Friday, October 31, 2008

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

2008 October Trip Days 11-12=Race Weekend

Early up. Early out. We were on the road long before dawn and made good time in our trek back to Maryland. Most traffic was of the big 18-wheel truck type and we tried to stay in the right lane as they, very often, passed us upwards to 100 MPH. Crazy!!!!

By the time the sun came up, we were well on our way out of Nova Scotia’s mountains and back onto the coastal plains it shares with New Brunswick. Once crossing into New Brunswick our highway became NB Rt. 2. These roads are comparable to the U.S. Interstate system. High speed, divided, four lanes with limited access. Speed limit was 110KPH or about 68 MP. We set the speed control for 70 MPH and still was the slowest vehicle on the road. No matter. The scenery was beautiful.

Once past Moncton, the coastal plains turn to rolling hills then become more mountainous, but not like Nova Scotia’s Highlands. It was a sunny, very clear and crisp day. The traffic was very light and we enjoyed the drive.

At this point, I would like to make an analogy of this trip back home to a NASCAR race weekend. Usually on Saturday the racecars get out on the track and practice for the big race on Sunday. Not much traffic on the track and they can be more at ease than they would be on race day. On Sunday, they are in a pack of cars where every driver wants to go faster than the other driver, sometimes with disastrous results. I considered this trip like one of those weekends.

On Saturday we drove from Whycocomagh, Nova Scotia, Canada to Brunswick, Maine, U.S.A in about 12 hours (650 miles). The part of the trip was practice day. Not much traffic and we could take our time making decisions with out panicking. Our passage through U.S. Customs was easy and the Border Agent said to us, “Welcome back home”. We stayed at the Brunswick Naval Air Station lodging for the night and were able to get an early start again the next morning. Felt good to sleep in a real bed.

The next portion of the trip, taking about 10 hours (520 miles), was race day. Interstate 95 from Brunswick, Maine to Baltimore, Maryland is a virtual racetrack I call “the Highway of Death”. The traffic, increasingly” got worse as did the drivers. Arrogance and aggression was the theme for, it seemed, everyone behind the wheel. We did make it home, however, without incident. Thank God.

We unpacked the minimal, meaning the cooler and some clothing, and went in, kicked back and took a deep sigh of relief. Home Sweet Home. It would take us two days to unpack and put things away, not to mention catching up on our rest. We were vegetables for those two days.

Looking back on the trip, we made a few observations:

1. We enjoyed ourselves immensely

2. We planned and packed just the right things for the colder weather we experienced.

3. We measured our time OK, but we could have taken more time to sightsee rather than going from point A to point B.

4. The people in Maine and Canada were awesome. Everyone was so very helpful and cordial in every way you could imagine.

5. The Canadians drive too fast and are generally not attentive when they do.

6. There are a lot of hard working people in those areas that eek out a comfortable living without all the necessities most of us rely on.

7. We should have taken more pictures and video.

8. We are not as young as we once were. Gr-r-r-r

9. We underestimated the cost of being in Canada even for the barest essentials.

10. We would do it again, the same way, different part of the country.

11. Finally, it is GREAT to be home. Where ever that may be.

Friday, October 10, 2008

2008 October Trip Day 10

Our morning started early, the sky overcast, and the wind blowing very strongly. No rain though. Our plan was to take the Cabot Trail around the northern end of the island. This road is 185miles long and we expected it to be a whole day’s journey. We were hoping the dreary, blustery day would not prevent us from seeing the beautiful sights the trip would offer.

The first part of the trek was through the mountainous Highlands that form most of the northern part of the island. Once over the mountains we descended towards the coast and it became evident that we were in for a wonderful day of eye candy. This is an area where the mountains come down to the ocean. Amazing.

Our first stop was in St. Joseph du Moine for coffee and a roll. The store was a small co-op grocery store and the owner had just made a fresh pot. Most everyone was speaking French, but the clerk switched to perfect English (with a Scottish accent) when we checked out. Nova Scotia (New Scotland) was re-settled by the Scots after England took over the rule of this part of Canada in 1713. To this day, most native Nova Scotians speak with a Scottish accent. In addition, their Scot heritage is evident throughout the province. All road signs are in English and Gaelic. Many Celtic heritage events are held throughout the year. The majority of the surnames are typically Scottish. Was like being there, almost.

Once we had our strong coffee fix, we entered the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. We were not able to go fast, nor did we want to, for around every turn was another awesome sight and photo opportunity. There were so many places to stop and explore we had to judge our time very carefully for we wanted to be back on the main road to camp before sundown.

