bit grim, so I headed north to the tip of the peninsula. The Jumping Mouse Eco Campground in Bay Saint Lawrence was quite a reward for the longer than expected drive. Perched above a tiny lobstering village and harbor, the campground affords a breathtaking view north with towering sylvan mountains sheltering the bay to the east and west. I was the only guest. I set up camp, marveled at the views, walked to the pier, and then wondered how I would sleep with the wind gusts and threatening weather. The rain never materialized, but the wind was amazing. Lying in my tent, I could hear individual gusts of wind zip past...sometimes a ways off, sometimes striking the top of my tent. I have never heard the wind like this. It was like there were witches or spirits joyriding just over the treetops. Over time, though, they faded...and so did I.

I am now in Louisbourg, home to a restored French fortress. This fort's fate has been a footnote in my AP history class for years, as it was built by the French, taken by the British in the War of Austrian Succession, it was returned in the peace settlement (Status quo ante bellum) and then taken for good in the French and Indian War and destroyed by the British. Today's ride was a foggy and damp one. I am now poised for the next leg of my journey. I made reservations to take the ferry from North Sydney, Nova Scotia to Argentia, Newfoundland tomorrow. I have also made reservations at the youth hostel in Saint Johns, Newfoundland. Tomorrow will be a big day!