Half of a chocolate bar, 2 granola bars, a can of peaches, a can of oysters, and a hunk of cheddar cheese that has been sitting in my panniers for 5 days was what I had for dinner tonight, yup – this is cycle touring. Where everything goes the right way, except when it doesn’t. I knew this day was going to come and fully expected it, but it is happening right now – first night back on the road.
After checking out the weather report the other day and noticing that up to 20cm of snow was about to fall in parts of Cape Breton I made the executive decision to hold off on riding for a bit as I wasn’t looking forward to the first day on the road freezing, slipping, and trying to get back into the mode. I headed over to my Couchsurfing host Amy’s house and reconnected since the last time we had time together, which was in October of last year. We shared some laughs about her school children that she teaches and shared a dinner while I performed some handyman work around the house as I like to do at hosts houses if I see something off kilt. A friend of hers, who is another Couchsurfing host had an engagement to deal with and dropped off her guest over at her house – Veronica was from Sydney Australia, and has been traveling across Canada for the past year, ending off her final weeks in New York and San Francisco. Veronica seems to have had an OK time in Canada other than the cold weather in Vancouver, Nelson, Toronto, Montreal, Quebec, and Sydney – quite a shock from down under where the climate is much more reasonable. I let it slip out that “it’s not that bad” and she was quick to point out that it is very grey, cold, and many people suffer from Seasonal Affectional Disorder, and we have been trained here to combat it by ingesting large doses of Vitamin D, and even bake our bodies under a tanning bed. She’s right. This past winter for me in St. John’s was quite difficult due to the poor weather conditions and not a way to really enjoy the outdoors like I would over in the west coast by means of winter sports such as Snowboarding. My friend Danna who was also visiting chimed in about a comment one of her friends made about the time she visited Australia, that it was “Exhausting” – making reference to how every day Is a nice day there, forcing this person to go outside and make the best out of every day, where as in Canada we use the time when the weather is crappy to stay in doors, focus on projects, crafts, and well being. When the sun comes out we all rush outdoors to get the most we can out of it. Canada’s weather does leave a lot to be desired in many places, but it is home to me, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
We all headed out to the local pub to check out some of the music and ended up catching the last bit of a ‘session’, where traditional Irish musicians sit and play at a fairly reasonable volume to the patrons of the bar. Once they were complete, things kicked up a notch, with a singer who’s name entirely fails me – yet could have passed for a Canadian Idol contestant in my mind, with an entourage of fans yelling and cheering him on. Madness commenced and the drinking started with all the patrons and it became quite the comical place watching people partake in “Wasted Wednesday’ even while the final act of the night came on who happened to be from St. John’s Newfoundland! Chris Kirby played a wonderful blues set with some amazing guitar work to the crowd.
When I awoke I stepped outside to see how bad the snow was – it wasn’t so bad however my bicycle was covered in thick ice which made for some excellent photo opportunities. I chuckled as I remembered the last time I was in Sydney Nova Scotia and took the exact same photo, but with my Surly Long Haul Trucker which now has a home in Washington DC. I took advantage of the opportunity to get some laundry done, before Veronica and Danna came back over and we headed out on a road trip along pieces of the world famous Cabot Trail, stopping in Baddec to enjoy some tea, and wander about the Alexander Graham Bell Canadian Heritage site. It was foggy so we were glad we didn’t do the entire trail as planned. We made it back in time to learn how to make sushi rolls (unfortunately mine were sort of sushi squares which dynamically changed shape upon any sort of movement). I started fizzling out halfway through dinner, stomach giving some issues and body temperature going on a wild ride, so I backed out on plans and moved over to Danna’s aunts house for some hot tub therapy and to mount a car rack onto her car. Why? I told you I don’t like traveling on routes I have already ridden before, and earlier in the day Danna offered to drive me out to the entrance of Cape Breton, since I lost a day and am running a bit of a tight schedule to meet someone in Halifax for Monday. I took her up on the offer knowing that the first few days were going to be a difficult ride.