We saw many eagles, deer and other small wildlife, but we did not see any bear or moose. We had been looking for both of them since we started the trip. No luck. We did see signs of moose at one of our stops, though. About half way around the trail the road climbs up onto the Highland Plateau. This area is high, flat, windswept, foggy (you are in the clouds) and wet (meaning bogs). The bogs are the main feature of the inland Highlands. For more information on the bogs, click here. The one bog we stopped at had an interpretive boardwalk though it. Pitcher plants were all over the place. On each side of the boardwalk were moose prints. Also, there were areas were the moose made their beds at night. No moose sighted though.

Continuing on the trail we came back down to seashore level and found many small fishing villages where the boats were moored right at the owners homes. Besides fishing, the lobster industry also thrives.

Once on the northeastern shore, the sights dwindled. We had one more climb up the mountains to get back to our camp. This part of the trail is quite uneventful except for the many tourist shops along the way. Most were closed for the season.

As we made were about to make our descent down to the valley road and back to camp, we came across some an area that was mining for something. Many 18-wheel gravel haulers were racing back and forth on this narrow, two-lane road. And did I forget to mention that the Canadian drivers are AWEFUL!!! Multiply that by 4 fold with regards to the truck drivers. To make matters worse, the road down the mountain was long, very winding and under construction. Most areas did not have a guardrail to prevent one from careening off the mountainside to the valley some 500 feet below. This was insane!!!! We were so glad to get past this area.

This day really took its toll on our strength. By the time we got close to camp we pulled into a restaurant for a beer. We then decided to have a Fish-and-Chip dinner that was very reasonable. No need to cook tonight. Yay!

Over dinner we discussed our plan for the next day. When we had decided early on in our trip planning to travel into Canada, we did not realize the prices on EVERYTHING was so high. Even taking into account the differences in the Canadian dollar and the US dollar (92 cents US for one Canadian dollar at the time of our trip) the prices were extraordinary. A gallon of milk=4.50 US dollars, a dozen eggs=3.75 US dollars, a gallon gasoline=5.10 US dollars, a fifteen pack of beer=25 US dollars-----that is outrageous!!!!!!! But, they are taxed on everything. That being the case and the fact we were drained from the trip thus far, we decided to call it a trip and head home. Tomorrow we would get an early start and beat feet back to Maryland.

See Day 10 Album: Click here

Thursday, October 9, 2008

2008 October Trip-Days 8 thru 9

Oh-Dark-Thirty and we are up, packed away, showered and on the road again. We left the camp just as daylight was breaking and pulled into Alma, New Brunswick just after dawn. This small fishing village is at the entrance of the Fundy National Park and is a bustling community of about 300. We stopped at the town’s general store and got a good strong coffee to go with our Poptart breakfast. Several locals were there and greeted us very cordially. It’s always good to feel “at home” when away. After taking a few pictures, we were on our way again following the coast whenever possible. Our destination was the Hopewell Rocks, some 26M/42Km from Alma. These rocks are a natural phenomena caused by time and the tides of Fundy Bay. They are awesome and we spent more time there than we had intended to, but, when can one be in this sort of environment, at awe with nature, and just pass it off as another “place” you have been. We took our time.

Our focus was to make our next camp before nightfall. We had decided to stay at the Caribou/Munroes Island Provincial Park in Nova Scotia, so we had to gauge or time to make that destination before dark. The route we took was just as before, hugging the coastline. This part of New Brunswick and into Nova Scotia was not the mountainous terrain we had been in the past few days. Once past Hopewell Rocks, the land turned into very flat and marshy. Much of the area was used for cattle ranching and more than several times we encountered cattle ranches farther than we could see. Literally, there were thousands of cattle grazing in these lowlands. In most places, an abnormal tide or a large surge from the Atlantic would inundate this whole area. No record of this happening in the past, so I guess they are safe here.

Our route took us through Moncton, New Brunswick lying at the head of Fundy Bay and on the Peticodiac River, the main tributary of the bay. Because this area is so flat, the river is tidal for many miles. This causes the river through Moncton to almost drain twice a day.

Once past Moncton, we traveled the coastal villages constantly amazed of the tidal influences on the area. The streams and small rivers flowing into the bay drain up to 30 feet before filling again on the tidal change. All life revolves around these tidal changes. Eventually, we ended up in Sackville, New Brunswick, a busy place as well as a college town. Although very busy, we liked the town because of its laid back atmosphere.

