From Costa Rica and beyond

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!

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