She dropped me off over at Pirates Cove and we said our goodbyes, after some confidence boosting talks that I’d be fine, and everything would work out I set forth on a sunny albeit windy day in Nova Scotia. I didn’t make it too far throughout the day as I was still learning how my new bicycle operated, differences with gears, the difference in overall rolling speed due to the wider tires, and trying to figure out how to start charging my components along the way. Now is the time to figure out if my mad scientist ideas actually work out well in the field. After about 60km I was burned out, trekking into a wooded area to start another new process of learning – setting up my tent! I previously sold my HIlleberg Nallo 2 GT tent as I wanted to try something that didn’t require staking down and opted for the MSR Hubba Hubba which has received some excellent reviews from other travellers. It took some fiddling and fudging to put together and took 10 minutes or so to pitch properly. It still needs stakes for the vestibule and doesn’t have a way to pitch the tent without getting the inside mesh tent wet if it was raining before applying the fly. No beer holder inside like the Hilleberg either. Equipment is weird, you either like it or hate it, as everyone has their own preferences for what works with them. I’ll give this a whirl and use it for 30 days before I’ll start looking for another tent as by then I’ll have sped up my pitching and likely found locations to store panniers and bags properly at night in an efficient manner.
Dinner was the next logical thing on the task list, and I pulled out my trusty expedition ready MSR Dragonfly Stove, set it up and started pressurizing the fuel canister. Something seemed weird, and I was unable to get the stove to light up. I fiddled with a few knobs before ending up spraying white gas all over myself before giving up, not wanting to deal with it , but instead try to write this post and fix some other components that needed adjusting. I ended up writing about 1 paragraph of this post before the battery died and I settled on just going to sleep, knowing that the next day was to be a better day.
Sleep went well, I awoke a few times in the night, figured out how to open the tent door and whizz out of it without getting it back inside, and noticed my air mattress had deflated over night. I pumped it back up and nodded off until sunrise at 6am. My head was chilly, as I somehow lost my iconic black hat in Sydney when I was packing up, so I hid under the covers for another hour and a half before forcing myself to get up and start the packing up. A thick layer of frost covered the grass around my tent, and my tent’s fly was like a sheet of plywood. I munched down a few granola bars and put myself out on the road at 8:30am, 1 bottle of water at my disposal hoping for a town or café to stop at to refill the other empty one (I’m only using 2, until I arrive in Halifax to purchase a replacement for the 3rd which I lost in Quebec the day I was shot at!) I knew it was going to be a tough day when I looked at my odometer and noticed I was only traveling 8km an hour – the headwinds were awful, and I became frustrated that I had not had a proper breakfast (let alone coffee), and realizing that I had taken a 40km detour on my route forcing longer days than I expected to get me into Halifax on time. Even though there were not any major climbs of more than 60metres I still struggled with each and every one, stopping halfway up or even every 200metres to catch my breath and prepare for the next segment. God I’m out of shape! I knew this was also to come, and it’s going to be 10 more days or so until my body starts to work everything out. For now my knees are hurting a bit, and muscles are very sore, but the nut is feeling pretty fantastic at this stage – Still trying to figure out what the solution was to this all.
After 7 hours of riding I made it into the hustling and bustling town of Sherbrooke, population 350. There were a few signs posted for cafes serving food and coffee, but as I was entering the one with the open door I was politely told that it was closed, along with everything else in the town until May. I found a combo Chinese restaurant which is where I am typing this which offered me my coffee of the day at 4pm (bad idea?) and a bit of warm food and a friendly chat with the owner who is actually from Vancouver Island. They close at 5:30, 50 minutes from now in which I hope I’ve charged the laptop enough to deal with a few things over the next few days as it looks to be more of the same, barren towns which were once populated in the thriving fish and shipping trade, but have since shrunk over the course of the past 200 years. The people in the east have all been friendly, lots of waving while driving and very open, compared to the west of Canada, which is precisely all we hear about the east over in Vancouver – “The People are good!”. Glad I took the time to make it this far and check out the Maritimes. I will buy a loaf of bread and start chipping away at the 3 kilograms of Nutella I picked up before I left St. John’s and slowly try to fix my stove before making it into Halifax. If I manage to muck things up too bad I can just buy a replacement pump, but I’d really like to figure this out should the problem occur again.