Continuing on into Nova Scotia, we followed NS Rt. 6 along the coast of the Northumberland Strait. This coastline gradually rose from marshy plains to higher cliff terrain of 20-30 feet above the sea. Most was farmland and fairly non-descript. A few fishing villages dotted this path, but none too interesting.

We arrived at our campground on time (before sundown) and we set up for the night. As before, the facilities were spotless and the campsites were very large. The weather was supposed to be a bit warmer than the nights before and the wind had died down substantially. This made for a very nice evening with a hot meal, a strong hot buttered rum and an early turn in. Once the pack of coyotes stopped howling, we were off to la-la land.

The next morning we were up early and off through Pictou and New Glasgow, Nova Scotia where we picked up NS Rt.4. This is the main highway to Cape Breton Island. Our destination was the Cape Breton National Park. We decided to make this our central operating camp while in the Highlands. The drive into the Highlands was absolutely stunning.

Once we crossed over the Straight of Canso onto Cape Breton Island, we took the high road (I love saying that) along the west coast. This took us along high cliff roads and through more fishing villages. The day was blustery and overcast accentuating the power of the North Atlantic. It was obvious we were in for a soaking soon.

We arrived early at the Whycocomagh Provincial Park campground. This park is located at the base of a mountain range and overlooks the Skye River Valley and the Bras d' Or Lake. Since this was the last few days of their season, we were the only ones in the park and we were given pick of any campsite. Of course we picked one close to the facilities, but also next to a cooking shelter. We figured if it rained it would come in handy.

Once we checked in we took off for Sydney, Nova Scotia, located on the eastern side of the island. We wanted to tour that area first and save the Highlands for last. The drive was quite nice up until we came into the Sydney area. It seems this area of Cape Breton Island is devoted to coal mining. It was very depressed. Many low income housing and there were times we were not comfortable in the areas we drove through. After a few hours we decided we had seen enough. Nothing spectacular. Anyway, it was beginning to rain and we were several hours from our camp.

By the time we arrived at the park it was a wind driven downpour. We assessed the situation and decided, since we were the only ones in the park, to set up our beds in the cooking shelter. We pulled up under the shelter’s overhang and unloaded our gear. The shelter had solar powered lights and with our Coleman lantern, we had plenty of light. Additionally, the shelter had sliding barn doors that closed the entire shelter off from the elements. How cozy. We cooked some hot dogs and beans and washed them down with some good Canadian beer. They do have good beer, but it is so expensive. Again, we turned in early for we wanted to get an early start for our Highlands tour.

See Day 8 Album: Click here.

See Day 9 Album : Click here.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

2008 October Trip-Day 7

Our day started at 5 AM and, boy, was it ever cold. The temperature was 34F/1C and neither of us wanted to crawl out of our toasty sleeping bags. Our bags are cold weather, mummy-type and, along with sweats, keeps us very comfortable. We knew we had to get an early start, though, so we braved the cold and packed up. Took only a few minutes to make the conversion and head to the shower facility. If you remember from our last post, the shower facilities are not heated so we were dreading that necessary task.

Now, completely awake, we headed for Calais, Maine. Calais (local pronunciation of Calais rhymes with palace) is located on U.S. Route 1 and on the Canadian border. Just across the border is the city of St. Stephen, New Brunswick, Canada. The U.S.-Canadian crossing point is on each side of the St. Croix River, which splits the two cities. We have crossed into Canada several times before, but that was prior to 9-11. When we pulled up to the Canadian Customs/Border check point we were asked a multitude of questions that seemed more intense than they previously had been. I am not sure the young guard was convinced we were entering Canada on a camping/sightseeing expedition for she directed us to pull into an inspection lane. After a twenty minute wait a Canadian Customs agent began going through our truck looking for weapons, contraband and who knows what else. She went through everything including our laundry bag and cooler. Nothing. So, with a disappointed gesture, we were told that we were free to proceed. Hope it isn’t that bad when we return to the U.S.

Our plan this day was to hug the shoreline. We wanted to see, up close, the Bay of Fundy and the tide phenomena it is so well known for. There are many locations along this route to experience that phenomena and St. Andrews, New Brunswick, is one of them.

St. Andrews is a quiet seacoast town steeped in history. As with its U.S. sister towns, they too have had a re-vitalization drawing the tourist trade. There were many shops to visit in the many old building that line its streets. All in all though, it is a tourist town preparing for the end of the season.

We continued along the coast taking side road excursions whenever possible. This part of the country relies on the fishing and lumbering industries. There are many small villages, but very few large towns. We immediately noticed the lack of basic shopping facilities. The very small general store was the norm for daily shopping. Most people made long trips into the distant cities once or twice a month to stock up on provisions. Another fact we took immediate notice of was the price of everything. Even taking into account the difference in the U.S. dollar and the Canadian dollar, the prices were out of sight. We pondered the whole time while in Canada how these people existed on their income. Example: a gallon of milk was close to five Canadian dollars. Even taking the dollar difference into consideration, that is high! Oh, well. Maybe we will not be staying as long as we had planned.

Since we entered Canada, we found that our driving plans followed the Fundy Bay Coastal Drive. One of the more beautiful stops on this first day was the Funday Trail Parkway located near St. Martins, New Brunswick. This 6-mile drive had some of the most beautiful coastal scenery we had seen to date and we took advantage of every place that offered a panoramic view. Breathtaking.

Once we completed the drive we noticed we were a bit behind our time schedule. We wanted to camp in the Funday National Park for the night and we were quite a ways from there. I set the GPS for the shortest route hoping we would get there before dark. The GPS plotted the route and we took off. After a few miles, we noticed the road narrowing a bit and then becoming unpaved. Figuring this was only temporary, we continued. Take note: I should have turned back at this point. As we proceeded, the dirt roads became narrower and rougher. By this time we were too far along to return for our destination was “only a few miles away”. HA!!!!

It was obvious we were on a mountain logging road and, basically, in the wilderness. Thankfully, we did not meet any vehicles coming from the opposite direction for there was no place to pass or turn around. Some of the roads were barely passable. We could just see ourselves finding a field to pull into and staying there for the night. We could have done that, but preferred not too. We finally drove onto a more improved dirt road eventually leading to the main, paved road of the park just as it got dark. The “shortcut” was only 22mi/36km, but it took us over two hours to traverse the several mountains and rough trails. Lesson learned: do not completely trust your GPS for the best route.

We stayed the night in the park campground and were pleasantly surprised with the facilities. The campsite was very nice and the shower/restrooms were beautiful and impeccably clean. But, that is the norm for all of Canada’s public parks that we have stayed in over the years. A hot meal and a hot drink and we were off to bed. Not supposed to be as cold as the previous nights.

Tomorrow, into Nova Scotia.

Check out our Day 7 pictures: Click here

Monday, October 6, 2008

2008 October Trip-Days 5 thru 6

The morning turned out colder than the previous mornings, about 35F/1.5C. The wind was blowing harder and, with the wind chill, was about 25F/-4C. We immediately made some good hot coffee, packed up the truck, took our morning showers and hit the road. We really enjoyed Mt. Desert Island, Acadia National Park and the Bar Harbor area. The locals were exceptionally nice and went out of their way to help us in most every way. Our next area to explore is the northern portion of the Maine coast.

The distance to our next camp was just a bit over 80 miles so we had plenty of time to explore along the way. Again we stuck to the coastal roads and stopped at every place we thought would be interesting. We even took off on a few dirt roads looking for moose. No moose.

We registered for a two-day stay at Cobscook State Park. This park was central to the area of Maine we wanted to explore. Since there was only one other camper in the entire park, we had a very quite evening. Again, the temperature decided to take a plunge. It didn’t get to freezing, but close. We made the motel conversion, made a fire, made dinner, discussed our trip, walked around a bit and enjoyed the serenity. A good hot meal and a warm bed made a perfect ending to this day.

The next day we kinda overslept. I guess because it was so quiet. Regardless, we were up and out on the road by 8:30 AM. One drawback was the shower facilities were unheated. The water was hot though. Needles to say we were wide awake by the time we started out.

Our first destination was the border town of Lubec, Maine. Settled in 1785, Lubec is the easternmost town in the continental United States. It is a fishing village located on the Bay of Fundy and in the midst of a revival. It is also the gateway to Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada. FDR spent most of his childhood summers here. Since we were not prepared to cross into Canada yet, we bypassed this scenic attraction. After spending sometime walking the streets and visiting some shops we headed to Eastport, Maine. Located on the other side of Cobscook Bay, Eastport is only about 5 miles, as the crow flies, from Lubec, however, it is a 35-mile drive to get there.

Eastport is quite a bit larger than Lubec. It, too, is trying to revive itself to attract more tourists. Both towns are old and they show it in their Main Street buildings. Most of the buildings are being renovated into art studios. This makes sense because the seasons give an artist time to produce in the long winters and sell in the mild summers. I had noticed that many small coastal Maine towns have taken up this idea. There are even studio tours available in some areas.

Because Eastport was a bit larger, we spent more time there. Like Lubec, Eastport is on the Bay of Fundy and is subject to very large tidal swings. Up to thirty feet in some places. The forces of these tides are so strong that a dangerous whirlpool called the “Old Sow” is created two times a day between two islands next to Eastport. We did not get to experience this, but there was plenty of information about it.

On the way out of Eastport we noticed a bay, formed by a causeway, had completely emptied while we were in town. When we went over the causeway earlier, the bay was full. Now it was just a mud flat. Likewise, a sailboat that had been floating in a river was now on the river bottom leaning in the mud. These tides are awesome. More to come about these tides in a later post.

On the way back to camp we made a side trip to Pembroke, Maine. This is an area where the tides create a strange phenomenon; a reversing falls. We spent more time here than in the towns. What a sight. And to top off the scenery, we saw a Bald Eagle feeding in the bay and several Harp seals feeding and playing in the rip currents that were formed by the falls.

The day’s experiences and the awesome fall weather made for a very tiring day. We headed back to our camp and retired early in preparation for a before dawn start in the morning. Tomorrow we cross over into Canada.

See Day 5 Album: Click here.

See Day 6 Album: Click here.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

2008 October Trip-Day 2 thru 4

We converted the motel room back to a truck, packed up and hit the road early. It had rained most of the night, but little was wet (just the patio roof). We stayed warm and dry in our room. We wanted to get a head start over the morning rush hour traffic and succeeded. Our destination was Bar Harbor, Maine located on Mt. Desert Island.

After about an hour and a half on the Interstate, we exited the raceway and took to the back roads. Our first planned stop was a seafood restaurant in Old Orchard Beach, Maine. This place has the best fried clams in the universe. There is no better way to start a day than with a fried clam breakfast. To our dismay, though, it was closed. It was now the off-season and they only opened on the weekend. RATS!!! Plan B…cold Pop Tarts.

We drove the coastal roads all the way to Mt. Desert Island stopping for photo opportunities. There were lots of them. Quaint fishing villages and lots of tourist traps. We stayed out of those. Our itinerary called for us to spend three nights in the Acadia National Park near Bar Harbor. That would give us enough time to explore everything on the island we wanted.

The campground was on the southwest side of the island called the “Quiet Side”. Not much tourism along these routes so it would make for quite nights. We arrived around 4 PM after the leisurely drive up the coast. We set up camp, made dinner and kicked back for the evening. That’s when the wind started to pick up. The wind howled all night long and it made for restless sleeping. Oh well. Mother Nature.

The next day we toured Bar Harbor itself. Bar Harbor is located on the east side of the island and was once considered a small fishing and ship-building community. Today, it is a tourist destination (with tourist prices). We were surprised, it being a weekday and the off-season, at the amount of tourists on the street. Surprised until we walked into view of the harbor and saw a tour ship anchored there. Oh well. Our timing really stinks sometimes.

Once we became tired of elbowing our way through the sightseers, we headed to a lobster pound we had picked out for our lobster dinner. The lobster industry is old and a staple of income for many on the Maine and Canadian coast. Click this link ..Lobster.... to learn what a lobster pound is and about the lobster industry.

After a wonderful dinner….mmmmmm..lobsta (Maine pronunciation)….we went back to camp and settled in for the night. It had gotten very cold since the morning (mid 40F/7C) and we wanted to make sure we got a good, warm night’s sleep. And we did.

The next morning was down right cold. Our thermometer read 36F/2C. We decided to get a hot shower and get coffee on the road. Thank goodness the bathhouse was heated. Our plan for the day was to see the natural sights of the island and visit some of the fishing villages. The National Park has a scenic route taking you through the mountainous region of the island as well as the rough, rocky seacoast. With the leaves changing color and a cool nip in the fresh sea air, the day was filled with sights beyond description. Check out our album link below for a glimpse of what we experienced.

Worn out by our exploring we headed back to camp for an early turn-in and an early start the next morning to our next destination: Maine’s northern coastline.

See Day 2 Album: Click here.

See Day 3 Album: Click here.

See Day 4 Album: Click here.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

2008 October Trip-Day 1

We made it up the Highway of Death (I-95) through New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island into Andover, Massachusetts. Today was a marathon drive to get close to Maine (475 miles). We are staying at Harold Parker State Park. Very nice place on a beautiful pond where the changing leaves reflected into the dark water almost like a picture. Now it is. :)

Tomorrow we head to Bar Harbor, Maine and will probably stay there a few days before heading north to Canada. Had a few showers, but the weather, overall, has been good. Can't wait to have some lobster.

See Day 1 Album: Click here.